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  • Writer's pictureIan Wells

Q1: From Bucky to the Singularity

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Before attending the Christchurch NZ Singularity U, I hoped to get 9 questions answered.

Here is my answer to Question 1

1. As an once-intern of Bucky Fuller, I want to know whatever happened to Bucky's vision of doing more with less, allowing all of humanity to live at a higher standard of living while consuming ever less resources? Are we on track?

Answer: NO - Although speakers highlighted amazing unexpected hopes for the future due to exponential tech, I was not convinced we in tech are creating a greater future for out children and our planet.

I am totally drawn to tech and all its challenges and wonders. I admit SingularityU got me excited and wildly optimistic about what we in tech can do.

 I was motivated to ask my Question 1 because I had felt the same optimistic feeling about  technology back when I attended the “Towards Tomorrow Fair” at the University of Massachusetts in 1977. Lots of famous visionaries from that time were there. I remember a house being demo’d that was self sufficient in energy and perhaps self sufficient in food too. Bucky’s domes were there enclosing the most of amount of space with least amount of material, allowing less energy wasted compared to old fashioned rectangular buildings. I saw solar algae ponds. We played the World Game to create strategies to create a sustainable planet and show children how they can change the world. And many of the ideas generated then,  live on today.

What happened to all that enthusiasm and brain power to actually affect change? The future looked so wonderful and hopeful from that place. I think Al Gore identified what happened in his book “The Future” - where he identifies “shifting of power from national governments to smaller players, such as businesses and corporations” as one of Six Drivers of Global Change. Many of those 1977 ideas were not economically viable - there was little money available to advance these types of technological innovation - other uses of technology made more money. 

Where I was disappointed in Singularity U was that many speakers implied was no decision involved. Technology is heading on an exponential path - this is the next step in human/machine/planetary evolution and, as my kids use to play, “whatever happens, happens”.

And making a decision, as Helen Shorthouse points out, is where ethics comes in. Can we live a technological life without ethics? I hope not.

The future of course is inherently unpredictable. "We" could direct today’s exponential technology to either humanity or for planetary care or to meeting more of our purchasing needs. The seeds are sewn for all possibilities.

What are the signs of how we are progressing along our exciting technological ride?

What I see from my narrow vantage point is information systems being developed for compliance: that ensure drivers conform, that internet users conform, that financial dealers conform, that building standards conform, etc. I see many people helping build systems just to attract eyeballs. These systems help make life orderly and provide hope that we can buy ever more attractive things and experiences. Those of us helping build these systems earn money so we can buy the things in all the ads we helped create. That’s all cool. So far.

But where is there similar investment available in New Zealand to pay us to build systems that support the most important human values (caring, imagination, getting along with strangers, hope, love… ) or support the health of our world ( pollution, loss of biodiversity, reverse CO2 buildup). 

Just as in the 70s, the possibilities are wide open. An age of abundance can change the economics of work. Are we on track to develop tech to help us care for humanity and care for our earth? There are signs of hope. Social enterprises, block chains, peer to peer networks, open source all provide other highways to the future.  Singularity U pointed out what is possible. But we, especially those in tech, have a lot to do and we bear  responsibility  for how we deliver exponential change  to the world. And our children. 

Answers 2-9 following.

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