Some time back, I answered the excellent questions posed by the Pew Research Center about the future of smart systems. Enough time had passed that I was pleasantly surprised to read the results, and to see a quote of mine called out. It runs as follows:

Jerry Michalski, president of Sociate and consultant for the Institute for the Future, shared a comprehensive view of flaws he sees, writing, “A few years back, BMW and Mercedes Benz had to turn off some of the onboard electronics on their high-end cars because complexity gremlins were making things break. Those are smart German companies that one assumes have a lot of control over their components and their software. Diabetic Jay Radcliffe recently hacked into his own wirelessly enabled insulin pump, changing his dosage. The Internet of Things and the subsequent world of smart systems, from smart cars and smart highways to smarter cities and smart homes is mostly overblown, and, in fact, poses a significant risk of creating overwhelming complexity, which could take down the Internet we now have. It also opens the door to hacking scenarios we seem to not want to contemplate. Every security technology becomes obsolete. If we connect all these new things and expose them to external control, you can bet some of the forces controlling them won’t be the designers or owners. As these connected devices age, they’ll just become more vulnerable. Imagine also the court cases of people hit by autonomous vehicles, for example. I see our ‘smarter world’ much as I see genetically modified organisms right now: very powerful technologies that could do a lot of good but are being implemented poorly.”

I’m typically an optimist, though not a techno-utopian. Imagining how complex a world full of smart things will be, combined with how unlikely it is that we’ll have a satisfactory field-upgradeable infrastructure (meaning the ability to increase embedded devices’ security in years to come, once they’re installed) makes me extremely skeptical that this ends well for us all.

Rebuild21, held recently in Copenhagen, had a pretty ambitious goal: reimagining multiple sectors of the economy, all in two days.

I was pleasantly surprised, first by the open, smart, skeptical and foresighted approach the first few speakers took in tackling the financial sector — Richard Kelly and Jem Bendell — and then by the equally smart, inquisitive, friendly folks attending the event.

Sofus Mitgard and his crew created a special environment (nice hosting, Lori!).

Sofus asked me to do a short keynote on rebuilding education, one of my favorite topics. Here’s that talk:

And a few more resources:

  • The panel that followed my talk
  • A brief interview that Lori did afterward
  • The Prezi I created for the talk
  • All of this, linked in my Brain

Thanks for a memorable and very useful conference.

My better half and I recently had this OpEd published in the Washington Post, on the subject of how expertise is changing.

In the interest of enriching its context, here’s some of the background material in my Brain.

Recently I gave a talk at the Personal Digital Archiving conference, in which I described what I’ve learned from 15+ years of using TheBrain.

It was a really fun talk to give, both because everyone present is working on how to preserve our many-faceted personal information, and because my use of TheBrain has given me many insights.

For a quick intro to my Brain before you watch this, view this earlier post of mine here.

The projected Brain you see in the video isn’t that clear, for which I apologize. You can partly make up for that by tracking where I go from my online Brain, starting here.

At a recent workshop, I gave a talk titled “Other Kinds of Innovation,” based on this Prezi

In it, I described three sources of innovation that tend to get short schrift in the whirlwind of books, talks and seminars abot innovation: social innovation, dark innovation and innovations by (not for) the poor.

The first of these, social innovation, is getting more attention thanks to books like The Wisdom of Crowds and Crowdsourcing, even though our culture seems to idolize the lone inventor. Fortunately, recent books like Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From are tackling the myth of the lone inventor, but in our individualistic society, it’s a hard myth to shake. (In the Prezi above, this section is intentionally the least developed.)

The second kind of innovation that we often ignore is the category of innovations that are a net negative to society, which I’m calling dark innovations. These include defensive innovations by incumbents trying to postpone their doom, the unintended negative consequences of innovations created with good intent, and general overconfidence.

The third category is a subtle one in several ways. First, it’s not innovations for the poor, but rather by. Second, these innovations don’t always occur at the frenetic modern pace of innovation, so their pace can hide them. And third, some of these innovations are actually old, excellent ideas that have been buried for a few centuries and are now being rediscovered or reinvented, such as the methods of natural farming.

I intend to do a screencast of this Prezi, or perhaps several, but I’m posting now for a different reason.

Among the attendees as I presented was Peter Denning, who besides writing about innovation is the editor of the ACM‘s Ubiquity Magazine. Peter liked the perspective on dark innovation in particular, so we proceded to do an email interview, the results of which you can read here.

What do you think?

Spend a few minutes with Jordan Grader or Leah Perlman and you’ll discover why The Happiness Institute is bound to be a special place.

They’ve just opened the doors to HI and are still discovering who shows up and how they’ll use their space, which used to be a TV studio. It’s in its chrysalis phase, on the way to being a happiness-centered open university. Or something like that.

On Saturday, January 7, I’ll be exploring the Relationship Economy at HI from 10am to 4pm. In the spirit of happiness, you won’t be staring at my talking head the whole time. We’ll gnaw on some thorny questions together, hear from others with groovy, resonant ideas and mix it up, all with the goal of expanding our collective understanding of this Relationship Economy critter. We’ll also be recording a bunch, to create some media artifacts for use later.

Attendance maxes out at 70; the cost is a lunch fee. The Facebook invite page is here.

Background materials are mostly on this blog. I’d recommend the posts explaining the REXpedition, exploring abundance (in education) and looking at creators and Wikipedia. If you’re feeling adventuresome, learn about my Brain (and dive in yourself), and also browse the abundance and REX Prezis.

Upward spiral

Jerry —  November 13, 2011 — Leave a comment

About a year ago, I watched two videos within days of each other. Their cumulative effect gave me an important aha! moment.

The first was recommended by Arthur Brock during a really interesting conversation. He warned me that the video quality was poor, and boy, is it ever: picture bad VHS with weak sound, and the content is a bearded fellow who is waxing philosophically about nature. I almost tuned out, till I tuned in. Then I started hearing how Paul Krafel went around the Northern California hills near his home with a trowel and some awesome groundrules, which helped him heal the landscapes with simple, steady effort. Here’s that video.

The second video I happened across a few days later. It was a ten-minute segment of an hour-long documentary about the Loess Plateau, a part of inland China the size of Belgium and composed primarily of a fertile but very erosive soil called Loess.

The documentarian, John Liu, visited this area over a ten-year period. At the start, the area is dusty and brown; its residents are poor and leaving. Then, at a scale completely different from Paul Krafel, the local government uses principles similar to Krafel’s to heal the countryside. Here’s the whole documentary, so you can see for yourself how that story ends.

Seeing the second film got me to understand the first. Both together got me thinking two big things:

  1. What are the groundrules they were using, and can they be generalized?
  2. What would it be like to work in the world that way all the time? To create upward spirals wherever you go?
That’s the inspiration for this notion of Upward Spiral, which we’ll be revisiting here often.
Then I started noticing more initiatives like those that had inspired me.

John Holt‘s book Instead of Education is a 50:50 proposition. Half of it is hopelessly outdated. The Internet has made possible (and insanely cheap and easy) so many of the things that Holt describes as flimsy shoots of possibility in 1976. Educational materials are now abundant; getting together to do stuff, virtually or in person, just keeps getting easier. I wish Holt had lived to see what we have at hand now.

The other half of Holt’s book has great insights, starting with the difference between what he calls S-chools and s-chools, as well as T-eachers and t-eachers. The capitalized versions are compulsory. They are coercive. They tell, they require, they compel. And in doing so, they begin to stamp out the freedom and curiosity that are natural in kids.

The point I had missed that Holt makes elegantly is that small-S schools can be highly structured and demanding. You just have to opt into them of your own free will. Think of a martial-arts dojo. The work is likely to be grueling, but you’re there because you want mastery in that art. Lower-case schools and teachers are essential parts of the educational landscape.

It’s coercion that breaks the system’s natural beneficial powers.

Seeing Abundantly: Education

Jerry —  October 15, 2011 — 2 Comments

We tend to assume the school system as it is and proceed to try to fix it.

I went through it, half public, half private. I survived, and I’m pretty curious. Surely this is the only way to organize education.

But it isn’t. Once you start to look at the system we’ve built and the assumptions it contains, it’s a bit of a mind-blower how off it might be. The particular angle I take on it in this video is about scarcity and abundance.

I’m not surprised kids cause trouble in school and grades aren’t rising. The system is broken.

For a video from a teacher who is working wonders inside the system, watch this.

For some history on how we got this school system, I recommend John Taylor Gatto‘s The Underground History of American Education.

And for a lot more context and background, browse my Brain around this topic:

Continue Reading…

Lessons from Wikipedia

Jerry —  July 3, 2011 — 6 Comments

Remember the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Wikipedia is a bit like that. Seemingly overnight, this gleaming monolithic being has sprouted in our midst.

It’s the seventh most viewed site? It has over 3.6 million pages in English? All done without venture capital? Crazy!

Wikipedia tells us a few things about where we are as a society. Here’s my take; I’d love to hear yours.

Many thanks to Jay Cross for the video work!