What the future holds

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a workshop given by the Singularity University and hosted by The Atlantic Council on Friday.  The goal of the workshop was to build bridges between the DC-located wonky types and the Silicon Valley-based futurists.

Most of us in attendance believe this bridge-building is crucial, because as a species, humans are clearly at a point where not only are we able to design the future for us and the planet (and possibly the solar system) but in fact we MUST design it.

The attendees were largely diplomats, interestingly – both from the US and from a smattering of other countries.  There were also representatives of the US military, academic, and industrial sectors (primarily those serving the USG).

Perhaps it was for this reason that the examples of emerging and disruptive technologies were pretty old to my eyes – most were from 2008 or so.  I think the most recent was a robot developed in 2012.  If I’d gone in hopes of learning about something new, something that wasn’t widely discussed online, I would have been disappointed.  But what I wanted to find out was what each side thinks they are going to get from the other…and that was tremendously entertaining.  I won’t criticize here, because I think these relationships need to be fostered and not squashed by snark right now.  I’m not sure HOW to foster them, but as that’s my job I better think of something.

I would have liked to see a different side of SU.  Both presenters were “Technology YAY!” and kind of glided past the tough questions.  Do we really think that the only possible route to technological destruction is drones with guns on them?  That’s possibly the least of our worries, if only because it’s so obvious that many folks will work to prevent it.  Both the SU guys and the audience seemed scarily blase about the “intelligence” part of Artificial Intelligence.  My friend Fran Wilde expresses the concerns around that topic far better than I can.

For the attendee side, I would have liked to see more representation from domestic policy makers.  Foreign policy and trade issues will be crucial pieces, but there’s a domestic element that can’t be ignored.  I mean, while I was sitting in the room listening to people learn about 3D printing, and even talking to some attendees who are doing amazing things in that arena, I got a note that the USG is trying to stop people from downloading the model for the entirely-3D printed gun.  That’s not a workable policy, nor is controlling access to 3D printers.

Technology controls are not a substitute for leadership.

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