A Lack of Technological Development and Forward Thinking
We are living at a strange period of human development—sitting right on the precipice of a tremendous shift in human understanding of the universe, human exploration of both our planet and our galaxy (even universe), and our ability to exist with our planet.
I’ve held a firm belief for years that the balance of waste and destructive development to the ecological health of our planet and our species progresses on a parabola as technological advancement moves forward. At the start we have minimal advancement and benefit with maximum ecological cost (this is evident in the dark ages and into the age of early production lines and mass production). Thankfully at this early stage we are still at a point where the ability of our environment to absorb the damage is high and our population density (and the demands on the system) are really, overly small. As technology progresses we move up the curve with advancement happening faster and with more benefit to civilization as our ability to reduce waste increases (or: we become smarter and more efficient). At the same time, as science and our understanding of the system we live in also advance we learn the value of our small bubble in the galaxy to our health and longevity as a species. At the top of the curve we are able to maximally produce benefit to our species while balancing and critically looking after our own health and environment.
We are almost to this point now—the top of the rise in the benefit/destruction curve. What makes this such a tenuous moment is that balance In the system we live in is precarious as we are at the precipice of demanding too much energy and resource and are creating too much waste as our species advances and multiplies [quick side note: don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who believes we can destroy the planet… but I do believe we can cripple this intricately woven system and make it inhabital to our own species… the planet will recover over thousands to millions of years, but our species will either cease to exist or all advancement will be wiped away in the ensuing regression of technological achievement as we grapple with the catastrophic effect of our own unbalancing of the system]. What is holding us back is our own self awareness of how far we’ve come and how we’ve done it. As we advance, the speed of advancement increases, and we are at a point where the historical effectiveness and means of moving forward are decreasingly relevant in a linear timeframe—for example our grand parents had many of the same ways of going about their lives as their great grandparents did… but today our children will grow into a world that our grandparents could hardly imagine and even we will have a hard time keeping up with in the coming decades.
As soon as our collective society can accept:
-  we live in a closed system with finite resources that exists in an incredibly intricate and interwoven web of balance [**we have an almost infinite resource potential off our planet and how mining across our solar system isn’t already happening—particularly on asteroids and smaller bodies—I have no idea. The economic benefit to whoever gets there first will absolutely upset our global economy to the benefit of those early enterprises.]
-  clean air and water are the most basic neccesities for a healthy and progressing civilization and need to be protected globally at all costs (because in the long term the cost is small, but the potential harm to our selves is catastrophic).
-  the greatest goods for our planet’s civilization and society are health, education, and opportunity because these things advance our entire species not just the people doing the work (which leads to…)
-  if one human, business, nation, or race is financially secure than we all are and while every human should be able to support himself and earn a wage according to his work, if we as a species take care of every other human and make sure none go hungry, homeless, or are deprived of freedom and sustenance and education—then we all win.
Once these thinges are embraced globally we will advance as a civilization, quickly, to one that lives in harmony with our environmental ecosystem that keeps us alive while also flourishing financially and technologically.
In the meantime we are distracted by struggling to support ourselves at the expense of our neighbor. As a species we seem to be programmed to think that if our neighbor is getting ahead (financially, health wise, or security wise) we are losing something. We are falling behind—instead of seeing that when our neighbor thrives so do we all.
A direct result of that struggle (both for ourselves and to stay ahead) translates to our societies tremendous focus on entertainment. And this is where technology is specifically failing us.
We have tremendous technological tools and advancements at our disposal, even in our hands right this second. But the focus of these technological marvels and advancements that could be helping us, that could be indispensable tools that make our lives better, are instead focused on generating concentrated financial gain for very few people in the form of entertainment.
Entertainment is what our species currently values most as a direct result of our precarious position in time where we are intimately self aware of the universe around us, but struggling to simply feed ourselves at the end of the day. We are not programmed to handle that stress (we live in a bubble of solids, gasses, and liquids that historically has provided every single thing we need to survive and even thrive for free—air, water, food, shelter—all free for the taking with just the energy cost to find it and the knowledge of how. Free until we stretched out of our primitive selves and began the advancement of our species and the inevitable specialization of knowledge and skill and resulting economic realities of our day. Entertainment on this scale is a coping mechanism, and unfortunately the largest driver of our global economy, and thus the driving focus (I won’t say force) of our technological advancement.
It’s 2021 and we have incredible technological tools that we interact with in the periphery of our lives and for some of us even in our homes. But many of these technologies are slow to get traction or advance because they are still focused on gimmicky ‘tricks’ or squarely marketed and focused on entertainment. So let’s talk about a few technologies we are all familiar with and where they could be.
Smart Homes and Smart Devices
Our homes aren’t smart. They are gimmick- and entertainment-fueled services with the promise of convenience. I love smart home technology and stand firm in my belief that our homes and buildings, as the most expensive, most pervasive, and often times most important purchases or possessions we have should be able to interact with us and help us. This is not based on the false assumption (for example) that wanting my lights to turn themselves on when I walk into a room is because I’m lazy… we turn lights off and on millions of times in our lives and freeing ourselves from that repetitive unimportant task simply frees us up for more important tasks and thought cycles (and before you think, 1/100th of a second—big deal—consider that over a lifetime that translates into hundreds of hours of flipping switches). Let’s also consider the fact that if you have to physically turn a switch to turn a light on that is you having to do work for your structure instead of your structure doing work for you. This is not a thought process for the last generations but very much a thought process for ours and moving forward.
Why shouldn’t our structures be able to communicate information to us and to preemptively perform repetitive tasks for us? We have the technology and ability today. But we lack the focus.
Controller software (we’ll call it) needs to be localized and not remote (using internet connections for these simple if-then tasks is a gimmick of our current infatuation with “this new fangled internet” and not the smartest or most efficient way to carry out these tasks. It is overly complicated where a simple controller box in the structure would carry out these tasks and conditional reactions faster and with less opportunity for failure, and at a lower energy cost [as a side note Apple has started to off load Siri-based tasks to the local environment, handset, tablet, watch etc. because they see this opportunity cost as well].
We also need much simpler automation interfaces for these systems. If-this-than-that statements (with stackable structured conditional statements) would make much more complex routines and reactions to environmental stimulus much easier to create for the end user. In much the same way IFTTT caters libraries of previously built statements you can use between services, we could have libraries of typical tasks or user created tasks but with an easy front-end interface for users to create powerful interactions with the structures and devices around them.
This would also allow much more robust interactions between all of our “smart” devices. We have toy robots and robot vacuums that can navigate around our houses. And we have small devices with dense sensor arrays on them and cameras (including our houses now). Why don’t we have small robots that can react to the house sensing anomalous alarms and contact us on our mobile devices and show us video of the affected area? All of that technology currently exists.
Data aggregation and interpretation
We have a mind boggling amount of data available about every facet of our lives already but we are poorly using it and horribly displaying it. The biggest issue here is display and interpretation of this data. We need universal data tags—like a coding language— that can be shared across software platforms, devices, etc. and displayed in meaningful rich ways that enhance our lives. A Universal Data Display Language would allow us to have apps on our phones that cleanly represent all of our health information we choose to collect and we could individually choose the interface in which we display it that is most usable and readable by us. Think how powerful a software platform would be that allows us to choose any data stream we want (both from our personal data collections and also publicly available—think weather or climate info) and build dashboards that cleanly displays and correlates that information so it’s actually usable to the individual. Websites and apps could even code in hooks for this type of data, should you choose to allow it access, without ever needing the data— just by using universal hooks for types of information and data points.
The second piece of this is building dashboard apps and services that can display the information and interact with it. Think how it could supercharge our productivity to have a service like IFTTT that allows us to tie our data together or trigger events (like in a smart home) based on data tags we are already collecting. And think how an IFTTT SaaS that allows you to quickly and visually build dashboards that aggregate and display data from sources you provide in a meaningful way (change the size, change the time parameters, change the display from numerical value to graph to chart) and pull multiple data streams into a single dashboard. The service and app never need to actually connect they just need hooks to pull generic data tags (like IFTTT’s current implementation).
Energy Usage (localized vs distributed)
Proprietary technology solutions arise for one of 2 reasons:
-  the manufacturer wants you to be stuck using their service and they don’t have enough of a competitive market advantage for you to want to use their service, so they have to trick you into it with the result of you being stuck after your initial investment (of time, money, or infrastructure) using their system.
-  they truly believe they have a better (smarter, faster, stronger, more robust, more secure, etc) system.
I think the second case here, if they truly believe they have a better system is always in their best interest to release their proprietary system to the market to increase market adoption (by their peers and competitors). [Tesla has championed and demonstrated this, and Apple works with industry groups on specification standards, like Bluetooth and WiFi for this reason] This is better for the consumer which in turn is better for the manufacturer in financial returns. And if they truly do have a compelling market advantage then the consumer base will gladly flock to them but their network of compatibility (and hence potential new customers) will only be larger. We see very few people doing this currently. [As a quick aside: the corollary to this, the bulk of corporations that beat the ‘free market’ ‘market will determine who survives’ are the least likely to actually let the market decide without trying to deceive the consumer because they are trying to make the minimal product at the minimal cost and this have an inferior product].
These are just 3 examples of how our understanding and application of technological development are stifling our growth and potential as a species—but they are 3 examples that are endemic of our simple-minded, and fundamentally flawed view of our species as a single organism with the potential to thrive beyond our own 4 walls and our single floating rock.