Author Archives: Phil Bowermaster

Emergent Magic: Why Ideas Are Becoming More Valuable

matt-seymour-325630One of the side projects related to The World Transformed book is building a vast collection of ideas. The book itself is a collection of ideas, and the notion was that would could use it a springboard to collect lots more ideas about how the world can be changed in positive ways. I put a mechanism in place for collecting ideas, but right now it needs a little work. (Stay tuned.) Anyway, recently as I was thinking about this project and I was answering (in my own mind) one of the potential objections to it, a really strange idea occurred to me.

First, the objection:

Collecting good ideas adds little value. Ideas are all talk. Like talk, they are cheap. Only doing things counts, and even then only doing effective things counts. Everything else is noise that is as likely to slow progress as it is to speed it along.

Let’s think about that. On the podcast we talk about this convergence of phenomena that drive us toward a very different future.

  • Individual people are becoming capable of doing more.
  • Doing things is easier than it used to be.
  • We can do things faster than we used to be able to.
  • Doing things requires less infrastructure and energy than it used to.

I can give examples of all that, but assuming you generally agree with those propositions, let’s move on. Also, these are probably not separate phenomena at all, but different manifestations of an underlying driver: Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns or Buckminster Fuller’s Ephemeralization—which are probably just two different names for the same underlying teleological principle.

Another way to describe that principle is emergent magic. For our purposes, we’ll say that magic is the ability to think or speak reality into being. Per that definition, magic does not currently exist in our world. Nobody (that I know of) can just think about something or speak an idea out loud and have it happen.

But we are much closer to that capability than we have ever been before. All that stuff about people being more capable, things being easier to do, things happening faster, things requiring less infrastructure—that all adds up to fewer steps between thinking about something and that thing happening. Maybe one day, after the Technological Singularity, we will get to straight-up practical magic that will be very close to “real” magic as I have defined it above. Via an elaborate post-AI, post-nanotech infrastructure, people will be able to think or speak just about anything into being.

But before any of that, we have emergent magic, with the gap between thought and reality getting narrower.

Okay, so here’s my strange idea. (That’s right, none of the above counts as a “strange idea” in my book. It’s all a given.)

Is the value of ideas diminished by their ubiquity as the “ideas are a dime a dozen” argument would have it, or is it diminished by the low probability that they will amount to anything?

We will set aside the apparent relative value of ideas. Ideas for novel medical treatments or energy technologies should be, of course, a lot more valuable than,”I’ve got a great idea for a new app; it will be the next Angry Birds!”

But the question of relative value is complex—sometimes when important ideas are implemented poorly, they end up doing harm; sometimes seemingly frivolous ideas have unintended consequences that make them extremely useful. That’s hard math and we’ll skip it for now.

If low probability negatively impacts the value of ideas, then—because of emergent magic—ideas are becoming more valuable every day. As the gap between thinking them up and executing on them closes, they become more probable. As they become more probable, they become more valuable.  They may be a dime a dozen today, but next year they will be worth a dime each. And then they’ll be worth a dollar each. And then a hundred of dollars.

Of course, even if they are becoming more valuable, there are so many ideas becoming valuable at the same time that, once again, the sheer number of ideas becomes a problem. Today we struggle to find the one valuable idea in a sea of useless ideas. In the near future, we may struggle to find the one billion-dollar idea in a sea of million-dollar ideas.


Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Sunrise, Sunburn, Sun Tea

tea-205745_1920How does the future happen?

Well, maybe it doesn’t. That is, maybe the future doesn’t just “happen.”  Let’s look at some future events. Take tomorrow’s sunrise.  Get up early and go watch it if you like. You have nothing to do with it. Every day, it just happens. It’s the future, and it just happens. So far, so good.

How does the future happen? It just does.

How about something else that might happen tomorrow? Not a sunrise but a sunburn. Now for that future to happen, you have to show up–unlike the sunrise, which is going to happen either way. You have to get out there and expose yourself to the sun. Even though you’re going to just lie there and do nothing, the sunburn won’t  just “happen.” Your behavior will contribute to it. You will create the sunburn future.

How does the future happen? Sometimes, you allow it to happen by creating the circumstances that lead to a particular outcome.

Now let’s take a really different future. Say tomorrow you decide you want to make some sun tea. In some ways, making sun tea is a lot like getting a sunburn. You set everything up just right and let the sun do its thing. But now you have to do more than just take your clothes off and lie in the sun. You have to get get a jar. You have to get some tea. You have to get some water. You mix everything up right and then, at the critical moment, you put the sun to work.

How does the future happen? Sometimes you create it.  It doesn’t just “happen,” but you got there in part by leveraging something that did just “happen.”

Look at the world around you and you will see that the present moment — yesterday’s future — is complex mess of sunrises, sunburns, and sun tea. There is the future you have no control over, the future that you allow to happen, and the future you make happen.

Recognizing this reality is the first step in recognizing what the future really is, and the role you can play in its coming about.

Visions for a World Transformed Now Available

Visions_CoverAvailable now on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats:

Visions for a World Transformed

99 Ideas for Making the World a Better Place — Starting Right Now

How different will the future be from today? As different as we can imagine, and possibly stranger and more wonderful than we ever HAVE imagined. The key is turning our visions for the future into the future itself. And that begins with articulating our visions.

In this collection of essays compiled by the hosts of the popular internet radio series, The World Transformed, world-leading futurists, scientists, authors, artists and others share their visions for changes that are on their way, or that we can bring about, that will transform our world forever. Contributors include Ramez Naam, Brian Wang, PJ Manney, John Smart, J. Storrs Hall, Aubrey de Grey, James Hughes, Jim Elvidge, Alvis Brigis, David Brin, Dave Gobel, Paul Fernhout, Ben Goertzel, Getnet Aseffa, Zheng Cui, Wayne Radinsky, Giulio Prisco, Colin McInnes, Erika Lives, Will Brown, Yiqing Liang, Cosmo Harrigan, Tudor Boloni, Khannea Suntzu, Belle Black, Anyazelie M. Zéphyaire , Gina “Nanogirl” Miller, James Bennett, Extropia DaSilva, Christine Gaspar, Melanie Swan, Stephen Gordon, Radhaa Nilia, Leslie Kirschner, Arnold Kling, Kevin Estes, Zoltan Istvan, Chris Tacklind, Richard Gordon, Bruce Schneier, Gennady Stolyarov, Bruce Katz, Nikola Danylov, Reichart Von Wolfsheild, Maria Konnavalenko, R. U. Sirius, Jay Cornell, Sabrina Surovec,and others.

No Good Disney Role Models for Boys?

TarzanWriting at The Federalist, Allison Hull has a bone to pick with Disney: Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much? All Their Male Characters Are Losers. There is much here that I agree with, especially the Disney Channel’s overwhelming preference for girls over boys. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if they could find a way to encourage CHILDREN to dream big, rather than just girls? (I’m sure Uncle Walt would approve.)

The argument, of course, is that boys get that message from everywhere, all the time. I kind of doubt that’s true in this day and age. The message boys get over and over today is that girls can be anything they want. Maybe this makes up for many years of the message going the other way, but I’m not sure how punishing today’s boys makes things better for girls of the past.

Still, Hull’s argument that there are no good role models to be found on the Disney Channel or in Disney movies, even recent ones, is wrong.

For example, her notion that Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates somehow doesn’t count as a strong male lead because he’s a pirate is silly. Jake is a good kid, in context. My children, who love that show, don’t really get that “pirate” means “bad guy.” In Neverland, there are good pirates and bad pirates. Jake and his friends are good ones.

Also, what about Miles from Tomorrowland? Miles is a strong male lead in a show that highlights the importance of a family working together. A good show for boys and girls.

And she gets it wrong about the Disney movies, too. Aladdin is a boy of exceptional character — he foregoes his own (stolen) meal to feed two younger, hungrier kids. He is the only one worthy of entering the cave of wonders. He finally learns to stop being afraid that he’s not good enough and do what’s right for everyone — even the genie. It’s a great story, and the fact that he starts out as a thief on the streets with “poor personal hygiene” (um, who cares?) doesn’t detract from any of that.

Likewise, Kristoff in Frozen is a good, reliable guy. He works hard and he does what’s right. He’s kind to animals and he has a good sense of humor. This is a good role model. The fact that he is a bit of a loner is a good thing. He is the very John Wayne character the author is looking for. Once again she makes a big deal about personal hygiene. I wonder if Hull lets her sons watch old westerns, or is she put off by how smelly those guys must have been?

Finally, no mention of Disney’s Tarzan. My five year-old boy loves that movie. Tarzan is brave, strong, kindhearted, smart, and he finds a way to bridge two very different worlds. I’m guessing the author disapproves based on the lack of shower facilities in the jungle.

Anyway, I think the bias Hull describes is real. But her case would be more convincing if she didn’t attempt to sweep all contrary examples under the rug.

UPDATE: I went looking for a picture of Tarzan to use and I stumbled upon this amazing story. So Anna, Elsa, and Tarzan are all siblings? That can’t be right. Tarzan is English, not Scandinavian. I don’t care who plays him!


AsianLadyiPadOccasionally on Facebook I get to point out that anything I post without comment is likely something I intend to read later because it strikes me as potentially interesting. These posts often result in comments, which then remind me that I meant to read the thing. It’s a way of outsourcing a reminder to read something to my friends and family. But it does lead to the occasional fun when somebody gets all bent of shape and admonishes me to stop deceiving the public with my pernicious lies or whatever.

I got some feedback along those lines for linking to this piece: A Japanese technique for overcoming laziness.

I’m interested in Kaizen (with a capital K) because I used to manage the total quality program for the product engineering and development group within the telecom company where I was employed. In the 1980′s and early 90′s, many American companies discovered and began implementing Japanese management practices in an effort to become competitive. The irony is that one of the pillars of those practices was the statistical quality control introduced into Japan by the U.S. after the war. W. Edwards Deming was an American; interesting that the prize named after him is awarded in Japan!

One of the early adopters of statistical process control was Toyota, whose management saw an immediate fit with their continuous, incremental, team-based production improvement process — what they called their “kaizen” process. It was built on simple principles geared to foster continuous improvement.

Toyota didn’t invent that word. It’s an everyday Japanese word that means “change for the better” or more simply “improvement.” On its own, it doesn’t mean continuous improvement or working in teams or practicing statistical process control or spending a minute every day on something — which is apparently what the confused author of the piece linked above seems to think — or any of the rest of that stuff. However, it has become associated with  those things in the minds of many western managers and consultants who understand Kaizen (with a capital K) to be a Japanese management philosophy. Books by Masaaki Imai — who did not “invent” Kaizen, as the linked piece erroneously states — and others have contributed heavily to this understanding of what Kaizen is.

I haven’t worked in quality management for many years now, but the idea of continuous improvement has stuck with me. I come up with elaborate formulations like The Human Imperative to try to explain why this principle is so important. But I have always loved the elegant simplicity of Kaizen.

For all its flaws, the piece linked  provides some pretty good advice. Spend one minute, every day at the same time, trying to work on one area of potential improvement. For example, the author of the linked piece might work on his or her research / fact-checking processes. I would add that it doesn’t have to be a minute, and you don’t have to just work on one thing, and you don’t need to do it at the same time every day.

And, for that matter, you don’t have to call it Kaizen. But you can if you want to. As long as you are talking about making something better, that word works.