October 9th, 2013 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Science & Tech | Comments Off

The Diamond Deep

diamond deep

“What if a woman as strong and as complex as Eva Perón began her life as a robot repair assistant threatened by a powerful peacekeeping force that wants to take all she has from her?  The discovery ship,  Creative Fire, is on its way home from a multi-generational journey. But home is nothing like the crew expected…”

The Diamond Deep is here at last! Brenda Cooper’s latest sci-fi epic is available now on Amazon for your reading or listening pleasure.

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October 4th, 2013 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy | Comments Off

Overhauling Higher Ed, Part I: Why Do We Still Need Universities, Anyway?

online education

By Sara Robinson

Americans share a broad understanding that their educational system is overdue for a major overhaul. The visions of what a new system should do, and what it needs to accomplish for both the student and for the sake of our civilization, are a subject of increasing debate. But the fact that the debate is now raging everywhere reveals at least one clear point of consensus: the old industrial-era model that’s been in place for the past 150 years is no longer delivering the goods.

While much of this furor is over K-12 education, our universities are also looking ahead to a rapidly-changing landscape. Faculty and administration are grappling with challenges they’ve never seen before, and are trying to figure out what comes next.

This is the first in a three-part series that will examine the nature of the deep transformation that American universities are now confronting. In this first part, we’ll look at the mission and purposes of the university as we’ve understood it in the past. The second part will look at some of the biggest disruptive forces that are driving the current transformation. The third part will consider the questions we need to be answering now in order to begin re-visioning the university and re-tooling it to survive in the information age. My hope is that this series will stimulate deep-level discussion about the role of universities in the 21st century, and give those involved in this transformation some new perspectives on how to approach the changes they’re facing.

What Is A University?
What is a university? What do we need it to do? Why does it matter, and why should we continue to support its existence? These questions are at the heart of the transformation universities are facing right now, and how they are answered will have a profound effect on the form that the next iteration of higher education takes. So it’s important to start by getting these deep values and expectations out on the table, in order to understand the full implications of our future choices.

The university as we currently know it is built on values, expectations, hierarchies, and a mission that has been virtually unchanged and unchallenged since the Renaissance. As an institution, it was the product of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age. That passing era demanded that our universities fulfill some specific and essential civilizational functions, including:

Furthering Knowledge — Storing, extending, and imparting the accumulated knowledge and wisdom that are essential to maintaining a complex civilization. Setting and maintaining the highest standards of intellectual and cultural excellence. Retaining and transmitting the most important knowledge from the past; and conducting the cutting-edge research that will continue to advance society and ensure our future prosperity. Nurturing, developing, and sustaining intellectuals who are gifted at communicating new knowledge to their students, and to the masses. Creating a place where creative synergies between disciplines can occur, leading to productive new insights and connections.

Advancing Economic Development — Generating research that will yield important and useful new information, technologies, and processes that will open the way to new inventions, new industries, and new markets — or else expand productivity in existing industries and markets. In particular, we’ve historically relied on universities to do cutting-edge theoretical research that business won’t invest in because it has no immediate or apparent market value — but, once done, sometimes provides the basis for vastly increased prosperity decades down the road.

Credentialing — Educating and certifying the next generation of leaders, managers, and skilled professionals who will oversee our society. Ensuring that our society’s most promising talent is cultivated for maximum potential benefit to themselves and the rest of us, and that these people clearly understand their ethical role as trustworthy stewards of the common good within their professions.

Sustaining Meritocracy —  Serving as the most reliable path for upward mobility in a meritocratic society by both formally educating and informally socializing students from the middle and lower classes to take their place in the upper-middle and upper classes. At the same time, universities give students from the upper classes a greater awareness of how the other 99% live, and impart a commitment to use their greater resources to lead the world to a better place.

Arguing For The Good Life — Holding up the idea that there are essential human values and goods that transcend those offered by the marketplace. This isn’t just the role of arts and humanities; good science also depends on scientists who are able to value their quest for scientific truth ahead of their own personal interests. This has, in recent decades, become a harder sell.

Offering a contemplative oasis apart from the larger society — Most of us who loved our college years are at least somewhat invested in the future of the university as a place — a geographical center in which the important work of civilization is performed, and a physical community in which the above values are upheld. The future of the university as a physical place is in particular jeopardy right now, with threats coming from several directions at once.

Self-Perpetuation — All institutions, in time, adopt self-perpetuation as their #1 purpose, and universities are no different. Their rewards systems and value set are, in the end, almost entirely aimed at generation more professional academics, even in spite of a long-standing market glut.

Understanding what we want and need from our universities helps us understand why they are the way they are now. It also opens the door to another set of questions: Which pieces of this mission are still relevant, and worthy of being kept as  we go forward? Why are they important? And which should we re-define, re-imagine, or jettison entirely? Also: what new and emergent needs will our society have as we transition to the Information Age, and how should the universities of the future be configured to answer those needs?

In the second part of this series, we’ll consider some of the specific challenges that universities are facing now — a discussion that may point toward better answers to the above questions.

Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a consulting futurist specializing in social change. Her writing has appeared online at New York Magazine, Salon, Alternet, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and many other websites, as well as in print. She lives in Seattle.

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October 1st, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy | Comments Off

Future of the Workplace

The State of the Workplace from Cornerstone OnDemand
Today Cornerstone OnDemand, the experts in human resource applications and support, released a new study that they conducted of American workers late this summer. The fascinating results reveal a paradox between technology and information overload and the use of tech to get control or our busy lives. Most interestingly workers are quite willing to use their own technology and desire more and better technology to enhance collaboration. But, at the same time all employees, including Millennials, desire more face-to-face interaction at work. Check out the infographic below, but first a few key discoveries from their press release…

With the rise of mobile, the cloud and multiple device use, today’s workers are more connected than ever before, giving them access to high-volume streams of information on a 24-7 basis. But is this helping or hurting their productivity? New research from Cornerstone OnDemand (NASDAQ: CSOD), conducted in collaboration with Kelton, reveals that U.S. employees are feeling overloaded, whether by work (50 percent), information (34 percent) or technology (25 percent).

The survey indicates that it is the tech-savvy Millennials who are feeling the most overwhelmed from being “always on” versus their older colleagues. Information overload was cited by 41 percent of Millennials, versus just 31 percent among older generations, while technology overload was cited by 38 percent of them compared to 20 percent of older workers.1

From unplugging and digital detoxes to meditation and hiding in metaphorical caves, people are trying everything in order to combat the stress of living in a hyper-connected world. Cornerstone’s The State of Workplace Productivity Report indicates that, despite the attempts to unplug, people are still turning to tech to tame their always-on lives. They are even willing to try out wearable devices to manage everything from monitoring sleep to exercise to spurring self-improvement.

Key survey findings include:

• Face Time for the Facebook Generation. Despite the stereotype that younger generations prefer to hide behind their devices when collaborating with others at work, a surprising 60 percent of Millennials prefer to collaborate in person rather than online (34 percent), or via phone or video conference (6 percent). Overall, seven in ten U.S. employees (72 percent) said they favor in-person collaboration.

• The Rise of Wearable Devices. Wearables have the potential of not only impacting workplace productivity but also how employees think about work-life balance. In fact, 58 percent of survey respondents said they would be willing to use wearable technology if it enabled them to do their job better.

• Multi-Screen Multitasking. While workers across all generations are using multiple devices for work, more Millennials are opting for the “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach (56 percent) versus their older colleagues (39 percent). Over half of Millennials (52 percent) use their smartphones for work compared to just 23 percent among older generations. And one in five Millennials (20 percent) uses a tablet for work, versus 10 percent of older employees.

• The Emergence of Buy Your Own Application. Employees are not just bringing their own devices, they are now relegated to buying their own applications to get their jobs done. Of those currently using software for work, nearly four in ten employees (37 percent) said they are likely to spend their own money to download applications for work purposes in the next 12 months. Even 20 percent of employees not currently using applications for work said they were likely to do this.

Link to Infographic
The State of the Workplace from Cornerstone OnDemand


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September 16th, 2013 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Innovation | Comments Off

Let’s Talk About Sports

future sportsSport (n): A physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.

As I research the future of sports, I notice two clear and important themes. First, many activities fall under the category of “sports”, but most of the media attention and critical thought goes into the most popular team sport games, such as football (both kinds), baseball, and cricket.  Second, there is almost no thought at all going into the generation of the completely new games for the tech-savvy people of the future.

The rising concussion crisis in American football could lead to safer helmets or a change in rules. Good.   But also, duh. We’re changing sports rules to reflect the (un)fairness of chemical enhancements. Some might say we should have figured this out a long time ago, but nevertheless, it’s good that we’re getting to it.  Gender equality in sports and gaming is becoming a big issue due to sexism complaints and our changing cultural views, and so we’re starting to make some changes, like the recent FINA approval of mixed gender relays for swimming. Super.

There is a big difference, however, between responding to problems we encounter along the way and envisioning potential opportunities and problems that we will encounter in our technology-boosted future. A more valuable use of brainpower would be to start adjusting the rules for when biologically enhanced people are commonplace. In Man and Superman, they discuss the fairness of athletes with biological advantages competing against those without. The issue has already come into light several times, especially in sports where timing up to a tenth of a second is crucial.   So, how will technological enhancements influence penalties and the game itself in the future? How will it inspire the invention of completely new games?

Here are a few potential sports of the future:

  • Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: Life-Sized Edition. Syfy is already on top of this, but what about when technology and education is so accessible that anyone can play?
  • Superhuman Olympics: Where Biologically Enhanced Players Compete. Slowly, but surely, we’re already working on this. What should the rules look like for these games?
  • Competitive LARPING: The Technology Enhanced Version. Literally Transform Yourself Into your Avatar and Play an Adventure or Strategy Game In Real Life.

How do we make rules for these games? Who decides? Where and how will they be played? Answer these questions and suggest more futuristic sport ideas in the comments below…


Social media is making it hard for players with radical opinions to express themselves freely. The argument now is that players are always supposed to be representing their team, but is it fair that “improper use” of personal social media off the field results in player penalties on the field?   It seems that a reconfiguration of how we govern sports is in order. How are we supposed to maintain a personal life while also representing a larger team with different values?

Most professional sports today are more about entertainment and advertising opportunity than the actual sport itself. This means distribution is a huge factor for sporting events, and a huge area for opportunity. Cable the way it stands now is on its way out. We are on the hunt for high quality alternatives for watching sports, but in a world with so many options, how will we all share and watch sports together? And how will this affect advertising? Will this affect how many people watch games? And will that affect which games get media attention?

Last February, in a decision that shocked the world of sports well beyond wrestling, the International Olympic Committee voted to exclude the sport after the 2016 Rio Games. The rationale was that modern audiences would rather watch skateboarding, or some such more “exciting” sport, although actual attendance at the Games had always been high.

This reflects a problem in the efficacy of our rating methods. So, what constitutes a popular sport or game to watch? If it’s only TV ratings we use to judge viewing numbers, it’s a clearly flawed system because most of us find other ways to consume our media – and many of us are watching together—which is not reflected in the numbers.

Watching live sports has always been a popular pastime. Watching fictional sports teams in movies has also been popular in America, a phenomenon now spreading to unlikely places like New Delhi. But, with skyrocketing ticket prices and limited access to affordable viewing at home, could watching professional sports give way to actually playing?

Outreach efforts like the Let’s Move campaign in America and the Sports festival for orphans in Nigeria encourage young people to play sports because of the mental and physical benefits of exercise and collaboration. As we learn and communicate more about the importance of healthy living, will the future be more about playing games or watching?

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September 13th, 2013 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, New at Futurist.com, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Seattle Sci-Fi Film Series

FINAL sci-fi_movie_email_v1

New at Futurist.com! We are sponsoring an educated sci-fi film series at Henry & Oscar’s  in Seattle and you need to be there.  Starting September 25th at 7pm, we will be showing Blade Runner, District 9, and Hunger Games over the next few months. Each film will be hosted by a special guest who will discuss the technology and scientific topics presented in the film. So, if you want to learn the real-world applications and research being done today on the science and tech in your favorite films, come be with us! Click the image on the left to enlarge and read more details about these events. And note, if you RSVP by the day before the film, admission is free!

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