FutureSource



FutureSource

How much of human productive activity can be moved to "near zero marginal cost"? Jeremy Rifkin's provocative new book poses the question to our future. The case for "near zero marginal cost" in the digital world is pretty clear, as Rifkin so ably explains. Think of a piece of software (from Microsoft Office to a Beyonce track). Once produced (which could have enormous cost), production and distribution of additional copies over the Internet is virtually free. Any additional "cost" is amortized cost of building, maintaining and operating the transmission infrastructure (which can also be huge), not the product itself. Thus, the marginal cost of the product is almost zero. We are thus in an age of data abundance, virtually unlimited by physical reality. Put differently, there is no scarcity to drive up the price. You and I can both have copies of the same digital data or MOOC course without additional cost or competition for a scarce product as an unlimited number of copies can be made without using up physical resources. The marginal cost of Rifkin's "Communications Internet" is thus near zero -- after accounting for the costly infrastructure and its operation and maintenance.

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The Perils

In my previous blog, I outlined what living in an Answer Engine-powered Internet might look like. There is much to be excited for as we move toward the future where the Internet is woven into every facet of life. Think how far we’ve come already and how quickly it happened. Think about your relationship with your mobile device. This merging of Internet and life is inevitable; in fact it is already almost a fait accompli. There is also an array of dangers to be concerned about. The most worrisome negatives must be understood and addressed if we are to have any hope of mitigating them.

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The Promise

The Internet is moving beyond a portal to another world and becoming part of the very world itself, meshing with and augmenting physical reality. The idea of the “Alive Web” sees the Internet becoming an increasingly real-time affair.  We are in the beginning. Apps like Snapchat and Twitter already represent the new pace and face of the new web: it’s nearing real-time, and it involves us directly. No longer about stale ‘feeds’ and static data, but experiences and emotions in the present. Less about user names and pseudonyms and more about identity strewn across the world, ready to interact with anything. Not snippets of text and culled media, but a nuanced and raucous interactive conversation happening across the globe. Forget myriad disparate websites and links; imagine an ever-growing pool of everything being fed by a never-ending deluge of data. This is the Internet of tomorrow.

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What is the most pressing security challenge facing the world's megacities? It's their slums, write Peter Engelke and Magnus Nordenman. Today, they highlight some of the conditions that make them fertile breeding grounds for conflict and instability.

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The US intelligence community largely has failed to adapt to the world's growing complexity and interconnectedness, writes Josh Kerbel, the chief analytic methodologist at the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The intelligence community must leave behind its habit of analyzing complex issues with a narrow focus and instead ‘think big’, taking greater advantage of open-source, unclassified information and interdisciplinary perspectives.

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Technology evolves so quickly that government regulations are outdated from the day they are written. Policymakers should consider the thirty-year-old insights of an obscure British economist for a map to the new approach we need to regulating technologies.

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On December 17, 2013 the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, in partnership with the US Agency for International Development and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will host the launch of the highly anticipated book The Future Can't Wait (PDF). Read on for an a preview of the launch by the Wilson Center's Kathleen Mogelgaard in their Environmental Change and Security Program blog, New Security Beat

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As biotechnology evolves, it’s easier to imagine a future where a steak dinner would be produced in the laboratory and cell parts are replicated via 3-D printerScientific American is constantly exploring these frontlines of science and innovation. And this week I moderated a thought-provoking panel exploring how biotech and ICT (information and communications technology) may reshape the coming years as part of the Atlantic Council’s “2013 Strategic Foresight Forum: Harnessing Disruption” conference on December 9 and 10.

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"...Once it may have been hard to buy the swift collapse of order that is made palpably real in 'Contagion,' if Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath had not already set the stage. ..Yet what's really scary in "Contagion" is how fast once-humming airports and offices, homes and cities empty out when push comes to shove comes to panic in the streets." -New York Times review of 'Contagion'

As if Hollywood biothrillers were not enough, in recent years we've witnessed our government's uneven management of natural and unnatural disasters, from 9/11 to Katrina to a publicly botched roll-out of a government website. On the global stage we watch helplessly as the international community struggles with the basic needs of hurricane victims in the Philippines or refugees of an endless civil war in Syria. As we peer into the future, we have every reason to feel queasy about the profound impact of the second technological revolution bearing down upon us.

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The United States could emerge as one of the biggest winners from the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR). The US is the overall leader in the development and deployment of the new technologies and innovations of the TIR. Its other advantages include relatively cheap and available energy resulting from the unconventional gas revolution in the United States. This “revolution” is providing a competitive edge for US manufacturers and is attracting foreign corporations, especially in petrochemical and other high-energy consuming industries, to relocate to the United States.

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