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Inclusive Means of Participation

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[100 Year Starship Symposium] [September 2013, Houston] Thank you very much. [Inclusive Means of Participation] [Design: Space] What I am going to talk about is not materials design or design of objects. I am going to talk about what is these days called interaction design, design of systems with participating humans, and I will be concentrating on the goals of creating participatory, bottom-up systems rather than top-down hierarchical systems and why these are, in my opinion, necessary to create inclusive means of participation as a condition for the success of a project like the 100 Year Starship.

My name is David Orban. I am on the faculty of Singularity University and an advisor and the CEO of Dotsub, which is an online video startup in New York. And I want to start with some assumptions. The assumptions that actually we are living in an exponential world of which the most widely known example is Moore's Law dictating the doubling of the features and the power and the halving of the cost of our computing systems. But we are fully immersed in other exponential phenomena which have been going on for a long time, and now we are understanding them, and we are able to exploit them. And my assumption is not only that these phenomena are going to continue in the future, but they are necessary. We need to understand them, and we need to exploit them at their fullest if we want to make the leaps that we need in order to accomplish our ambitious goals.

At the same time, at least in this talk, I am going to assume that there are some fundamental physical limits that are going to define and constrain what we can do, and one of the assumptions that I am going to make is that we are indeed within the next 100 years and maybe more are not going to be able to build means of transportation that exceed the speed of light. No warp drive. And even if as a former chairman of the World Transhumanist Association I am fully ready to embrace an evolving nature of what it means to be human, and actually, I define humanity as an entity that overcomes its limits and limitations, in this talk I will assume that for the foreseeable time what defines us as humans and our societies is going to be not fundamentally changing. And finally, as a card-carrying Singularitarian, it could be fair for me to say that within the next 20-25 years all bets are going to be off, because self-modifying artificial general intelligence is going to be by the millions swarming on the planet and in the universe. Humanity is going to solve Fermi's Paradox very simply by populating the galaxy with intelligence. But most of that intelligence is not going to be human. Human intelligence as we see it today is going to be a vanishingly small part of that, and it could be for another talk.

Rather, today what I want is to concentrate on how today's humans with today's physics with the limitations of technology that we are seeing even if evolving on an exponential curve are creating in our society and how the interactions that fundamentally define the society are going to be embodied in the systems that we design and how this can benefit the project of the 100 Year Starship. And the fact that we are not in a hierarchical system anymore. We are in a system of networks. We are in a system of participating, aware, capable, and well-educated people who are empathic to each other who want to give back. And we know how important it is to be able to identify with an objective, to be able to feel that we are able to influence a project, that even if we are not part of the core team, what we say, what we do, has an impact. Well, I am not implying that we will be able to do crowd funding and then build a starship right away.

However, we know how important collaborative design and collaborative, participatory design is becoming in several systems. It is not the case of our integrated circuits, but it is definitely, for example, the case of Wikipedia, which everybody said would be a failing project among the experts. And the experts are the best in telling you what cannot be done ever. That is why a lot of people should not listen to the experts.

Our interfaces are changing constantly and becoming more and more evolved in systems from punch cards to teletypes to common layer interfaces, initially fairly simple and then more sophisticated graphical user interfaces emulating our desktops to today in touch interfaces, and you will know if you are familiar with the history of computing that these cycles are actually getting shorter and shorter. It is just a few years that touch interfaces have become ubiquitous, and now we cannot imagine living without them. But gesture-based interfaces, dialogue systems, and computer systems that perceive us more and more are becoming available, and already on the horizon we see the next steps towards direct brain computer interfaces that are going to be fabulous and very interesting and intriguing.

Today's most engaging interface, what is available to billions of people, and billions of people, at least hundreds of millions of people, are taking advantage of these interfaces as active participants rather than passive consumers of the content that is being created, is online video. The reason why online video is so important is because it represents in the most simple terms possible with requirements that contrary to some of the previous examples of our evolving human-computer interaction platforms that I showed do not need the design and the deployment of new devices. Online video is available on computers, on mobile phones, in high income or even low income countries. But they are extremely rich in giving you not only information content but also emotional content.

And in order to evangelize in a humanistic, naturalistic spirituality the beauty, the ambition of the mission of a starship, we do need to leverage all the emotional impact that we can have and very, very drastically broaden from a few hundred accolades to hundreds of millions of people who believe in the mission without which we wouldn't be able to participate and to convince the key decision makers that what we want to do deserves their attention, their resources, and their decisions.

Online video today is the medium of the broadest emotional bandwidth. The impact that it creates is huge, and some of you might have heard already the staggering numbers of participation with YouTube where 48 hours— actually, I think the latest data is 72 hours, 3 days of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. And this amount of human creation is being digested, is being prioritized, is being presented in terms of relevancy by our computers that in turn base these decisions on our actions, measuring and acting on every viewing or closing of our videos that are being watched. So what we need is to make sure that as many of the people that we can reach become active participants.

YouTube creators rather than YouTube watchers, programmers rather than video game players, video game makers, and we need to design our systems that are extremely inclusive, are welcoming to this creativity, that engender participation and are reflective of the nature of our peer to peer networks that break down hierarchies.

I understand that some of this is difficult for some of those among us who have been accustomed to NASA-style top-down engineering approaches.

And of course, when we are talking about the starship itself, just like when we are talking about a spaceship today, we are not going to be designing it by a committee of millions. It is going to be a different engineering approach. But in the meantime, when we are talking about popularizing the idea, when we are talking about how to reach our goal of making these things happen, making sure that we are leveraging the desire of those who cannot be here with us today at this conference, who have been complaining about the fact that we are not streaming live, who will be clamoring to see the videos of these sessions being recorded by the volunteer crews of film faculty here in Houston, we need to leverage that passion, and we can leverage that passion by creating infrastructure that goes in that direction. Innovation that we need is, yes, technological.

But we need to invent systems that are also understanding how human nature works, and without that, we are not going to be able to achieve the impact if we don't adapt to the world, if we ignore what are the rules that are today still kicking in in our human nature and adopt them, we won't be able to learn from our mistakes, because we have to be able to embrace our mistakes. We have to be able to relent and relax and make sure that we enthusiastically go out and evangelize our mission.

Thank you very much.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 32 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 80
Posted by: davidorban on Sep 24, 2013

David Orban's talk at the 100 Year Starship Symposium's "Design: Space" track.

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