Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ingress - A Precursor of the World to Come

With over 500K active players, Ingress, the Google-funded augmented reality game for Android, is about to exit Beta and already marks a notable step forward in gaming and interactive media. As it scales, it could have a major psychological and material impact on our world.




Ingress as Indicator: Futurists, tech bloggers, entrepreneurs, investors and sci-fi writers all spend much time scouring the world for interesting signals from the edge to identify emerging trends or even the next big thing. In the past decade, many have zeroed in on gamification, augmented reality and the ongoing mobile explosion as important zones of development. Residing squarely at the intersection of these potent growth areas is Ingress, the quirky augmented reality game that hearkens to visions of the future contained in works like Snow Crash, Otherland and Rainbows End. As I’ve played the game (I’m up to Level 7 of 8), I’ve come to believe that it’s an important precursor of things to come.


Gameplay: Created by Niantic Labs, an internal Google startup that’s technically autonomous from the parent company, Ingress is both simple and very complex. Fundamentally, it splits players into two teams, Resistance & Enlightenment, that play in the context of a sci-fi storyline that progresses week-to-week. The two massive sides battle, in real-time, to control and link portals located at real-life places of interest such as libraries, museums, post offices, restaurants, murals, etc. You play by walking or driving around to portals and capturing them, then linking the portals together into triangles called control fields. Whichever team has the highest # of human population contained beneath their control fields is considered the current global leader. Notably, players can also earn points for submitting new portal by providing GPS tagged location photos.


Flying Under the Radar: Boasting a large, highly engaged player base, Ingress is a fascinating case study on multiple levels. But it’s been able to fly under the radar largely due to the popular perception that it’s purely a game. Expect that perception to change as the Ingress platform continues to evolve and bloggers and other experts continue to notice its traction and potential impact on information gathering, work and social interaction.


10 reasons to pay attention to Google’s great Ingress experiment


  1. The Hanke Factor: Ingress is the brainchild of John Hanke, the creator of Keyhole, which was purchased by Google and then became Google Earth. Hanke went on to work as Google’s VP of Product Management overseeing the impressive Geo division (Google Earth, Maps, Places, Local, StreetView, SketchUp, and Panoramio) and then created Niantic Labs as an autonomous entity under the Google umbrella. He’s a big-thinker and achiever with a great feel for launching geo-products and platforms utilized by billions who is unlikely to waste his time on something not-massive. In light of CEO Larry Page’s focus on projects with massive scaling potential and his reported desire to keep Hanke and Niantic in-house, it’s obvious that Google views Ingress as more than just a game. Among other things, it’s an attempt to create a new mobile-phone-based system that can extend Google’s information gathering abilities into the rapidly emerging geosocial sphere.

  1. Serious Traction: In just under a year of closed beta 500k+ users are actively playing Ingress. I was lucky to receive an early invite and have played on-and-off since January. I very much enjoy the game, though many of my less techy friends regard it as big time-suck. Much like foursquare, it’s mostly appealing to geeks, gamers and early adopters. What sets Ingress apart is its well-designed gameplay, competitive structure and compelling secondary world & storyline. With some basic tweaks, it could relatively easily become an informational gusher for Google Places, which should make Yelp nervous and Foursquare incredibly so.

  1. Augmented Engagement: To date, there are very few examples of augmented or mediated reality games capable of garnering user participation and changing their real-world behavior. Geo-caching has been around for decades, but is a lone-wolf game with limited adoption. Foursquare was a breakout success, but appears to have stalled somewhat. Considering the level of participation required, cooperation required and sheer # of active players (who spend a lot of time coordinating with one another and traveling from portal to portal), Ingress, to my mind, is the most successful augmented reality game on Earth to date. This augmented engagement accomplishment is an important benchmark for a new class of technology that will likely power or catalyze new work and entertainment behaviors. Naturally it’s Google that has perceived this potential value and invested heavily. Mix in rapidly evolving mobile devices such as Google Glass, which Hanke and the Ingress team are already messing around with, and the feasible near-term future of engaged augmented gaming gets very interesting.

  1. Next-Gen Gamification: The idea that software-mediated games might serve as the interface for many future systems, ranging from social media to ordinary task management, caught fire in recent years. Made possible by powerful smartphones, growing bandwidth and better backend capabilities, the underlying Ingress platform represents the bleeding-edge of gamification. Some potent future capabilities can be extrapolated from a seemingly innocuous portion of the game that rewards players for submitting GPS tagged photos of interesting locations to become new portals. It’s no stretch to imagine that Google could apply the Ingress backbone to expand its Street View capabilities. Considering that Ingress players are now helping Google to quantify places of interest for free, imagine how these crowd-sourced mapping efforts will be amplified as cameras improve, bandwidth grows, new sensors are added to mobile phones (such as a miniaturized Matterport or Bublcam device), augmented reality gets real, gameplay gets better and financial and/or other participation incentives are increased.

  1. RL Social Interaction: A popular and valid criticism of social media and video games is that they fuel anti-social, glued-to-the-screen behavior. Contrasted with the likes of Facebook and Call of Duty, my time playing Ingress actually rewards me for moving about the real world and interacting with other players. My girlfriend and I enjoy playing the game together and find that it can increase our weekly physical exercise (which the game actually measures). It’s refreshing and illuminating to see technology making that possible. At the same time, the flipside of increased gas and bandwidth usage is a valid new age concern and interesting edge indicator.

  1. Media Component: Ingress utilizes a complex sci-fi storyline to structure its gameplay. Weekly video updates are released by in-game “reporters”. Factions work together in the context of this information to score more points and gain prestige. It’s hard to tell what sort of an impact this has had on engagement, but my guess is that it’s very important for super users and also helps retain general users. Seeing rich media storylines in video games and now in augmented reality games suggests that rich narrative structures and secondary worlds will play an important role in the ongoing roll-out of social media and the metaverse.

  1. Future of Advertising: Having worked on a pair of augmented reality startups (in3d, a 3d modeling and video company, and Swarmado, a content harvesting game for groups at events) I appreciate the importance of an underlying financial model that can support the software, server and human superstructure required by these ventures. By-and-large, advertising is the go-to strategy (though a few choice companies can bypass this if purchased for their sheer informational value or future potential). The holy grail of location-based advertising is generally considered to be any system that can meaningfully drive foot traffic to locations where its currently not. In this regard, Ingress could be a smashing success. Through partnerships with Jamba Juice and Zipcar, Niantic is actively exploring this option. I’ll be following new developments closely to see what strategies emerge and how closely they resemble or depart from those we hatched at in3d and Swarmado. :) There certainly are many potentially lucrative options for any system with a large user base and high engagement.

  1. Privacy Concerns:  Privacy concerns can be tinderboxes that cause unwelcome flare-ups for info-oriented companies like Google. Streetview has already drawn serious market backlashes in various regions such as Germany. As Google inevitably seeks to input more information about the world, the company carefully considers the social and political implications of its behavior. Though Hanke has stated his preference for start-up culture as the reason for Niantic Labs’ separation from parent Google, we should also consider the possibility that Page and Hanke both want to ensure the public and governments view the two as separate entities so as not to add to Google’s image as a great datavore. Ingress has already taken some heat for its info ingestion from bloggers and in forums, so that looks to have been a good call. As the project moves forward and the game evolves it could become a critical, perhaps revolutionary, tool for systematically gathering information about the world via swarms. It could become a mini-Google.

  1. Human Resources: 1) Imagine if Ingress, or a version of Ingress based on the same principles or backbone, established itself as a real-deal information generator. Then, 2) imagine if it became a formal part of the broader Google system. Such a gaming system could incrementally reward millions of player-workers for the data they input or even serve as a soft “play-in” layer for vetting future Google employees. Utilizing game-based systems for HR purposes could become increasingly effective and popular in the coming decades.

  1. The Google Factor: As listed above, there are many reasons for Google’s interest in a social, info-valuable augmented reality gaming system like Ingress. It’s even conceivable that such a company could pose a future threat to the search behemoth. To my mind, Google’s interest in Ingress reinforces its solid strategic vision of the near-future and that the company is making very smart bets on technologies that could both threaten or amplify its core potential. As a part of Google, Ingress could add billions to its market cap. Independent, or as part of a competitor, the quirky game might have become a major, central threat to Google.

Now that Ingress is moving out of Beta (it no longer requires an invite, you can get your Android download here) and onto iOS in 2014, you can confidently expect to catch many more smartphone-wielders to silently, or not so silently, playing the game all around you. Whether you find it to be a gigantic waste of time, gas and bandwidth, or a revolutionary new economic system, it’s an edge indicator that’s at least bound to garner hype and headlines for years to come. Seriously.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The World's First Billion Dollar Brain



How much might the highest bidder pay for Steve Jobs' intact brain in a jar? I could see a die-hard collector and history fan dropping 10 or 20 million $ for bragging rights. Maybe more.

But what if that buyer could count on extracting information from the brain? As science continues to better our understanding of functions like memory, intelligence and cognition, and improves brain-scanning and simulation, we're rapidly developing the ability to identify where and how information resides in brains. Researchers have already  distinguished between different recalled memories in brains. So how many more years will pass before mankind can read meaningful portions of the well-preserved brain of a deceased person? 5 years? 10? 20? 50? 100?  

The answer may well be 10-20 years, but even if it's 100 - that could seriously affect the price a person or an organization is willing to pay for a brain. The prospect of retro-active brain reading will surely push up the going rate for preserved brains.

So maybe that raises the top bid for Steve's brain to $50 million, especially considering the advances being made in fields like chemo-preservation, which is turning out to be a powerful alternative to freezing. For an in depth overview check out Ken Hayworth of the Brain Preservation Foundation discuss this at length - begins at 3 mins 30 seconds.


Keeping in mind accelerating developments in computer processing, scanning, information theory and brain sciences, how much might a government or group betting on the prospect of retro-active brain reading in the future be willing to pay for the brain of a key scientist, intelligence operative, general, politician, inventor or enemy? The going rate will of course be influenced by available budget and the certainty of the purchasers, but both of those will only rise as we move forward in time. There will most likely be more capital available. There will most likely be greater certainty that brains can be read. 

How much would a company be willing to pay for Steve Jobs' brain (which was not preserved, btw)? How much would the U.S. pay for the intact frozen brain of China's leading cyber strategist? How much would Obama's or Gates' chemo-preserved brain be worth to the Chinese govt? 

The only thing I'm really sure of is that the informational value and going $ rate for ALL brains will rise steadily over time as accelerating change, systems quantification and the emerging superfluid economy conspire to allow us to read brains better and make information more useful and transferable - just as the value of rain forests goes up as we figure out the previously discounted or externalized value of the ecosystem and species therein.

Perhaps we'll get to a billion dollar brain purchase by 2030 or 2040. Perhaps the average going rate for a brain will be $1 billion (inflation adjusted) by 2060. Perhaps some foresighted risk-takers are already stock-piling brains. Perhaps there are companies or nations that have already put "brain recovery" clauses in key asset's contracts. 

It may seem crazy to contemplate. But such an exercise is much less whacked than it would've seemed just 5 or 10 years ago. 

The main point: it's worth thinking about - maybe someone will retro-actively read your brain one day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Massively Multiplying Mini Me

The notion of the Quantified Self has been gaining popularity as people figure out more useful things to do with the data captured via their computers, devices and social networks. Many thinkers and companies (like fitbit) imagine this data can and will be used as a tool for revealing personal heath trends in areas like sleep, exercise, happiness, bodily functions and genetic disease. Some folks like mathematician Stephen Wolfram, who already are mining vast stores of personal data from over the years, believe introducing the appropriate search algorithms and systems to personal data will help us with identifying behavioral tendencies and thus help us be more productive. My friend, ASF President John Smart, takes a bigger more forward-looking perspective, sees a world in which this data will be used to create a Digital Twin for each of us that will fully anticipate our preferences and behavior and greatly assist us in all aspects of life.

I think they're all right.

That said, I believe there are also many less useful, but more entertaining uses for these growing pockets of personal data. Set up correctly, these could not only scale quickly, but also help people to more quickly realize the value of their personal data.

So here's a near-term Quantified Self product idea to test that assumption: the Mini Me or Pet Me.

Imagine taking all of your gmail, facebook, computer and sensor data, then putting it into a simple 3d avatar that looks like you and sits in a window on your facebook page or anywhere else on the web. Perhaps this Pet You is displayed on a wall in your house. You can interact with this Pet You - ask it questions, push it around, introduce unexpected elements like warm apple pie or a swarm of bees. 

Its responses all draw on your personal data history. Maybe 1 in 5 responses is really funny or bizarre. You yourself, family, friends or other users can then rate each interaction to guide the development of this Mini You, essentially raising it by rewarding the most desired behavior. (Maybe this growing up portion of the software is called Skinner Box.) 

Over time, some of these growing Mini Yous are bound to get interesting. These are the ones that will literally survive and thrive by being shared on different people's facebook pages, via email, in public settings and... this is where it can get really interesting ... as Non Player Characters (NPCs) in bigger virtual environments like Second Life, single player big world video games like Skyrim & Assassin's Creed, as cleverer A.I. in first person multiplayer games like Call of Duty & Halo, or as MMOGs like The Sims Online.  

Currently, leading edge video games utilize flavorful, but simple NPCs based on personality archetypes and solid writing. There's amazing craft that goes into constructing massive storylines and the corresponding character traits, language and behaviors. But NPCs are poised to very quickly grow in complexity as social and quantified self data is introduced into their systems. It occurs to me that whichever company can encourage people to grow the Mini You en mass will create a new category of NPC Unit or Tiny A.I. that can easily be introduced into a wide variety of these games and worlds to beef up, augment or replace these existing NPCs. 



I bet that over the next few years these little Mini Mes will start multiplying - initially driven by startups focused on scaling them across social networks. The first few gaming, app or super-simple A.I. companies to create interactive Mini You farm systems that are engaging and entertaining will probably claim dominant positions (just like Foursquare and Instagram did - scale first, get more complex later). It probably won't be the Wolframs, the Googles or the Hard A.I. start-ups that grab the initial user base and the big funding. It'll be some scrappy little team that builds a Mini Me game that's even more fun than Farmville, Angry Birds or even the current king of the castle Draw Something.

Then the entrenched right-fit entertainment and communication power houses will scramble to introduce these Mini Yous across their products and services, thus fueling the diffusion fire.

The result? As we use our personal data to grow our little Insulting Irmas, Cowboy Karls, Angry Alvises and Witty Williams we'll not only laugh, be shocked and express outrage - we'll also begin to understand what it means to embed our patterns into popular video games, into highly customized video games, into advertising, into the increasingly complex and pervasive web - and quite probably start earning money or other social credits for these forays. Many unexpected things will occur as these Mini Mes escape, like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, and begin to live autonomous lives as temes, co-mingling with viruses, surviving and evolving wherever there is silicon to be found, changing the nature of the web.

At some point the Mini Mes will surely match the capabilities of full on Digital Twins, but expect a lot of product iterations and cycles and evolutionary branching before then. Like life itself, these authorized and unauthorized little genies will resist all sorts of bottling, adding increasingly more simulations of ourselves to the wild west of the web.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How G+ Can Differentiate from Facebook: Education, Enterprise & Entertainment

In terms of sheer adoption, Google Plus has been a smashing success. With over 90 million users it’s the second fastest growing service in all of human history. Still, Google Plus is generally and increasingly viewed as a boring second-tier alternative to Facebook, which is now quite probably diffusing at the fastest rate of any technology to date.

Why? Because Facebook has the people, the conversations and massive data inertia & gravity. Its interface is boring, but Facebook isn’t. Many claim to be annoyed by it, but with 950 million+ highly engaged users Facebook has won social on planet Earth, thus far.

How might Google Plus compete against Facebook’s massive social inertia? For starters, Google could simply use its massive warchest to buy users. But that’s a mighty expensive proposition for users that could simply flee the service if it doesn’t prove sticky enough.

Far more likely, Google Plus will learn to win over users on the fringes, in currently non-mainstream use areas that could become critical differentiating factors for social network adoption and use in the coming years.

There are a few social network use categories that Google Plus is poised to rock: Education, Enterprise and Entertainment.

Education: By bundling all of its productivity tools into one big package, Google is already winning over classrooms. If the Google Suite plus G+ becomes the dominant education platform, that means millions of trained Google users will be deeply familiar with and more likely to continue using Google Plus.

Enterprise: By investing in productivity-enhancers like Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Multi-Video Chat, Google has challenged the likes of Microsoft in the workplace. These are positioned at the core of the Google suite. As Google continues to enhance these tools and build new ones, the company sure seems to offer the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to enterprise software. With a culture focused on efficiency and engineering, Google is likely to kill this category.

Entertainment: This is the great big wild card, imho. Whereas Apple and Facebook have made major strides in incorporating fun games and/or big Hollywood titles into their products, Google has yet to demonstrate that it really gets entertainment. No doubt the company is learning quickly via YouTube, Google TV and Google Play, but it appears to be a catch-up and keep-pace strategy, not a leap-frog play. Google Plus could certainly benefit from some big game titles, marquee movie releases and an eco-system of cutting edge games and apps. The battle for these properties and developers is already underway. Social web tv will be a reality soon. Who will best understand how to manage and provide programming?



The advent of fully operational HTML5 and all of the associated in-browser dynamic and multi-player gaming and viewing opportunities will be a major game-changer that could turn the tide vs Facebook. That said, 1) Facebook appears to be more focused on staying ahead of the casual gamer curve, 2) Microsoft (somehow!) has a dominant position in gaming via XBox that it will surely try to leverage into social, and 3) Apple could quickly grab mega market share by spending a few billion of its cash reserves by launching a social network around iTunes and the App Store. Google will need to be clever, by deed or by acquisition, to lead in this sector - but their other stable mega-properties, like Google Earth, Docs, Android, give them some unique insight and could well provide an edge in complex game platform design and operations.

There’s major disruption on the horizon for the major social networks. It’ll be fun to watch it all play out. And by fun, I mean literally - expect to see more better games, pro video titles, amateur video programs and serious games, not to mention major productivity enhancers that will continue to tip the scales in favor of the small business owners and growing prosumer class.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When American jobs are threatened it’s time to level-up & get social

  • American job losses will continue due to a convergence of big forces including offshoring and automation driven by accelerating change.  Service sector jobs will generally not return.
  • Social web business models are flourishing and point the way to new jobs and efficiencies.
  • A new class of Super Prosumer companies like Groupon are poised to explode and return more value to people, creating more jobs, but driving price points lower.
  • We need to encourage the development of Super Prosumer companies on U.S. soil across various industries and become a Prosumer Nation.

Like Scott Pilgrim, America needs to Level-Up.
The erosion of traditional American jobs continues unabated and we can expect it to steadily worsen.  From a macro perspective, there is simply no silver-bullet counter to the converging forces of globalization, automation, overvalued real estate prices, national debt, mega quantitative easing (printing more U.S. dollars to buy back our bonds so they don’t tank - a new round of $600 billion has just been proposed), mounting international resistance to U.S. monetary policy, massive overseas spending (Iraq, Afghanistan) general inefficiencies in govt, defense, education, oversight, and social services.  Despite weak signs of life in the country’s massive services sector, which comprises an astounding 80% of U.S. jobs, last week’s dismal jobs report reinforces the steady downhill march.

Though the timing is obviously unfortunate, this should come as no surprise. Forecasters like Alvin Toffler have been pointing out the inevitable shift to the Knowledge Age and post-industrial society for some 30 years already, while others like Martin Ford argue this transition is likely to be very disruptive and and downright Schumpeterian due to the rapid labor displacement that’s being catalyzed by accelerating technological change.  Well-established generational dynamics like Strauss and Howe’s Fourth Turning further strengthen the argument that we’re in the very early stages of a nasty, punctuated socio-economic transition.

So, what can we do to preserve American jobs and our way of life?

First, we need to come to agreement on the root causes of the problem - a handful of which I have listed above.  Since our political system is clearly incapable of achieving this level of dialogue, due to a phenomenon that Jonathan Rauch aptly labels “Demosclerosis” (thanks to ASF President John Smart for the excellent reference), it’s now incumbent on us, as individuals and local community networks, to Level-Up our understanding of the big-picture socio-economic dynamics.  Now that the shit is hitting the fan, the time is ripe for productive dialogue, which must replace polarized political rhetoric if we are to successfully adapt to the accelerating change that is obviously transforming our world and digesting American jobs.  At the very least, establishing a better sense of accel-aware context can help tell us what NOT to do, and what NOT to waste resources on.

Once we get on more-or-less the same page, we can then either 1) move on to meaningful policy debates and attempt to bend politicians to our will or 2) work around them.  Because it’s so difficult to achieve mass consensus, it seems fairly obvious that we must start generating creative solutions locally, at the community level.  Fortunately, the same technological change that’s contributing to American job losses is also sparking the emergence of a host of powerful new tools and economic models that grass roots change agents can take advantage of.  If our goal is to save American jobs, then it’s our responsibility to identify, vet and selectively apply these emerging solutions.

First and most obviously, we can turn to well-established, leading-edge American tech and web companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Johnson Controls, Amazon, EBay for software, hardware and intelligent systems that can bring down personal and business costs and increase profit.  Google Apps, Maps and embedded Search can help save money and form new businesses.  IBM’s Smart Infrastructure can reduce municipal sewage and water costs.  Amazon and EBay can serve as powerful distribution channels for small businesses and entrepreneurs.  And so forth.  These are all solutions we need to become more familiar with so that we and our local communities can effectively implement them.

Then there’s also a new class of social web companies that are already playing a more direct role in generating income, savings and new behavior - especially at the local level.  These include the likes of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Groupon, and Foursquare, just to name a few.  These companies offer tremendous marketing and content value and can only exist now that we’ve built the layer of high-speed internet and rich web infrastructure necessary to support them.  And, believe it or not, some are growing even more quickly than the likes of Google.  For example, tech blogger Kara Swisher reports that “Groupon’s run rate for this year is clocking in at $2 billion in revenue [offering] insight into why Google has been willing to pay up to $6 billion to acquire Groupon.”  

This is a MIND-BOGGLING figure, especially for a company that many scoffed at not too long ago and that initially set out to “organize collective action around social or charitable causes”.  Never before has a company reached $2 billion in annual revenue in just 2 years time.  Never before has a company been offered $6 billion just 2 years into its existence (other than spin-off companies).  

Particularly interesting is the trendline of valuations.  Going back just one decade we can see acceleration at work.  Youtube was purchased by google for $1.65 billion after just 18 months of existence.  Farmville creator Zynga is said to be worth $5.5 billion just 3 years into its life.  Secondary market shares of Facebook are reported to be trading at a value of $50 billion after 6 years. And now Groupon has claimed the crown of fastest growing company in the history of planet Earth. The speed at which a company can be organized and scale is clearly accelerating.

Even more interesting is the symbiotic relationship these companies have with their customers.  Each and every one of them fundamentally depends on user generated content and participation to function.  Therefore, they inherently must make the cost of participation as low as possible, and the benefits to users as high as possible - a phenomenon I like to call The Mandate of Kevin.  This is their bread and butter.  YouTube returns value in the form of attention and ad revenue.  Zynga provides a web of social interaction and virtual gifts from co-players.  Facebook returns value in the form of a rich, easy to navigate social graph, marketing opportunities and great technology (they’d lose users the second they fell behind in technology, as Friendster and MySpace did).  And it’s no surprise that the fastest horse out of the gate, Groupon, returns the most value of them all to businesses and organizations in the form of direct revenue in exchange for participating in the group discount schemes.  

It’s logical to predict that their successors will be more dependent on large groups of value-adding participants, aka prosumers (producer + consumer = prosumer).  Which means that the power will continue to swing in our direction, resulting in larger pay-outs and more direct value, while the sites themselves become even more user-friendly and integrated with other systems (like Facebook, Google, and Twitter) that we already use on a regular basis.  Leading-edge companies like Google are acutely aware of this.

Such prosumer-centric models will steadily trickle down to all sorts of industries and purpose networks.  Some early examples include iphone apps that turn street mapping into a reward-driven game, online stock markets that predict box office scores more accurately than experts, and social health networks capable of determining the effectiveness of new drugs years before clinical trials can accomplish the same thing.

Stepping back again, we can see that at the very heart of this transformation of opportunities is acceleration in the networking of human beings and the ability to put more brains and bodies to use more effectively in more ways - the social side of accelerating change.  Key to this is the ongoing deployment of mobile computer devices, which currently manifest as the smartphones we carry around that allow us to connect to other people and data in real-time.  These will continue to augment the reality around us (if we want them to), bringing more of the web into the world and linking more of the world to the web, and enable more socio-economic opportunities that have been impossible up to this point in human history.  Thanks in large part to some accelerating price-performance curves like Moore’s Law, we are truly living through a momentous shift that’s going to proceed far more quickly than most of us presently imagine.

One result of this possibility expansion will be the ongoing emergence of a new class of Super-Prosumer companies that will fill much of the void left by dwindling American jobs.  As the traditional economy flounders, these social web companies will clean-up (they already are) and expand the phase space for massive, rapid value creation like never before.  It brings to mind the Cambrain Explosion 600 million years ago and the dinosaur-to-mammalian transition 50-60 million years ago, both prime examples of a spurt of species destruction quickly followed by rapid new growth that can occur in systems when the conditions and timing are right.  We are now living through a similar period in history.

To take advantage of the disruption and minimize the downside of accelerating change we must act like mammals at the end of the dinosaur era.  We must learn to actively seek out and generate new opportunities, especially locally.  As the barriers to participation and creation fall we can use new technologies to easily create our own apps, build complex simulations, create custom animations and cartoons, better map and monitor the planet, earn money for our photos and vids, create powerful mobile on-the-fly action networks, earn money by turning people on to deals, reduce emissions and earn money by renting out our cars, and so forth.  The list goes on and on.

My near-term hope is that the explosion of opportunities will create more jobs than it destroys while reducing resource consumption along the way.  But now that the game is cracking open and more people all over the world can participate it seems far more likely that we will not be able to replace the American jobs that we are losing quickly enough to minimize the negative short-term economic effects.  That’s just reality.  We as a nation have over-extended, over-borrowed and over-diluted our currency, and at the same time fallen behind in education and technical acumen.  All while the rest of the world has learned to do what we do better and cheaper.  So, even as we do make the transition, it will be at a lower wage price point than we are accustomed to.

There is however a silver lining to the tale. The United States is a creative nation that can benefit greatly from the entrepreneurial spirit woven into our national storyline and from the presence of the abundant prosumer-oriented companies that have already sprung to life here.  If we can learn to more quickly learn from these examples and the potent new models that are emerging every single day, then we can and will recover our edge and relative income.  If not, then we will see much value flow outward, off-shore and be left to hope that accelerating change will raise all boats even as others seize the opportunities that we could have seized.

By understanding the nature of accelerating change, globalization, automation, creative destruction at the national level, and emerging prosumer models we can figure out how to individually and collectively adapt to the times.  As the world shifts, the individuals, communities, cultures and nations that upgrade their maps most quickly will have a big edge.  People who understand the shift and the new tools will be able to do more with less and pull value toward them. They will be the ones to create and take advantage of the new Groupons and Facebooks.  That said, the competition will be fierce, the price points will be lower, and the performance metrics more accurate.  As a result we’ll need to become increasingly multi-modal, willing to work on-the-fly, become accustomed to low job security, and be willing to engage in an increaingly web-mediated economy.  We'll need to become a nation of Super Prosumers.

If we can sufficiently level-up our map of the system and social web then we will surely learn to leverage our voices, feet, dollars and networks to increase personal and local opportunities in unexpected and astounding new ways, thus repositioning America for new jobs and growth.


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Alvis Brigis is a media strategist, writer, and entrepreneur focused on the social side of accelerating change.  He is currently CEO of a stealth mobile content start-up, Board Member of the Acceleration Studies Foundation and a weekend bartender.

About Alvis Brigis

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Alvis Brigis is a media specialist and futurist residing in California. Most recently, he was Story Producer on History Channel’s Invention USA and Executive Producer for The Future of Facebook, the first Open Foresight project to be funded and released to the public. He’s produced and written for TV networks including NBC, VH1, THC and Sundance Channel. Brigis co-founded Future Scanner (a prediction harvesting tool), Swarmado (a mobile content-sharing app for events) and has developed a variety of forward-looking startups. He serves on the advisory board of Acceleration Studies Foundation and blogs about the social side of accelerating change at Social Node. He’s also an avid sci-fi, comedy and quest adventure writer.