Leading into the Future: Why the U.S. will look to Japan, not China

On Wednesday night, ~75 futurists gathered for an engaging meet-up at Public Bar in Washington, DC. Patrick Tucker (@TheYear2030), senior editor of THE FUTURIST magazine, spoke briefly, as I had invited him to share a little about his experiences while on assignment in Japan during the past six months.

In an email response to Shashi Bellamkonda (who snapped some fun photos of the evening) on why he ventured to Japan, Patrick wrote:

…in searching for a picture of what the United States will look like in 2050, don’t look to China.  The story of the emerging superpower is one we’ve already lived.  China will industrialize, build factories, grow its middle class, and assert its interests on the international stage.  For all the menace that Washington projects onto the government in Beijing, too often we forget that China ’s ascent is the story of  America’s rise a century ago.  A more accurate picture of our later 21st Century might be found in Japan, a nation grappling with enormous national debt, insufficient natural resources, waning geopolitical influence, and the oldest population in the Industrialized world; 22% of the country is older than 65.

Japan is still the future. But the future is not what it was.

Japan’s aging and shrinking population is a lethal combination for economic growth according to many outside observers. Older populations draw down savings rather than reinvest, and they strain public services and government budgets, a particular worry in Japan where the debt to GDP ratio is above 200%.

Japan, however, is also a world leader in green product design, hardware design, and personal robotics.  In the coming decade, Japan will leverage its technology and design strengths in an attempt overcome its economic and demographic challenges.  Japan’s success or failure in this effort will be instructive for other developed economies with aging populations.

As someone who follows technology and innovation closely, Japan is exceptionally interesting – for its cultural tradition, discipline and honor, for its love of nature in its reverence for trees and seasons, and for its exuberant development of robots. Now, in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that disabled the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, I’m even more interested in how this country will lead the way in energy innovation (for example, read  how one Japanese company is pursuing a plan to harvest solar energy from the moon). And more importantly, how the United States will partner in these endeavors.

 

You might be a futurist if…

You find the now so yawn…what’ll be hot in a few months from now meh…transporters and nanobots and the singularity can’t get here soon enough.

In all seriousness (not that I was joking in the previous paragraph), I think futurists, and futurism, scare a lot of people. And it’s not because futurism challenges deeply held precepts of traditionalists.

No, I think it’s because people can barely handle their current reality, let alone the idea of ones in the future. Of course you’re going to think Ray Kurzweil is a kook if you cling onto the past or even worse, can’t come to terms with it.

Futurists are not people who live in fear, who aren’t so mired in reality they can’t envision what the future looks like. Futurists are dreamers and even more, they are believers in their own dreams. They are inventors and they are creators and they are problem-solvers.

Wikipedia defines futurists as “scientists and social scientists whose speciality is to attempt to systematically predict the future, whether that of human society in particular or of life on earth in general.”

But I don’t believe futurists are so much predictors of the future as they are drivers of it. Thomas Edison was just as much of a futurist as Martin Luther King. They had an inherent, insatiable need to create change based on an undying discontent with their current surroundings and circumstances. To quote Edison, “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

So does future make the man or does man make the future? I think futurists make the future. One is able to predict the future by creating it. So the real question is, what kind of future do you want to create?

PS – Tomorrow (Wed, Apr 20) I predict a large group of people will gather at Public Bar in DC to talk about futurism, the future and Japan: dcfuturists.eventbrite.com

Why “The Social Network” Should and Will Win Best Picture

It’s no secret I liked the Facebook movie, The Social Network. Not because Aaron Sorkin grossly sensualized or flat out changed details and aspects to make the story more compelling. Nor because Trent Reznor added a wicked awesome soundtrack that moved me to bop along to the melodic beats of base in my seat. And not because Justin Timberlake made Sean Parker appear significantly more attractive and cooler than I assume he ever was, is or will be. In all honesty, the film more closely resembles Clerks than The Hurt Locker.

I liked it because I identify and empathize with the nerds, geeks and dorks of the world and I was tired of seeing this stereotype beat up and bullied (or as I stated in this TV Blogo interview, “shoved into lockers”) time and time again in film and television. It was nice to see intellect triumph over brawn or prominence of family pedigree – literally the little guy prevail.

The world has changed. The Social Network demarcates a seminal point in the history of humankind – where more and more our lives are being lived in a virtual world and as I’ve noted previously, the people who are skilled in this environment wield tremendous power and influence. Senators and heads of states are literally flocking to Silicon Valley to understand – to comprehend – the power of technology. You control the medium, you control the process, you control the message and the outcome. This is Darwinism, this is survival of the fittest.

So while The Social Network is lacking in many factually correct details, whether folks like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg is our modern day Braveheart – the Gladiator of geeks. And he’s alive. Not simply a relic of the past. He is the future. The fact that his story was made into a major Hollwood film, an industry dominated by sports stars, war heroes and action figures, is significant.

Tinseltown makes no secret it loves a good “rags to riches” underdog story, which is why (although I have no doubt Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George VI will rightfully win him Best Actor), The Social Network should and will take home Best Picture. It is the true sequel to War Games. It is our zeitgeist.

Why "The Social Network" Should and Will Win Best Picture

It’s no secret I liked the Facebook movie, The Social Network. Not because Aaron Sorkin grossly sensualized or flat out changed details and aspects to make the story more compelling. Nor because Trent Reznor added a wicked awesome soundtrack that moved me to bop along to the melodic beats of base in my seat. And not because Justin Timberlake made Sean Parker appear significantly more attractive and cooler than I assume he ever was, is or will be. In all honesty, the film more closely resembles Clerks than The Hurt Locker.

I liked it because I identify and empathize with the nerds, geeks and dorks of the world and I was tired of seeing this stereotype beat up and bullied (or as I stated in this TV Blogo interview, “shoved into lockers”) time and time again in film and television. It was nice to see intellect triumph over brawn or prominence of family pedigree – literally the little guy prevail.

The world has changed. The Social Network demarcates a seminal point in the history of humankind – where more and more our lives are being lived in a virtual world and as I’ve noted previously, the people who are skilled in this environment wield tremendous power and influence. Senators and heads of states are literally flocking to Silicon Valley to understand – to comprehend – the power of technology. You control the medium, you control the process, you control the message and the outcome. This is Darwinism, this is survival of the fittest.

So while The Social Network is lacking in many factually correct details, whether folks like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg is our modern day Braveheart – the Gladiator of geeks. And he’s alive. Not simply a relic of the past. He is the future. The fact that his story was made into a major Hollwood film, an industry dominated by sports stars, war heroes and action figures, is significant.

Tinseltown makes no secret it loves a good “rags to riches” underdog story, which is why (although I have no doubt Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George VI will rightfully win him Best Actor), The Social Network should and will take home Best Picture. It is the true sequel to War Games. It is our zeitgeist.

Podcasts Are Saving My Life

I’m such a huge fan of podcasts that it’s insane. See I have this eye problem that prevents me from reading too much. My day job is in technology and my hobby is writing so I have no ‘good eyes’ left for everything else.

That’s where podcasts come in. I can listen to them while walking, cleaning, and building (my three other hobbies). It’s such a perfect blend that I want to share with you my favorites:

  • This Week in Tech
  • Slate Political Gabfest
  • Bloomberg Presents Lewis Lapham
  • History of Rome
  • Melvyn Bragg – In Our Time
  • The Economist (all of the shows)
  • APM: Marketplace Morning Report

The interesting thing about these shows are that none of them are from traditional TV/Radio. Half of them are writers of print media talking about their work. An interesting trend I expect to scare the beejeesus out of Hollywood.

Here are my second tier shows that I still listen to vehemently:

  • Slate Cultural Gabfest
  • Slate Hang Up And Listen
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  • Tech News Today
  • Buzz Out Loud
  • TED Talks
  • NBC Meet The Press
  • APM: Marketplace
  • APM: The Splendid Table

Sorry for the lack of links but you can Google (or iTunes search) these titles and I guarantee you will find them.

Do you listen to any of these?

Who are the best in DC Tech?

Have you ever met one of those PhD’s from a third world country. You know someone that used to be well-esteemed and then their country fell apart. So when you meet them they are working as a security guard but telling you stories about human genomics?

That’s kinda how I feel leaving the Intelligence Community. For years I have been laboring away inside their networks, building them, growing communities, and finding success. Now I am leaving, branching out into the wider world.

My first step is to survey the DC Tech scene. I’ve found that the Facebook group DC Tech is pretty much awesome and we are on the verge of having our own twitter hashtag #DCTech.

To go beyond that I had to hit the numbers to see who’s dominating:

Top Twitterati in DC (by followers)

  1. Walt Mossberg (120k)
  2. Alex Howard (49k)
  3. Mark Drapeau (17k)
  4. Angie Goff (14k)
  5. Allyson Kapin (14k)

Top DC Tech Website ($)

  1. Viget Labs (58k)
  2. TechCocktail ($35k)
  3. Nclud ($21k)
  4. Jess3 (17k)
  5. iStrategyLabs (13k)

*website worth from cubestat.com

Top DC Tech Website (by Alexa rank)

  1. TechCocktail (16k)
  2. Viget Labs (29k)
  3. Jess3 (59k)
  4. Geoff Livingston (77k)
  5. iStrategyLabs (90k)

Top Women in DC Tech

Twitter:

  1. Angie Goff and Allyson Kapin (both have 14k)
  2. Debbie Weil (9k)
  3. Jill Johnson (8k)
  4. Kate Michaels and Pamela Sorenson (both at 4k)

Websites:

  1. Angie Goff (top website in Alexa rank)
  2. City Girl Blogs (2nd best Alexa rank)
  3. Pamela Sorenson (top website value in $$)
  4. Debbie Weil (2nd best website value in $$)

Full List (in alphabetical order)

Alex Howard writing on Gov 2.0 at Oreilly Radar

All Things D by Walt Mossberg

City Girl Blogs

CTO Vision by Bob Gourley

Debbie Weil

  • Alexa Rank #299,243
  • 1,731 subscribers in Google Reader at 0.5 posts/week
  • Website worth: $9,719
  • Twitter – @DebbieWeil: 9,561

Eye Traffic by Andrew Bates

Geoff Livingston

InfoVegan by Clay Johnson

  • Alexa Rank #1,073,678
  • 705 subscribers in Google Reader at 0.2 posts/week
  • Website worth $2,041
  • Twitter – @cjoh: 4,136

iStrategyLabs by Peter Corbett

  • Alexa Rank of #248,215 – “visitors tend to consist of childless, highly educated, higher-income women between the ages of 25 and 45. We estimate that 57%”
  • 52 subscribers in Google Reader at 0.5 posts/week
  • Website worth: $13,400
  • Twitter – @corbett3000: 6,910
  • Facebook likes: 1,237

Jess3 by Jesse Thomas and Leslie Bradshaw

  • Alexa Rank of #131,274 – “audience tends to consist of highly educated, childless men earning over $60,000”
  • 170 subscribers in Google Reader at 7.0 posts/week
  • Website worth: $16,800
  • Twitter – @jess3: 6,373
  • Facebook likes: 897

K Street Kate by Kate Michaels

Live Your Talk by Jill Johnson

Nclud by Marty Ringlein and Alex Giron

  • Alexa Rank #121,361
  • 84 subscribers in Google Reader at 1.2 posts/week
  • Website worth: $20,643
  • Twitter – @Nclud: 1,015
  • Facebook likes: 96

OhMyGoff.tv by Angie Goff

  • Alexa Rank – #150,295
  • 30 subscribers in Google Reader at 12.6 posts/week
  • Website worth $2,551
  • Twitter – @ohmygoff: 13,821
  • Facebook likes: 7,577

Pamela’s Punch by Pamela Sorenson

Pink Line Project by Philippa Hughes

Sector: Public by Mark Drapeau

Shashi.name by Shashi Bellamkonda

  • Alexa rank #2,052,581
  • 87 subscribers in Google Reader at 9.6 posts/week
  • Twitter – @shashib: 12,222

Shepherd’s Pi by Lewis Shepherd

  • 231 subscribers in Google Reader at 0.5 posts/week
  • Twitter – @LewisShepherd: 3,687

TechCocktail by Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo

  • Alexa Rank #61,955 – “Compared with the overall internet population, Techcocktail.com appeals more to users who are high-income”
  • 137 subscribers in Google Reader at 15.4 posts/week
  • Website worth: $35,600
  • Twitter – @Techcocktail: 6,763
  • Facebook likes: 4,176

Viget Labs by Brian Williams and Andy Rankin

  • Alexa Rank #28,793
  • 409 subscribers in Google Reader at 0.2 posts/week
  • Website worth: $58,004
  • Twitter – @Viget: 1,591
  • Facebook likes: 240

WomenWhoTech by Allyson Kapin

And for what it’s worth, a little evaluation of this site:

Why Bloom is a Game Changer

Wow!

What an exciting day in energy. Today Bloom Energy changed the game with their Bloom Server, here is why.

We all know the story that the vast majority of our energy comes from old (and dirty) power plants that use coal and nuclear energy sources. Well the hidden truth behind these “energy sources” is that all they do is heat water to create steam and move turbines. They make steam!

How ridiculous is that. We can send a robot to Mars but to power my iPhone I need some boiling water?

This ridiculous market paradigm is what Bloom hopes to exploit (and make billions in the process). They ignore the source argument over replacing coal and nuclear with wind, solar, or heat. Instead focusing on the energy process itself and applying advanced technology to wring some efficiency out of it.

K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom, PhD, and former Director of Space Technologies at UofA, did just that. He found that a combination of fuel cells and natural gas can get 2x as much power as the steam process can (using same inputs). In his own words, they did it through old fashioned innovation:

“I call it R&D on steroids,” K.R. Sridhar said at the start-up’s offices. “We created an R&D platform where you continuously improve, validate and test. Learn why it broke and move on.”

That RD process has turned out one of the most promising energy technologies to date (imagine needing half as much coal). A fuel cell made out of sand and coated in a cheap metal “oxide” (they are keeping the recipe a secret). Each cell is super thin and just a few inches wide/long and capable of turning natural gas into electricity.

That is the fuel cell side to all this, although it doesn’t sound at all like traditional fuel cells.

The kicker is that this is not future technology. These fuel cells are already in place at many large business sites. Google is reported to be the first to have installed one while eBay, who hosted the press event, said to have five Bloom Servers providing %15 of their energy. A server is about 4,000 cells jammed into a black box that looks like an IT server.

That is just the beginning. This technology is so promising that everybody is joining the party. The press event was attended by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, and Michael Bloomberg (“make no mistake, when we look at Bloom, we are looking at the future of business, economy, and America”).

Finally, the VP and CEO’s of FedEx, Walmart, Staples, Google, Coca Cola, Bank of America, Cox, and eBay were on hand to explain why they love Bloom.

A star studded public relations event or the future of energy technology?

—-

CNet Live Blog Of Bloom Energy Press Event

Engadget Live Blog of Bloom Energy Press Event

She's Geeky…It's Personal

My story: I was born on a Sunday afternoon to Linda and Charlie Senger. My parents met when my mom was transferred to my dad’s division when her boss wouldn’t promote her because she was – a woman. My dad had a package on his desk addressed to his good friend from college, who turned out to be the beau of my mom’s best friend in high school. I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe in the virtue of tenacity. A couple marriage proposals later, my mom finally said yes and here I am.

A few important notes: 1) my mom had been married before, which produced my awesome brother 2) my dad is a geeky guy and a total sports fanatic – I mean FANATIC and 3) my dad always said he wanted a little girl. When I was old enough to inquire, I asked my dad why didn’t he want a boy. He said matter-of-factly he already had my brother and all the things he wanted to do, he could do with me. And it’s true. He taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat as soon as I had the coordination. I grew up playing every sport under the sun.

Swing for the Fences

I also grew up with an older brother who was an engineer, straight out of the womb as my mom likes to say. I probably ruined more of his train sets, stereo, computer and guitar equipment than he’d like to remember. My brother is a smart, successful man but of all his accomplishments, his greatest achievement, in my opinion, is my niece. I adore her. If I never have children, I’m okay with it because my brother and sister-in-law already created this amazing human being who I have the great privilege of loving.

Which brings me to the point of my story. Over the years, I’ve watched my niece grow up. The kid is notably smart, clever, funny, observant, well-mannered, talented…all-around perfect. Not that I’m biased:) She’s taught me that children are either able to become the person they are meant to be or they’re taught to become mirrors of the world around them, no matter how distorted or tainted that world might be. The first time this point was thrown in my face was when she was six years old. We were talking about what she wanted to be when she “grew up” and she said a princess. Walk into any girls section of Toys-R-Us and it’s no surprise why. I told her she’d probably have to marry a prince to become a princess because although she does descend from royal lineage, she’s not in line for the crown. I said an alternative is President of the United States. And this is when she said the words I will never forget:

“Aunt Amy, girls can’t be President.”

The insolence I felt at the notion that this person, so capable of being anything she wants to be, would inherit the idea that she couldn’t be leader of a country known by the rest of the world as the land of opportunity reached Maleficent-level proportions in me. I told her, in a very serious tone, that girls can be President and she would see a woman President one day. And then  she apologized. For saying it. She apologized for the ignorance and discrimination and bias of the rest of the world.

Two years later, we were at the mall and the half-pint requested a visit to the book store. I said okay and asked her what she wanted there. In a very soft whisper, she answered. I had no idea what she said, she uttered it so quietly. I leaned down and asked, “What did you say?” Again, this time looking around like a cagey KGB agent, she whispered, “Pokemon.” “Pokemon?” I repeated. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Why are you whispering?” I asked. “I don’t want anyone to hear,” she replied. I started to think. “Do your parents not want you reading this?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Then why are you being so weird?” And this is when my niece, who has never been into dolls, has never gotten anythings but A’s in math and science, who can figure out any gadget faster than I can, made the second statement I will never forget:

“Pokemon is for boys.”

The way she was acting, you would’ve thought she was running drug shipments for the Colombians. So I had a little talk with her. I told her if anyone ever questioned her interest in Pokemon, she would aptly inform them: That’s just how I roll.

Gamer Girl

My niece is ten years old and there are three responsibilities I feel very earnestly because of her:

 

1. I must leave her a world that isn’t trashed, literally.
2. She will see a woman President of the United States.
3. My niece will be able to grow into the individual she’s meant to be, without the confines of gender stereotypes.

 

The third responsibility is the reason I am supporting and promoting She’s Geeky. It’s why I’m being vocal about events I see as gender-biased and why I won’t be spending money on any company, product or event that discriminates or appears to discriminate against women. It’s why I participate in Ignite DC and the BvB DC charity football game. It’s why I started 1×57. I can’t expect somebody else to make the change happen. I’m responsible for clearing the path for whatever my niece is meant to be. God help you if you get in my way.

Who wants to be normal?

She’s Geeky…It’s Personal

My story: I was born on a Sunday afternoon to Linda and Charlie Senger. My parents met when my mom was transferred to my dad’s division when her boss wouldn’t promote her because she was – a woman. My dad had a package on his desk addressed to his good friend from college, who turned out to be the beau of my mom’s best friend in high school. I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe in the virtue of tenacity. A couple marriage proposals later, my mom finally said yes and here I am.

A few important notes: 1) my mom had been married before, which produced my awesome brother 2) my dad is a geeky guy and a total sports fanatic – I mean FANATIC and 3) my dad always said he wanted a little girl. When I was old enough to inquire, I asked my dad why didn’t he want a boy. He said matter-of-factly he already had my brother and all the things he wanted to do, he could do with me. And it’s true. He taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat as soon as I had the coordination. I grew up playing every sport under the sun.

Swing for the Fences

I also grew up with an older brother who was an engineer, straight out of the womb as my mom likes to say. I probably ruined more of his train sets, stereo, computer and guitar equipment than he’d like to remember. My brother is a smart, successful man but of all his accomplishments, his greatest achievement, in my opinion, is my niece. I adore her. If I never have children, I’m okay with it because my brother and sister-in-law already created this amazing human being who I have the great privilege of loving.

Which brings me to the point of my story. Over the years, I’ve watched my niece grow up. The kid is notably smart, clever, funny, observant, well-mannered, talented…all-around perfect. Not that I’m biased:) She’s taught me that children are either able to become the person they are meant to be or they’re taught to become mirrors of the world around them, no matter how distorted or tainted that world might be. The first time this point was thrown in my face was when she was six years old. We were talking about what she wanted to be when she “grew up” and she said a princess. Walk into any girls section of Toys-R-Us and it’s no surprise why. I told her she’d probably have to marry a prince to become a princess because although she does descend from royal lineage, she’s not in line for the crown. I said an alternative is President of the United States. And this is when she said the words I will never forget:

“Aunt Amy, girls can’t be President.”

The insolence I felt at the notion that this person, so capable of being anything she wants to be, would inherit the idea that she couldn’t be leader of a country known by the rest of the world as the land of opportunity reached Maleficent-level proportions in me. I told her, in a very serious tone, that girls can be President and she would see a woman President one day. And then  she apologized. For saying it. She apologized for the ignorance and discrimination and bias of the rest of the world.

Two years later, we were at the mall and the half-pint requested a visit to the book store. I said okay and asked her what she wanted there. In a very soft whisper, she answered. I had no idea what she said, she uttered it so quietly. I leaned down and asked, “What did you say?” Again, this time looking around like a cagey KGB agent, she whispered, “Pokemon.” “Pokemon?” I repeated. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Why are you whispering?” I asked. “I don’t want anyone to hear,” she replied. I started to think. “Do your parents not want you reading this?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Then why are you being so weird?” And this is when my niece, who has never been into dolls, has never gotten anythings but A’s in math and science, who can figure out any gadget faster than I can, made the second statement I will never forget:

“Pokemon is for boys.”

The way she was acting, you would’ve thought she was running drug shipments for the Colombians. So I had a little talk with her. I told her if anyone ever questioned her interest in Pokemon, she would aptly inform them: That’s just how I roll.

Gamer Girl

My niece is ten years old and there are three responsibilities I feel very earnestly because of her:

 

1. I must leave her a world that isn’t trashed, literally.
2. She will see a woman President of the United States.
3. My niece will be able to grow into the individual she’s meant to be, without the confines of gender stereotypes.

 

The third responsibility is the reason I am supporting and promoting She’s Geeky. It’s why I’m being vocal about events I see as gender-biased and why I won’t be spending money on any company, product or event that discriminates or appears to discriminate against women. It’s why I participate in Ignite DC and the BvB DC charity football game. It’s why I started 1×57. I can’t expect somebody else to make the change happen. I’m responsible for clearing the path for whatever my niece is meant to be. God help you if you get in my way.

Who wants to be normal?