Working across timescales: the future may never get here

Last week I read a cool tweet by @SimonLongstaff at the St. James Ethics Centre which read:

“A proposal: that every regulation automatically lapse after a limited, fixed period – only being renewed if deemed essential”

I thought this was a cool idea to change the default from what is most often permanent legislation, to a default to make it limited or temporary and to have it renewed only if it proves itself. I also wondered if this should be the default for organisations or companies. Perhaps new companies or social services should also have a limited shelf-life (or business registration) that would only be renewed if it was deemed essential, effective and impactful. I wonder whether that would change our thinking around the strategies that we adopt, and the overriding purposes of our organisations.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should only think in short timescales. As a futurist, I am a big champion for extending the horizons in which we think, create and work. I mostly think in strategic cycles of 12-15 years within a longer vision of 50-100 years. I celebrate those organisations and communities which have the foresight to extend this further. The Queensland Folk Read more

Ethics for robots

I’m going out on a limb here to talk about something I have very little idea about. I came across this story earlier in The Economist called “Morals and the machine“, which explores the development of robotics in certain fields and the emergence of “machine ethics”.

The article outlines a bunch of areas where robotics have high levels of interaction with humans, and where a robot’s actions or behaviour could have negative implications or consequences for humans. Examples provided include the use of robotics in the military, transport and health care. As robotics become more sophisticated and being making ‘decisions’ that have an ethical dimension, so too will the programming of the robots need to be become equally sophisticated.

But how does one determine what kind of ethical program (paradigm or framework) to install in a robot? If you are creating a robot in the US for use or implementation in another part of the world, do you install an ‘Americentric’ ethical framework? or values and ethics that are culturally appropriate to the culture in which it will be used? If one thinks of ethics as being what is right to most people, then who are most people? I assume that the people making robots are making them for global consumption, whereby the user would not necessarily be part of the maker’s ‘most people’.

I wonder how significant masculinity and femininity are in shaping ethical thinking or behaviour. As robots are gender neutral, are the installed ethical frameworks more biased towards the masculine or feminine? Or age for that matter: the ethical decisions made by someone at age 10 compared to age 40 or 80 would be entirely different. Read more

The rush for change

This world seems to operate on some kind of speed, with the pace quickening and quickening at such a rate that it gains a momentum all of its own. This ‘speed’ is more than metaphorical, our world is actually operating on stimulant overdrive. Over the past ten years we have seen the rise of coffee consumption in the western world, and the prevalence of both prescriptive and non-prescriptive drugs¬† that are helping our bodies regulate its pace.

I too succumbed to the binds of coffee. Like so many, at one stage my day wouldn’t be able to start without a ritual flat white (Soy FW actually). We justify it saying we like the taste, or we simply love the ritual, and some even say, but it’s just my one and only vice. I am not actually judging the consumption of coffee here. Clearly we have some kind of need it, and perhaps more than simply because of a physiological addiction. In talking with friends and colleagues, they say that they need it to keep up with the frenetic pace of the world around them.

Some jobs and industries are ‘naturally’ fast-paced, like stock trading and base jumping (and look at the risks in those industries). Slowing down the pace of base jumping may make the sport redundant or in the least unappealing to those seeking the rush. The same could be said of stock trading, as well as the loss of opportunity.

Other industries have also caught up with the need for speed, with this pace infilrating education, health and the environment. We want quick fixes, we want results and we want it now. And yes, this is no more true than in the field of doing good. Read more