Ok, so we're headed towards an advanced technological society where all our networked objects converge and because of their number begin to develop their own intelligence. This is the basic premise of the singularity concept. But what is that going to mean for us? How will we make sense of all these machines?

David Orban, techno-futurist and advanced society visionary has got plenty to say about it. He has spent recent years developing an attitude towards all this future computer power called the 'internet of things'. He's talking about the jump from 'access to data' then 'access to applications' to 'access to sensors'. With networked physical objects multiplying like weeds the next technological mechanism is to give us unprecedented access to the physical world. The Quantified Self movement is already doing this on a rapidly expanding scale.

The argument is very persuasive and it's easy to see how ubiquitous computing leads to autonomous computing. There's no way we can keep track of all the information produced today let alone the massive data explosion about to happen. Obviously we're going to have to push a lot of stuff into the background. Orban gives the example of the Large Hadron Collider where over 99% of the data is handled autonomously with the tiny remaining percentage brought up to human eyes for analysis or your cell phone, which communicates constantly with base stations to provide you with a reliable signal whenever you need it. All without you knowing.

Cearly this aspect of the future networked world is also going to expand and Orban's response is subversive. We need to become much more active in our relationship with machines. Learn how to hack into and adapt them for different purposes. Monkey wrench their original uses for social aims.

Orban concludes that we're living now in what he calls 'the anthropocene' a historical and geological era defined by human technological civilisation. There is the uncomfortable fact of course that in the many parts of the world without sanitation, clean drinking water or electricity, it's till the pre-anthropocene.

Well aware of this, David Orban is also former chairman and now director of Humanity + an NGO which advocates 'the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities'. We need to make sure those capacities are not limited to the citizens of advanced western economies he says. After all, we have no monopoly on humanity. We can't afford to abandon those living in poverty for the promise of a shiny techno-future. Orban calls this 'planetary co-evolution' and it's one of his most eloquent and profound ideas. Come and find out more.

David Orban will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6

John Fass

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