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Matt's Blog

A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

Countering futurist arrogance
I recently attended the BIL conference, a free version of TED in which most of the speakers are from the audience. Given the crowdsourced nature of the speaker selection process, the quality of the talks is very good, which speaks to the quality of the attendees.

One interesting conversation came up that hit at something I find wrong with the futurist community. I was having a conversation with two very intelligent people that ended up with the two of them claiming that “average” people are basically too dumb or narrow-minded to understand futurist concepts like the Singularity. I said something to the effect of “most people aren’t as dumb as you think they are”.

Most futurists (including myself) are atheists, and a lot of them tend to look down on people who have strong religious beliefs. The argument usually goes along the lines of “if someone literally believes the world was created in seven days, and Eve was created from Adam’s rib, how smart can they be”?

The funny thing is that these strange creatures with their strange, clearly unscientific beliefs are still capable of incredible feats. They can successfully run large organizations.  They can build things like these:

How can someone with such gaping holes in their logic still expertly handle all the logistical decisions required to construct a cathedral or run a megachurch? Clearly they are actually very capable, probably more capable at certain things than most futurists. Most futurists are actually quite unexceptional when it comes to organizational skills.

I think what’s actually going on is that every personality type has a blind spot where logic simply doesn’t apply. The religious fundamentalists’ blind spot (IMHO) is their religious fundamentalism. The futurists’ blind spot is, on average, their arrogant belief that ideas are everything and that they are so much smarter than everyone else that it’s not worth trying to explain these ideas to the general public. There is of course a lot of individual variation on this, and a few futurists have successfully shared their ideas in the mainstream media, but these people feel like exceptions.

I think we, as futurists, can do better. I’ve taken it upon myself to spend more time introducing futurist topics to random strangers in an accessible way. My conversation about computer vision with a random woman in line at the Long Beach airport went quite well.

Does programming cause Aspergers? :-)
After graduating from college with a computer science degree, I’ve spent most of my subsequent years not programming. However, I’ve been spending most of the day for the last couple of months programming. I am noticing that it’s starting to change how I think and interact socially at times. If I just spend a couple of hours programming, I don’t notice an effect, but on days where I program for several hours in a row, my mind starts to convert to a programming-centric state, and it takes some time afterwards to snap out of it. My conversation skills become more stilted, and I become more nit-picky about details. Programming metaphors start popping into my head to describe real-world phenomena. Sometimes the metaphors are appropriate, but these metaphors all tend to be reductionist, and that must alter my view of the world to some degree.

While people who have the symptoms of Aspergers are often drawn to programming, I think the process runs in reverse as well. In addition to the fact that time spent programming is time spent not gaining social skills, programming requires the adoption of a mindset that increases Asperger-like thinking, and the mind is quick to rewire to function optimally in a new environment.

I do wonder whether pair programming techniques mitigate this effect to some degree.