Your Reputation: The Currency of the Future

reputation_marketingNot too long ago, I did something I haven’t done in a long time and wrote a conceptual post, one which dealt with the concept of the “Internet of Things” and where its leading us. In that spirit, and in the hopes of tackling another concept which has been intriguing me of late, I wanted to delve into this thing known as Reputation Marketing, also known as the Trust Economy.

Here too, the concept has been batted around of late, and even addressed in a Ted Talks lecture (see below). And much like the Internet of Things, it addresses a growing trend that is the result of the digital revolution and everything we do online. To break it down succinctly, Reputation Marketing states that as more and more of our activities are quantified online, our behavior will become commodified, and our actions will become the new currency.

Facebook Reece ElliottAt the heart of this trend is such things as social media, online shopping, and online reviews. With everything from used goods, furniture, clothing and cars to accommodations up for review, people are turning to web-based recommendations like never before. In fact, a 2012 study done by Neilsen Media Research suggested that 70% of all consumers trust online reviews,  which are now second only to personal recommendations.

For some, this represents a positive development, since it means we are moving away from the depersonalized world of institutional production toward a new economy built on social connections and rewards. One such person is Marina Gorbis, who explores the development of what she calls socialstructing in her book The Nature Of The Future: Dispatches From The Socialstructed World. 

NatureOfTheFuture_cover_sml_01In Gorbis’ view, in addition to new opportunities, socialstructing will present new challenges as well. For one, there will be exciting opportunities to create new kinds of social organizations – systems for producing not merely goods but also meaning, purpose, and greater good. But at the same time, there is a possibility that this form of creation will bring new inequities, and new opportunities for abuse.

But at the same time, Gorbis was sure to point out the potential negative consequences. In the same way that one acquires friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, people in the near future could be able to hoard social connections for the sake of money, fame, or social standing. Basically, we need to understand the potential disadvantages of socialstructing if we are to minimize the potential pitfalls.

future_money_bitcoinOne such development she points to as an example is the rise of social currencies, such as Paypal, Bitcoin, and others. These operate much differently than regular currencies, as they are intended to facilitate social flows that often operate not on market principles but on intrinsic motivations to belong, to be respected, or to gain emotional support. But once these connections and flows begin to be measured, they may acquire a value of their own.

Basically, if we begin to value these currencies, motivations will arise (not necessarily altruistic ones) to acquire them. So instead of turning market transactions into social flows, we might be turning social interactions into market commodities. In the words of sociologist Chase, we would be applying ontic measurements to ontological phenomena. Or as she puts it in her book:

We created social technologies. Our next task is to create social organizations: systems for creating not merely goods but also meaning, purpose, and greater good. Can we imagine a society of “private wealth holders whose main objective is to lead good lives, not to turn their wealth into capital?” asks political economist Robert Skidelsky. Or better yet, might they turn their wealth into a different kind of capital—social, emotional, or spiritual? Our technologies are giving us an unprecedented opportunity to do so.

botsman-tedAnother person who sees this as a positive development is Rachel Botsman – consultant, author, former director at the William J. Clinton Foundation, and founder of the Collaborative Lab. In her ongoing series of lectures, consultations, and her book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, she addresses the transformative power collaboration will have, giving rise to such things as “reputation capital” and the “reputation economy”.

In her 2012 Ted Talks lecture she explained how there’s been an explosion of collaborative consumption in recent years. This has embraced everything from the web-powered sharing of cars, to apartments, and even skills. In short, people are realizing the power of technology to enable the sharing and exchange of assets, skills and spaces in ways and on a scale that was never before possible.

collaborative_consumptionBut the real magic behind collaborative consumption, she explained, isn’t in the inventory or the money. It’s in using technology to build trust between strangers, something which is rarely available in the current industrialized, commodities market. Whereas this top-down economic model relies on depersonalized methods like brand name recognition and advertising to encourage consumption, this new model is far more open and democratic.

It is for this reason, and because of the potential it has for empowerment, that Botsman is such an advocate of this emerging trend. In addition to offering opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs , it also provides people with the chance to make human connections and rediscover a “humanness” that has been lost along the way. By engaging in marketplaces that are built on personal relationships, as opposed to “empty transactions”, people are able to reconnect.

future_moneyThe irony in this, as she states, is that this emerging trend is actually taking us back to old market principles which were thought to have been abandoned with modern industrial economy. Much like how Envisioning Technology predicted with their recent infographic, The Future of Money, this decentralizing, distributed trend has more in common with bartering and shopping at the local agora.

Basically, these behaviors – which predate all the rationalization and vertical/horizontal integration that’s been taking place the industrial revolution – are hardwired into us, but are being updated to take place in the “Facebook age”. Through connections enables by internet access and a worldwide network of optic cables, we are able to circumvent the impersonal economic structures of the 20th century and build something that is more akin to our needs.

future_money2Or, as Botsman summarized it in her article with Wired UK:

Imagine a world where banks take into account your online reputation alongside traditional credit ratings to determine your loan; where headhunters hire you based on the expertise you’ve demonstrated on online forums such as Quora… where traditional business cards are replaced by profiles of your digital trustworthiness, updated in real-time. Where reputation data becomes the window into how we behave, what motivates us, how our peers view us and ultimately whether we can or can’t be trusted…

Another potential irony is the fact that although online shopping does allow people to avoid face-to-face interactions at their local store, it also draws customers to businesses that they may not have otherwise heard about. What’s more, online reviews of local businesses are becoming a boon to entrepreneurs, expanding on the traditional power of written reviews and word of mouth.

And at the risk of making a shameless plug, this all puts me in mind of a short story I wrote back in April, as part of the April 2013 A to Z Challenge. It was called Repute, and deals with a young executive in charge of hiring new talent, in part based on what I referred to as their Reputation Index Placement (RIP), which was basically a tabulation of their digital presence. Like I said, the concept has been on mind for some time!

And of course, be sure to check out Botsman full lecture below:


Ted Talks: The Age of the Industrial Internet

Tedtalks_marco_internetofthingsI came across another interesting and fascinating TED Talk recently. In this lecture, famed economist Marco Annunziata spoke about a rather popular subject – “The Internet of Things”, and how it is shaping our society. This term is thrown around a lot lately, and it refers to a growing phenomenon in our world where uniquely identifiable objects are connected to virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.

Basically, the concept postulates that if all objects and people in daily life were equipped with identifiers, they could be managed and inventoried by computers. By equipping all objects in the world with minuscule machine-readable identifiers, daily life could be transformed. How this is likely to look is the subject of Annunziata’s talk, beginning with the past two hundred years and the two major waves of innovation humanity went through.

Internet_of_ThingsThe first came with the Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760-1903), which permanently altered our lives with factories, machinery, railways, electricity, air travel, etc. The second wave came with the Internet Revolution (ca. 1980 – 2000), which has once again changed our lives permanently with computing power, data networks, and unprecedented access to information and communication.

Now, in the modern era, we are entering into a new phase of innovation, one which he refers to as the “Industrial Internet”. Judging by current research and marketing trends, this wave is characterized by intelligent machines, advanced analytics, and the creativity of people at work. It is a marriage of minds and machines, and once again, our lives will be permanently altered by it.

internet_of_things_beechamIn the course of the twelve minute lecture, Annunziata explains how the emergence of machines that can see, feel, sense and react will lead to an age where the technology we depend upon will operate with far greater efficiently. Naturally, there are many who would suspect that this all boils down to AIs doing the thinking for us, but in fact, it’s much more complicated than that.

Think of a world where we would be able to network and communicate with all of our devices – not just our smartphones or computers, but everything from our car keys to our cars and home appliances. By all things being marked and represented in a virtual internet-like environment, we could communicate with or remotely check on things that are halfway across the world.

Think of the implications! As someone who is currently very fascinated with how the world will look in the not-too-distant future, and how people will interact with it, I can tell you this stuff is science fiction gold! Check it out and be sure to follow the link at the bottom of the page to comment.


Climate Crisis: Coming Trends in CO2

Pollution over Mexico CityGood news everybody! Okay, not exactly good, but it is news, and on a rather important subject. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the Manua Loa observatory in Hawaii had recorded atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide which exceeded 400 parts per million. This represented a major milestone, one which climatological researchers and scientists have feared for some time.

However, they have since amended that statement, saying that the readings were a fraction of a point lower at 399.89 ppm. Not exactly a reason to celebrate, and not that surprising either, since individual readings at any of NOAA’s observation stations are subject to revision on a regular basis. And regardless of whether or not the 400 ppm milestone has been passed, scientists are still adamant that this reading is cause for concern.

keeling_curveAs has been stated repeatedly, when it comes to the buildup of human created greenhouse gases, it is the rate of increase which is most important. That rate, which is measured by the Keeling Curve, shows that atmospheric CO2 levels are rising at unprecedented rates, driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels over the past two centuries.

Originally pioneered by scientist Charles D. Keeling in 1958 , this curve is the longest-running tally of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and is maintained by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. The saw-tooth pattern of the incline reflects small seasonal variations within the long-term upward trend, which peak annually around the month of May.

Combining this studies conducted on glacial melting patterns, pollination patterns, geological and oceanographic surveys, a long-term picture emerges. For the past 800,000 years, CO2 levels have never exceeded 300 ppm, and there is no known geologic period in which rates increased as sharply as they are now. That level was at about 280 ppm at the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the period when the burning of fossil fuels began to soar.

trafficScripps geochemist Ralph Keeling, who has taken over the Keeling curve measurement from his late father, had this to say about the news:

I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we’ll hit 450 ppm within a few decades.

Tim Lueker, an oceanographer and carbon cycle researcher who is a longtime member of the Scripps CO2 Group, also weighed in on the significance of these latest readings:

The 400-ppm threshold is a sobering milestone and should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to support clean-energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren.

What’s especially frightening about a rating of 400 ppm is the fact that planet Earth has not experienced that kind of CO2 concentration for over 3 million years, during the Pliocene Era. At that time, sea levels were between 60 and 80 feet higher than their current levels. If sea levels rise by this much in the coming decades, roughly 1 billion of the Earths inhabitants will be left homeless.

climate_changetideAdd to this the widespread droughts, wildfires and flooding taking place in inland communities, where unpredictable weather will cause rivers to overflow erode river banks and turn millions more into refugees. And as crops fail due to increased heat and depleted topsoil, the ability to feed the world’s population will also begin to plummet.

Of course, these are the most dire predictions and are often used to remind us just how important it is to clean up our act before its too late. Researching and developing cleaner methods is one approach, as is finding ways to capture the carbon emissions we are generating on a daily basis. But in the end, the greatest weapon in our arsenal is and always will be public awareness.

Consider yourselves informed. Now go spread the word!

In the meantime, enjoy this animated “Carbon Tracker” graph that shows us the time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide – courtesy of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.


Environment Alert: Atmospheric CO2 Reaches Record High

airpollutionIt’s no secret that humanity, like all terrestrial organisms, has a symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s environment. And whereas the fortunes of entire civilizations and species once depended upon the natural warming and cooling cycle, for the past few centuries, human agency has an increasingly deterministic effect on this cycle. In fact, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, just 250 years ago, human industry increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent.

And now, it seems that humanity has reached a rather ignominious and worrisome milestone. Working at the Mauna Loa Observatory, an atmospheric research facility, scientists announced Friday that for the first time in millions of years, the level of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million on average over the course of a full 24-hour day. The last time there were these kinds of CO2 levels was approximately 3 million years ago, and that has many worried.

co2_levelsFor some time now, climatological scientists have warned of the dangers of reaching this limit, mainly because of the ecological effects it would have. The Kyoto Protocol, an attempt during the late-90s to curb fossil fuel emissions on behalf of the industrialized nations of world, specifically set this concentration as a target that was not to be surpassed. However, with nations such as Canada, the US and China expressing criticism or pulling out entirely, it was clear for some time that this target would not be met.

And as mentioned already, the planet has not seen these kind of CO2 levels since the Pliocene Era, a time of warmer temperatures, less polar ice, and sea levels as much as 60 to 80 feet higher than current levels. If conditions of this nature are permitted to return, the human race could be looking at some very serious problems in the near future.

trafficFor starters, much of the world’s population and heavy industry is built along coastlines. With sea levels reaching an additional 60-80 feet, several million people will be displaced over the course of the next few decades. What’s worse, inland areas that have river systems connected to the sea are likely to experience severe flooding, leading to more displacement and property damage.

Those areas that find themselves far from the coast are likely to experience the opposite effects, increased heat and dryness due to increased temperatures and the loss of cloud cover and precipitation. This in turn will result in widespread drought, wildfires, and a downturn in food production. And let’s not forget that rising temperatures also mean the spread of disease and parasites, ones that are typically confined to the tropical areas of the world.

china smog 2013 TV bldgIf any of this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because that is precisely what has been happening for the past few decades, and with increasing frequency. Record hot summers, food shortages in several parts of the world, flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, the West Nile Virus, Avian Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, rising sea levels – these are all symptoms of a world where increasing output of Greenhouse Gases mean increasing temperatures and ecological effects.

But of course, before anyone feels like the situation is hopeless, this news does come with a silver lining. For one, the confirmation that we have now reached 400 ppm is likely to spur governments into greater action. Clearly, our current means are not working for us, and cannot be counted on to see us into the future. What’s more, a number of clean energy concerns are well under way, providing us with viable and cost effective alternatives.


The growth in solar energy in just the last few years has been staggering, and carbon capture technology has been growing by leaps and bounds. What’s more, upstarts and clean energy labs no longer need government support, though public pressure has yeilded several positive returns in that area. Even so, crowd-funding is ensuring that growth and innovation that would not be possible a few years ago is now happening, so we can expect the current rate of progress to continue here as well.

And of course, geoengineering remains a viable possibility for buying our planet some time. In addition to clean energy (putting less CO2 in the air), and carbon capture (removing the CO2 there), there are also a number of possibilities for Global Dimming – the opposite of Global Warming – to slow down the process of transformation until we can get our act together. These include evaporating oceanic water to lower sea levels and ensure more cloud cover, triggering algae blooms to metabolize more CO2, and dumping sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air to combat the warming effect.

But in the end, nothing short of serious and immediate changes will ensure that decades and centuries from now, the ecological balance – upon which all species depend – is maintained. Regardless of whether you think of humanity as the masters or the children of this planet, it’s clear we’ve done a pretty shitty job in both capacities! It’s time for a change, or the greatest natural resource in our corner of the universe, Earth itself, is likely to die out!


The Singularity: The End of Sci-Fi?

singularity.specrepThe coming Singularity… the threshold where we will essentially surpass all our current restrictions and embark on an uncertain future. For many, its something to be feared, while for others, its something regularly fantasized about. On the one hand, it could mean a future where things like shortages, scarcity, disease, hunger and even death are obsolete. But on the other, it could also mean the end of humanity as we know it.

As a friend of mine recently said, in reference to some of the recent technological breakthroughs: “Cell phones, prosthetics, artificial tissue…you sci-fi writers are going to run out of things to write about soon.” I had to admit he had a point. If and when he reach an age where all scientific breakthroughs that were once the province of speculative writing exist, what will be left to speculate about?

Singularity4To break it down, simply because I love to do so whenever possible, the concept borrows from the field of quantum physics, where the edge of black hole is described as a “quantum singularity”. It is at this point that all known physical laws, including time and space themselves, coalesce and become a state of oneness, turning all matter and energy into some kind of quantum soup. Nothing beyond this veil (also known as an Event Horizon) can be seen, for no means exist to detect anything.

The same principle holds true in this case, at least that’s the theory. Originally coined by mathematician John von Neumann in the mid-1950’s, the term served as a description for a phenomenon of technological acceleration causing an eventual unpredictable outcome in society. In describing it, he spoke of the “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

exponential_growth_largeThe term was then popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge (A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, Rainbows End) who argued that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces could be possible causes of the singularity. In more recent times, the same theme has been picked up by futurist Ray Kurzweil, the man who points to the accelerating rate of change throughout history, with special emphasis on the latter half of the 20th century.

In what Kurzweil described as the “Law of Accelerating Returns”, every major technological breakthrough was preceded by a period of exponential growth. In his writings, he claimed that whenever technology approaches a barrier, new technologies come along to surmount it. He also predicted paradigm shifts will become increasingly common, leading to “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history”.

kurzweil-loglog-bigLooking into the deep past, one can see indications of what Kurzweil and others mean. Beginning in the Paleolithic Era, some 70,000 years ago, humanity began to spread out a small pocket in Africa and adopt the conventions we now associate with modern Homo sapiens – including language, music, tools, myths and rituals.

By the time of the “Paleolithic Revolution” – circa 50,000 – 40,000 years ago – we had spread to all corners of the Old World world and left evidence of continuous habitation through tools, cave paintings and burials. In addition, all other existing forms of hominids – such as Homo neanderthalensis and Denisovans – became extinct around the same time, leading many anthropologists to wonder if the presence of homo sapiens wasn’t the deciding factor in their disappearance.

Map-of-human-migrationsAnd then came another revolution, this one known as the “Neolithic” which occurred roughly 12,000 years ago. By this time, humanity had hunted countless species to extinction, had spread to the New World, and began turning to agriculture to maintain their current population levels. Thanks to the cultivation of grains and the domestication of animals, civilization emerged in three parts of the world – the Fertile Crescent, China and the Andes – independently and simultaneously.

All of this gave rise to more habits we take for granted in our modern world, namely written language, metal working, philosophy, astronomy, fine art, architecture, science, mining, slavery, conquest and warfare. Empires that spanned entire continents rose, epics were written, inventions and ideas forged that have stood the test of time. Henceforth, humanity would continue to grow, albeit with some minor setbacks along the way.

The_Meeting_of_Cortés_and_MontezumaAnd then by the 1500s, something truly immense happened. The hemispheres collided as Europeans, first in small droves, but then en masse, began to cross the ocean and made it home to tell others what they found. What followed was an unprecedented period of expansion, conquest, genocide and slavery. But out of that, a global age was also born, with empires and trade networks spanning the entire planet.

Hold onto your hats, because this is where things really start to pick up. Thanks to the collision of hemispheres, all the corn, tomatoes, avocados, beans, potatoes, gold, silver, chocolate, and vanilla led to a period of unprecedented growth in Europe, leading to the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. And of course, these revolutions in thought and culture were followed by political revolutions shortly thereafter.

IndustrialRevolutionBy the 1700’s, another revolution began, this one involving industry and creation of a capitalist economy. Much like the two that preceded it, it was to have a profound and permanent effect on human history. Coal and steam technology gave rise to modern transportation, cities grew, international travel became as extensive as international trade, and every aspect of society became “rationalized”.

By the 20th century, the size and shape of the future really began to take shape, and many were scared. Humanity, that once tiny speck of organic matter in Africa, now covered the entire Earth and numbered over one and a half billion. And as the century rolled on, the unprecedented growth continued to accelerate. Within 100 years, humanity went from coal and diesel fuel to electrical power and nuclear reactors. We went from crossing the sea in steam ships to going to the moon in rockets.

massuseofinventionsAnd then, by the end of the 20th century, humanity once again experienced a revolution in the form of digital technology. By the time the “Information Revolution” had arrived, humanity had reached 6 billion people, was building hand held devices that were faster than computers that once occupied entire rooms, and exchanging more information in a single day than most peoples did in an entire century.

And now, we’ve reached an age where all the things we once fantasized about – colonizing the Solar System and beyond, telepathy, implants, nanomachines, quantum computing, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and bionics – seem to be becoming more true every day. As such, futurists predictions, like how humans will one day merge their intelligence with machines or live forever in bionic bodies, don’t seem so farfetched. If anything, they seem kind of scary!

singularity-epocksThere’s no telling where it will go, and it seems like even the near future has become completely unpredictable. The Singularity looms! So really, if the future has become so opaque that accurate predictions are pretty much impossible to make, why bother? What’s more, will predictions become true as the writer is writing about them? Won’t that remove all incentive to write about it?

And really, if the future is to become so unbelievably weird and/or awesome that fact will take the place of fiction, will fantasy become effectively obsolete? Perhaps. So again, why bother? Well, I can think one reason. Because its fun! And because as long as I can, I will continue to! I can’t predict what course the future will take, but knowing that its uncertain and impending makes it extremely cool to think about. And since I’m never happy keeping my thoughts to myself, I shall try to write about it!

So here’s to the future! It’s always there, like the horizon. No one can tell what it will bring, but we do know that it will always be there. So let’s embrace it and enter into it together! We knew what we in for the moment we first woke up and embraced this thing known as humanity.

And for a lovely and detailed breakdown of the Singularity, as well as when and how it will come in the future, go to And be prepared for a little light reading 😉