Humankind 2.0

a book in progress...
Meditations on the future of technology and society... be published in China in 2016

These are raw notes taken during and after conversations between piero scaruffi and Jinxia Niu of Shezhang Magazine (Hangzhou, China). Jinxia will publish the full interviews in Chinese in her magazine. I thought of posting on my website the English notes that, while incomplete, contain most of the ideas that we discussed.
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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Social Media and Sharing Economy: History, Trends and Future

(See also the slide presentation)

Narnia: According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center 65% of adults in the USA now use social networking sites. The number is probably very similar in Europe and China. So there are probably 2.5 billion social-networking users in the world. The Internet has changed the way we socialize: for better or for worse?


First of all, we have to understand what "social media" really means in our age. We refer to Facebook, Twitter, etc as "social networking" media but they are really "advertising media". They were born for socializing, but these days their mission is about advertising, not about socializing. Google and Facebook make most of their money out of adverts.

Second, their popularity is due to a form of addiction. Alcohol and drug addictions are not the only forms of addiction. Social media have discovered a new form of addiction, which is a mix of gossip addiction, vanity addiction and voyeur addiction. So the story of social networking media is really a story of addictions, not of socializing; and then this addiction gets "monetized" by selling advertising space.

Social media have been a big disappointment for the sociologists and activists who were hoping that social media would connect the whole world and generate worldwide collaboration to solve the problems of the world. In reality, social media are mostly used for two things: 1. as a form of entertainment, and 2. as a marketing tool to advertise products (and 2. is really a consequence of 1.)

As far as politics go, social media have contributed more to the rise of extremism (from radical Islam to right-wing movements in Europe) than to good causes.

I don't think that social media have done much for technological and scientific innovation. The vast majority of technological and scientific exchanges still happens at conferences. Most scientists are not even on Facebook.

There are books that discuss how social media have made us less social. People spend a lot more time on Facebook or WeChat than on personal interactions with their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even family. There are also books that show how important social media are for marketing. In fact, if you ask me about the future of social media, you are basically asking me about the future of marketing. For example, i don't know if Facebook's M, a virtual assistant introduced in 2015, improves anybody's social life but i know that it improves sales: it looks like Apple's Siri, Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana, but the difference is that it is part of a "social network": it knows more about you and it knows more about everybody else around you. Note that M is not autonomous: there are physically "customer support" people at Facebook's offices who are answering the requests from users. The industry of social networking has become the science of making people want things (mostly things that people don't need and would not normally want to buy). Business used to be about making things that people want, and the industrial revolution turned this business into a science. The radio and television created a new kind of business, the advertising business, that is about making people want things. Social networking represents the equivalent of the industrial revolution for advertising. Today, instead of advertising products, we "productise" adverts.

In the end, social media are an addictive habit that has become a great advertising platform for goods and therefore makes people spend money. Until 1998 the tobacco industry was deliberately making people addicted to cigarettes in order to make money. The method has changed but it is essentially the same: social media make people addicted so that they can make money out of their addiction.

Ten years ago we were hoping that social media would provide better information than the mainstream media. We have been bitterly disappointed. Most "information" on social media is just "gossip", but gossip that "goes viral" in a few minutes. The quality of information has declined, not increased. The Internet has killed many of the good newspapers and magazines of the world, and they have not been replaced by comparable online blogs.

My favorite example is Wikipedia, that was born out of an idealistic aspiration, but has become a danger for civilization. This free encyclopedia has killed the traditional printed encyclopedias, which means that very soon you will not be able to doublecheck what Wikipedia says. If Wikipedia says that Tokyo is the capital of China, all the people who live outside Japan and China will think that Tokyo is the capital of China because there will be no other encyclopedia to compare. Secondly, now that Wikipedia has become the #1 source of information the powerful entities of the world are competing to control it. Most articles on Wikipedia are now edited by government agencies (that want to promote their view of the facts), by corporations (that want to promote their business), by celebrities (who want to promote their image) and by special-interest groups (that want to promote special interests like their religion or their political views). Ten years ago we were discussing whether Wikipedia was more or less accurate than the best printed encyclopedias. The issue turned out to be different: the real issue was and is whether Wikipedia can be manipulated more or less easily compared with the printed encyclopedias, and the answer is obviously: "much much much more easily". We hoped that social media would provide an ocean of independent information: instead we got an ocean of professional agencies that specialize in distributing and controlling information on behalf of the rich and the powerful. Modern western culture was born with the invention of the encyclopedia in France by the likes of Diderot and Voltaire. The Internet replaced it with an anonymous Wikipedia that is a colossal repository of grotesque dis-information but is the #1 source of information for most people. The crowd has not exactly created a better culture.

Ten years ago we were hoping that social media would "democratize" education, but there is very little education on Facebook and WeChat, and, in fact, these social media are distractions that hamper education. The "attention span" has been further eroded by the mass use of social media. For example, i now have 5,000 Facebook "friends", but this means that these days i miss the notifications of many birthday events, including the ones that i really care about. In 2015 Forrester estimated that only 2% of Facebook posts are read by your "friends", whereas the rate is 90% for email; but email is dying. The greatest minds of my generation are dying unheard because young people don't go to their talks/lectures, and, if they go, they spend all the time on Facebook or WeChat. The best engineers work day and night to figure out ways to make you click on ads. Carlo Sequin at UC Berkeley told me that most students used a 3D printer to print a flat surface (a 2D surface). Obviously something is wrong with those students.

To judge the value of a social networking product we routinely employ "vanity metrics": we measure not what matters but what "flatters".

Ten years ago we were hoping the social networks would create the "global village", a better and larger community. Instead the social networks are becoming "asocial" networks. A social network is a place where you don't know whether people truly exists. The social networks are anarchic lands roamed by hords of trolls, bullies phreaks, spammers, and robots. We have invented a whole new vocabulary for these "societies". The "trolls' plant inflammatory speech in discussions, the "bullies" harass users, the "phreaks" hijack accounts, the "spammers" bombard you with publicity, and the "robots" steal your privacy. These days social networking is not about building a community but about destroying the existing physical communities.

I am worried that it will get worse. What happens when there is no physical interaction? Look at what happens when people become drivers. People in cars tend to be more aggressive and hateful. The nicest, kindest, most peaceful citizens can become really angry at another driver when they are driving a car. The separation created by the car is enough to turn a gentle person into a ferocious person. Will that also happen to people separated by social media?

We also have to face the fact that the #1 attraction on the Internet is pornography. Sociologists used to think that the obsession with sex was due to the restrictions on sex life imposed by the traditional lifestyle. The obsession with sex has not declined, it has increased, even if those restrictions have been lifted in the lifestyle of the young single professionals The statistics on today's porn use are staggering. In 2013 the Huffington Post published a study according to which "Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined". In 2015 Pornhub claimed that it received 21.2 billion visits and streamed 75 gigabytes of data per second. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology in Boston, wrote "Pornland - How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality" (2010). Paul Wright and Ashley Kraus of Indiana University have published a study titled "A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies" (2015). Both show the damage caused to individuals and society by the addiction to pornography, which has multiplied thanks to social media.

But we have to be careful not to blame the Internet for everything that is happening. Mostly, it was already happening. When people get wealthier, they tend to like more privacy. They like to live in an isolated house and drive their own car. Poor people live in crowded buildings and take the bus. The trend towards a more selfish lifestyle more superficial friendships, and, yes, pornography was there before the boom of the Internet. The Internet is just a tool that shows us what people want.

Narnia: Can you recommend some studies about the effects of social media on... social life?


"Internet Addiction Disorder" is a term that a New York psychiatrist named Ivan Goldberg introduced as a joke in 1995. It immediately became a serious topic of research. Within a few months Kimberly Young founded the Center for Internet Addiction in Pennsylvania ( and published the paper "Internet Addiction - The Emergence of a new Clinical Disorder" (in the magazine CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1996). This was before Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006), and before the iPhone (2007), and before Facebook introduced the "Like" button (2009), the feature that in my opinion really changed the way social media are used. In fact, it was even before Google (1998). Google, Facebook and the iPhone greatly increased the cases of "addiction". Nicholas Carr in "The Shallows" (2011) showed what the shorter attention span does to skills. This book was followed by similar anti-Facebook and anti-Twitter pamphlets like Matt Labash's article "The Twidiocracy" (2013) and Alice Marwick's "Status Update" (2013). Sherry Turkle's "Alone Together" (2011) argued that the addiction to social media slows down the maturation of teenagers.

This discipline remained outside the mainstream of neuroscience until a study that was published in China in 2012 about Chinese teenagers titled "Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder". According to this study, and other studies published in the following years, Internet addiction seems to cause brain changes that are similar to the ones found in the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts. In 2014 a famous British scientist, Susan Greenfield, published an article titled "Mind Change" that warned against the danger of creating a whole new mind; not creating intelligent machines but creating stupid people. A 2015 study by Susan Snyder from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that almost 50% of US students were addicted to the Internet, and that many young Internet addicts suffered from mental health problems such as depression, insomnia, attention-deficit disorder, even suicidal tendencies and alcoholism.

Joseph Reagle's "Reading the Comments" (2015) argues that Internet addiction even reduces their ability to empathyze with others. It is particularly worrying that social media indirectly help anonymous behavior. When people feel that their actions cannot be tracked back to them, people always tend to do things that normally they wouldn't do, and not only illegal things. For example, "bullying" is much easier when nobody knows that you are the one doing it. Same for gossiping: people used to send anonymous letters, not signed letters, to expose someone's private life. The fact that it is so easy to be "anonymous" on the Internet brings out new forms of cruelty. We tend to forget that torture is one of the traits that have been common to all eras and all civilizations, from prehistory to today, from Europe to China. There is no civilization, no region of the world, no era, when torture was not practiced. We have to teach children not to torture: we are born with the impulse to torture things, pets and even other children. So it is not surprising that people "torture" other people on the Internet.

Sherry Turkle's "Reclaiming Conversation" (2015) is one of the many books that lament the death of "quality time". Robert Tokunaga's paper "Perspectives on Internet addiction, problematic Internet use" (2015) is a good summary.

This book that we are writing is about Humankind 2.0: a humankind enhanced by the technologies that it is inventing. I hope that my next book will not be "Humankind 3.0" about the decline of humanity.

It is important to remember that social media could be very useful to solve real problems: they can mobilize thousands of people for good causes. For example, every time there is a natural disaster someone creates a Facebook group to collect money and help the victims. Nonetheless, we have to face the unpleasant reality: today's social media exist because they are addictive, otherwise they would die. The lifespan of a social networking platform is directly proportional to how addictive it is. If it is addictive, it will go "viral" and its users will use it many times a day, which means that advertisers will pay to advertise on it, which means that the platform will survive. If it is not addictive enough, it will be killed by the competition. So we have created an entire industry that is simply looking for ways to make you "addicted" instead of looking for solutions to the problems of the world. There are thousands of young brilliant researchers and entrepreneurs in the world who spend all their time trying to invent a new "addiction". Stanford has a laboratory called Persuasive Technology Lab, founded by BJ Fogg, that studies how computers can create new habits in people.

You need to have a sense of humor. Social networking has been a failed social experiment. But a failed experiment that generates billions of dollars of revenues.

It is fascinating that in 2016 i saw the statistics about the exponential growth of social media at the same time that i saw the statistics on suicide published by the CDC (Center for Disease Control): the number of suicides in the USA has been rising since 1999 in every age group and for both sexes. The rate of suicide has increased from 10.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 13 per 100,000 in 2014. The coincidence is interesting: 1999 is the year that Silicon Valley launched the first social network, Steamtunnels.

Narnia: So we are not a social animal after all?


I think that there are two forces at work in the human brain, and sometimes they oppose each other. Humans are social animals: we create complex societies and enjoy the company of others. In 2005 John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, published his evolutionary theory of loneliness: loneliness causes depression and suicide because evolutionarily humans need to socialize in order to survive. For example, prehistoric humans could kill large mammals only by hunting in groups, and agriculture solved the problem of food when humans got together to create irrigation. Those who don't like to socialize are a problem for the survival of the species, and so natural selection has programmed us to be happy when we socialize and unhappy when we are lonely. In 2012 Gillian Matthews at Imperial College London discovered the "loneliness neurons", the neurons that make us happy when we socialize and unhappy when we are alone. But this cannot be the whole story. Think how important "loners" have always been in human civilization. We admire monks and hermits. So many great philosophers preferred solitude to come up with great thoughts, and many of us view them as role models, not as sick people. Buddha was a loner, not a party-goer. Cacioppo's theory fails to explain why we admire great philosophers, scientists and saints who spent most of their lives in loneliness. Loners have given us great scientific inventions. Loners have discovered continents. The USA was colonized by loners when Europe, China and India were super-crowded. We think of these events as important in the evolution of human civilization, not as tragedies. So our progress has always depended on loneliness.

Now let's look at the age of the Internet. The great tool introduced by the World-wide Web in 1991 was the web-browser. That revolutionized how we access information (Google, Wikipedia, etc) and interact with people (Facebook, Twitter, etc): we turned information and communication into webpages, and we used browsers to play with those webpages. One of the most important inventions of the last 20 years was the "tab" of the browser. We tend to forget the inventions that truly changed our lives. In 1998 a 25-year-old software engineer named Adam Stiles introduced a new web-browser, NetCaptor. When Mozilla launched the very influential browser Firefox in 2002, it had "tabs" like NetCaptor to open multiple webpages at the same time. That feature became a big success and every browser that exists today has multiple tabs: you open one webpage in a tab, then open another webpage in another tab, etc. It was shocking how quickly people started using and abusing the multiple tabs of their browser. Sometimes i have more than ten pages open in my browser. The "tab" changed the way we experience the Web: browsing became a "multi-tasking" process, like flipping through multiple books at the same time or flipping through multiple tv channels. Why do humans like to multi-task? Which other animal wants to do multiple things at the same time? We are the only multitasking animal on the planet. We are not good at most of the things we do, but we do many things at the same time. I'd say that humans are curious animals, animals who want to know and do as much as possible. We were "social" when it was convenient to be part of a group: we needed others to feel safe; we needed others to help us; we needed others to take care of us when we get old; etc. But now that the police protect us, that we can buy what we need, and that the state takes care of us when we get old, etc, we are becoming a lot less social. We still socialize but in a superficial manner, while we are doing many other things, and we do more and more often it in a distant manner, over the Internet, not in person. People like to be alone, undisturbed, and instead of socializing in person they like to use their devices to multi-task. We are discovering that we humans are not social animals but curious multi-tasking animals.

Narnia: Then there's also the problem of privacy...


The very organizations that give you free access to their social networks are the ones that want to collect your private information, and then there are other organizations (some of them legal and some of them illegal) who "spy" and "eavesdrop" to collect your private information. The social networks are dangerous places not because there are pickpockets who want to steal your wallet but because there are so many organizations that want to steal your private data. Two events of 2013 raised awareness of the problem. The most famous was the "Snowden affair": Edward Snowden, a humble employee of the National Security Agency (the agency that is supposed to protect the citizens of the USA), revealed a vast government operation to spy on the citizens of the USA and on foreign allies. But no less important was another event of the same year: an unemployed Palestinian hacker, Khalil Shreateh, living under Israeli occupation, became a worldwide hero when he hacked into Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page. This event proved that even the most protected accounts were vulnerable, i.e. how easy it was to violate someone's privacy on social media.

As a consequence, since 2013 the "dark nets" have become more popular with Internet users who want to remain anonymous and escape network surveillance. We now have the TOR browser (introduced in 2008), the DuckDuckGo search engine (2008) and the Wickr instant messenger (2012). Bitcoin was just one network in a long genealogy of "dark nets". In October 2014 Facebook added support for the TOR browser and in April 2016 Facebook announced that every month more than one million people use TOR to access Facebook.

Narnia: Nothing good came out of social networking?


If i had to find a good news in the last ten years (since Facebook launched the social-network mania), i would say that social media are one field that truly achieved "equality": no discimination based on gender, wealth, ethnic group... What is truly impressive about the statistics is that usage of social media is the same across income group, ethnic group, level of education, gender, geographic area, etc. The only gap that remains is between young and old people, but even that gap is shrinking: in a few years the percentage of adults that uses social media will be the same as the percentage of teenagers; and adults will spend many more hours on social media because tomorrow's adults are the today's teenagers, and they won't change habits. What is also impressive is how quickly social media have been adopted in developing countries and in the poor neighborhoods of the Western world: those who could not afford a personal computer simply skipped the computer and used the smartphone to get to social media.

The other democratizing feature is that the magic moment of social media is when something "goes viral"; but there is no science to explain what "goes viral". There is no algorithm to predict what will go viral. It is unpredictable what will go viral. The best painting of all times might be seen by only 10 people whereas the drawing of a child may be shared over and over and over again and become a world sensation. The "going viral" still eludes the complex algorithms of modern marketing.

It is difficult to defend social media. I think they just represent a transition from a social world to a post-social world. So it is more interesting to discuss what socializing will be in the post-social world. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but the word "social" has different meanings before and after the Internet. I don't know how to express it in words but i can point at some movements that are "social" in a new way.

The first one is the Makers Movement. In theory, the "makers" are just people who make things. In practice, they have always felt the need to create a sense of community around their experiments. When you "make" physical objects (as opposed to just writing texts or posting pictures), you want to share your experience, you want to learn from others and you want to teach others. It is natural for a maker to interact with other makers. It is not something new. The Bay Area had always been famous for the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture. For example, the evolution of personal computers was largely determined by communities of DIY kids like the ones who formed the Homebrew Computer Club from which Apple was born. Today there is also a growing DIY movement in biotech. The Makers Movement is interesting because it marks a return to simpler objects: not computers and not DNA, but just regular objects made of wood, metal, plastic, etc. The Maker Faire, that started in 2006, is, first and foremost, a social event, and it is spreading all over the world. Makers need expensive tools. Makers need to learn how to use tools. Tech Shop, that opened in 2006 in Menlo Park, pioneered the concept of the shared workshop offering both classes and tools. And ten years later there is so much open-source software and hardware that independent makers can make even smart objects for the Internet of Things, and can create startups in incubators like Hacker Dojo. More and more spaces offer even 3D printing.

The second movement is the hackerspace movement. There are hackerspaces that are simply coworking spaces, but the original hackerspaces were actually formed by hackers determined to create communities with an ideological purpose. The first one was probably created in West Berlin during the Cold War the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). In 1984 this club started organizing a conference for hackers called the Chaos Communication Congress (C3). At the same time that Facebook and Twitter were starting the revolution in social networking, these hackers started a physical form of networking, a sort of "hackers counterculture", in places like the Metalab in Vienna (opened in 2006) and Noisebridge in San Francisco (2007). Noisebridge was created by Jacob Appelbaum of the TOR project and by Mitch Altman, a veteran of Jaron Lanier's virtual-reality startup VPL Research, after they attended a C3 hacker conference in Germany. I have seen estimates that there are now 2600 hackerspaces worldwide. Most of them have lost the original spirit, but this growing phenomenon, just like the Makers Movement, is a sign that people still want to socialize. They don't want to write software at home or in their garage. They want to write software in a place where they can talk about their project, learn about other projects, find collaborators, and create bigger and bigger ideas. It is amazing that the hackerspace seems to be spreading especially in small towns. Small towns have little entertainment for young people. Small towns are the places famous for getting drunk because there is nothing else to do for young people. Now there is something to do: write software, build hardware, and share your experience with a community of like-minded young people. Any kid a small town can be a "hacker" like in Silicon Valley. Social media like Facebook and WeChat are alienating friendship in the cyberspace but hackerspaces are creating real friendships in the real world, and a new way to express yourself to your friends.

The Makers Movement and the hackerspaces are also important because they remove the fear of failing. Their communities are communities in which it is perfectly ok to fail. People are always interested in what you did, even if your project failed. They know that the best learning comes from mistakes. It is the exploration that matters. Someone else will reach the destination, but that will happen because so many pioneers did the exploration first.

These movements also represent the original spirit of the Bay Area, that today many employees of Apple, Google and Facebook have forgotten: the spirit of cooperation and helping good causes that has always been part of the Bay Area counterculture.

Another form of online socializing is the phenomenon of "volunteer computing": people who offer their computers to help someone achieve a goal that requires a lot of computational power. Most of the time our computers are not working. Why not let others use them? Individuals who participate in a project of "volunteer computing" simply leave the computer on instead of turning it off, and allow access to it by the community. The first such project to achieve "critical mass" was SETI@Home, launched in 1999 by UC Berkeley astronomers, which harnessed the power of millions of home computers provided by volunteers distributed around the globe (more than 5 million by now) with the goal of trying to detect radio transmissions from extraterrestrial civilizations. The "crowd" is providing a computational power bigger than any supercomputer could provide. In 2000 Vijay Pande at Stanford launched Folding@Home, a project of volunteer computing for research on how proteins "fold". Most of these projects of volunteer computing use the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), developed since 2002 by David Anderson for SETI@Home.

In 2004 IBM helped set up the World Community Grid (WCG), which is a general application of this concept: anybody can donate "idle time" of their computer so that independent scientists can conduct scientific research that benefit the world. This platform is helping thousands of independent scientists study the biggest problem of our era that traditional universities, corporations and governments have not been able to solve, like cancer and ebola.

In 2015 Australia's Garvan Institute launched "DreamLab", a project to use the idle time of smartphones to help research on cancer. If millions of people donate smartphone time, DreamLab can become a "smartphone supercomputer" for cancer research.

Volunteer computing is a form of crowdsourcing: the crowd can solve a problem better and faster than the traditional research laboratory. We have many community-based applications, and Waze, the app acquired by Google that helps drivers navigate in heavy traffic, is perhaps the most famous: drivers who accept to use Waze become providers of information to Waze, and Waze uses this information to improve the global information that it sends to all the drivers. In 2006 Thomas Malone at the MIT opened the Center for Collective Intelligence that studies how we can use the resources of the community in the age of the Internet. The "crowd" is not only useful to bypass the traditional business: traditional corporations, and especially the big ones, can benefit from the "crowd". The obvious benefit for them is to accelerate the feedback loop: every business relies on feedback from its customers to improve its business, and should encourage customers to contribute ideas for the future. In 2005 Henry Chesbrough published a famous book titled "Open Innovation" in which he explained how valuable the "external" inputs can be to companies that traditionally relied only on "internal" discussions. When Dell created the website (in 2007) and Lego created the website Ideas (2008) and Phillips created Simplyinnovate (and the Open Inovation Challenge), they all applied the "open innovation" principle: those websites allow customers to propose, share and rate ideas, and, ultimately, to collaborate with the company. The customers don't socialize in a physical way, but they work together towards improving the products that they use. There is still a sense of community, although it is "community" in the "post-social" world of websites.

Waze is the vanguard of a new kind of "sharing economy": the invisible kind of sharing. Most users of Waze don't realize that they are sending information about traffic to Waze that Waze then uses to send information about traffic conditions to all other users. The future of sharing will be largely invisible. In 2016 Here (originally developed by Nokia but acquired in 2015 by BMW, Audi and Daimler) announced that it will acquire informatino from the sensors of your car and use it to automatically provide information to all other drivers (and, eventually, to driver-less vehicles).

Another innovation that came from online socializing is "crowdfunding" (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, etc). This is also changing the way projects of art and music get funded. The traditional approach to art and music has been to consider them industrial products: you make them, you market them, and then you sell them to the consumers. But art and music are intuitively different from toothpaste and shoes. I rarely hear a person say "I wish this shoemaker made a new line of shoes" or "I can't wait for this furniture manufacturer to introduce a new table". On the other hand, the "fans" of a musician can't wait for the musician to make a new album. That may become the very definition of "art". Art is something useless (for practical applications) that people really crave. Instead of paying for it when it is produced, the "consumers" are willing to pay for it to be produced. We will have fans pay for their favorite musicians to make a new album, and then the album will be available for free on the Web. Fans will pay proportionally to how much money they have and to how much they desire this new album. Of course, charity events and benefit dinners have always existed, but crowdfunding creates a worldwide community of people interested in "sponsoring" an artifact.

In April 2016 the total raised by Kickstarter was $2.3 billion for a total of 105,000 projects from a total of 11 million investors. Gofundme had similar numbers ($2 billion from 12 million investors). Indiegogo $800 million. So crowdfunding websites have already raised more than 5 billion dollars. This amount is enough to compete with serious venture capitalists. In 2015 the total amount of venture capital invested across the USA was $58.8 billion. That's ALL venture capitalists combined.

Another example of online socializing that we should admire takes place among the open-source community. Open-source software has always been important for the development of Internet business. Linux and the Apache project are examples of open-source software that were crucial in developing the online services that today we take for granted. GitHub, founded in 2008 in San Francisco by Tom Preston-Werner, former Powerset engineer, provide a sort of social networking platform for open-source. In 2015 it was used by 1.2 million software developers around the world. These engineers believe that it is important to share software ideas. Obviously most of them will ever become rich, but some of this open-source software will become the foundation of the "next big thing". GitHub is the place where the real experiments are being carried out. The big corporations constrain the experiments that their employees can carry out. GitHub is the place where frustrated developers can carry out their experiments without constraints. Even if their experiments fail, i think that these are the engineers who really matter, the ones who have a vision and are willing to sacrifice a regular salary for it. Secondly, a lot of startups allow their engineers to make their software open-source: if the startup fails, the software is available for all the others or for the employees to continue their own research (in the old days the software developed by failed startups was simply thrown away). Thirdly, it provides a platform that can be used in general for writing "text", not only software. All the tools that help these engineers contribute to software development can be used equally well to create and manage "content" (just like a blogging platform) and to allow people to collaborate on it (just like a wiki). My friend Joshua Levy, who used to work for the search engine Cuil and for the virtual assistant Viv Labs, has a vision of using GitHub to build a sort of Wikipedia, with the powerful difference that people will have to sign their contributions with their real names (it is mandated by GitHub) and that users will be able to rank the experts. Today's Wikipedia is dangerous because it is edited by anonymous contributors and there is no way to rank the contributors.

Open-source software was a reaction by the "counterculture" to the "big money" that started changing the software industry in the 1980s. Until 1970 there was basically no software industry. Software was always free. It was only in the 1980s that software became a "corporate product" for which corporations are willing to pay a lot of money; and it also became a "consumer good" that millions of computer users are willing to buy. There were idealistic people who disliked the commercial success of software. They organized projects to create free software. In those days it was not easy to share and distribute software. It was mainly done on Unix machines that were connected on the Internet, and this was before the World-wide Web, with limited connections between computers. The "social media" of the Unix world were the "newsgroups" of the Usenet invented in 1980 (the Usenet ran on top of the Arpanet before the Arpanet was renamed Internet). For example, the most influential "scripting" language of the Unix world, Perl, was released by its creator Larry Wall in 1987 on the comp.sources.misc newsgroup. In 1991 Guido van Rossum released Python, soon to become a very famous programming language, on the alt.sources newsgroup. Another example of free software that became very popular before the age of the World-wide Web was the X Window System, developed in 1984 at the MIT by Jim Gettys and Bob Scheifler. It was the most popular windowing system on Unix machines at the time when Apple and Microsoft where beginning to make "windows" popular. In 1983 Richard Stallman launched the GNU Project and founded the Free Software Foundation. The first GNU was released in 1989 and contained a complete set of software development tools that were completely free for anybody. The first famous GNU success was Linus Torvalds' Linux, a variant of the Unix operating system, that was released in 1991 and became a GNU item in 1992. Much of the impulse towards free software came from UC Berkeley (better known as the place for left-wing activism), where in 1977 Bill Joy had created a version of Unix called BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution). That version of Unix became very popular on the workstations (big desktop computers) of the 1980s. As part of BSD, in 1979 Eric Allman created the program "delivermail" that became "sendmail" and that managed most of the email traffic on the Internet throughout the 1980s. This was mostly done by students. In 1992 William and Lynne Jolitz created a version of BSD called 386BSD that was completely free. They named it that way because they wanted a Unix for the personal computers that in those days ran the Intel microprocessor 80386 that was faster than the traditional (and much more expensive) computers that ran BSD Unix. Later their 386BSD evolved into FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. A former Berkeley student, Brian Behlendorf, was one of the software engineers who wrote the Apache HTTP Server in 1995. They were known as the "Apache Group" that later became the Apache Software Foundation. The Apache software was extremely important for the success of the World-wide Web. By the way, when he was not working on software, Behlendorf was helping the Burning Man festival. In 2006 the same Behlendorf was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos. His story is typical of how people in the Bay Area can mix counterculture, art, business and technology. In 1997 Eric Raymond wrote an influential article titled "The Cathedral and the Bazaar". In 1998 Netscape created Mozilla, the open source version of its Internet software. Jamie Zawinski was one of the leaders of that project. The term "open source" was probably invented in 1998 by nanotech guru Christine Peterson, co-founder of the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto. The first conference on free software, the "Freeware Summit" organized in 1998 in Palo Alto by the publisher Tim O'Reilly. was known as the "Open Source Summit". Participants included all the heroes that i mentioned: Linus Torvalds, Brian Behlendorf, Jamie Zawinski, Guido van Rossum, and Eric Raymond.

Open-source software is often better than the software developed by big corporations. Big corporations want to maximize their profit, not necessarily create the best technology. There are many recent successes of open-source software: MongoDB, released by New York-based 10gen in 2009, is preferred by millions of developers over the famous relational databases and it now has more than 10 million downloads. OpenStack, that originated at NASA, is often preferred over the main virtualization products. Cassandra, released by Facebook, is also becoming very popular.

In 2005 Ton Roosendaal, who in 1995 had started the highly influential open-source project Blender, led the project to make the first "open movie", titled "Elephants Dream", a movie entirely created using open-source tools.

Progress in Artificial Intelligence is always hyped by the press, but most of "deep learning" is done on open-source software such as Torch (New York University), Caffe (Pieter Abbeel's group at UC Berkeley), Theano (Univ of Montreal, Canada), and Tensor Flow (Google). Robotic startups are often using the open-source Robot Operating System. Big Data is another area in which progress depends on open-source software. The Internet of Things relies on open-source hardware such as Arduino and on the open-source platform OpenHAB.

In the last few years we have also seen venture capitalists invest in open-source projects. Usually, the first success story of open-source software is considered to be Red Hat (founded in 1993), that made money out of the Linux operating system and made Linux the most widely adopted operating system for server machines. More recently, Cloudera has capitalized on the popularity of Hadoop in the world of big data. Now that the open-source community has become so big we will see many more success stories.

In 2016 the MIT Media Lab announced that all future software will be released to FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open-Source Software), and in 2016 Apple turned the Mac OS X into an open-source project.

The Makers movement, the open-source movement, the hackerspace movement, the crowdfunding and the crowdsourcing phenomena, and the volunteer-computing movement are all happening in the middle of the boom of social media. They are all examples of what i mean by "socializing in the post-social world".

Narnia: Is the culture of social media infiltrating the office now with new tools that value collaboration?


Yes, many new kinds of collaboration tools were introduced in the 2010s, notably TinySpeck, which is now called Slack. Slack is one of the main applications that is causing a decline in email. Email has been the main form of interpersonal digital communication for at least 20 years. Email is being attacked on one side by chat applications, that provide a much simpler way to carry out instant bidirectional communication. Email itself has become less of a person-to-person communication tool and more of a machine-to-person communicaton tool and a campaign-to-the-masses communication tool: many emails are generated by machines (not only marketing but also receipts, notifications, bank statements, electricity bills, etc); many emails are crafted by email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp. Slack is one of the tools that has become popular because, indirectly, it reduces email communications. We increasingly think and work in terms of short messages (tweets and texts). Slack simply accepts this as a reality and turns it into a new way of working in the office.

Narnia: What is the future for the social networking platforms like Facebook and WeChat?


The number of platforms in the West keeps multiplying. We are shouting to the whole world all sorts of things. Twitter: what I think. Facebook: what I do. Instagram: pictures. YouTube: videos. LinkedIn: my job. Pinterest: my hobbies. Foursquare: my spare time. Reddit: my opinions. A few big corporations split the universe: Google knows facts, Facebook knows people, Amazon knows objects. In China: Baidu knows facts, Tencent knows people, Alibaba knows objects.

There can be two lines of progress. The first one is self-edited video, 3D photography and virtual-reality content: beyond the old-fashioned photos and videos of smartphones. The second one is the interaction with the social networking tool, which will increasingly be controlled not my the user but by the software.

In terms of content (of what you can do on social media), live video streaming has become so easy and cheap that anybody can turn her or his life into the equivalent of a television program: just broadcast live what you do and hope that someone is interested. In fact, the first "lifecast", by Justin Kan that lasted for eight months of 2007 (streaming his life nonstop 24/7 over the Internet via a webcam attached to his head), evolved into After all, social media are mostly a "vanity show": live streaming is the ultimate, unrestrained, vanity show. 4G cell phone networks have enabled a generation of live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat. Live-streaming your life can also serve more practical purposes. For example, security: you can check what your children are doing if they are live-streaming. I am not sure what more we can do when 5G comes around.

The age of the selfie has quickly turned into the age of the short video. Everybodoy has become a filmmaker. Facebook has passed 8 billion daily video views. Snapchat passed 6 billion daily video views in 2015, just three years after the introduction of its video service. Google's YouTube has over a billion users who add 300 hours of video every minute. And this "video mania" is creating a huge demand for video editing tools: in 2014 Shutterstock debuted an in-browser video-editing tool, Sequence; in 2015 Google acquired Fly Labs, creator of immensely popular video-editing apps for the iPhone; Cinematique provides a platform for making interactive online videos; Flipagram offers an app that allows users to quickly produce short video clips combining photos, videos, text and music; and in 2016 GoPro acquired Stupeflix and Vemory to improve its video editing tools. At the sametime some apps are pushing social media beyond panoramic snapshots and towards immersive 3D photography, for example Fyuse, developed by Fyusion. And others are venturing into virtual reality, for example New Zealand-based 8i, that allows users to capture scenes with an array of videocameras and to produce 3D videos that can be viewed from different angles in virtual reality. 8i opened a studio in Los Angeles where content creators can play with the software and create their own 3D videos.

The problem is that a video is many times bigger than a picture. The video generation is rapidly saturating the capacity of existing cellular technology, and the big telecommunications companies don't really have a solution, so already in crowded areas like Manhattan people cannot watch videos.

The other line of progress is the way we interact with social media. In theory we interact with other people, but the truth is that most of the interaction takes place with algorithms. I always joke that now we should be more interested in the social life of algorithms than of people. Gartner's study "Top Strategic Predictions for 2016 and Beyond" predicts that by 2018 about 20% of all business content will be created by machines and there will be 6 billion connected things, and that by 2020 virtual assistants will constitute 40% of mobile interactions. The human role will be reduced to clicking "yes" to what the virtual assistant proposes. Today we have to install so many apps on our smartphones, but we will soon have only one or two "intelligent" apps that will take care of everything. Our social life in the post-app era is difficult to imagine because it will be largely controlled by virtual assistants running on our mobile devices. Maybe we will be able to set the degree of socializing that we desire, just like today we can set how much energy we want to save on our laptop; and then the virtual assistant will advise accordingly to which parties we should attend and which friends we should invite for dinner. This is not in the distant future: it is actually happening to us and we are happy to let it happen because it simplifies our lives. We are already surrounded by thousands of algorithms that tell us where to eat, which movie to watch, what to buy, how much to exercise, and whom to date. And we mostly obey. How many people scroll down to find a different restaurant than the first 2 or 3 recommended by Yelp? Then our virtual assistants will also interact with smart things around the house, the office and the city. So i also joke that the social life of machines will be more interesting than the social life of people. And Gartner forgot to analyze how robots are going to "socialize" via the cloud.

Facebook also allows developer to develop their own chatbots, that will live within Facebook Messenger. And so Messenger, that Facebook spun off in 2014 as a separate app, is becoming a platform for chatbots, much more than an instant messaging service.

There is no question that eventually almost everybody will be on social media. A few individuals will refuse to be on social media and they will be the digital-age equivalent of the ancient Buddhist monks who lived in a cave refusing the comforts of civilization. Facebook and Google have plans to bring the Internet to the poor, rural, underdeveloped places that don't have access, which is about five billion people. They present it as a humanitarian mission but their problem is quite simple that they already have almost 100% of the users that they can get today: the only way to expand is to increase the number of people who have access to the Internet. Facebook, which in 2013 launched the project with Samsung, Nokia and others, wants to beam the Internet from solar-powered drones. In 2013 Google launched Project Loon, and originally planned to use a world-wide network of high-altitude balloons to beam the Internet to the regions that have no Internet access yet, and in 2014 it announced that it wanted to build a system of 180 satellites to beam Internet around the planet. In New York an alliance of Control Group, Titan, Qualcomm and Comark created LinkNYC: 10,000 communications hubs that provide city residents and visitors with free public gigabit Wi-Fi, access to communications, information and municipal services. In 2015 Control Group and Titan merged to form Intersection with the goal of expanding the LinkNYC model of free Wi-Fi to cities around the globe, and were acquired by Sidewalk Labs, and Google invested in the idea. Years ago we believed that the poor people of the world didn't matter for ecommerce, but China has proven that the opposite is true: Alibaba and JD become multibillion dollar companies by targeting a vast population that, by Western standards, is poor. If you make one dollar out of one billion people, you make one billion dollars, which is not bad. Silicon Valley is always good at disguising its corporate self-interest as humanitarian action.

Narnia: Is there any solution to overcome the current limitations of cellular technology?


Cisco published a famous study in 2010 predicting that by 2020 we would need a lot more capacity. Maybe that report was a bit exaggerated, since we are almost in 2020 and most areas can still use their smartphones with no downsides. However, it is true that the explosion of videos, Periscope's live streaming, Facetime's video calls, video conferencing and so on is testing the limits of current 4G technology. The ideas floated so far by the big carriers are simple but not revolutionary. They simply push the problem a few years away. The first thing that they did was to lobby for an increase of the spectrum, which was granted in 2010 by the FCC (the "national broadband plan"). This solution was purely political, not technological: it consisted in a plan to expand the spectrum from 500 MHz to 1 GHz by 2020. In addition, Qualcomm started using the unlicensed band (the band used by things like WiFi) and turned it into LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U). This tripled the capacity of 4G wireless. But that's not enough to match the growing demand of mobile data. The second solution consists in simply adding more "cells" per square kilometer. Unfortunately, there is a physical limit: when cells are too close (50 meters seems to be the limit) they start interfering and become useless. In 2016 a San Francisco-based startup, Artemis, has introduced a new technology that uses the interference to provide more capacity, and in fact can provide a dedicated cell to each mobile device user ("pcell technology"), and each device gets the full spectrum capacity. So now the limit does not exist and in fact the closer the antennas the better for Artemis' technology.

Narnia: is there hope for traditional, physical socializing?


It is interesting that in the age of videogames and youtube and social media, movie theaters are still full, in fact fuller than ever. People like to get together, physically get together.

Museum attendance is increasing everywhere. Art sales are skyrocketing.

I get invited to speak in China and the Chinese organizations spend a lot of money to physically fly me from Silicon Valley to Hangzhou or Beijing. Nobody invites me to speak remotely via Skype or WeChat.

In the 1990s during the "dotcom boom" everybody in Silicon Valley was convinced that soon offices will be abandoned and employees would be allowed to work from home. Surprise: 20 years later very few employees are allowed to work from home (and, if your boss allows it, you are probably on the list of people who will the first ones to lose their job at the first economic crisis).

So there is a counter-trend to the digitalization of life, to the disappearance of books, magazines, newspapers, physical shops, letters, etc. People still crave the physical presence and the physical object.

I am particularly hopeful about art. The fact that more people go to museums and buy art is an important signal. Visual art is particularly valuable because it transcends linguistic barriers. Visual art is a sort of "lingua franca" that everybody speaks and understands (although two people may disagree on how good a specific work of art is). You don't need to learn English in order to appareciate British art and you don't need to speak Chinese in order to appreciate Chinese art. The art magazines speak of the globalization of art commerce, but art has always been globalized. Artists were never limited to their nation. An Italian painter can paint in Germany or Russia, and a Dutch painter can paint in France or Spain.

Narnia: What is the future of art and culture then?


Even without Wikipedia, the Internet would be still a weird world for culture: most people only click on the first result returned by Google or any other search engine (which right now is usually Wikipedia). In many cases this first result depends on how much a website has spent to tweak its Google ranking. So... given that this is the context in which culture takes place today, and increasingly the physical place does not matter, words like "culture" and "media" have acquired different meanings. There is no question that Facebook and Twitter are media, but, for example, these are media that only allow you to Like something, not to dislike it. I credit the Like button of Facebook as one of the greatest techno-cultural inventions of the computer age. Before that, i think the greatest techno-cultural invention was the "undo" command. Just like the undo command represented a culture in which a cultural artifact was not static in time, and its value was therefore fluid, the Like button represents a culture in which the value of a cultural artifact is proportional to how quickly and extensively it goes "viral". A cultural artifact sits somewhere in a continuum of popularity which starts from zero, not from negative numbers.

It is important to realize that we often blame the Internet for trends that preexisted the Internet and the Internet simply amplified. For example, friendship was becoming more and more superficial before Facebook was born, and Facebook simply accelerated that trend. Ditto for the trend that i just described in cultural artifacts. We already lived in the age of mass consumerism, of pop stars and Hollywood blockbusters. There were already marketing agencies specializing in creating "viral" phenomena. We already lived in a society in which the crowd chose the stars of music, not the critics/historians. The Internet simply accelerated those trends.

It is debatable whether the Internet is shaping modern culture, or culture has shaped the Internet. Remove the Internet and those trends would still be there, just move more slowly. I think it was electricity that really changed the way culture is created, evaluated, propagated: the grammophone, radio, television, and, yes, eventually the Internet. Personally, i cannot complain. If i am a bit of a celebrity (a very minor one), i owe it entirely to the Internet. I started publishing my writings on the Internet not by design but simply because of convenience. I had no idea that in 2016 i would have readers other than close friends.

Narnia: Can social media me useful to historians? What can you learn from the use of social media?


I have a good example. After he died, Einstein's brain was secretely removed and stored away. It has been the object of countless studies from scientists interested in finding out why he was so intelligent. In 2013 two studies were published in the journal Brain, one by Dean Falk in the USA and one by the East China Normal University in Shanghai. Today there are people who dream of reconstructing his brain.

At the same time, the Einstein Archive Online contains 80,000 documents written by Einstein or to Einstein Those documents cover everything from politics to just friendship. And, of course, a lot of science. For example, the 45-page "Zurich notebook" was written in 1912 when Einstein was learning differential geometry. His first idea of "general relativity" was wrong but for more than two years he tried to convince everybody and himself that he was right. Then in November 1915 he published 4 papers, one after the other, that, one after the other, corrected his mistakes until he got it right. In 1916 he finally wrote a very nice manuscript (with crossed-out lines and annotations) that summarizes his new theory Why did he publish four papers, one after the other, in a hurry? Because he knew that Hilbert, a famous German mathematician, was working on the same problem and was about to reach the same conclusions. In fact, Hilbert submitted a paper with the same equation 5 days before Einstein, but it was published after Einstein's final paper.

Everybody who studied general relativity knows about the curvature of spacetime. Well, Einstein didn't mention it in any document until 1921. It was his friend Weyl who first introduced the concept in letters written to Einstein. In 1922 Friedman showed that Einstein's equations predict an expanding universe. Einstein ignored it, convinced that the universe was static. In February 1916 Einstein wrote in a letter that gravitational waves don't exist. Four months later he published a paper that they do exist. In 1938 he wrote a paper that they don't exist, and the paper was rejected and never published. Einstein didn't believe in black holes either. So, at one point or another, Einstein didn't believe in any of the three pillars of modern cosmology: the Big Bang (the expansion of the universe), black holes, and gravitational waves. This is just a small piece of the story that fascinated me. The archive contains dozens of letters that Einstein exchanged with his friends: Hendrik Lorenz, Michele Besso, Willemde Sitter, Felix Klein, Hermann Weyl, Max Abraham, Gunnar Nordstrom and many others. General Relativity was really the work of a community of scientists, not just one. And the amazing thing is that this was happening in the middle of World War I and there is almost no mention of it in these 80,000 documents . These scientists lived in the middle of a horrible carnage that killed more than 10 million people but they were completely focused on understanding the universe, not the human race.

Why am I telling you this story? Because studying Einstein's brain will not tell you who he was. He was stubborn, he made many mistakes, he learned from his friends. You will not find this in his brain. You will find it in his "social life", which is preserved in that archive. His letters shows that he always used a "principle" to guide his research: the principle of relativity, the principle of equivalence, etc. He was frustrated at the end of his life because he couldn't find a "principle" for the unification of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. One week before dying he still wrote in his notebooks about this. Well, this is Einstein. His brain will not tell you what I just told you. His archive will. His archive contains all of his "social networking", and that tells me a lot more about him than the best neuroscientist can tell me.

Narnia: Is the sharing economy another example of people coming together in different ways and does it have a future? Why we haven't had any other major success story after the initial ones?


The sharing economy was born as a way to optimize the resources that we own and that are "idle" most of the time. If you have a room in your house that you never use, you have paid for something that is only a cost, but if you rent it out to travelers it becomes a business opportunity. The same can be true of many other things that we own, that are valuable to others, and that we don't use. It is funny that originally the sharing economy came out of the big financial crisis of 2009-10, the worst economic crisis of the West in almost a century. Sharing apps like Airbnb, Lyft and Uber became popular because people were very willing to experiment with new ways to make money, and the reason that they were so willing if that they were afraid of the bad economy.

But now the sharing apps are also showing us a different aspect of human coexistence: things may be valuable for others even if you are not valuable for you. Sharing apps are enabling us to think about the valuables that we own and to share those valuables. Two of my friends started MonkeyParking in San Francisco to share parking spaces. San Francisco is notoriously a difficult city for parking. But there are thousands of people who drive away from their house every morning. These people never realized that the place where their car is parked is actually a business opportunity because many other drivers need to park their cars. Most people today live in cities. The number one asset in cities is space. So whichever space you own or are using is a valuable resource. In most cases the "valuable resource" is not obvious because you didn't pay explicitly for it: the car that is sitting in the garage or the room that you never use or the driveway that you don't use during the day when you are at work. And then these apps prompt us to change the way we think and our habits. If we own a valuable resource that we dind't realize is valuable, we can rethink our business. For example, who has a lot of parking space available? Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. Sometimes their parkings are full, but most of the time they are half empty or completely empty. The parking of a hotel is mostly full at night, but mostly empty during the day. The parking of a shopping mall is mostly full during the day, but almost completely empty at night. Maybe there is a day of the week or a season when the hotel can make more money renting out parking spaces than renting rooms. Schools complain that they don't have enough funding from the government, but they have huge parking lots that are empty after 3pm. People need to discover what is hidden behind their routine. The most difficult thing for a startup in the sharing economy is always to change the lifestyle of people, to make people accept different habits. The startup needs to convince some people that they have a supply of resources, and then they need to convince some other people that they need those resources. The matchmaker/middleman has a difficult life in the sharing economy because it is not "trading" the usual resources in the usual places. Usually you trade goods at a shopping mall or at the vegetable market, not online. The second obstacle is usually the city or even national rules and regulations, that sometimes restrict what people can do. Going viral for a sharing startup is not easy because it is difficult to convince the supply people who are typically not computerized for the new task. It is easy with the demand people because the app simply requires a smartphone. The poorer people should be the ones to think about sharing what they own and don't use. There have been very few success stories in the sharing economy because there are at least two major problems to growth: first of all, a sharing idea can be easily copied, so if you succeed there will immediately be many copycats - you cannot patent sharing; and second, sharing is "localized",e.g. i can share my car only with the people who live or work in my town, not with someone who lives and works in India; so it is lot of work for a sharing app to go global the way Airbnb and Uber did.

Narnia: Can social networking be used to improve education, to make students smarter, not dumber?


This is a very important topic in the USA. The USA is painfully aware that something is very wrong with its educational system. The USA spends about 7% of GDP in education. On average a family spends about $12,000 per child on secondary education. A master can cost more than $50,000. The USA is by far the most expensive country in the world for tuition fees. All this money does not translate into better education. In fact, it translates in the exact opposite. In 1946 the USA was number one in the world for rate of high-school graduation. Today it ranks number 22 among 27 industrialized nations. According to the OECD US students rank 25th in mathematics. Only 46% of US students finish college. Clearly, the high cost of education is having a negative effect on the level of education. So there is a general movement towards "democratizing education", with the goal to reach educational equality between rich and poor children, and across all ethnic groups. This movement has failed so far because the statistics have been getting worse, not better: rich people get a good education, poor people are being left behind. The main experiment to use the Internet for education is the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Perhaps the first was the Khan Academy started by Salman Khan in 2006, that provides free K12 education worldwide. But the most famous today are Coursera (founded by Andrew Ng in 2011), that provides online university-level courses in collaboration with universities, Udacity (founded by Sebastian Thrun in 2011), that is more oriented towards online training courses in collaboration with the industry, and EdX (founded by MIT & Harvard in 2012), which is similar to Coursera but totally nonprofit and running on open-source software. In 2015 Khan Academy claimed 10 million students, Coursera claimed 15 million students, Udacity claimed 4 million and EdX claimed 5 million. These are more or less structured like online universities. But the Internet has enabled many other forms of education that previously were unlikely to be accessible to poor families. SlideShare, founded by Jon Boutelle in 2006, is a free repository of slide presentations: you can find everything from my UC Berkeley classes to business presentations. In 2015 SlideShare had 19.7 million slide presentations. Udemy, founded by Eren Bali in 2010, is an online marketplace where anyone can upload and sell a course. In 2015 Udemy had 40,000 courses and 10 million students. And of course there is Wikipedia, founded in 2001, a free encyclopedia that contains millions of articles in most languages of the world. Then there are social networks for teachers, students and even parents. For example, Learnist, founded in San Francisco in 2012, provides "Learnboards" where teachers and students can collaborate to create courses. It defines itself as a "knowledge" social network. ClassDojo, also founded in San Francisco in 2011, is used by 30 million people and provides real-time feedback and online rewards for teachers. Remind, founded in San Francisco in 2011, and Kaymbu, founded in Boston in 2012, are messaging platforms to connect teachers, parents and students used daily by millions of people.

The Internet can help bridge the gap between rich areas and poor areas. The best teachers tend to be in the rich cities and in the rich neighborhoods, but MOOCs and these social networks can create a more uniform environment. Of course, the skills of the teacher remain the main factor in education. Nothing can completely replace the master-apprentice model, i.e. the physical interaction between a human being who "knows" and a human being who "learns". But the Internet can create better "masters" everywhere who can then create better "apprentices" everywhere.

I personally think that hackerspaces are also a great addition to the traditional school. Every high school and maybe every elementary school should provide a "hackerspace" for students to explored the most important scientific disciplines. The hackerspace is a place when you are free to experiment and you don't have to be afraid of failing. In fact, you never fail: you are rewarded for trying. It is a place for crazy ideas, the exact opposite of the learning/memorizing methods of the traditional school. It is the "library" of the digital age, where kids can learn, experiment and socialize. Mitch Altman estimates 2,600 hackerspaces all over the world, and growing very fast.

If we don't solve them, the problems that we have today in education will escalate dramatically because we live in an age in which the skills required by the society change rapidly. They already changed a lot since i graduated. I recently met my old manager of the 1980s who still remembers me as the fastest programmer of the company, but today any 12-year-old child can do what i was doing then. If i had not learned a new job every 4 or 5 years, today i would be begging for money in the street. Change will happen ever more rapidly for the generation that is entering school today. We literally don't know which kinds of job will exist when they graduate 10 or 20 years from now. The vast amount of courses and slide presentations that i mentioned will not help them unless they learn to learn. That's the fundamental skill that we need to teach children: learn to learn. Learning a specific skill is not bad, but that skill might not exist by the time you finish school: you need to learn to learn new skills, and not only once but many times over the course of your life. Many jobs will be replaced by machines. The society of machines will create new jobs that today are hard to predict. My favorite example: who predicted that computer automation (that killed so many jobs) would created millions of jobs in telecommunications? Your smartphone (and all the people who have a job related to it) is the direct consequence of progress in electronic computers, precisely the machines that were accused of stealing jobs from people. We are very good at predicting the kinds of job that will disappear but very bad at imagining the kinds of job that will be created. So first of all the schools need to train students to learn (not only a specific skill, but to learn in general). Secondly, schools need to provide students with a broad knowledge that will allow them to learn new skills. Stanford and other universities are switching from education for the "I" person to education for the "T" person. The "I" person is a person whose knowledge is totally vertical: the "I" person only learns one skill and becomes a great specialist in that skill. The "T" person is a person who learns one skill very well but also many other things not closely related to that skill. For example, an electronic engineer may also study biology and physics, and, why not, European classical music and Chinese classics. Think of it: 1,000 years ago China was inventing everything and the West was copying, now the West is inventing everything and China is copying. What was special about China during the Tang and Song dynasties? China has to rediscover the spirit of those ages, and that was a very interdisciplinary spirit. The scholar-official of the Song dynasty was a "universal" man, combining the qualities of scholar, poet, painter, statesman, and sometimes scientist. Westerners are rediscovering something that China already knew one thousand years ago, as usual. How social media can help create the "T" person is not clear to anyone. We have just realized that it is the correct approach to give young people a chance to survive in the chaotic future that is arriving very rapidly.

There is also another aspect of today's education that has to change. In 1717 Prussia made primary education compulsory, then Britain did the same, and eventually all the countries in the world have done the same. The model has remained the original one: children go to school for a number of years, and eventually graduate and then join the workforce. End of education. Some people never read a book again after graduating from school. I don't think this is the kind of educational system that we need in the future. We need lifelong education. School should not end at the age of 18 or 22 or 27. I suspect that we are asking people to study too much when they are children and too little when they are adults. We damage their childhood and we will soon damage their adulthood. Social networks can create awareness that there are new skills emerging in the economy, and that there are tools on the Internet to acquire those skills. In the old days all the new knowledge that you needed in your adult life could be found in the encyclopedia: for example, i am traveling to Russia and want to find out which are the big cities of Russia. But in the future the new knowledge will require studying a slide presentation on Slideshare or watching videos on YouTube. Ordinary people will need a way to navigate this vast (and confusing) territory of knowledge.

Narnia: How will our online social life influence our physical social life in the smart city of the future?


The West has been obsessed with creating the perfect city since at least the Italian Renaissance. Leon Battista Alberti, a famous writer of art, in his book "On the Art of Building" (1452) wrote that "the city is like a great house, and the house like a small city." In the same age Federico da Montefeltro built the palace of Urbino that is "a city in the form of a palace". There are three paintings titled "The Ideal City" (1480s) in three different museums of the world, probably painted by the same Italian painter, that depict an imaginary city of perfect geometry. Technology has always mediated between the family (or the single) and the social and natural environment, except that the technology of 1480 was architecture, a very physical technology, whereas today's technology is increasingly digital, not physical. I think that the convergence of the digital and physical worlds is the theme that will shape the social life of the future. Those Italian dreamers founded a discipline that some scholars call "ecotopia" (ecosystem + utopia). What happened in the USA (and then in many other countries) in the 1950s/1960 was the expansion of the city in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. Cities became giant ensembles of suburbs. Houses became intimidating high-rise buildings. The simple house of the country village with its little garden, fruit trees and cats disappeared and was replaced by horizontal and vertical monsters. The good news for the economy is that cities create consumption: the 1950s/60s witnessed a boom of consumption in the USA, similar to what is happening today in Chinese cities. The bad news is that consumption of commercial goods causes a parallel boom of consumption of resources such as water and fossil fuels. Beijing gets killer pollution and Silicon Valley gets severe droughts. This kind of urban life also affects psychology: boring streets make pedestrians unhappy; skyscrapers make people lonely and neurotic. In 1900 there are only 16 cities with populations greater than 1 million. In 2015 there are more than 500. But we know that the US-style ways of urban living are not sustainable. In fact, there have been "anti-urbanization" movements since at least Paolo Soler designed the ecotopia of Arcosanti in 1969 in Arizona. The idea of places like Arcosanti is that the city is a living, breathing, evolving organism, and it should live in harmony with the natural world. The ecotopias of the 2000s are mostly focused on sustainable, hyper-efficient buildings, like Shimizu Corporation's TRY Mega-City Pyramid (2004) and Norman Foster's Masdar that is under construction in the United Arab Emirates. However, i am not convinced that these futuristic cities address the real need of people. Sure, people want clean air; but they also want a nice life. For example, during the 1950s/60s millions of US families moved to the suburbs. That was the "low-tech ecotopia" of the middle-class, enabled by the boom of the car and by the construction of a network of highways: affordable and enjoyable housing, a better physical life. It would be easy for tomorrow's architects, instead, to design a "high-tech ecotopia" that will serve not the typical middle-class family but the "knowledge worker". This ecotopia will be enabled by the smartphone and the Internet, and its appeal will be a better digital life. I don't think that this works. I think the future is the con of the digital and physical worlds, not the replacement of the physical world with a digital world. And here is a recent trend that proves it. Silicon Valley's population grew rapidly between 1950 and 2000. In the 1970s San Jose's population passed San Francisco's. In 2011 the Bay Area had become an economic superpower: $13.5 billion in venture capital investment, more than four times the metropolitan areas of Boston or New York (second and third largest centers for venture capital investment in the USA, each with a lot more people than the Bay Area). Silicon Valley was and is "flat". It is literally flat because its buildings are mostly 2-story buildings. And it is "flat" also in the sense that nothing happens other than technology. Life is mostly about work. Silicon Valley is a cluster of cities with no boundaries and no personality: San Jose with eBay, Cisco and IBM; Cupertino with Apple; Santa Clara with Intel; Sunnyvale with Yahoo; Mountain View with Google; Menlo Park with Facebook; Palo Alto with VMware; Redwood City with Electronic Arts; Redwood Shores with Oracle; South San Francisco with Genentech. There is no center of town because there is no sense of community and therefore no need for a center of it. The 2000s were the age of Palo Alto: Google, Facebook and PayPal were born on University Avenue in Palo Alto. But Palo Alto is a small village by Chinese standards. Silicon Valley is basically a place but not a community. The 2010s witnessed a sort of revolution: Twitter, Pinterest, Airbnb, Uber are all based in San Francisco. In 2014 venture capital moved to San Francisco: it got 16% of total US venture investment in the USA. This is a historical shift: for at least three decades San Francisco was an aging city without a future, now it has surpassed Silicon Valley in the hightech industry. (To be fair, Palo Alto gets 4.8% of total US venture capital investment, which is an incredible amount if you think that Palo Alto has only 50,000 people, i.e. 0.0002% of the US population; but nonetheless the movement of capital towards San Francisco is undeniable). We have to understand why capital moved north to San Francisco and away from Silicon Valley: because it followed the young educated engineers of Silicon Valley. The truth is that Silicon Valley was appealing until the 2000s for two basic reasons: driving a car was cheap and fast, and housing was relatively cheap. Now that traffic has become almost as bad as in Beijing and house prices have skyrocketed, people realize that Silicon Valley is a place dominated by highways (not by town centers) with little investment in public transport. The young educated engineers of Silicon Valley have no interest in remaining in Silicon Valley, even if the "digital life" is good there. Another way to say the same thing is that urbanization in the 1980s was driven by the investors: Silicon Valley was a society backed by venture capital. Venture capital likes the combination of reusable industrial real-estate, and proximity to a university campus like Stanford (proximity to a high-skilled labor pool). Those were the days not only of Silicon Valley but also of the "Route 128" area in and around Boston (near MIT and Harvard). Boston has 300 years of startup experience because Saugus Iron Works, the first integrated ironworks in North America, was founded there in 1646. Boston pioneered the cooperation between university, government and industry. But then Route 128 failed to adapt to the world of the 1990s (end of the Cold War and therefore reduction in military spending) while Silicon Valley adapted rapidly from semiconductors to personal computers to local area networks to dotcoms to social networks. One reason for the success of Silicon Valley over Route 128 is Bob Metcalfe's law: the value of the network to each node is exponentially related to the number of nodes on the network. Innovation ecosystems driven by competition actually create a form of cooperation, a giant network that tends towards collective progress. The success of a node increases the chances for the success of another node. AnnaLee Saxenian wrote that the "decentralized, cooperative ecosystem" of Silicon Valley won over the bureaucratic corporate model. Venture capitalists loved this and invested heavily in Silicon Valley. In the 1990s and 2000s Silicon Valley dominated. The myth was created that high-tech firms (including their engineers) prefer the suburbs, far away from the traditional industry and commerce. The mythology of Silicon Valley became a magnet in itself. The truth, instead, is that high-tech firms (or at least their engineers) are moving away from Silicon Valley and towards San Francisco. Both Google and Facebook have a fleet of buses that shuttle their employees back and forth from San Francisco. What has changed is the "driver": now the engineer has become the fundamental factor of the economy, and therefore urbanization is driven by the engineer, not by capital. The venture capitalist loves boring suburbia, the engineer loves city life. It is not happening only in San Francisco, it is happening in many cities around the world. Alan Ehrenhalt calls it "The great inversion": young highly educated individuals are driving a return to the crowded city. Cities like New York and San Francisco have invested in what Christopher Leinberger of George Washington University coined the term "walkable urbanism" (in a 2012 essay): a place that offers good attractions and jobs at a short distance from home, and good public transportation for longer distances. Young techies don't want a car, they want the amenities of a city. It is not enough to have a digital life: they also want a physical life. In 2014 the Brookings Institute counted 558 walkable urban places in the USA. That's the real "hightech ecotopia": the convergence of the digital and physical world that makes it exciting for high-tech people to live there.
This interview was complemented with these interviews:

Dan Kottke (Steve Jobs' college friend)

Antonio Forenza, Cofounder of Artemis

John Law, founder of the Burning Man Festival

Josh Levy, former engineer at SRI, Cuil and Viv Labs

Irina Pesterean and Paolo Dobrowolny, Founders of Monkey Parking

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