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This is a list of books that I read in 2019, not necessarily a list of books that were published in 2019.

The 50 Greatest Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy – Books that cover a wide range of topics can be hit or miss.  If you’re not interested in a particular invention or topic you may not be inclined to read that section.  However, this book by Tim Harford, is so well-written and informative, that you’ll want to read the entire thing.  Even the section on double-entry bookkeeping. 

The Future of the Mind – I followed up on reading Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future in 2018 by reading his look at the future of the mind in 2019.  A great choice to kick off the new year as I learned a lot about what the future may have in store for us from brain implants and telepathy to watching movies based on our dreams.

A Whole New Mind – I then read another book about the mind to continue my fascination with my new favorite topic.  One less rooted in science fiction and more so in reality.

From Amazon:

“In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink provides a compelling argument that right-brain–oriented skills sets—empathy, creativity, design, synthesis, and pattern recognition—are the ingredients for a ‘holistic mind-set,’ today’s prerequisite for business success and a meaningful life.”

The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Inventions – It’s probably not fair to say that I read this book.  It only takes a few minutes to flip through the pages and marvel at the Rube Goldberg style inventions that aren’t even real.  But then again that’s the whole point.

“In Japan, Kenji Kawakami is famous for his tireless promotion of Chindogu: the art of the unuseless idea. Kawakami has developed an entire philosophy around these bizarre and logic-defying gadgets and gizmos, which must work but are actually entirely impractical.”

Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas – A look at where ideas come from making the argument that new ideas may not really be as new as they seem at first glance.

From the New York Times:

“In an anecdote-rich tour through the centuries, Poole traces ‘new’ ideas in mental health back to the Stoics; dates the invention of the e-cigarette to 1965; and tells us that the leech is now an F.D.A.-approved ‘medical device,’ used for, among other things, preventing blood from pooling after reconstructive plastic surgery. We live in ‘an age of rediscovery,’ Poole writes. ‘Old is the new new.’”

An Optimist’s Tour of the Future – British author and comedian Mark Stevenson travels the world in search of the Next Big Thing in this very informative book that is guaranteed to change what you think about our current state of affairs.

Stealing FireThis book by Steven Kotler will literally blow your mind as it describes all the ways the mind can be blown.

“It’s the biggest revolution you’ve never heard of, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high-performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising shortcut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition.”

The Half Life of Facts – Insights into the science of science as this book by Samuel Arbesman outlines how facts are constantly changing and why that matters.  A sneaky good book that may very well be in my Top Ten now.

Half Earth – This book, written by famed Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, makes the bold claim that to combat Climate Change, we ought to divide the Earth into two parts, one for humans, and one for everything else.

Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts – If you like gene-editing and the idea of playing God to create new species then this is the book for you as it takes a look at the inherent weirdness of genetically modified organisms.

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think –  Co-written by Steven Kotler and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis this book was my favorite of the year as it looked at how we have the potential to make the world a better place, if we only worked together and made more efficient use of the resources that we have at our disposal.  Hence the name abundance.  Everything we need we already have.

A Brief History of the Future – As a “world famous futurist” myself it was interesting to learn about the major players and the history of the field.

From Amazon:

“Whether for economic, personal, or political reasons, people have always wanted to know what the future will bring, and there have been no lack of people to tell us. A Brief History of the Future chronicles the most influential futurists over the years, from Delphi’s virgin visionaries, to pop futurists, science fiction writers, trend gurus, and evolutionary experts.”

This Will Change Everything – John Brockman’s anthology of collected essays from leading thinkers looks at a key idea that each person thinks has the potential to change the world.  Not all of the essays were winners but enough of them were to make the book a worthwhile read.

The Clock of the Long Now – People used to think long-term.  Building structures that would take generations to complete.  We don’t do that anymore.  In today’s day and age of instant gratification we want everything delivered to us instantaneously or we lose interest.  The Long Now Foundation aims to change that and get us back to thinking generationally.  Their Clock of the Long Now is meant to serve as a constant reminder of that commitment to long-term thinking.  This book examines the thinking behind this project and why it matters.

Ideaism: How a Culture of Innovation Can Make the World a Better Place – And last but not least is my very own book about the history of innovation.  I only sold 11 copies and no one has even read it yet but I stand by my assertion that this is the greatest book of all-time!

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2019 was a great year for books!

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According to published reports Instagram is considering doing the unthinkable: testing a new model in the U.S. that would do away with public likes.  The rationale is simple: get us to stop comparing ourselves to each other.  With no need to compete with one another we’ll go back to posting pictures for the love of the game.  For the pure joy of it.

But this approach is problematic.  First of all, influencers and brands rely on public likes to prove their worth and establish their credibility.  How will people get paid and/or discovered if no one knows how influential they actually are?

A concern that is the least of Instagram’s worries.  As Wired puts it, “Balancing the needs of artists, brands, and the average user is difficult. But [CEO Adam] Mosseri emphasized that Instagram will always place the needs of people first. ‘It means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest,’ he says. ‘When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organizations and corporations.’”

But if that’s the case, if Instagram is really putting users first, then don’t you have to remove likes entirely?  Make it so that users can’t see their own likes either.  After all, aren’t we competing with ourselves just as much as we are with others? Tying our own self-worth to how many likes we get? Complaining that nobody likes us when we aren’t getting enough attention.  Becoming inspired to keep posting when we do thanks to the effects of positive feedback loops.  If you’re going to remove likes, don’t you have to remove them everywhere? Across the board?

Not that I would want that to happen for that would make using Instagram kind of pointless.  How would that even work? Would you just type the word “like” into the comments if you wanted to like something? Would you just like it on Facebook instead? How would you even know if what your posting is good or not, if people want to see it or not, if there is no opportunity to obtain feedback?

In my opinion, the solution isn’t to do away with likes, it’s to grow thicker skin.  To not care as much about what other people think about you.  Not concern yourself as much with metrics, branding, public appearances, and all the rest.

I know that’s easier said than done.  But it’s something that I’ve already been doing.  A year ago if I posted a picture that only garnered a few likes I would delete it.  Clearly, it wasn’t up to my lofty standards.  But now when it happens I wear it like a badge of honor.  That picture is good…I’m just the only one who realizes it.  I’m ahead of my time.  Ahead of the pack.  A true trend setter.  A real taste maker.  Everyone else will catch up with me eventually.

And that’s the way it should be.  Post for yourself.  Don’t worry about anything else.  The rest will take care of itself.

 

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Is Instagram ending likes the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,569 – DeepCom

A few months ago I wrote about my desire to have Artificial Intelligence share, like, and comment on social media postings.  My rationale was simple.  Since we’re all busy being content creators – blogging, tweeting, creating YouTube and TikTok videos, snapchatting, posting pictures on Instagram, etc. there’s no one left to consume all that content.  Legitimately great work goes unnoticed; lost in a sea of information that overwhelms us during a daily deluge of data.

Artificial Intelligence could help with that.  Get the ball rolling so that posts have a better chance of going viral.  Or at the very least make it so that content creators never have to feel down that nobody likes their work.  As far as they are concerned everything they’ve done would have been noticed.  No way to tell the difference if humans or AI were the ones who were liking, sharing, and commenting on it.

Considering that we all crave likes and attention, rewards that create a self-sustaining positive feedback loop that make us want to post even more content, creating a way to ensure that we always enter into that  loop seems like a good idea.  Especially, when you consider that most algorithms, product reviews on Amazon, say, or Google search results, rely on activity to determine how prestigious and how trustworthy something is.  The more page views, the more articles that link back to it, the more activity that something has, the higher it ranks.  If that’s how the game is played then maybe we should game the system.  Artificially enhance our profile to meet those thresholds, to make it so that everyone gets noticed.

Well, as it turns out my wish came true as there is now an algorithm known as DeepCom that is capable of generating realistic sounding comments on articles as a way of kickstarting conversations.

According to Futurism, “Compared to other comment-generating algorithms that focus just on a news article’s keywords or headline, DeepCom’s output was far more realistic.

The research paper provides a case study where DeepCom commented “the rockets are going to have a lot of fun in this series” on a news article about the Houston Rockets, for instance — while the other algorithms spewed out nonsense that would have immediately been flagged as spam.”

Some people are critical of this idea saying that it just generates even more noise on the Internet, making the problem that it is trying to solve even worse.  But I think the idea has merit for all of the reasons that I listed earlier.  For being overwhelmed by comments isn’t the problem.  It’s being underwhelmed by your feedback that is.

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Is DeepCom the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Not all libraries contain literary works.  Some contain works of art.  Or at least the Brooklyn Art Library does.  For here resides a place where artists’ sketchbooks gather from all over the world as a means of documenting the human experience and providing inspiration to all who are lucky enough to gaze upon its collection.

According to Atlas Obscura:

“The Brooklyn Art Library houses the Sketchbook Project: a collaborative library of artists’ sketchbooks that’s grown every year since 2006. The Library opened in its current location in 2010 and soon featured more than 10,000 books from 104 countries on six continents.

Today the library is home to almost 34,000 separate sketchbooks, from some 70,000 contributors in over 135 countries. And the project is not only open for people to contribute to, but also for people to browse.  For consideration in the project, prospective contributors can visit the library or the project’s website and sign up to receive a blank sketchbook.

When they are added to the library, each sketchbook is given a unique barcode and can be identified by artist, region, or even material. Visitors can come to the library and find amazingly unique, often improvised works from artists around the globe.”

But that’s not all.  Each participating sketchbook can also be digitized for an added fee, ensuring that it can live on forever in ephemeral or digital form.  The sketchbooks will also become something of a nomad, traveling around the globe while appearing in a minimum of at least three different cities at various popup exhibits, so that everyone, not just those who live in or visit Brooklyn, can enjoy their greatness.  In fact, artists even get notified every time someone checks out their sketchbook, which as they say, is a hell of a lot more rewarding than just receiving a lonely like on a social media platform.

Personally, I think this is the one of the greatest ideas of all-time.  Especially given the fact that anyone, even little old me, can contribute to it.  There’s no criteria for submitting.  No jury that you have to impress for inclusion.  The suggested themes don’t even have to be adhered to.  When it comes to sketching the only limits are those imposed by your own imagination.

As someone who has filled up dozens of notebooks with ideas it’s comforting to know that there’s a place where all of my random rants, ruminations, and ramblings along with all my doodles and drawings can be captured and appreciated by others.  My biggest fear of having all of my knowledge lost before I had to chance to share it is now a non-factor.  Soon the latest iteration of my vaunted Book of Ideas can join this impressive artistic collection where it can be immortalized, available for anyone to stumble upon or seek out for decades to come.  In this way, the Sketchbook Project is like an Artistic Internet, a platform for underappreciated artists to get discovered and for regional techniques to find a wider audience.  A free-flowing exchange of ideas and information.  But more than providing a roadmap for where we’re going it’s also a way for us to see where we’ve been.  A record of all the artistic renderings, sketches, markings, and meanderings of all those who came before us.  A constantly shifting guide for all those who have yet to put pen to paper or brush to canvas, who have yet to make their mark.

I only wish that this project had always existed, stretching back for thousands of years.  How great would it be if you could check out some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s codices, Shakespeare’s notes, or Jules Verne’s rough drafts.  Or if the collection included patent drawings or movie storyboards for some of our most famous inventions or greatest movies.  A definitive history of creativity, if such a place existed, would be a national treasure.  More valuable than all the gold locked away in Fort Knox.  Sadly, such a place can’t exist.  But the next best thing can. A definitive guide to artistry since 2006.  In a way, what this project is doing then, without even realizing it, is creating a time capsule of sorts.  A way for us to save the inner workings of the human mind for posterity, for future anthropologists to study hundreds of years from now as they wonder what life was like for the people of the 21st century.  What they’ll find, I’m sure, are lives filled with meaning.  Lives worth living.

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Is the Sketchbook Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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Swipe left to reject someone.  Right to match with them.  Anyone who has tried online dating is familiar with this concept regardless of their preferred app.  And yet swiping hasn’t really caught on anywhere else.  Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram involve scrolling, not swiping.  Attention grabbing activity for sure.  But not nearly as addictive or fun as swiping.  Which is why dating apps gravitated towards swiping in the first place.  So, if swiping is really all that then let’s expand what we use it for.  Let’s swipe on everything.  All at the same time.

What I’m imagining then is one app to rule them all.  The one and only app that we would ever need.  A place where people could swipe for dates or jobs or to find things to do or buy.  A one stop shop for everything.  That’s because mixed in with all of your dates would be advertisements, pitches from people seeking help, coupons from local restaurants, offers to buy various products and items.  It would be a cross between Bumble, Craigslist, TaskRabbit, Facebook Marketplace, and Groupon.  Everything you need or would ever want.  All in one place.

It doesn’t have to stop at connections or offers either.  News and information could be spread through this app as well as swiping right on an article could save it to your e-reader so that you can read it later.  New songs and movie trailers could be pitched to you as well with swiping indicating whether or not you would be interested in checking them out.  The app providing invaluable immediate feedback to content creators.  A global focus group of sorts.  New emails could even get initially fed into this app allowing us to swipe left on spam mail helping to inch us closer towards inbox zero before we even open our mailboxes.

This would all happen all within the same interface.  Unlike Bumble you wouldn’t need to toggle to different modes.  Everything would be mixed together.  However, it wouldn’t be a total free for all.  Everyone’s experience would be completely different with their personal preferences and chosen topics of interests providing their unique content mix.  And yes if you are married you can completely opt out of the dating portion of the app.  No other content can be removed.  Even if you aren’t looking for a new job you’ll still receive tempting offers because, hey, you never know.

All in all, having everything you would ever need from news and advertisements to socialization and entertainment all in one place would be a real game changer, cutting down on the number of apps we would need while increasing the opportunities presented to us.

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Is Swiper the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You can’t spend a whole week talking about space and not mention Sci-fi.  The two go hand in hand as generations of NASA scientists grow up watching Star Wars, Star Trek and a host of other fare that gets them excited about going where no man has gone before and exploring galaxies that are far, far away.  Discovering non-mainstream Sci-Fi that appeals to you, that appeals to a particular niche interest that you may have, isn’t always easy though.  Thankfully, there’s a new book recommendation engine that can help with that: the Science Fiction Concept Corpus.

As Wired explains, “AI Researcher Bethanie Maples has been reading science fiction since she was given a copy of Dune at 10 years old. Still, two decades and nearly 1,000 books later, the self-described sci-fi fanatic struggles to find books that delve into her most niche interests, like the link between AI and transhumanism. So last year, while working at Stanford’s Human Computer Interaction lab, she teamed up with data scientists Eric Berlow and Srini Kadamati to create a book recommendation tool based on more than 100 salient sci-fi themes, from hyperspace to magical feminism.”

Compiled from plot descriptions, book reviews, and user generated meta data tags the Corpus is capable of scanning a collection of over 2,600 hundred books written since 1900 to make relevant recommendations. But I can do you one better with a recommendation of my own: check out James Corey’s Hugo award winning Expanse series of novels and then check out the show, one of the greatest of all-time, on Amazon Prime!

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Is the Science Fiction Concept Corpus the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I just put the finishing touches on a book about the history of innovation that clocks in at a whopping 432 pages!  That’s a lot but it pales in comparison to the 30 million page book that an Israeli startup is sending to the moon!  Known as the Lunar Library the book will serve as humanity’s knowledge backup just in case anything happens to the inhabitants of Earth.

As Futurism puts it, “Right now, a backup copy of humanity’s collective knowledge is on its way to the surface of the Moon.

The lander was built by the Israeli startup SpaceIL. It’s carrying a high-tech disc containing 25,000 books, a full copy of Wikipedia, and information on understanding Earthly languages — the equivalent, all told, of a 30 million-page tome.”

Amazingly, this isn’t the only such archive in the works.

According to CNET, “The AMF [Arch Mission Foundation] also placed a small test archive on Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster that was launched in the direction of Mars aboard the first Falcon Heavy demonstration mission last year. That archive consisted of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy encoded in a disc made of quartz silica glass made to last millions of years as the Roadster orbits the sun. The AMF has also placed a solid-state copy of Wikipedia on board a cube sat from SpaceChain in low-Earth orbit.”

Eventually, the goal is to spread out this information in even more places throughout the solar system and across the cosmos ensuring that humanity will always be covered no matter where we go or what winds up happening to us.

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Is a Lunar Library the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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