Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking is a well known icon for science, but I think he is less known for his wisdom. Hopefully this book will change this. He has been a supporter of so many of the most important issues of our time, bringing wisdom and guidance to everything from space exploration and the question of God to the existential threats facing humanity and the nature of intelligence.


The book provides insights into a number of the grand scientific challenges of today when it comes to astrophysics, particle physics, and genetics. The focus is obviously astronomy, with emphasis on Hawking's work on Black Holes. He explores fundamental questions such as "how did it all begin", "what is inside a Black Hole", "is time travel possible", and "if there is other intelligent life in the Universe".


He does not shy away from difficult issues, but he does not go into details (my only significant frustration with the book is that I think it should have benefited from a "further reading" part. It does have an overview of Hawking's other books, but I would have linked to know what books Hawking would have recommended in the areas he covers in the book). This is however a small gripe with a book that is very short, and might possible best be read when each chapter can be discussed. My own bullet points where almost as long as the chapters.


For someone who have spent time working with existential threats, i.e. those that threaten the very existence of our survival, it is refreshing to read someone who is bringing those to the forefront and also challenges us with some fundamental questions.


Hawking manages does what anyone who is intellectually honest should do. He clarifies some basic facts, such as "We now have the technological power to destroy every living creature on Earth."


He then provides some context for this situation, such as "Aggression, in the form of subjugating or killing other men and taking their women and food, has had definite survival advantage up to the present time. But now it could destroy the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth. A nuclear war is still the most immediate danger, but there are others, such as the release of a genetically engineered virus. Or the greenhouse effect becoming unstable."


Instead of concluding in a doom and gloom scenario he brings in fundamental issues that are seldom discussed, such as "It is not even clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value. Bacteria, and other single-cell organisms, may live on if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Perhaps intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution, as it took a very long time—two and a half billion years—to go from single cells to multi-cellular beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence.".


He is also honest when he is making value judgments and not stating facts such as "The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive. The threats are too big and too numerous.". This is great as it provides us we a platform for further discussions. This who say that the facts indicate that we are moving in the right direction have to answer what threats they dismiss or what kind of impacts they do not consider relevant.


One of the most striking features is how Hawking's manages to move on timescales that sometime feels as if they are, if not extinct, a dying breed. In an age where people in media seriously talk about discussions on Twitter that come and goes in hours it is refreshing with an intelligent mind who look at things from at least a millennium, but often billion years, perspective.


"One way or another, I regard it as almost inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation  or environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years which, as geological time goes, is the mere blink of an eye. By then I hope and believe that our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster. The same of course may not be possible for the millions of other species that inhabit the Earth, and that will be on our conscience as a race."


I think it takes a certain mind to wander to the limits of knowledge and push beyond it. There is also a special kind of mind that moves freely in multiple dimensions. I think much of Hawken's brilliance when it comes to areas outside his specific area of expertise is due to the capacity to think long-term and put things in perspective. Hopefully this book will inspire people to think outside the box with regards to their normal constrains in time, space and ethical boundaries.


I like to end with a long quote from the last chapter:


"But what lies ahead for those who are young now? I can say with confidence that their future will depend more on science and technology than any previous generation’s has done. They need to know about science more than any before them because it is part of their daily lives in an unprecedented way.


Without speculating too wildly, there are trends we can see and emerging problems that we know must be dealt with, now and into the future. Among the problems I count global warming, finding space and resources for the massive increase in the Earth’s human population, rapid extinction of other species, the need to develop renewable energy sources, the degradation of the oceans, deforestation and epidemic diseases—just to name a few.


There are also the great inventions of the future, which will revolutionise the ways we live, work, eat, communicate and travel. There is such enormous scope for innovation in every area of life."


It has perhaps never been a generation that have lived in a time with more significant challenges, but also there have probably never been a generation with more opportunities.  If we can get more people to read books like this, I think we will increase the capacity to recognise, understand and address the challenges and also recognise, understand and capture the opportunities.

iWoz, by Steve Wozniak

I have mixed feelings about this book. I really like that Woz tries to explain how he and others built home computers in the 70’s. In an age where many do not understand how to do basic coding, let alone how to build a computer, any attempt to encourage interest in making/understanding things is most welcome. But in this book Woz have taken on the identity of someone who feels that they have played a very important role, but never really received any credit. Still, rather than actually learning much about Woz and what he actually contributed to, at Apple and elsewhere, it is a book that does not go anywhere.

Even when Wos explains why he wrote the book, at page 354, and say that it is to set the record straight, nothing interesting comes out. The list of things he wants to correct are things not even he himself can consider important. He lists:

  • ➢ He did not drop out of college
  • ➢ He was not thrown out of the University of Colorado
  • ➢ He and Steve was not classmates
  • ➢ He engineered those first computers himself
  • ➢ He left Apple to start a new company

That is not a list for a book, maybe a blog post.

Maybe it is just me who are not obsessed enough with Apple to care about exactly who did what. If someone thought that Apple started the computer revolution, and I do not think Woz think they played a very important part, exactly what they did could be important. But Apple has always been about design and simple user interface. The actual computers have never been very important. Why Apple understood that most users wanted something nice looking and simple, while most other companies thought that everyone was a computer nerd, is an interesting question, but it is the last you will learn from this book.

I guess I hoped for a more social voice/brain/ethics, someone who could talk about why Apple so far has done anything serous about poverty, climate change, engaged in open source development, etc. But the book has nothing to provide in these fields. As a guide to how some people belonging to the first generation of DIY groups that made home computers in the 70’s did it, Woz gives you quite a lot of details.

The fact that neither Steve nor Woz cared enough about the major challenges of our time to let it guide their business lives is sad. Hopefully Tim Cook can move Apple to a company that will make a real difference when it comes to important issues.

Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, by Douglas Rushkoff

This is not a book that will challenge your intellectual capacity, but it is written with passion and has enough clear arguments (along with too many the general anecdotes that sadly these kind of books are filled with). I kept thinking that this might be the “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” for the digital age. A generation that no longer can read long or complicated sentences might be inspired to reflect on how they live and the relation to the world around them. I hesitate writing this as ZAMM was an important book for me, and even if Program or Be Programmed is a nice book it is not in the same league. Still if it can make a few from the “digital generation” reflect it could be a first step for them towards books with a more complex narrative.

Still I can’t help thinking that this is a book written with a frustration that it is necessary to simplify things so much these days. It feels as if Rushkoff have more to tell us (but I have hard time judging that as I can’t access his webpage from China right now for some reason).

The idea of a programmable world is important and the converging trends in computing, robotics, nanotech, cognitive research, etc all indicate a paradigm shift larger than even a singularity. Something that can be found in the intersection of a collective (human) brain, matters that can be shaped as we like it, and self-regulation/self-improvements.

We are living in a world where few look beyond the incremental and hopefully this book will wake a few people up with sentences like: “Programming is the sweet spot, the high leverage point in a digital society. If we don’t learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves”.

As I wrote above, I’m have not been able to access the webpage, but here it is:

The Lights in the Tunnel by Martin Ford

I read Martin’s book a few months ago and did not really know what to say about it. In one way it is the kind of airplane literature that I keep complaining about, as it has one idea and is just discussing that from different angles though the book (far longer than necessary)…

But the idea in this book, the transformation is really fundamental and he writes in such a relaxed, but passionate, way that it is like having a really inspiring conversation on a long-haul flight (or from a climate/innovation perspective preferable, a high-speed train trip).

I should start by saying that there are a number of things I disagree with, and I find it a little sad that he address current economists in the way he does, as I think it does not add to the book and will not convince any of the old school economists. But maybe it was worth a try… But it is not important (as old school economists are not very important in setting the agenda for the coming transformation, more than the fact that they delay action in important areas).

The theme of the book is automation. Not simple automation, but transformative automation and it asks the question what happens when better intelligence and better machines are merged. What jobs are needed and what jobs are not?

In a time where policy makers, media, business and NGOs all agree that anything should be done to create almost any jobs Martin takes a step back and ask, where are we heading with the current development?

The conclusion is simple, and not surprising when you look around at the real world development: It is very likely that there will be a lot less available jobs than we usually assume. Especially when intelligence (different forms of AI's) is improving at an accelerated phase challenging many of the white color jobs that no one is discussing as disappearing (doctors, lawyers, investors, etc). People that today spend a lot of time with things that are not very creative.

Obviously not all work will disappear but if 50% can be taken over that is 50% lost jobs (and in most cases also demand for other skills). In the same way as one person can use a machine to make as many knifes that 100's of people could do before the industrial revolution, it is time to re-think the “knowledge sector”…

If we moved from labor intensive work to more thought intensive work with the help of mechanical machines during the industrial revolution, what is the next step…?

I would hope creative and ethic lives… So two shifts are needed, first that we don’t focus on simple “thinking”/doing" as machines will do the simple things for us, and second that we need to look beyond “jobs”and ask what kind of lives we want people to be able to have in society.

I’m particularly interested to see how the increased need to create "domestic" jobs  in EU and the US will accelerate the transformative trend with jobs lost in existing sectors. Both EU and the US now agree that they should have a manufacturing base as an important part of the economy, but neither seems to understand that the option they have to be competitive is to accelerate the trends Martin describes.

There are interesting discussion in this book I hope anyone talking about “job creation” and “green tax reforms” will read, as well as anyone with a general interest in the future.

I bough the e-book on Amazon as I think this kind of approach should be supported and that the big distribution channels must allow the multiple distribution approach by Martin. Why, because he is making the book available for free, or at the cost you are willing to pay, on his page.

So to sum up. It is a book looking in a direction where few dare to look and doing so without being sensationalistic. So if you are interested in how the society could evolve before the laggards start realizing that their models are out dated I think you should pick up, pay for if you can afford it, and most important, read “The lights in the end of the tunnel”.

The Dark Side of Creativity by David H. Cropley, Arthur J. Cropley, James C. Kaufman and Mark A. Runco

This is almost a must read for anyone engaged in the sustainable innovation discussion. The material is a bit uneven and a few of the contributions should have been left out (low academic level and nothing really relevant to contribute), but overall it covers many interesting aspects of creativity.

The discussions about the consequences of creativity should have included more about large scale problems outside the military (Climate Change, endocrine disruptors, economic policy’s resulting in poverty are just a few that would have been interesting to discuss). But the one major area that I would like to have seen included is current marketing/PR and the consequences on creativity in society. The fact that many are wasting their creativity selling things that are bad (for ourselves, other people, other living beings and the planet) is

Still the book is filled with short chapters that cover interesting fields, such as:

1. What happens when successful creativity that delivers something good becomes a cage that makes it difficult to continue to be creative?
2. How can the educational system talk so much about creativity and do so much to kill it?
3. How close is creativity to madness?

There are also very interesting gems about the development of the nuclear industry (and the end of it) where the unwillingness to take sound decisions is explained from a perspective where companies become overconfident at the same time as they are under market pressure resulting in a situation where “new technologies were being developed without objective assessments”. James Jasper, who wrote the chapter that included the nuclear power discussion made me interested in his idea about “players or prizes?”

Liane Gabora and Nancy Holmes short chapter “Dangeling from a Tassel on Fabric of Socially Constructed Reality” is as poetic as it sounds. It makes me happy to see such a chapter included as this kind of texts are not often found outside the more “arty” fields.

I would have seen a longer version of Arthur Cropley’s chapter “Creativity in the Classroom” where he developed more concrete ideas, and did this in relation to a situation where students will be connected and have access to ideas/input that no generation before have.

In the chapter “The Dark Side of Creativity and How to Combat it” Robert Sternberg discuss what I think is the most important aspect, wisdom. It does not really say anything new, but the things we already know are sometimes the most important.

I’m not sure why, but I think the chapter “Neurosis: The dark side of emotional creativity” by James Averill and Elma Nunley is my favourite. The way they use Dostoevsky, William James and Otto Rank to discuss creativity reminded me of Marsel Burman’s “All that is solid melts into air” and in all its lack of focus also brought back “Ideology” from Otto Rank that I have not been thinking about in a very long time.

It is a joy to read books where the authors actually have spend time to think about the issue they write about. I hope that I can stay away from the “airplane literature” that is written by journalists as entertainment and with more focus on short nuggets that people can quote over the dinner table than any actual knowledge. I wonder if the “airport literature” are spread due to the fact that other journalists (with similar lack of deep knowledge) like them as these books are the kind of books they potentially could write (good in style but without much depth in knowledge). Are they the books equivalent of Fox-News/The daily show, entertaining at best and oversimplifying mainly? Hopefully the future will have more of these books where people with knowledge explore issues in depth.