A picture of me standing at a lectern, working on a laptop computer, on the stage of the FWD50 digital government conference

Hi! I’m Alistair. I write surprisingly useful books, run unexpectedly interesting events, & build things humans need for the future.

Read these and understand the future

Some days, I get a few hours of downtime. I get to read all those “someday” articles and realize there is simply too much awesome content to consume. While Mailbox has been a saving grace for productivity—I get around 600 mails a day, and it’s the only way to triage them—it’s a procrastinator’s wet dream, because filing something takes the edge off the FOMO.

If you’re a startup, a business, or for that matter, a member of society, then there are some big changes afoot. Were I running a hedge fund, I’d place my bets on human/machine interfaces, pseudonymous currencies, the rise of smart automation, and the emergence of the service economy for just about everything.

There are hundreds of pages, and hours of reading, in the links below. But invest the time, and you’ll better understand some of the massive undercurrents driving tomorrow.

Bitcoin. It’s not a currency as much as it is a platform for automating the exchange of value among parties. It’s complicated, and it will fundamentally alter commerce and markets the way the Internet changed how we interact as a species. A good place to start is this 100-page exploration of the Bitcoin economy. (Hat tip to Austin Hill.)

Tomorrow’s strange. Will we merge with the machines? Will they own us? Google’s Ray Kurzweil predicts how the world will change, and he’s usually right, though his claims of the coming Geek Rapture may not play out as he thinks they will. For a view of what’s between here and there, dig into this conversation with the brilliantly thoughtful Kevin Kelly.

A service world. Everything that was a capital outlay is quickly becoming a service. We won’t own our lives; we’ll rent them, and if you’re trying to develop a service business—hint: you should be—you need to get up to speed on things like churn and customer acquisition. Start with 22 ways to reduce churn in Software-as-a Service businesses, because that’s what everyone from your bank to your phone company to your taxi service to our housing to your sitter is doing to you; then dig deeper into this related piece on the subtleties of calculating Customer Acquisition Cost.

Algorithmic decision-making. We’re marinating in information, and we can’t handle it. One of the first ways we hand the keys to the machines is through programs and algorithms—in fact, as Lawrence Lessig has opined, Code Is Law. Those laws need oversight lest they own us, and Alex Howard wrote a great piece on why a data-driven society will run on algorithms, and why those algorithms need transparency.

Human-machine interfaces. Ultimately, Kurzweil’s singularity and Kelly’s musings are about the rise of a new species that blends humans and machines. But what will the interfaces look like? I’m betting on video games, which have trained a generation to deal with augmented reality and cognitive enhancement. Here’s a piece on how game designers are trying to find the sweet spot between physical and virtual worlds.

Intelligent automation. The future isn’t like flipping a switch. It’s gradual, subversive. Trying to explain the world today to someone before the Internet is nearly impossible; unimaginable interactivity and connectivity. We may have lost our ability to function in the modern world. Tomorrow will be here with a whisper, not a bang, and that whisper is a future of intelligent automation.

Anyway, that’s what I’d spend a day reading.