Monday, August 30, 2010


IFSC 4399/5399 Information, the future and fun things like that

Homework 2, due Wednesday, Sept. 9

M Sept. 7 is a holiday.

Please check over this assignment early, and let me know if you would like us to go over in class how to do any of these, or have any other questions.

1. Consider the different methods of making predictions that we went over in class. Pick the topic of your choice, apply them to that topic, and make some predictions about the future. You may focus on one scenario, or discuss alternative scenarios as well. You may write speculatively, or ground your discussion in facts and examples found on the Web or elsewhere. If purely speculatively without hunting down data on the Web, then more writing would make sense than if much of your time was spent finding data. A variation to a purely speculative essay would be to couch it as a short story, like a science fiction story. Alternatively, you can write a computer program that makes predictions, for example using the exponential curve equation or some other approach. In this vein, you could use Excel or another spreadsheet program to extrapolate. If you want to do something like that but aren't sure how, let me know and we can discuss in class how to use spreadsheets this way.

2. Recall the discussion of exponential curves. Using a spreadsheet or calculator, estimate the following (some hints follow, if you get stuck). Put the answers on your blog, but if the spreadsheets do not upload easily, it is not necessary to upload the actual spreadsheets.

Estimate the doubling time of the software development productivity of the average programmer, if productivity increases at 6%/year.

Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if this complexity doubles every 2 years. (By "complexity" we could say we're talking about the number of transistors on a CPU chip, if you were wondering.)

Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if complexity doubles every 18 months, as some think it is doing.

What is the doubling time of your money if you have it in the bank making 2% interest per year?


Here are some HW hints that many of you might find of interest. We can talk more about it on Monday if people wish.

A student asks:

Q: I figured out the estimation with interest in the bank, but I did not use a formula. Did we need to have a formula? I just made up an amount of money to start off with. But I was not sure if there was a specific amount that you wanted.

Answer: Just calculating the results, one year at a time, is the easiest way to do it. Any amount of money to start with should give the same answer in number of years.

HW: Estimate the doubling time of the software development productivity of the average programmer, if productivity increases at 6%/year.

Q: Is there a number that I start off with?

Answer: I would suggest starting with any number, then add 6% each year until it is double. The number of years it takes is the answer. Let's suppose current programmer productivity is 1000. Then the next year, it would be 1000 plus 6% of 1000. 6% is the same as 6/100 (definition of "%"). So we need to find 1000+(6/100)*1000. That equals 1.06*1000, which works out to 1060 after the first year.

Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if this complexity doubles every 2 years. (By "complexity" we could say we're talking about the number of transistors on a CPU chip, if you were wondering.)

HW: Estimate the percent per year of increases in the complexity of PC computers if complexity doubles every 18 months, as some think it is doing.

Q: And although it may be simple, I am not sure how to figure out the percent per year. How do I do that?

Answer: Trial and error! For a doubling in 2 years, plug in, say 40% and run your year-by-year calculation twice, for the two years, and see if the result is a doubling. If it more than doubles, try 39%. If it less than doubles, try 41% instead.For doubling in 18 months, that is the same as quadrupling in 3 years. With a whole number of years, you can now just run your year-by-year calculation 3 times, for the 3 years.

More Heuristics for Prediction

"Shift Happens"
  - youtube video
we'll watch later...
but first...


What is a heuristic?

Last time: curves

   We saw
     S, and
     plateau curves

     each approximates
     a small piece
     of the one after

Are those curves...
Today -

   A grab bag of
  for predicting

  (What was a heuristic again?)

Next time -
  Delphi methods

To prepare:
  think of one question
  about the future of
  something of your choice

     In class, we will use
     Delphi methods to
     apply our
     collective wisdom
     to your question
  • (Also, HW is due in two classses - questions about it?)
Let's check the youtube video "Did you know?"

After that, we'll continue...

Let's make a grid on the board for:

Statements in the video (rows)

Believability (column)

Implications (column)

Hidden messages (column)

Connection to methods of prediction (column)

Let's apply some of the following methods to something in the video!
(Some of these are from p. 73 of Peter Bishop's Futuring: An Introduction to the Study of the Future, World Futures Society workshop, Chicago, 7/16/09)

   Theoretical limits

   Paradigm shifts

   Adam Smith's "invisible hand"

   Cause and effect

   Foresight instead of forecasting


   Expectations make it so?

   Risks & possibilities

   Can the future be controlled?





   Leading indicators

   Science fiction

   Road mapping





Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trajectories of the Future

(To incorporate for next time:

An Example of Extrapolation:
Overpopulation on Mars

Suppose we started a
self-sustaining colony

100 colonists

What is your estimated
rate of increase per year?

What is the total population
capacity of Mars?

     Earth surface area = 510,072,000 km^2
     Earth land area     = 148,940,000 km^2
     Mars surface area = 144,798,500 km^2

                                     (0.284 of Earth)

How long do you think it will take
for Mars to overpopulate?

We can check this using a spreadsheet!

Just have the rows represent successive years
Each year has x% more people than the previous
See how many years go by until overpopulation!

Making and Discuss Predictions with Trajectories

           Method: Trajectories of change

. . . in the short term,
      change appears linear


Last year you had 1 or 2 compact fluorescent bulbs

This year you will "probably have 1-2 more"

In the longer term,
change may looks

Lightbulb example:

. . . you start with 1-2, but after a couple of years you've got a bunch

. . . change accelerates, in this case

. . . if you look at an exponential curve with a microscope, what does it look like?

. . . "Exponential": complicated word, tricky math, simple concept

. . . . . . goes up faster and faster

. . . . . . has a doubling time

Exponential curves explained

. . . Suppose something doubles every 3 years

. . . Popular example: computer CPU complexity doubles every 2 years

. . . new value after t years is original value v times 2^(t/3)

. . . f(t)=to * 2^(t/3)

. . . . . . where does the "doubles" appear?

. . . . . . where does the "every 3 years appear?

. . . . . . so it works for
            any factor of increase and
            any time constant

Longer term, things "level off": the S-curve

Also called "logistic curve"

Sort of "linear" early on

Then looks "exponential"

Then levels off

Justified by many, many diverse phenomena modelable as:
       Malthusian scenarios
       Constructal Theory scenarios
           A. Bejan and S. Lorente, The constructal law origin of the logistics S curve, Journal of Applied Physics, vol. 110 (2011), 024901,

Do you think an even longer-term view will look like a plateau curve?

Think about pencils, compact fluorescents, and college, etc., etc.

What do you think of these curves?
(Source:, 9/5/10)

There are other view of trajectories...

Gartner Hype Cycle


How might this apply to some of our topics?

There is also the Technology Adoption Life Cycle

Monday, August 23, 2010

Homework #1

IFSC 4399/5399 ST: Computing Futures

HW 1, due next class
1. Instead of handing in printed assignments (the old-fashioned way), we will do it digitally when appropriate. Email can work but is also a bit old-fashioned compared to at least one more modern possibility: a blog. Start a new blog for this course and its assigments (or you can use an existing blog if you want to and have one). You may use your real name or a pseudonym as you wish, but email me the URL so I can access it. Any blog service will do, such as,, and various others.
2. Check out the course Web site (which is a blog). Find the links (near top of page) to the "Course schedule and topic list" and "Additional course information." Navigate around a bit and note any questions you might have on your blog.
3. Go to the Web and find a URL about the future of a topic of your choice.
On your blog, give the link you found, and explain what it is and why it is interesting (e.g., why should someone check it out?).
4. Repeat question 3
5. Repeat question 3 again.

Class: M 8/23/10

Introduction to the course

1. See flyer (handed out). History of "this" course.
2. Let's go over the course guidelines. Any questions?
3. Get to know a neighbor. Write their name large on a sheet of paper. Tell us:
  • their name
  • what classes they are taking
  • about one thing they think will happen some day (I will list the predictions on the board)
4. What does the name "Computing Futures" really mean?
5. Please write on a sheet of paper 0-5 topics you would find intriguing to discuss. Then I will read them off.
6. Look at HW1, due next time: questions? Want to start now?

Course Information

You're Here!
Welcome to the syllabus and home page for...

IFSC 4399/5399 ST: Computing Futures
Fall 2010
Days: MW
Time: 3:05 - 4:20 p.m.
Place: EIT 218

Schedule and Topic List


  • Information, understanding it and using is key to the future
  • The computing field is undergoing rapid change
  • Biotech, nanotech, energy tech, and our society and culture are changing fast as well
  • The future is ahead, we're part of it, and is to our benefit to understand it ("knowledge is power")
  • Are you planning to live and work in the information age?

    • Be aware of what the future may hold
    • Learn how to extrapolate from the past and present into the future
    • Those things are not only useful but interesting too!

  • None. The Web is loaded with useful information but there is no once-size-fits-all textbook for this course. Readings not on the Web will be distributed in class as needed.
Instructor availability:
Students with Disabilities: (updated for Sp 2012)
Your success in this class is important to me, and it is the policy and practice of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to create inclusive learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have a documented disability (or need to have a disability documented), and need an accommodation, please contact me privately as soon as possible, so that we can discuss with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) how to meet your specific needs and the requirements of the course. The DRC offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process among you, your instructor(s) and the DRC. Thus, if you have a disability, please contact me and/or the DRC, at 501-569-3143 (V/TTY) or 501-683-7629 (VP). For more information, please visit the DRC website at
    A few resources about the future (most contributed by students):

A few resources about learning about the future

(from Jay Gary, School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, 7/09)

1. HWs will involve readings, written comments, and searching the Web.

2. HWs will also involve options: software development if you are so inclined, or analyses and literature searches if you are inclined that way, or creative writing products of various kinds. Why not paintings or skits if you are interested in art or theater? The class would like to hear your music if you'd like to do that!

3. Students will each present one 30-minute session to the class on a future-relevant topic, and write a paper (or program, or other product in addition to your talk). Preliminary versions may be due earlier in time to get feedback from the instructor, and you will be asked to develop this project gradually throughout the semester and hand in parts of it. I am a fan of developing larger projects one step at a time!

4. Class sessions will require preparation and HW. Aim for an average of 6 hours of work outside class each week for an average 3-credit course (3 credits means 3 50-minute classes or 2 75-minute classes per week), and study guides often recommend 2 hours of preparation per week for each credit. Please let me know if the work load differs significantly from this plan so I can adjust as needed. I don't want to overwork - or underwork - students in this class.

5. Typical assignments will be worth 100 points.

6. The presentation will be 200 pts. and the paper, program, or other product will also be 200 pts. grade. The annotated bibliography will be developed gradually throughout the semester.

7. If you must be absent from a class or cannot hand something in on time due to illness or some other reason, please contact me as soon as possible.

8. Because this course has students of potentially many different levels and backgrounds, effort will be a significant factor in grading. This course is open to all. Welcome!

Assignment of final grade in the course:

90% - 100% -- "A." Everyone can have one if they work at it!

89.5% - 89.99% -- "A" or "B," depending on class attendance or legitimate excuses & instructor's judgment

80% - 89.49% -- "B"

79.5% - 79.99% -- "B" or "C," depending on class attendance or legitimate excuses & instructor's judgment

70% - 79.49% -- "C"

69.5% - 69.99% -- "C" or "D," depending on class attendance or legitimate excuses & instructor's judgment

60% - 69.49% -- "D"

59.5% - 59.99% -- "D" or "F," depending on class attendance or legitimate excuses & instructor's judgment

50% - 59.49% -- "F"

The minimum grade on any quiz or assignment is 50% (e.g. not handed in), but all grades will be counted.

Standard lateness policy: 10% off the grade on any assignment handed in up to 1 week late. 20 % off assignments that are very late.

Schedule, Fall 2010

ST: Computing, Information and the Future

Please note: this schedule is based on last year's and will be adjusted for this year as we proceed. Please let me know of any topic requests - we can be flexible!
M 8/23/10. . .General course information
. . .Introductory meeting
Homework #1, due next class
W 8/25/10. . .Trajectories of the future (2011 instructor note: this is now almost 2 classes worth and was split with 9/20/10)
M 8/30/10. . . More on prediction
. . .Homework #2, due two classes from today
. . ."Did You Know?" video and discussion (also search for variations, remakes, & updates)
. . .To prepare for next time: think of a question about the future. We will apply a Delphi method to it.
W 9/1/10. . . Delphi Method
M 9/6/10. . . Labor Day (Holiday)
W 9/8/10. . . Delphi Method II
. . . Homework #3, due W 9/15/10
M 9/13/10. . . Prediction markets
. . .Homework #4, due Wednesday Sept. 22
W 9/15/10. . . TRIZ introduction
M 9/20/10. . . Exponential change redux: overpopulation on Mars
(next year: move "Backup plan for homo sapiens: space adventure" to here)
W 9/22/10. . . Personal futures: "The Last Lecture," or "How to Really Achieve Your Childhood Dreams" (movie by Randy Pausch)
M 9/27/10. . . TRIZ cont.: 40 principles of technological advancement
. . . Homework #5, due Mon. Oct. 4, 2010 extended to Oct. 6 before class
W 9/29/10 . . . More TRIZ discussion (with 10-min. hands-on robot intro)
M 10/4/10 . . . Finish  TRIZ discussion
W 10/6/10 . . . Students discuss other student topics from their HW5 blog entries
. . . Homework #6, due Wed. Oct. 13, 2010
M 10/11/10 . . . Spoil sports of the prediction game #1: the observer effect (ser. #1)
W 10/13/10. . . Spoil sports of the prediction game
. . .Homework #7, due next Wednesday (in a week)
M 10/18/10. . . Finish spoil sports of the prediction game
W 10/20/10. . . Movie discussion: Earth 2100 (Ser. #4) 
. . .Homework #8, due next Wednesday 
M 10/25/10 . . . Movie discussion II: Earth 2100 (Ser. #4)
W 10/27/10. . . Trend analysis I
. . . Finish movie discussion II: Earth 2100 (Ser. #4)
. . . Weather and climate simulation: are interventions even less reliable than predictions?
. . . Trend analysis II 
. . . Homework #9, due Wed. 11/3/10
M 11/1/10 . . . Trying out a robot (ser. #5)
W 11/3/10. . . Student presentation: Claudia (age and visions of the future)
. . . AIShield, safeguarding humanity and the risks of AI/robotics
. . . Robogenesis
. . . iRobot and the "Create" Robot
. . . Start Centralization. . . and some robot pics and videos
. . . Metrics for progress in robotics
. . . Homework #10, due Wed. 11/10/10: if behind on HWs, do this one and catch up on others later
M 11/8/10 . . . Robotics II: music and motion (ser. #5); Google's robotic cars
W 11/10/10. . . Finish robotics: Centralization (slide 2)
. . . Gaining long term perspective through time lapse (video discussions I)
. . . Homework #11, due W Nov. 17 
M 11/15/10 . . . Video discussions II (next time: last video not that great)
W 11/17/10 . . . Student presentation: Chinzo (Unikey) 
. . . Video discussions II (next time: last video not that great)
. . . Homework #12, due W Nov. 24
M 11/22/10. . . Guided work day: HW catchup, project paper, or project presentation 
W 11/24/10. . . Toxoplasmosis (see also (ser. #9)
M 11/29/10 . . . Student presentation: Paul (Telepresence)
. . . Hubbert peak for oil
. . . Homework #13: finish term paper or other term project
W 12/1/10. . . Student presentations: Chris, Matt (Natural language assistant) 
. . . Hubbert peak for oil (finish)
. . . Alternative energy: photovoltaics (solar cells) ser. #7
M 12/6/10
. . . Student presentation: Omar (Future of transportation)
. . . Student presentation: Abdulla (Telepresence)
. . . Finish alternative energy: photovoltaics (solar cells) ser. #7
M 12/13/10 (1:30-3:30 p.m.)
. . . Scheduled final exam session: this meeting is for catching up on assignments, and is not required if you are fully caught up.
###Updated for 2010 up to here (the material below is still subject to change)###

Some rough notes on potential other discussion topics
. . . TED videos and discussions

. . . Backup plan for homo sapiens: space adventure