Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker Controlling your own legacy

Over the 4th of July, I attended a theatrical production of the history of my hometown of Mobridge, SD. The actors and actresses did a terrific job of illustrating the tough times of the early pioneers trying to forge a new life along the Missouri River in barren lands of northern South Dakota.

What I found most interesting was that this production took place in a cemetery.

They were giving us a glimpse of the legacy left behind by these brave and bold individuals against a backdrop of tombstones and gravesites.

While we know very little about those who lived 100-200 years ago, people today have the ability to leave a very detailed, well-documented legacy. In fact, they have the ability to control their reputation long after they die.

Emerging from the midst of our massive information revolution is a fascinating new industry – legacy management. And one of the critical decisions each of us will have to make is whether we want to manage our legacy virtually or have it tied to a specific location.

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker Preserving your precious life moments

Preserving your precious life moments.

A Growing Number of Legacy Tools

Our ability to capture snippets of our lives and preserve them has been growing exponentially over the past few decades.

Posting documents, photos, videos, voice recordings, and other details of our lives onto the likes of Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ has never been easier. The number of “legacy-building tools” is growing quickly. But at the same time, we have no good understanding of whether these tools will still exist even 10 years in the future.

How much of what is being captured today will still be around 500 to 1,000 years from now?

In 1999 some of the top Internet properties were Lycos, Xoom, Excite, AltaVista, and GeoCities. Each of them were attracting millions of web visitors each month, competing head to head with companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon. Today each exists in name only, resting quietly in a shadow of its former existence.

It’s difficult for us to think this far out when our technology is changing so quickly. Will companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter still be around 100 years from now? Probably not.

More importantly, if companies like this disappear, what happens to all the information they collected?

Organic growth often leads to organic abandonment. Is the speed with which they arrive a predictor of the speed with which they will leave?

In the midst of all these questions lie the makings of an entire new industry, one near and dear to our own hearts – building and preserving our own legacies.

As we look at the next generation of the Internet, watching carefully as it unfolds, we cannot help but be struck by how quickly it has infiltrated our lives and how much of our attention it currently commands.

Much like the physical structures in our cities that form along the horizons of our urban landscapes, the data structures inside today’s data giants represent some of mankind’s most remarkable feats. True, they exist only as a digital compliment to the bricks and steel of physical buildings, but they hold within them vital clues about who we are, what we find valuable, and our drives and passions for forging ahead.

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker Is this how all tombstones will look in the future?
Is this how all tombstones will look in the future?

How Much is Too Much?

Walking through cemeteries, I marvel at the huge investment people have made in the granite tombstones that mark each grave. People are desperate to leave some small record of their existence.

Over the coming years, funeral homes and estate planning professionals will offer a variety of services for “leaving a legacy.”

As we debate whether its better to leave a digital legacy or a physical one, many will still opt to buy cemetery plots as a permanent location to preserve our passing.

Using 3D printer technology, people in the future will be able to create a physical sculpture of themselves, life-size or larger, for not much money.

At the same time, we will be improving technology for producing digitally engraved portraits, documents, and other records in the likes of granite and marble.

Since we don’t have confidence in our ability to leave a long-term digital legacy, many will resort to leaving a physical one.

If, for example, over the next 100 years a total of 10 billion people decided to preserve their legacy, each leaving a total of 10 cubic yards of physical material, the resulting collections would take up a land area slightly smaller than the state of Ohio, and would be filled with countless immovable objects that communities would have to build around.

Is that a likely future?

Virtually everyone wants to leave something behind.

Regardless of whether it’s a simple photo, a message for our great, great grandchildren, or the lessons we learned along the way, our ability to make our mark on the future is limited by our tools of preservation.

As we think through the future of information, there are three foundational pieces that will help us build this industry – finding the End of Moore’s Law, the Whole Earth Genealogy Project, and Creating a Digital Preservation Culture.

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker Moore’s Law
1.) The End of Moore’s Law – Before we can set standards for long-term data storage, we will need to find the ultimate small storage particle.

Based on this piece of Moore’s Law research conducted by University of Colorado’s Professor Mark Dubin, we still have 131 years before we are able to store information on an individual electron. However, that date will likely happen much quicker with some of the latest advancements in nanotechnology.

Assuming the electron is as small as we can go, something that we won’t know for certain for many years to come, we can begin to set standards around information storage. That would mean that a book digitally preserved in 2150 would still be readable with technology 500 years later, in 2650


If we were able to see a database of humanity’s DNA, what patterns would emerge?

2.) Whole Earth Genealogy Project – The genealogical industry currently exists as a million fragmented efforts happening simultaneously. While the dominant players, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, have multiple websites with hundreds of millions of genealogies, there is still a much bigger opportunity waiting to happen.

So far there is no comprehensive effort to build a database of humanity’s heritage capable of scaling to the point of including everyone on earth, posted on an all-inclusive whole-earth family tree.

As we improve our ability to capture DNA and decipher it, it may even be possible to automate this process.

The information will prove to be tremendously valuable, providing data about hereditary diseases, demographic patterns, census bureau analytics, and much more.

More importantly, it will become a new organizing system for humanity – a new taxonomy. Every person on earth will have a placeholder showing exactly where they fit. In many respects, it will be similar to the way maps helped us frame our thinking about world geography. This would be a new form of “geography” for humanity.

3.) Creating a Digital Preservation Culture – While many people are rallying around efforts to “save the trees,” “save our oceans,” and “save our endangered species,” there is virtually no effort to “save our information.”

Most of the digital and analog information from only 20 years ago is unreadable with the tools and technologies we have today. Cassettes, 8-tracks, and even 3.5” disks are all becoming museum pieces as the tech world has left them as little more than a fading memory in its own digital exhaust.

One of the prized assets of today’s Internet companies is their ability to amass huge volumes of digital information. But we have no provisions for preserving the data if the company itself goes under.

While governments around the world have worked hard to create a monetary system with central banks to step in whenever a currency is failing, we have no “central information banks” that can step in when an information company is failing.

Final Thoughts

How will future generation remember you? How will they perceive your successes and failures, your accomplishments and misguided efforts, your generosity and perseverance?

While many still view inheritance as the primary way to leave a legacy, people now have the ability to manage, and even micro-manage, the information trail they leave behind. In fact, if they choose to, they can even communicate with their own descendants, future generations who have not even been born yet.

The body of work we leave behind has become increasingly easy to preserve. So if we chose to let future generations know who we are and why we set out to achieve the things we did, we can do that with photos, videos, and online documents.

Stepping one step further into the future, generations to come will have the ability to preserve the essence of their personality and work with interactive avatars capable of speaking directly to the issues future generations will want to ask.

The digital world, even as it exists today, contains the keys to humanity, the raw essence of personhood, and in the long run, the future of our children’s children.

As all of us age, the notion of leaving a legacy becomes critically important, and furthering our abilities in this area will become increasingly important.

In fact, it is on the verge becoming a fast-growing industry that many of us will want to work in.

Controlling Your Own Legacy

by | Jul 6, 2012 | Business Trends

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Controlling Your Own Legacy

by | Jul 6, 2012 | Business Trends

I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.

Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away.  In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.

After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.

When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.

For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.

The Risk-Averse Nature of Education

When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.

While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.

This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.

From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.

For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.

Offering Pilot Programs

When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.

Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:

  • When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
  • When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
  • When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
  • When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it

Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.

Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.

52 Future College Degrees

As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:

  1. Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
  2. Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
  3.  Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
  4. Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
  5. Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
  6. Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
  7. Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
  8. Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
  9. Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
  10. Smart City – mixed reality modeling
  11. Smart City – autonomous construction integration
  12. Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
  13. Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
  14. Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
  15. Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
  16. Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
  17. Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
  18. Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
  19. Swarmbot – municipal system design
  20. Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
  21. Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
  22. Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
  23. Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
  24. Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
  25. Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
  26. Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
  27. Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
  28. Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
  29. Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
  30. Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
  31. Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
  32. Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
  33. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
  34. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
  35. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
  36. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
  37. Mixed Reality - experiential retail
  38. Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
  39. Mixed Reality – game design
  40. Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
  41. Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
  42. Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
  43. Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
  44. Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
  45. Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
  46. Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
  47. Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
  48. Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
  49. Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
  50. Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
  51. Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
  52. Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration

Final Thought

More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.

Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.

The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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