Raw Signal Gadgets

Al Gore talks about uncertain 'Future,' spider goats at SXSW

AUSTIN—Interactive attendees were turned away in hordes as Al Gore took the stage to talk at South by Southwest on Saturday. The topic of his session was the (actual) future and The Future, Gore’s latest book about what the former vice president calls the “six drivers of global change.”

Al Gore

In a discussion with AllThingsD editor Walt Mossberg, Gore focused on these main drivers of change—economic globalization, emergence of the “stalker economy” in the US, environmental damage, and money in politics—among other things.

“Our government has been hacked, and our constitution is the operating system,” Gore repeated throughout the panel. According to Gore, with the focus of any elected role now on fundraising and pleasing political backers at the top 1-percent of the population, it’s extremely difficult for politicians to pass laws that benefit the majority of their constituents.

The government has also led us into what Gore referred to as a “stalker economy.” We cannot visit a website like dictionary.com without unknowingly downloading a handful of tracking cookies along with a definition of a word, he pointed out. Gore also touched upon a facility in Utah that can virtually sweep up all text messages, phone calls, emails, and other forms of virtual communication. The government gave the OK to this facility, because the public cannot necessarily prove that individuals are being tracked through this technology. Gore brought up SnapChat—the photo and messaging mobile app that sends messages that self-destruct after they’ve been read—as a possible future for communication, as it helps eliminate our digital footprint and it makes us harder to track.

On top of a bleak political situation, the global economy is in a fragile state. Gore cited changes in the job structure and distribution of wealth as being big contributors. “We can thank both outsourcing and robosourcing for this,” he said. Robosourcing is act of replacing an employee with mechanized tools. As an example, Gore mentioned Narrative Science, a reporting company that uses algorithms to produce news stories that are then sold to other publications.

But it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom from Gore during the panel. He mentioned a chapter in his book called “The Reinvention of Life and Death,” which focuses on scientific advancements that have enabled us to change what the one-time Nobel Prize winner calls the fabric of nature. This power can help us in advancing medical procedures—Gore mentioned 3D printing as being a key advancement in making certain parts of modern medicine more affordable—and in turning the economy around as well.

This is where Gore introduced the spider goat—a genetically modified animal that’s about to become as popular as the honey badger. Gore explained that spiders are difficult to farm “for obvious reasons,” yet their silk is extremely valuable. Genetic engineers have taken the genes from orb-weaving spiders and spliced them into the DNA of goats, so now these goats produce silk from their udders along with milk. The silk can be filtered from the milk more easily than silk can be collected from spiders—thus, a more economical way to farm silk.

Above all, Gore believes that a free and open Internet is the beginning of how we can change things for the better in all directions.

“We need to move everything to the Internet as quickly as we possibly can,” Gore said, “If we do that, the future will belong to a well-informed citizenry.”

Image courtesy of gadgets.rawsignal.com

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