The Internet of Things Revolution

It’s About Much More Than Your Smart Toaster

The year is 2028.  A brand-new indigo blue Infiniti coupe is parked in your garage like a s leek metal panther.  While the all-electric car is charging with power from your internet connected solar system, you are thinking about how this particular model was manufactured.  Nissan, the maker of the Infiniti brand, was able to use Industry 4.0 solutions to cut time and cost  of production while simultaneously improving quality with a zero-down-time predictive maintenance assembly line packed with thousands of IoT sensors.

Once off the manufacturing floor these cars were shipped to dealerships across the country using a fleet of electric semi-autonomous trucks. 

Asset loss and damage due to weather and accidents were avoided completely, and transportation delays were kept to a minimum due the trucking company’s advanced IoT fleet management solution.

Your phone chimes to let you know the charge is complete, and it provides a snapshot of precisely how much juice you pulled from your solar array.  You’re ready to take your new ride for a spin down the highway.  This is not yet a fully autonomous vehicle—those are a few years away yet.  But it does have some advanced self-driving features.  After powering the vehicle Alexa asks for your destination.  The new Costco, of course!

Your route follows a stretch of highway that is authorized for autonomous driving, so you switch to auto-pilot.  While your car “takes the wheel’ you are able to finish that article you were reading in Wired Magazine about 6G wireless networks.  After a few minutes your seat starts to vibrate and Alexa politely requests that you re-take control as you exit the highway.

At Costco you pull into the autonomous parking drop-off lane and tell Alexa to park the car as you hop out. Your car slowly drives on, hunting for a good place to park. 

Entering Costco, you wave your smart pinky ring over the entrance scanner and the glass sliding door swishes open.  Inside you realize that you were so excited to drive your new car that you may have left the front door of your house unlocked.  You check your phone and it shows that you did lock the front door, but you left the garage door open.  Shaking your head, you tap the button on your phone to close the garage door, and while you’re at it you check the security cameras.  All seems fine.

There are no checkout lanes in this Costco.  The cameras in the store have already scanned all the items you put in your cart and will automatically charge them to your credit card account when you leave.  Of course, since this is Costco after all, there are still free samples!  You notice that one of the sample stations is run by a robot.  You watch as the robot calmly prepares and cooks its bite-sized snacks.  It sees you watching, creepily smiles at you,and asks if you would like to try one.  Not quite ready to be served by a robot, you say “no.”

You are aware that your short interaction with this robot has created a data transmission that will be part of a machine learning algorithm.  You just helped this robot get a little bit smarter.

Before leaving the store you whisper into your smart ring to summon your car.  As you walk out of the store, you see your car coming slowly from the distant nether regions of Costco’s enormous parking lot.  It pulls up to you and automatically opens the trunk because it sees that you have a cart full of groceries.

In 2028 the cars on the road are a mix of various stages of autonomy.  Traffic deaths and injuries have begun to fall dramatically in the last two or three years, but American highways will remain dangerous for another decade.  For you, that’s unfortunate, because a distracted driver in an old dumb 2010 SUV blows a red light just as you enter the intersection.  Your car’s accident evasion system cannot avoid the collision entirely, but it is able to orient the impact to your advantage which may have saved your life.  Still, you’ve been in a serious accident.  You’re injured and unconscious.

Your car’s onboard accident assessment system alerts emergency responders and provides them with your exact location and a real-time feed of useful data.  Within seconds the first responders are informed that your car is not flipped, nor it is on fire,but there was a severe impact to the right front corner of the vehicle.  They also know that you were the only occupant.  They even know some basics about your condition:  Bleeding and unconscious, but breathing.

While the emergency responders are on their way, your town’s new smart-city intelligent traffic management system has automatically re-synchronized the traffic lights in the area to clear the way for emergency responding vehicles.

Finally, your car’s onboard system will produce an accident re-creation report.  It will provide the police and your insurance company with data such as your speed and direction on impact, whether the brakes were engaged, whether your car was on auto-pilot at the time of impact, and whether your car took evasive maneuvers and what exactly those were.

Lastly, the diagnostics are sent to Nissan for feedback into their big data algorithms being used to refine autonomous driving capabilities for over-the-air software updates and future vehicles.

This multi-faceted use case demonstrates the powerful potential of IoT in the near future.  Included in this scenario are IoT applications in manufacturing, commercial and personal transportation, energy/utilities, home automation/security, retail shopping, smart city, emergency response systems,law enforcement, health care, and insurance.

How Does it Work?

As this scenario demonstrates IoT is not an industry.  Think of IoT as a technology evolution that will transform ALL industries and sectors in an interconnected way.  IoT should be considered similar to the Industrial Revolution, or the Digital Revolution.

Because IoT is transforming all industries and all societal sectors its use cases are extremely varied. Therefore, its architectural implementations are varied as well.  That variability, however, lies underneath a common technology “stack” consisting of these five elements:

  • Devices
  • Networks and Infrastructure
  • Data Analytics
  • Processes
  • Security

Devices

Devices are the actual connected “things” in the IoT.  These typically are sensors and actuators.  Sensors will “sense” and report on the environment they are in, such as temperature, movement, wind or any number of other measurables depending on their function.  A single complex machine in manufacturing might have hundreds of sensors.  Actuators will“act” in some way.  For example, a temperature regulating system might automatically turn on heating or cooling based on temperature readings from sensors.

Networks and Infrastructure

This layer is essentially all the stuff that allows us to communicate and interact with the devices. We need the devices to provide data, and we may need the devices to do things.  This requires a communications network (most likely wireless) and some sort of data transport and storage architecture. 

Data Analytics

Internet of Things rides on data.  Data analytics turns data into actionable information.  Devices collect and transmit data so that they can be put through some sort of computation and/or analysis.  Again, the nature of this data analysis will vary greatly depending on the specific IoT use case.

We can break down IoT data analytics into four categories:  Descriptive; Diagnostic; Predictive; and Prescriptive.

Descriptive analytics provides the what, when and where.  Diagnostic analytics provides the why.  Predictive analytics says what will happen next.  And prescriptive analytics helps determine what should be done next. Not all IoT solutions will use all four of these categories.  Again, it depends on the use case.

Processes

Ultimately, IoT has zero value unless it leads to some kind of process or action.  This is where the real-world benefits of IoT reside.  For example, a predictive maintenance manufacturing process might be to dynamically switch to a redundant machine to allow time for maintenance without causing down time, thereby cutting plant costs. 

Or,a wearable activity monitor might detect an abnormal movement pattern of its owner and automatically initiate a call to 911 that could save their life. 

These are examples of IoT processes that perform the actual benefits of the IoT solution.  These processes depend on the devices for measurement, the network and technology infrastructure to get the data from the devices to a place of storage and computation, and dynamic data analytics to determine the appropriate process.

Security

Although described here as the fifth layer of the IoT technology stack, security is a little different in that it underlies all of the other four processes.  The technical nature and methods of IoT security are for another article.  However, it’s clear that cyber security is increasingly critical the more our world becomes connected and the more we become dependent on connected processes in our daily lives.  One significant challenge is how to manage security with real-time IoT applications since there may be no time to investigate a security situation.  This scenario may require machine learning solutions to allow the security algorithms to keep pace with potential cyber attacks.

 Who Makes All This Work?

Now that we know the basics of how IoT works, who actually does this stuff?  Well, we can generally break this down into four major players:

Device Makers

Let’s be reminded that we are talking about making “things” connected to the internet, so we are dealing with a massive and ever-growing list of things that will either be IoT devices or will have an IoT sensor designed within them.  So, device makers include a very large number of organizations, from parts manufacturers for engines to health care equipment suppliers, to an explosion of consumer products.

Communication Networks

All that data that the billions of IoT sensors will be collecting and receiving needs to be transported on some kind of communication network.  The type of network used will depend on each individual IoT use case.  The traditional wireless network operators, like Verizon, will certainly carry much of this traffic.  But, other types of networks will be in the mix as well.  This will range from very short-range communication like Bluetooth and ZigBee, to the global range provided by satellite networks and everything in between. 

The need for Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) for many IoT applications is creating a new industry for wireless networks and solutions that forego the unneeded high data speeds and low latency for the benefits of low cost, long range, long battery life sensors. 

Consider a large array of river gauge sensors that monitor water levels, quality and temperatures over hundreds of miles of riverways.  For this you need low-cost sensors with very long battery life and long range communication.  But because the sensors are only sending bursts of basic information there is no need for high data speed or low latency.  Putting this on a 4G or 5Gwireless network is overkill and cost-prohibitive.

But, other IoT solutions, like those related to virtual/augmented reality or autonomous transportation, absolutely require ultra-high-speed data and low latency.

IoT Platforms

IoT platforms are offered by software companies to implement and manage the IoT solution and infrastructure.  The function of platforms varies greatly, again, depending on the specific IoT use case.  But, typically, they will be involved in connectivity management, device life cycle management, data management and analytics, and application development.

Data Management Providers

 platform provider may provide the logistics of data management and analytics,many IoT use cases will require the assistance of specialized big data analytics providers who can turn massive data inputs into meaningful learnings and processes.

Remember the Wilderness

IoT solutions are already beginning to bring significant benefits to numerous segments of society.  In many ways, IoT will enrich our lives.  A very large percentage of IoT solutions will be in health care and they have the potential to simultaneously bring down costs, improve the quality and accuracy of care, and save many lives.  The role of IoT in autonomous transportation also has the potential for enormous societal benefit over the next couple of decades.  Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on our highways. Autonomous transportation has the potential to eventually bring this number to nearly zero.

Still, there is a trade-off.  IoT drastically increases our dependence on connected technology.  And,the further we separate ourselves from nature, the farther and harder we will fall should things come apart at the seams. 

It will be increasingly vital that we make sure to keep one foot in nature.  Disconnect from all the connected “things” and get out into the trees. Smell the flowers.  Walk in that clear stream.  Touch the rocks.  Climb the mountains.  Understand that, as relentless as our drive for technological advancement is, we will always ultimately depend on nature and natural things for our mental and physical well-being, and for our long-term survival.

You Are Transhuman Already

In 1945 an American military airplane crashed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.  Three of the passengers, including one woman, survived the crash.  Deep in the jungle, the three Americans soon came into contact with a native tribe.  The savages, as they called them, moved naked through the forest in packs and yipped like wild dogs.  Bones pierced their noses.  These were stone-age humans, previously unknown and uncontacted by the modern world.

The tribal people reacted to the Americans as if they were supernatural creatures, not because of the color of their complexion or the texture of their hair, but because of their bizarre “removable skin.”  It was their clothes. 

These naked tribal people had no concept, nothing relatable in their imagination, for these types of materials.  To the natives, the Americans seemed unhuman, maybe gods, or maybe ghosts, depending on their own mythology.

On the morning of March 1st, 2011, I was just an ordinary young man when I walked into an ordinary two-story office building in a Denver suburb.  The waiting room was a calm and comforting place.  An electric water fountain created the soothing sound of trickling water.  Framed images of natural serenity adorned the walls.

The receptionist was also very calm and comforting.  She welcomed me with a soft and reassuring voice and a very pleasant hand shake.  Then she gave me a magic pill, a valium, to calm my mind and make me even more comfortable before leading me into a small dark room with a very comfortable reclining chair.

I sank into that chair while a machine descended from above and sliced off a piece of each of my eyeballs. 

In a matter of minutes, not only was my near-sightedness and astigmatism corrected, I ended up with “better than perfect” 20/15 vision.  I could now see slightly better than is naturally possible in a human being.  Through laser eye surgery I had become a transhuman.  I was bio-technologically improved.

But, was this really my first “biological enhancement?” Perhaps I had already become a transhuman years earlier when I received my first tooth filling.   Or, maybe it was earlier still, as a newborn baby, when a doctor injected magic serums into my body and thereby protected me from polio.  And measles.

Of course, I don’t think of myself as some sort of cyborg or transhuman.  Neither did those American soldiers trapped in the jungle in 1945.  But, from the perspective of an original “savage” human, we would indeed seem to be something else.  We would seem human-like, but human-enhanced.

The idea of transhumanism is all the buzz among today’s futurists.  I recently wrote an article about how to prepare our kids for their transhuman future, as if there will be a single point in time, maybe a few decades from now, when all humans become cyborgs overnight.

As we look to our technological future it’s easy to forget that, as a species, we embarked on our transhuman journey a very long time ago.  And, indeed, we are already quite far into this adventure.

At first the going was slow.  The official starting line is debatable, but let’s assume it began with the invention of agriculture somewhere between 10,000 and 23,000 BC depending on who you ask.  Now, this was a monumental leap in transhuman destiny.  This is when we first acquired a god-like capability.  We became the deliberate creators of mutant life forms, shaping and guiding the evolution of plant and animal species to meet our own needs and desires.

My dog, Codee the Corgi, looks nothing like anything in the wild.  He is a human-engineered mutant specimen, bred to be both functional as a cattle herder and adorable as a pet.  The Queen of England loves him.

Codee, my adorable mutant pet

The delicious yellow banana looks nothing like its tough, bitter-tasting, and shriveled ancestor.  Humans created the banana we know and love today, using simply the raw materials of nature to create something better to enhance our health, nutrition, culinary satisfaction, and mass production potential.

A few thousand years after the beginning of agriculture and animal breeding, some true geniuses figured out how to turn their thoughts into little symbols scratched into rock.  These were the first coders and they had invented the written language.

The vaporware of thought could now be visually represented, saved, replicated, and transported across not only territory (space) but time. 

Other humans in other locations and future times could then read and understand the thoughts of the original author—a person they need not have ever met.  They could then build on the original author’s ideas.

Written language was a quantum leap on our transhuman journey.  We had set forth the beginning of a continuous acceleration in the accumulation and sharing of knowledge.  This transformed human thought into an exponential trajectory of technological progress, each generation building on the knowledge of the last through the use and continued accumulation of the written record.

As time went on, we began to understand the stars.  We started to solve the mysteries of the human body.  And, eventually, we began to create machines.  The ocean-going vessel.  The printing press.  The steam engine.  We manipulated matter in all sorts of ways to take on new shapes, textures, and functions.  Totally new human-made substances, like plastic, infiltrated our world.  Things were rapidly accelerating, and humans became increasingly dependent on their own inventions like mechanized personal transportation, the harnessing of electricity, and the channeling of radio waves.  We created the Turing Machine.  And, then the Internet.  This trajectory continues to accelerate exponentially.

All of this stuff has already created a human-shaped world in which magic is commonplace.

Imagine if the stone-age people in Papua New Guinea suddenly found themselves in the middle of New York City in 2018.  Never mind the really magical stuff around them for now.  Just start with cement.  Here is a man-made material that gives us the ability to create and shape the very rock of Earth.  It is a material that we no longer even wonder about—so primitive and low-tech—and, yet, it would be so totally otherworldly to stone-age man.

Then show the tribe a lightbulb.  Like a mini-sun, the lightbulb turns night into day practically whenever and wherever we want.  Put stone-age man into an automobile and let him be transported through the world at frightening speed, seemingly floating within a strange enclosure made of materials he’s never seen nor fathomed.  Play a radio and turn on a television set and let him hear voices out of thin air and see moving images dance across a glossy flat rock.  Try to explain the internet to him.  Impossible.

One of the fears of our continued trajectory further into a state of transhumanism is that we will lose our humanity.  What does it mean to be human in a transhuman world?  But, all of those examples above from our past and present represent some level of human technological augmentation that has become integral to every day modern life.  And, yet few would seriously argue that we have lost our humanity, that we are somehow no longer human.

We forget how far we have already separated ourselves from a savage existence and how much we already depend on the manipulation of both nature and ourselves.  Have we maintained our humanity thus far?

Do we still feel love and pain and joy?  Do we still exercise free will?  Do we still smell the flowers and drink the water?  Do we still wonder about the mystery when we look out over the ocean and up to the stars?

Yes, we do.  Perhaps, this can give us some solace as we continue on our journey further into a technological world.  Perhaps, somehow, all along that path, our humanity will persist as we relentlessly find ways to transform our world and ourselves through technology.  Our humanity will persist as we 3D-print replacement organs and bones.  As we augment human thought with machine intelligence.  As we possibly extend human lifespan through the reversal of aging.

Let’s assume that humanity can continue its current technological trajectory for another 200 years (some would say that’s a very bold assumption).  If we were to be transported to the year 2218, what would it be like?  It would be at least as bizarre and unfathomable to us as our present world would be to a stone-age human.  But, it would be completely normal to the 2218 human.  I believe the technologically augmented humans of 2218, like us today, will still be human.  They will still drink the water and gaze upon the blue ocean with wonder.

Cable is the New Wireless. And Wireless is the New Broadband

Cable has finally done it.  After decades of periodic failed attempts at a wireless service business, big cable appears to have cracked the wireless code.  Comcast has already passed one million wireless subscribers (1).  Charter, who followed the Comcast playbook and launched a wireless service this summer, expects 650,000 wireless subscribers after one year (2).  Both used Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) models with Verizon as the Mobile Network Operator (MNO) partner.  Altice expects to launch their own wireless service (3) next year (2019) as a Sprint MVNO.  Of Cable’s big four it would seem that Cox Communications is the outlier, with no stated plans for their own MVNO launch.  However, Cox is the only one participating in the millimeter wave (5) spectrum auctions this year, so we can expect that they will also be in the wireless mix at some point.

Cable’s Wireless Vision

Now that cable has found a foothold in wireless where do they go from here?  A short-term perspective might suggest that this is simply about adding more customers and keeping the ones they have.  While those are certainly near-term objectives, their long-term vision for wireless is much more strategic.

A combination of emerging technologies, new market dynamics, and updated regulatory approaches to spectrum allocation are simultaneously aligning.  This is providing the cable industry with an opportunity to not only succeed as wireless service providers but to potentially drive a new wireless evolution.

Today’s broadband internet and wireless consumers increasingly expect seamless transitions between transport technologies.  Data is data, whether we are sitting at home, working at the office, having coffee at the local café, or cruising down the highway to visit the in-laws.  While great strides have been made over the last decade or so to achieve this, there is much more to be done.  Leaders in both the cable and wireless industries understand this and they are willing to engage in a peculiar state of simultaneous competition and collaboration.

The importance of new strategies in wireless and broadband is enhanced by the Internet of Things.  IoT is now beginning to open up a world of opportunities for new business-to-business solutions made possible by all sorts of new connected devices.  All those devices must connect to some kind of network and the type of network they connect to will often depend on their use cases.

This all may seem a bit complicated, but top cable executives have not been shy about their long-term vision for wireless.  To put it all into perspective, we can break their vision down into the following four steps.

Step One – Massive Wi-Fi Deployment

Launching an MVNO wireless service is actually the second major step in Cable’s wireless transformation.  The first was the deployment of millions of Wi-Fi hotspots.  For years the Cable Wi-Fi Alliance (6), consisting of the big four U.S. cable providers, have collaborated to blanket their service areas with a mesh Wi-Fi network.  These hotspots now number over 20 million.  The map below illustrates the combined Cable Wi-Fi Alliance coverage.

The Cable WiFi Alliance National Hotspot Coverage Map (Source, Spectrum WiFi page)

Step Two – Sell a Wireless Service

As previously noted, Comcast and Charter have now launched a consumer wireless service using a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) model.  They both lease the wireless network from Verizon, but they provide their own device procurement and customer support infrastructure.  Altice will do the same with Sprint in 2019.  Now, along with the Wi-Fi footprint, they are adding direct wireless subscribers and learning how to run a wireless back office.

 Step Three – Tie it Together with CBRS Spectrum

The next phase is all about CBRS Spectrum (8) at 3.5 GHz which is a new range of radio spectrum being made available by the FCC through a new spectrum sharing model.  Crucially, this spectrum sharing model will enable neutral hosting (9).  Neutral hosting provides the ability for new types of entities, like large venue owners, to deploy their own private LTE networks.  Cable operators may deploy locally targeted LTE networks (on either 4G or 5G standards) using this spectrum.

Charter’s CEO Tom Rutledge articulated it this way: “Charter plans to use the 3.5 GHz band in conjunction with its Wi-Fi network to improve network performance and expand capacity to offer consumers a superior wireless service.”

CBRS may also open up a new partnership dynamic between cable operators and wireless providers.  A collaborative approach may lead to a scenario where the wireless operators “take the outdoors” and the cable operators “take the indoors” with a roaming arrangement linking the two.  The diagram below illustrates this possible strategy.

Image above provided by this white paper

Side note:  Since Cox Communications is participating in the millimeter wave auction but is not moving on an MVNO strategy, could they potentially be skipping the MVNO step to go straight to building out targeted 5G networks complementary to their Wi-Fi footprint and just utilize roaming partnerships for access to large area wireless networks?

Step Four – Small Cell to DOCSIS Integration

This is what Charter’s CEO Tom Rutledge has called their “6G Wireless” which is not the same as the wireless industry’s conceptual definitions of 6G, but compelling nonetheless.  Mr. Rutledge was quoted in Light Reading (10): “6G… is our pre-spec definition of the integration of small cell architecture using unlicensed and licensed spectrum working together interchangeably with our advanced DOCSIS roadmap to create high-capacity, low-latency product offerings.  We expect that over time our existing infrastructure will put us in a unique position to economically deploy new powerful products that benefit from small cell connectivity.”

Now, let’s consider the wireless network operator perspective.

Wireless to Sell Residential Broadband

Video cord cutting is so 2010.  The new cord cutting is all about residential broadband internet service, and the wireless providers are going after cable’s dominance in this domain.  Don’t take my word for it.  Verizon has already launched their first iteration of 5G Wireless (13) in four major cities, branded “5G Home.” Their website makes it clear that this service is all about the home.  They even implore their prospective customers to “cut the cord.  Go 5G Home.”

T-Mobile is also swinging for a big piece of residential broadband.  Should their merger with Sprint succeed, “New T-Mobile” (14) ambitiously expects to become the U.S.’s fourth largest residential internet service provider, reaching over 9 million fixed wireless broadband customers by 2024.

Wireless 5G is of course a much bigger deal than just a competitive threat to cable broadband.  The wireless industry has now entered the deployment phase for 5G.  We will see wireless networks transform to a 5G standard over the next few years with 5G mobile devices available at scale in 2020.  5G will open up huge opportunities across multiple industries and technological solutions, including robust smart city applications, advancements in autonomous cars, virtual and augmented reality and more.

The question of how 5G Wireless will change our world is for another article.  For now we can be sure that the entire competitive landscape of wireless and fixed broadband is shifting.  And, before long, your cable company may be your new wireless provider, and your wireless provider may provide your home internet service.

Up may be down and down may be up, but it’s never boring.

How to Prepare our Kids for their Transhuman Future – Brief

Transhumanism is a philosophy that “advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.”

Obviously, this has profound implications for the human condition: ethical, moral, religious, economic, political, environmental.  So, where does Transhumanism take us?  Optimists might believe that it will lead to a golden age of human achievement, prosperity, fulfillment and enjoyment. Pessimists might believe that, at best, we will lose our humanity and our freedoms to our AI overlord.

I choose to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a pragmatist. I want to prepare myself and my young daughter for what’s to come so that we may successfully navigate, understand, and benefit from this future.

Perhaps the best thing we can do to prepare our kids and grandkids for transhumanist lives is to actively teach them how to apply unchanging core human values to every new situation they face.  Ageless values like respect and compassion will remain important (and may become more important). But less traditional values may gain importance.

Now is the time to think about it. Now is the time to make it a conscious part of our parenting strategy.

Click here for the full length version of this important article.

 

How to Prepare our Kids for their Transhuman Future

The Beginning of the Transhuman Age

In a recent report issued by Gartner and reported in Forbes, Gartner makes the following stunning claim:

“Over the next decade, humanity will begin its ‘transhuman’ era…”

Transhumanism is a philosophy that “advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.”

Obviously, this has profound implications for the human condition:  ethical, moral, religious, economic, political, environmental.  Many people may bristle at the idea of transhumanism, instinctively (and possibly correctly) perceiving this as the loss of our humanity.  Indeed, transhuman scholars point to a future when humans become “posthuman,” like a new species that harnesses technology to control and direct its own evolution.

Where Does This Lead?

Optimists might believe that transhumanism will lead to a golden age of human achievement, prosperity, fulfillment and enjoyment.  A world where technology has been successfully directed to solve our most significant problems like climate change, natural resource limitations, disease, and warfare.  Pessimists might believe that, at best, we will lose our humanity and our freedoms to our AI overlord.  It gets much darker from there.

I choose to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a pragmatist.  I want to prepare myself and my daughter, who is currently seven, for what’s to come so that we may successfully navigate, understand, and benefit from this future.  Part of my approach to this has led to a personal philosophy of mine that I call the “nature-tech balance.”

However uncomfortable, frightening, or exciting transhumanism may sound to us, this genie has already left the bottle.  While transhumanism may be defined as a philosophy, it’s probably an inevitability because these technological advancements are driven by global economic competition and a perceived massive benefit to humanity.  Bioengineering, for example, may lead to designer babies, but it can also potentially cure cancer.  A brain-machine interface might be weaponized for warfare, but it will also cure paralysis and accelerate learning.  Not only will these technological advancements not be stopped, they will soon be accelerated by quantum computing and vastly faster and more sophisticated communication networks.

We may be able to anticipate some of the negative consequences, but we cannot possibly predict or understand them all.  The current side effects of social media alone have left governments and the corporations running these platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) reeling as social media has inadvertently streamlined revolutionary uprisings, government repression, and geopolitical cyber warfare.  Already, technological advancement seems to be outpacing the ability of many humans to comprehend what is happening in their world.  For many there is a sense of losing connection to how things work and what things mean.

Those of us who are currently in the middle of our adult lives will experience some of the beginnings of this new human condition.  But our children and grandkids may become the first of the true “posthumans.”

If you’re not convinced, consider the profound differences in human life between 1918 and 2018.  Then consider that the next 100 years will bring substantially more rapid technological change than the previous century.  We simply cannot know or predict what life will be like in the year 2118.  Also consider that, because of many of the expected technological advancements of the next century, our kids and grandkids may live much longer lives.  We must assume that many, if not most, of our kids may live well into the 22nd century.

The combination of exponentially advancing technology and lengthening human life span creates a compounding effect on each individual life.  This could create a self-reinforcing cycle:  Relentlessly accelerating technological advancement may provide our children and/or grandchildren with opportunities to choose to extend their lives.  Once they choose to do so, increasingly sophisticated technological breakthroughs will present them with additional life-extending options.  The cycle would then continue.  Could it be that our kids, or our grandkids, will face the moral question of whether or not to choose a state of immortality?  It sounds outlandish but it’s really not out of the realm of possibility.  As a parent I find that to be unnerving if not frightening.

If our kids and grandkids are going to be the guinea pigs of a new posthuman condition as they lead humanity into the 22nd century, how do we prepare them for their future life if we cannot accurately predict the societal changes to come?  After all, we are the ones who will be foisting this new kind of life upon our innocent kids and grandkids.  We have a responsibility to understand how to prepare them for living and thriving in it.

How do we Prepare Our Kids for What we Can’t Predict?

In this blog post from AI Theology there are some good insights into some of the specific skills that our kids should focus on, like coding.  But it also touches on the importance of disciplines like philosophy and theology to prepare our kids for one specific question: “What does it mean to be human in an AI world?” That may be the central moral question of the next century, and it has less to do with specific technical skills than it does with moral values.

I think the best thing we can do to prepare our kids and grandkids for transhumanist lives is to actively teach them how to apply unchanging core human values to every new situation they face.  Core values may vary slightly by culture, but most of them are remarkably universal and timeless.  What is changing is the complexity and variability of the situations our kids will have to apply these values against. Parents today, and increasingly in the future, will need to teach and reinforce core values more actively.  Call it situational value-based learning.

If we can actively teach situational values as technology continues to accelerate, we will be training our kids to be adaptable to a technological world that advances beyond their ability to directly comprehend.  By doing this we will also increase the likelihood that our kids will achieve the optimists’ vision of a transhuman world.

Ageless values like respect and compassion will remain important (and may become more important).  But less traditional values may gain importance.  Critical thinking, for example, has always been a very valuable life skill, but I think it should now be considered a moral obligation.  Our kids are going to have to learn how to be masters at distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fake, between information that has integrity and sophisticated propaganda.

Historically, humans do not have a great track record for this kind of critical thinking and the current trajectory is not positive.  As communication platforms are increasingly putting us into informational bubbles, people are succumbing to echo chambers that block them off from opposing perspectives.  This is increasing political and social tribalism and may be contributing to a new rise in political authoritarianism.  This will only get worse before it gets better and making it better will require our childrens’ generation to become the best critical thinkers in history.

Another value that I think will become essential is what I call the nature-tech balance, which I wrote about here.  We are already perceiving our detachment from nature.  When we get out into the wilderness we often speak of “unplugging” from life or “reconnecting” to nature.  These word choices are not coincidental.  Having a connection with the real natural world is absolutely a human need.  Paradoxically, as technology distances us from our direct day-to-day dependence on nature, we increasingly crave nature for psychological well-being.  We know this instinctively.  We’ve also proven this scientifically–there is a clear link between mental well-being and immersion in nature.

In a transhuman world staying connected with nature will become a conscious moral obligation.  Keeping a healthy balance between nature and technology means that we should keep one “foot” in the technological world and the other “foot” firmly planted in the wilderness.  I will be teaching this value actively to my daughter.  Both “feet” are equally important to her overall equilibrium.  It would be a mistake for her to shun the technological world.  She must live in it and learn how to thrive in it.  But, keeping the other foot grounded in nature will allow her to keep everything in perspective.  It will keep her tethered to her origins.  It will keep her humble.  And it will feed her spiritual soul in a way that technology will never be able to match.

Conclusion

Much of this article may seem like far fetched science fiction.  But I contend that this is a very practical perspective.  Consider that just in the last couple of decades the following technologies have transitioned from the mostly futuristic conceptual state to becoming part of our everyday language and lives:

  • Artificial Intelligence—now part of everyday conversation, early iterations of AI are already being productized.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality—go to your local Best Buy to check out their selection of VR headsets. It won’t be long before we will laugh at how primitive they looked in the year 2018.  And augmented reality is now being implemented in manufacturing operations among other things.
  • Autonomous Vehicles—cars that drive themselves have been on the road as test vehicles for years. Some self-driving features are already being included in today’s mass-produced cars and more of these features will gradually infiltrate our cars over the next couple of decades until cars really do drive themselves most of the time.
  • Quantum Computing—will exponentially increase mainstream computing power, providing the engine to accelerate advances in AI, VR and other technologies.
  • 5G and 6G Wireless Networks—will drastically increase wireless data speed and capacity while simultaneously reducing latency. 5G has entered the deployment phase.  Give it just 2-5 more years for ubiquitous 5G network coverage and device compatibility, and about 10 years for 6G to reach the start of its deployment phase.
  • Gene Editing—look up CRISPR.

The technologies above, and others, are rapidly developing and resulting in real-world applications today, in 2018.  But the breathtaking advancements we are seeing today will seem antique to our kids in 50 years.  Technological advancement will continue to accelerate at or near exponential rates.  It would be foolish to assume that concepts that sound like science fiction today, like significant life extension, consumer space travel, human-like artificial intelligence, and indeed transhumanism, will not be experienced in the lifetimes of our kids (and may even be experienced in ours).  It is our responsibility as parents to think about how to prepare our children to not only cope with, but thrive in, their transhuman futures.

Now is the time to think about it.  Now is the time to make it a conscious part of our parenting strategy.

Racing Tropical Cyclone Gita to New Zealand

The Storm and the Airplane Head for New Zealand

The enormous Polynesian man sitting next to me on the airplane was visibly worried.  Just a few days ago his home islands of Tonga had taken a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Gita, the strongest cyclone in its recorded history.  He was trying to make his way home from Utah to survey the damage and check on family and friends.

Gita had been menacing the South Pacific for weeks.  Starting out as a tropical disturbance near Vanuatu, Gita moved east towards Fiji and then Samoa, gaining the strength of a category one tropical system on the way.  Gita then doubled back to the west on a more southerly track and exploded into a monster category four storm before crashing directly into Tonga.  Leaving Tonga bruised and battered, she continued west-southwest for several more days then began a giant arc to the south and then southeast somewhere off the northeast coast of Australia.  From there Gita set her sights on the midsection of New Zealand.

Tropical Cyclone Gita’s full track through the South Pacific.  Source

We knew we were going to meet Gita upon or arrival in New Zealand.  For days, as we prepared for our big trip, I tracked her path of destruction online and listened to all the latest projections from concerned Kiwi weather watchers.  We were scheduled to land in Wellington, on the south end of the North Island, on February 21st, the same afternoon of Gita’s forecast arrival.  Spaghetti charts were showing storm path projection lines all over the Wellington area.  It didn’t look good, but I believed we had a chance to get into and then quickly north out of Wellington and away from Gita just in time.  The race was on.

Spaghetti forecast map for Tropical Cyclone Gita.  Source.

 

Gita’s eye and winds as she approached New Zealand.  Source.

Last Flight to Wellington

After thirteen hours over the Pacific we arrived in Auckland on a beautiful sunny morning.  A few puffy clouds accented a light blue sky over a bluer Waitemata Harbour.  But, we had one more flight to catch.  Wellington.  Television screens in the airport terminal showed a powerful ex-tropical storm already beginning to lash the northern tip of the South Island.  It was clear now that the center of the storm would pass not far to the south of Wellington within hours.

As we trudged through the meticulous New Zealand biosecurity process we were surprised to see that our Wellington flight remained on schedule.  With little time to spare we made it to our flight and left sunny Auckland to fly right into Gita’s approaching outer edge.

An hour later our plane touched down in a gray and rainy Wellington.  Shortly after de-boarding the airport PA system announced, “all flights in and out of Wellington now canceled due to Tropical Cyclone Gita.” Ours was the last Wellington flight out of Auckland before Gita shut things down.  We had won the first leg of the race, but now we had to drive north out of Wellington just as Gita began closing in.

A Pinball Shot from the Vortex

Driving on the left takes a little getting used to.  Years ago in the Virgin Islands I had picked up a rental jeep and immediately made a left turn into the wrong side of the road and had to jump the median to avoid angry oncoming drivers.  In New Zealand I had to re-orient myself to left lane driving in a wind-blown rain on surprisingly busy and narrow Wellington highways.  The giant windshield of our campervan kept fogging up, and until we figured out that we had to turn the air conditioning on to clear it, L was climbing onto the dashboard every two minutes to wipe away a tiny space for me to see into the traffic on NZ Highway 1.  It was a hairy drive.

But, like a piece of debris spun out of the vortex of the storm, we broke through the rain-wall within an hour as we drove north into the green North Island countryside.  Not far to our south Gita’s eye was now crossing the northern end of the South Island and the conditions in Wellington were deteriorating rapidly.  We were high and dry now, free from the rain, but not the wind.

It was the strangest kind of wind I’d ever experienced.  It would be perfectly calm and then the air would explode in all directions from nowhere.  I had seen my share of gusty winds growing up in Colorado’s Front Range.  But, I had never experienced this level of randomness.

Pigs and Chickens

It wasn’t long before we came to our first blow-down.  A car was stopped ahead, southbound, with its flashers on.  The driver was out dragging big leafy tree branches off the road.  We pulled to a stop and I got out and helped.  We soon had it cleared well enough, waived each other a thanks, and got on our way.

Our pretty two-lane highway passed mostly through open sheep pastures, but periodically dove into a tunnel of tree canopy.  I would gun it through these tunnels as wind-snapped tree branches rained down like spears.  We never took a direct hit.

After clearing a couple more minor blow-downs our luck ran out.  We crested a big hill and saw some stopped cars and a group of people standing around a giant horizontal log.  A huge tree had blown down right across the road and there would be no moving this one.

But, then something peculiar happened.  The first stopped car made a right turn off the highway and drove right into a private driveway!  And, then the next car did the same.  As we approached, a friendly looking woman pointed us in the same direction and we found ourselves driving right through the middle of someone’s farm.

Pigs to the right, chickens to the left, we proceeded slowly around the back of the house, around the barn, past a beautiful orchard of pear trees, and came back out to the highway on the other side of the blown-down tree.  Another nice lady met us there as we pulled up. “Nothing coming that way,” she joked as she pointed in the direction of the fallen tree.

See our dash cam view of the farm drive below:

See our full New Zealand video here.

We laughed, thanked her, and then proceeded on our way.  This would be the first of many wonderful examples of Kiwi hospitality and friendliness we would experience on our trip.  The people were as much a breath of fresh air as the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand.

A Perfect Riverside Refuge

The beautiful winding two-lane continued through more pastures and spear-tossing tree tunnels until we finally came to a discreet sign that said “Vinegar Hill Campground.”

Vinegar Hill Campground is a peaceful green meadow at the bottom of a little river gorge.  The campground was nearly empty, so we had our pick of great spots right along the green Rangitikei River.  A 300-foot bluff on the other side of the river blocked the gusting winds that were shaking the trees atop the ridge like rag dolls.  As the winds raged above, it was almost totally calm down by the river.

Our sweet “Jucy” campervan below the bluffs at the Vinegar Hill campground.

Gita threw us one last haymaker that evening.  As I was unpacking the van and L was in the campground shower, the serenity was broken by loudly cracking and crunching wood.  I looked up to the bluff just in time to see a gigantic tree violently toppling over.  It dislodged a dump truck sized ball of earth that came crashing down the bluff and into the river.  A huge cloud of dust and debris blossomed over the river like a bomb.  A few moments later, L emerged wide-eyed from the shower.  She said the crash sounded so loud in there that she thought the tree fell right next to the shower stall.  It was 100 yards away.

That would be the end of Gita for us until several days later when we would see the aftermath of some landslides and road damage in the northwest part of the South Island.  The next morning we woke, well rested, to a beautifully calm and sunny morning in New Zealand.  Onward towards Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park.

Photographer Captures Couple’s Scenic Proposal

… And Then Uses Social Media to Find Them

I love stories like this.  A photographer goes up to Yosemite National Park to take some pictures.  He randomly witnesses a beautiful marriage proposal in a spectacular setting and snaps the perfect picture.  Not having any idea who the happy couple is, and unable to catch up to them on the trail, he posts his story to the internet in hopes of identifying the couple.  It goes viral on social media and then gets picked up by national news outlets, like CNN.  Before long the couple is identified!

One reason this is a great story is because it combines elements of wilderness and technology in a beautiful way.  The proposal happened at Yosemite’s Taft Point, an iconic scene of the American wilderness in one of our most treasured national parks.  Without the technological components this would have simply been the individual experiences of a photographer and a happy couple.  But, the combination of the technologies of the camera, the internet, social media and traditional broadcast media introduced their experience to the rest of us in what feels like a natural, organic way.

One could question whether or not the couple wanted the publicity.  This was a very private moment between them.  They didn’t ask the photographer to put their picture all over the internet.  But, they had the choice to come forward or not.  They could have kept it a mystery, but they chose to let us in on their wonderful moment.  And, I’m sure that beautiful photo will be framed and displayed somewhere in their home for a long time to come.

This is an example of the positive side of the “power of social media.” It’s the kind of thing that was dreamed of by tech visionaries two decades ago.  It happens quite a lot actually.  I’ve seen more than a few lost dogs in my neighborhood found through social media.  I’ve seen crimes solved that way, too.  People find jobs, love interests, and long lost family members through the internet.  We also figure out how to ease the pain of injuries, mental and physical, by searching the web.  I could go on for a while about the positive capabilities enabled by the internet and social media.  The point is to remember these things when we also see the negatives.

New Zealand Travel Video

This may be the best amateur New Zealand travel video ever made!!!  Well, probably not, but I’m still quite proud of it.

Full disclosure:  I do not own the rights to the partial songs featured.  They are all cited in the video at the end.  They are all listed again in detail in the video description below.  If you like any of these great songs, please purchase them from iTunes or download them to your Spotify account or wherever you buy your music.

Video Description

Part One – Intro

In the opening of the video you see a dash cam video of us driving through someone’s farm (with their permission) to avoid a downed tree on the highway.  The second part of the intro kicks in with Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf.  You see a couple pictures of our sweet “Jucy” campervan and a random mashup of images and video clips from all over New Zealand.

Part Two – North Island

The second song is Down by the River by Milky Chance.  This part of the video shows scenes from the North Island of New Zealand, specifically around Tongariro National Park, Lake Taupo, and Rotorua.  The coastal scenes are from a fantastic twelve-mile beach trek along Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island.

Part Three – On the Sea Between the Islands

Song number three is Rolling Sea by Vetiver.  This part of the video shows images and video clips from the beautiful Inter-Island Ferry as we made our way from the North to the South Island on a spectacular summer evening.

Part Four – Nelson Lakes National Park

The fourth song is No Ceiling by Eddie Vedder from the Into the Wild soundtrack.  It’s the perfect song for our trek into the amazing Nelson Lakes National Park.

Part Five – The Wild West Coast

The next song, number five, is Moonlight by Tribal Seeds with coastal scenes from the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Part Six – Lakes and Rainforest

Song number six is Humbug Mountain Song by Fruit Bats.  Here we’ve headed back inland from the coast over the amazing Haast Pass and into the South Island Lakes District.  Some scenes here are also from the rain forests of Fiordland National Park, one of the premier wilderness national parks on Earth.

Part Seven – Waterfalls

For the seventh song you hear Rodrigo y Gabriela’s beautiful version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.  These scenes are from a waterfall-filled trek into Mount Aspiring National Park.

Part Eight – The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

The eighth and final song is Lord Huron’s Ends of the Earth which takes you into one of the most beautiful places in the world–Milford Sound.  We arrived to Milford sound early in the morning to dense fog, but just as our boat departed into the water, the fog broke apart leaving only remnants of snow-white clouds adorning the flanks of out-of-this-world peaks and their numerous waterfalls.  We were lucky enough to also see dusky dolphins, seals, AND, penguins.  It was a spectacular experience and a perfect capstone to our amazing trip to New Zealand.

 

How I Almost Died in Canyonlands National Park

I’m floating on my back in a huge shallow eddy.  The muddy water silently churns a giant slow-motion circle.  The water soothes the back of my head and brings relief from the early September heat like the cool side of a pillow.  As I float I watch the jagged outline of red cliff-tops against the blue desert sky.  My eyes close as I let the slow current drift me back towards my secluded white sandy beach.

After a few minutes I snap out of my bliss and move to stand up but my leg whiffs through unexpectedly deep water.  Calmly treading I look around to re-orient myself and notice that my bright yellow kayak on the beach is surprisingly small and it’s moving away from me.  I find myself in mid-river.

This wonderful spot was three days and 50 miles into one of America’s finest flatwater river adventures.  I’m in Canyonlands National Park, where the Green and Colorado Rivers carve twisting labyrinths in the ancient rock layers before joining together in a grand confluence of waters and canyons.  In the Canyonlands the “Green” River is the color of peanut butter.  The muddy water, several hundred feet across, moves as one relentless mass from bank to bank with no rapids, waves or riffles.  When on the water the river seems as still as a lake until you glance to the bank and see the Tamarisk bushes drifting backwards as slow as a morning stroll in the park.  Away from the main river numerous side canyons lead to immense rock cathedrals, hidden edens, and relics of prehistoric societies.  The wilderness is deep here and the rivers offer the only way out.

 Over the course of these three wonderful days I had drifted and paddled around countless oxbow bends, glided under overhanging cliffs, and watched the tapestry of the desert southwest unfold slowly under a piercing early September sun.  The stiflingly hot canyon was always silent except when a paddle clipped my boat and echoes erupted off the rock walls like distant gunfire.

On my second night on the river I had met a man who looked like the canyon—skin the rusty color of the Wingate formation and a gray dome like the Dakota rocks.  His buddies called him Padre and he was paddling the Green for the 80th time.  This canyon had captured his heart decades ago when he bought a cheap K-Mart raft and floated 52 miles to the confluence with the Colorado.  Padre was one of the original vagabond river rats of this canyon back when few people even thought of floating it and even fewer gave it a go.  Old Padre knew these canyon lands as thoroughly as anyone and yet he still gazed around in wonder at all the possibilities—sights he would never see, discoveries he would never make.

I found it very easy to understand why Padre kept coming back.  After my first night in the canyon I had awoken on a sandbar in mid-river just as liquid sunshine blasted over the canyon, across the meandering waters, and lit up the opposite rim with a blood-red glow.  The air was sublime.  It was the most perfect morning in the wilderness I’d ever experienced.

Sometimes the wilderness can throw a big right hook when you let your guard down.  When we put ourselves into obviously dangerous situations our minds are tuned to the risks involved.  Life threatening “flukes” in the wilderness often happen because we get careless during those seemingly safe and peaceful moments.  Closing my eyes while I drifted on my back in a big wilderness river was careless—I had let my guard down.

As a result of that carelessness I find myself, a weak swimmer, treading deep water in the middle of the big muddy river.  In a faster river my instinct would have guided me to turn downstream, use the current to my advantage, and simply swim casually back to my beach.  But, this river is a trickster.  It moves so slow that you forget it moves at all.  So, without worry, I casually start to swim straight back to my beach, against the slow but relentless current.

After a bit I stop and look up, sure to be in shallow water again, but my feet find no footing and my beach is even farther away.  That slow current simply pushed me back like a celestial giant might push away a pest with his thumb.  Panic sets in now and I try again, same direction, this time going all out.  I keep my head down, pushing myself to the absolute limit, until my muscles can’t go anymore.  I try to place a leaden foot beneath me onto the riverbed that I know must be there, but again my foot finds only water.  In the chaos and panic my eye catches the beach and it looks terrifyingly distant.  For all my epic struggle, the cruel giant has effortlessly pushed me even farther into the river.

Now I’m in real trouble.  Lactic acid burns like fire through my legs and arms.  I’m heaving for air but the muddy water is lapping at my chin.  Keeping my mouth and nose above the surface is an epic struggle, like trying to hold back a thousand-pound boulder on a sloping hill.

I realize I’m going to die.  A brief moment of absolute terror strikes, but is quickly overrun by something like a combination of deep depression and overwhelming guilt.  I hear my three-year-old daughter as if she’s sitting on my lap, “I love you, Daddy.”  All the implications of leaving my daughter behind without her Dad are rushing by and it is unbelievably crushing.  But, then something deep inside my consciousness takes over, and I tell myself to stop fighting it.  I then do the only thing I can do.  I stop flailing and just float on my back and let the river take me where it will.

As I float on my back I heave violently for air that seems to never be enough and my heart is beating out of my chest.  But, I’m floating now, like I was in the shallow eddy, face up to the sky, arms wide, mouth gaping like a surprised grouper.  I’ve become just another piece of flotsam amidst the vastness of this river and its canyon.  I will land where the river takes me.

For several minutes I float, head pointed downriver.  I have a feeling of suffocation as my lungs still cannot capture enough air and my heart rate is still maxed as the muddy river seems to try to pull me into a watery grave.  Another wave of panic strikes when I glance to the side and realize I’m still no closer to either bank.  I see an image in my mind of bleached white bones on a winter sand bar being picked at by a raven.  I regain my resolve and find a surging rage.  Fuck you, river! I say it aloud.  I’m gonna make it!  I’m gonna make it…   Saying this makes me believe it, so I keep repeating it.  After a few more minutes I look over again.  The far bank is finally near.  I find the energy to move into a side-stroke and jerk my way to the bank like an injured animal.

I claw my way up onto that muddy bank of salvation and rest with my torso out of water and my legs beneath the mud like a primordial beast emerging from the ooze.  It seems to take forever to regain my breath, but when I do I see that I’m more than a quarter mile downstream from my beach and on the other side of the river.  I’m wearing only wet swim trunks—no shirt, no shoes, no supplies.  It’s late in the afternoon.

What do I do?  Try to swim back across?  I’m not a very strong swimmer, the river is wide and the current will take me farther downstream, probably below where a cliff drops straight into the water on the other side.  No, I can’t swim it, that’s too risky.  Build a raft?  With what?  The only things that grow here are spindly Tamarisk bushes, cacti and some grasses.  Walk out overland?  Hell no, that’s a death sentence here with no water, clothing, or supplies, even if I could scale the cliffs, which I couldn’t.

I resolve to wait for rescue.  A handful of other kayakers and canoeists come down the river daily.  But, it’s at least 4:30 in the afternoon and most of the other boaters have selected a campsite by now.  I give it a 50 percent chance that another party will come by today.  I’m prepared to spend a night on this side of the river until morning.

I make my way barefoot the quarter mile up the river until I’m right across from my kayak.  My side of the river is a prickly and rocky slope that rises steeply up to the base of a giant cliff face.  The sun is dropping towards its daily meeting with the canyon rim, and with each passing minute my chance of rescue diminishes.  After about an hour I watch that red ball sink behind the red rocks, and the canyon enters the normally blissful time of evening.  My hope of rescue today is gone.

I’m thirsty and there is a monster river just feet away, but it’s full of mud and sediment.  I want to avoid drinking that water if possible so I find myself a bulbous lobe of prickly pear cactus.  I find a sharp-edged rock that fits in my hand like a knife.  I poke the cactus with the pointy end of the rock and it snaps easily off at the stem as I bend it back.  I use my rock knife to carefully peel off the spikey skin to reveal the aloe vera-like meat of the cactus.  It has little flavor, but it’s full of moisture, and I relish this fruit of nature.  I’ve won a minor battle of survival and feel encouraged.

I choose a narrow but flat ledge a few feet above the river bank as my camp for the night.  It feels strange not to have anything—not a single tool or possession except for my swim trunks.  My feet and shoulders are bare.  There is nothing to use for cover, no shelter to climb into, no match or flint to spark a fire.  Like Tantalus in his pool that he can never quench his thirst with, I look across the river to my kayak and my cooler full of ice-cold drinks.

I’ve never had a problem letting my own mind occupy my attention.  There is a universe of material in every human mind, and I can think my way through any boredom.  And when you have no possessions while sitting in the wilderness you have no distractions.  As the night fills in I think about my trip down this river, the beauty of this canyon, the changing history of the West, and the life of old Padre.  I imagine Padre as a young man in the 1960’s, paddling is way alone down this big canyon river on that cheap raft probably about as happy as a man could be.  I think of the strangeness and beauty of the canyon, of the ancientness of the rocks now darkening in the dusk, of prehistoric floods, of the beasts and native peoples who came here before me.  I find myself thinking about my daughter and a sense of great relief comes over me.  I made it out of that river and I know I will make it through this night to see her again.  How will I, one day, tell her this story?

My thoughts take me into the night as the moon crests the cliff behind me.  Its shine brightens the canyon like a monochrome version of the day.  I can see everything.  The river with a beam of moonlight glowing from below.  The canyon walls, vivid and clear, not red as during the day, but a kind of cream or gray color.  The bushes and cacti, standing black and still like twisted statues.  Despite the brightness of the three-quarter moon, the brightest stars shine down on me.  The Big Dipper is to my right, just above the canyon rim.

As I continue to think my thoughts the moon is making its slow arc between the canyon walls.  The Big Dipper sinks imperceptibly over the hours until its bottom star makes a visual connection to the canyon.  A slight breeze brings a chill into the air and now I’ve entered the depth of the cold desert night.

Movement.  My own body heat is the only tool I have and I must move.  I stand and begin a regimen of upper body calisthenics.  I swing my arms side to side, counting out in estimated one-second intervals to tell the passing of time.  Five minutes of that exercise and then switch it up—move my arms back and forth.  Five minutes of that then torso twists… one… two… three… four.  Five minutes of that, then…. I do about twenty minutes and then sit for five, enough time for the chill to return, then I stand up and do it all over again, minute after minute, hour after hour, as the night creeps along.  It’s the longest night of my life.

The moon is my friend on this night.  It is now approaching the opposite canyon rim from which it arose just after dusk.  Its impending disappearance brings worry.  The night is getting colder by the minute and soon it will become a different world—not illuminated by lunar glow, but black as a closed casket.  There is a man in the moon, I often tell my daughter.  He smiles down at the world and brings peace in the night.  But, the man in the moon must now go bring his peace to other lands.

The afterglow of the moon fades behind that canyon wall until all is blackness.  The river just below me has become an infinite abyss.  The canyon walls have turned black, only distinguishable from the sky by the absence of stars.  But, those stars.  Oh, the stars!  You’ve never seen stars like those in a Western canyon on a moonless night.  The Milky Way is unfurled like a celestial tapestry from the canyon wall behind me to the distant cliffs to my front.

The river is unseen now, but it is heard.  It bubbles and gurgles here and there.  Every now and then a chunk of sand breaks from the dune across the river and crashes into the water with a great splash like a calving ice burg.  It’s a peculiar thing when it can be seen, the way the beaches and sand bars are constantly shape-shifting, the big Green River eternally at work carving this canyon.  In the dark night the sudden splashes are menacing.  It feels like the canyon is closing in on me and the river is about to swallow me up.  But, I keep my composure, reminding myself that each breath and each swing of my arms to keep warm brings me a bit closer to dawn and salvation.

As this long night continues the chills hit more quickly and I must stand and move more frequently just as I grow more weary.  My tongue feels like dry cotton.  Crashes in the river startle me.  The Big Dipper has finally disappeared completely over the canyon rim.  I begin to anticipate the dawn that I know is near but this is the hardest time–the coldest time—of the night.  I feel that I’m an alien creature perched on a ledge on some bizarre planet, swinging my alien arms in weird circles and twists.

I look up and finally The Milky Way is gone.  The faintest blue is appearing to my left.  I allow myself to end the calisthenics, knowing that I’ll grow cold in the next hour, but be warmed soon by the returning sun.

I’m shaken by voices from upriver.  A woman’s voice, clear as can be, from around the bend.  I stand and gaze into the darkness where I can now start to make out the faintest boundary between river and land.  Could it be?  Could someone really be paddling down the river so early?  I call out, “help!” There’s no response.  I watch for several minutes, but no one comes.  I sit back down on my lonely ledge.  The unrested mind can play cruel tricks.  So, I wait.

The highest rock pinnacle across the river alights in a blaze of glory.  SUN!!!! The canyon has brightened and the day has arrived.  I wait for the boat that I know will come soon.  And, about an hour later, as the rising sun moves the shadow line onto the river, a canoe drifts from around the bend.  Two jovial men with a cooler in the middle.  I wave my arms calmly and motion for them to come over.  It feels like a cheesy Monty Python skit.

“Would you mind giving me a lift across the river?” I yell sheepishly.

One of the guys glances over to me and then to the other side of the river and sees my kayak and cooler on the beach.  They paddle up to the bank where I stand shirtless and weary.

“Did you spend all night over here?” the man asks.  He has a perplexed look on his face.

“I sure did, and I’m really glad to see you guys.”

“Okay, well, hop on the cooler here and we’ll get you over to the other side,” says the other guy.

Grateful, I step into their canoe as one of them hands me a glorious ice-cold bottle of water.

A few hours later I stand under a cool shower in a Moab motel and watch the water wash layers of mud and sand from my skin.  I’m human again.  After turning off the shower, I call home to hear my daughter’s sweet voice.

“I love you, Daddy”