About eight months ago, we started a site and gave it a name: Cog and Sprocket. We knew we wanted to do more writing and thinking together, but we didn’t know much beyond that. So we made a blank canvas to throw some paint on. The name Cog & Sprocket reflected a lot of things: our duality, the importance of individual components in larger systems, a sense of mechanical structure. But mostly, it reflected the fact that we didn’t know what the hell it was yet.
Over the intervening months — several posts and many paint splatters later — that focus and purpose has been emerging. Alexis started our Six Signals newsletter as a way of collecting and thinking through the weak signals of the near future she was seeing. About a month ago, Matt starting co-authoring the newsletter. In the meantime, we both started (or are about to start) new jobs. Through our collaboration, we began to rediscover a process we had created at The New York Times R&D Lab for building hypotheses about emerging futures and technological possibilities. We had a lot of late-night conversations, talking through not only what technology makes possible, but how we can design with new tech to intentionally create something better.
That something better is an ethically-designed future, one where the ethos of “Move fast and break things” has been replaced with “Move thoughtfully and fix things”. One where systems empower people rather than exploiting them. One where the impact of small decisions are truly considered, and understood to have deep and long-term effects. One where we design with emergent behavior and unintended consequences in mind. One where we spend as much, if not more, time answering the question “What should we make?” as “What can we make?”
And so we’re pleased to announce the creation of the Ethical Futures Lab, where we hope to grow and shape these ideas further. The lab will be a space for writing and analysis, critical making, and community building. Six Signals will continue under the auspices of Ethical Futures Lab, along with more in-depth writing from us as well as guest authors. We’ll be making things as we’re inspired to, much as we had when we worked together at the R&D Lab, in an effort to illustrate better outcomes and inspire others toward them. We’ll be convening conversations among experts and practitioners who are deeply engaged with these issues. And we’ll encourage attention — and at some point, maybe even investment — toward entrepreneurs and creative thinkers who are showing us the best of what technology can do for a just society.
We’re excited to begin, and eager to see how this idea grows and matures. We hope you’ll join us, starting with signing up for the newsletter, but also by reaching out to us with your ideas for topics to cover, your thoughts on potential collaboration, and your hopes for a better tomorrow.
To the future,
Matt and Alexis