By the middle of the 21st century seven very plausible trends could change our world profoundly: (1) Small-scale Manufacturing, (2) Large Scale Social Re-organization, (3) Artificial Intelligence, Networks, and Robotics; (4) Advances in Medical Science, (5) Climate Control, (6) High-Speed Travel, and (7) An Emerging New “Mind”.
Philosophy, in a scarcely noticed transition, has increasingly begun to focus on the future. Having first recognized the deeper structures of evolution as critical to our understanding of the human condition, it has drifted—along with cognitive processes in general—toward the leading edges of evolution, i.e., the future and how to construct it. We applaud this direction and intend in this column to fully embrace it.
Each of the seven trends mentioned will integrate with and accelerate the others. The first trend includes nanotechnology as described by K. Eric Drexler who invented its modern scope and science. Nanotechnology, he says, “will enable radical abundance, not just in the world of information, but in the world of tangible, physical products as well.”
Every material thing, down to the “implicit” realm underlying quantum mechanics, is composed of smaller parts. New techniques are already used in manipulating atoms and molecules to transform matter into new things that we need, some never before seen in the Universe.
[Every new development, of course, has its dark side. Here we will look only at the benefits. The reader is encouraged, however, to do his or her own research and to uncover the whole story.]
As new nano-techniques and materials are brought into mass production, they will become less and less expensive. In the not so distant future we could each have all the basic necessities available at minimal cost. Imagine the changes that would take place if we could move to a world economy that is structured around abundance rather than scarcity.
Within this same category but at somewhat larger scales, 3-D printers and CNC cutters are becoming cheaper, more automated, and more sophisticated. In a few decades small communities in arid deserts, on mountaintops, and those floating on oceans will be able to manufacture or grow almost everything they need. They will thus become essentially self-contained, self-sufficient, and capable of a high degree of independence. Huge cities will be re-organized into smaller, self-governing and self-sufficient units.
All the above will facilitate the second item on our list: smaller units of society will be integrated into larger decision-making frameworks that govern only on those issues that extend beyond local boundaries.
A global re-organization society will have begun. This will most likely lead to the development of a global framework to support trade, provide jobs, reduce current levels of inequality, enhance information-sharing, peace-keeping, climate control, and manage large-scale projects designed to further the evolution of life and other forms of adaptive and creative intelligence.
“Big Data,” the collection, communication, and analysis of large amounts of data will provide new levels of expert consultation in every field, including that of democratic decision-making. This, in turn, will support new organizational forms and processes.
Along with the new levels of knowledge, new methods of education, child-rearing, and life-long learning must be available, or humans will not know how to interact with rapidly changing levels of science and technology. Societal values, psychological orientations, and a universal sense of purpose along with meaningful work for everyone will have to be carefully selected and in place in order to prevent segments of the population from drifting into ennui, anomie, and irrelevance or even violent aggression to achieve selfish ends.
Human survival will require that high levels of privacy, extreme individualism, secret bank accounts, terrorist organizations, and the opaque decision-making so common today in corporations, banks, and government give way to a more open, transparent, and cooperative standard of operation. This will be become increasingly necessary as technologies of destruction are miniaturized and made more sophisticated.
Thirdly, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), networked systems, and Robotics will significantly advance, be integrated into all of the other streams of change, and will accelerate them. The several levels of Internet, each specializing in particular types of algorithm, knowledge, learning, and memory; will encourage the emergence of new, broader, and higher levels of “mind”. The integration of biological, social, and machine intelligence will emerge to help solve many of the previously stubborn problems of humankind.
Personal assistants will be increasingly sophisticated and valuable. Without shoring up laws and societal structures in advance of these changes, however, many humans could become victims of technology managed for personal gain by some at the expense of others. Since this is, in fact, already happening, it would be wise for humanity as a whole to quickly wake up to this danger and take action to counter it.
At a deep level, the new flows of information will increasingly take the form of “mental processes” and will follow a path similar to that of the biological evolution of minds. With a wider range of sensory inputs, motor outputs, and types of pattern recognition and creation, levels of intelligence will be achieved that have not yet been seen in any strictly biologically-based minds.
That brings us to wonder number four: Advances in Medical Science, especially Genetics, Cyborg Enhancement, and Longevity Studies. The actual clinical application of the results of these three closely-related fields of science has thus far been limited. There is every reason to believe, primarily from animal studies, that progress in each of them will accelerate, and that by the middle and three-quarter marks of this century they will be dramatically changing human nature.
We can only imagine, along with futuristic thinkers like Aubrey de Gray, Ray Kurzweil, and others that by the end of the 21st century human individuals will live to be 5000 years old, sit at the bottom of swimming pools for several hours with oxygen delivered to their tissues by artificial red blood cells, replace their body parts with artificial organs, connect their brains directly to AI systems, and share their thoughts via direct brain-to-brain connections over vast distances. Early progress has already been made toward each of these ends.
None of the other streams of progress will go far, of course, unless we can learn how to control climate change, our fifth anticipated “miracle.” This is the diciest of issues. The others will progress, more or less, if left alone. The science of climate control, however, is bogged down in disputes between scientists on one side and political profiteers on the other.
To date, sadly, there is very little progress on the science of climate control. CO2 production, now with atomospheric levels over 400ppm, continues to climb despite evidence that the upper limit for a sustainable climate as we know it is 350ppm. Human systems do not for the most part seem capable of responding rationally to this extinction threat.
The principal problem is the danger of “overshoot.” We may not be able to detect when a catastrophic and irreversible level of greenhouse gas has been reached until it is already too late.
This being the case, not to put vast resources into climate science as part of a globally coordinated project is beyond being foolish. It risks human extinction, and every human being ought to do something to further advances in policy or in the science of climate control before it’s too late.
There is much that needs to be done to further development of conservation of energy resources, non-carbon fuels, and sustainable sources of energy. Time is the quintessence of survival.
And thus we arrive at number six on the list: high-speed travel on Earth and in the sky. Why choose transportation to discuss, instead of agricultural production, population reduction, or the language barriers? Actually, each of these, though essential to a healthy future, are likely to be advanced by means that come under other categories already mentioned. They are, unquestionably, more important now and in the near future than travel.
However, travel, both on Earth and in space, will become more and more important and eventually will be among the most important activities in which humans and other forms of intelligence engage. At some point in the future, humans will have to leave the Earth behind in order to survive. Space travel now is prelude to mass migrations in the future.
Travel time and the expense of travel on Earth are limiting our progress. Distances keep us apart in more ways than one. In order to learn to live in peace on Earth, we will have to meet some strangers. We must learn about each other and from each other.
Resources in one part of the planet are sometimes needed on an emergency basis in a distant part of the planet. Getting a stroke or heart attack victim to an Emergency Room on time is a life or death issue. A particular form of specialty surgery may only be found on the other side of the world.
Conferences and seminars require either travel or video communication, but direct person-to-person contact offers significant advantages.
Working at home and communicating via the Internet or videoconferencing can make travel unnecessary, but when it’s required we ought be able to do it faster and more safely than by current methods. Computer-controlled driverless roads and vehicles, hyperloop trains, supersonic rockets and planes, transportation by drones, and private spaceship companies offer interesting possibilities.
Lastly, we come to a subject that is rarely discussed in public media: the emergence of a new “mind” already mentioned in the discussion of wonder number three above. Now, however, we will specifically address the rise of a “mind” so different from those we currently enjoy, and so powerfully intelligent, that it will have many of the characteristics of what we now call “God”.
What would the world be like if humanity gradually came to agree that we as a species, together with all the advances mentioned above and more, were becoming the very God we once imagined and projected into the heavens?
How would we relate to each other, how would we spend our days on Earth, how would we organize ourselves, if we all shared the Universal Purpose of creating a societal mind so intelligent, so capable, so caring, and so omnipresent that it could actually answer each person’s prayers with at least an explanation of what would and would not be done?
And how would we live our lives if we believed we were creating a system that would deliver on its promise to provide each of us and our progeny with the closest thing to everlasting life that is possible? Would we not also demand good health, pleasures, and happiness for everyone? Should we not also expect the daily sense of meaningfulness, joy, and excitement that accompanies new discoveries?
And how would we feel knowing ourselves as parts of a new form of “mind” that is eternally becoming better than the Gods of old—actually capable of giving and receiving pleasures, learning ever more about the Universe, how it came to exist, how we can make it evolve; how we can contribute to a continually greater adaptive, creative, and healing intelligence of the future…and doing it all with a wisdom as deep as a whole Universe of intelligent systems that share a Universal Purpose?