Thursday, October 03, 2013

My Old Vision of the Future

A while back, I was awakened to the predicament humanity is in, due to our use over about 200 years of fossil fuels that took millions of years to produce, and the likelihood that a) we are running out of this stuff and b) our use of it is destabilizing the climate. But before that, I wrote a somewhat optimistic "background" piece about what would be happening in the year 2019. Here it is:
Year: 2019:
Simple, trainable (at the level of about a dog) appliances are beginning to be seen in society. Robotic cars are appearing on the road, and with their advanced performance, they are being accepted hungrily by society. Initiatives are beginning to be proposed that would allocate special lanes to these augmented vehicles. Some have even proposed that human drivers be banished from the roads, but most feel that's not necessary. Instead, safety devices have been developed that take control of the vehicle if the human driver attempts to make a dangerous move, falls asleep or becomes impaired.
Without the need to support a human driver, bus and taxi travel has become so inexpensive that most people - especially city dwellers - don't need to actually own a vehicle. Autonomous vehicles swarm like bees, with an empty one at your door in just a minute or two.

People are starting to realize that they will no longer be needed in jobs that consist of repetitive hand-eye coordination operations, like driving, assembling products, or even cooking. All new commercial trucks are robotic, and retrofit kits are selling wildly.
Scientists and Engineers - those who think and solve problems for a living - realize that their livelihoods are threatened too. Not nearly as quickly as laborers, but quickly enough. Many of these scientists speak of intelligence augmentation, the integration of computer interfaces directly into their heads. Along with this is a growing excitement that the heralded singularity - the birth of general artificial intelligence - is actually going to happen.
Grandiose plans for solving the world's problems: warfare, hunger, environmental conditions, are giving way to small, distributed solutions involving robotic distribution, ubiquitous automated surveillance, and open systems architecture for forming public policy.

Religious fundamentalism has begun to die off as access to information from all over the world has been able to spread, due to the development of instant human language translation. All phones have translation capability, and a real babelfish - the device conceived by Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe author Douglas Adams, that one inserts into his one's ear to hear any language translated to one's own - are on the market. Because language is no longer the barrier it was, any opinion can be shared among the world's population, and people are beginning to realize how much they have in common, even as they nurture their own unique cultures.
Appreciation of human performance has branched into two groups: performers including athletes, dancers and artists whose bodies have not been modified, and those whose bodies incorporate the latest biomechanical technology. The International Olympic Committee has advanced stringent screening policies to assure that only unmodified athletes can participate, but outside of the Olympics, there are a dazzling variety of world records being set in endurance, strength, speed and agility.
Against this technological background, humans still do what humans have always done: fall in love, get married, raise families, and work to improve their lives. They also enjoy unprecedented entertainment choices: besides participating as athletes or performers, anyone can participate in vividly realistic and elaborate alternative realities. Computer communication devices are everywhere, so where's nowhere that you cannot be tied into the world network. Wearing binocular display glasses that incorporate tiny cameras into them, your personal reality can be modified to include elements of fantasy, or to exclude visual clutter. The cameras intercept the scene in front of you; the computer adds, subtracts or modifies the image, then the displays present it to your eyes.
The cyborg label that used to attend anyone who wore complicated cybernetic eyewear is diminishing. The optical systems that sit in front of the wearer's eyes in a modern eye display are transparent, allowing others to make eye contact with the wearer.
For some people - a rising number actually - it is not sufficient to modify reality from outside the body. Drugs and now even electronic devices can enable the fine-tuning of emotional states. This technology is so far only able to effect gross changes, such as cheering you up, or preventing hunger or cravings of various kinds. Your thoughts themselves are still a dark secret. At least they are this year....
In a world of perfect connection, you can never be lost, but you cannot easily hide either, at least, not from the legal authorities. For everyone else, you can enter a "not available - do not contact" mode, with customizable lists of keep-outs and emergency break ins. No one outside the people you specify will be able to contact you. Many people have adopted strict off-the-clock times, and it's a matter of much discussion in etiquette circles. Excessive "absence" is seen as rude, so there's some care to be taken with your settings.
Interest in personal privacy has blossomed, in backlash to the excessive abandonment of privacy by many individuals in the early years of the century.
Increasingly, each year seems separate from the last by huge tides of change. The world is constantly dishing up surprise after surprise, with pleasant surprises finally beginning to outnumber unpleasant ones. After a decade and a half of unpredictable weather, failing economies, refugee crises, drowning cities, earthquakes and disease outbreaks, things seem to be settling into a calmer pattern.
The disparity between the intellectually gifted and those who are not is diminishing. Even without a hardware interface to the brain, computers are just so damn helpful. Long gone are the days when you had to learn all about computers to use one. These days, if you can state your problem, the computer can find the help you need.
Everyone is wondering whether there will be a giant employment crash, but so far it hasn't happened. When the financial system was overhauled a few years back, it was decided that there would be a human dividend: Every man, woman and child would be entitled to basic support, simply due to their membership in the human race, which collectively built the tools to get everyone here. This was a trickle-down effect on a massive scale, that took no time to catch on, but was a daring proposal at the time. Anyone who wanted more than this basic support - which, incidentally included food, shelter, unlimited access to information/communication and health care - could take on any sort of occupation that he desired. Reward systems were standardized, and rewarded not only those occupations that contributed to the economic system, but that contributed to the overall well-being of humanity. Many chose to relocate from their advanced societies in the west, to areas where people needed the most help.
Everyone knows that AI is just around the corner. Progress in both the top-down reverse engineering of animal and human brains and bottom-up development of machine intelligence algorithms has been a phenomenon. Today, the concern of many is that artificial intelligences will be unknowable, and this is almost certain. These intelligences will be unknowable by someone who isn't also augmented, incorporating a bit of AI into themselves. However, these AIs will be able to know us, and will be able to interact with us on our terms, even as they devote only a percent or two of their intellect to doing so. It is predicted that by 2025, a real general AI will appear, and that will be the “knee” in the curve of accelerating change; the inflection point or singularity beyond which all bets are off.
Kids entering college a decade ago had no guarantees that what they were studying in school would be at all useful in earning a living when they finished. Usually that was true, but the universities knew that the specific subject matter wasn't what was really being taught, beyond standardizing students in a set of common skills.. The thing that was being taught was how to acquire knowledge as needed, to incorporate it into one's intellect, and to use it do develop further knowledge. As the saying goes, "You don't really understand a thing until you can explain it to someone else."

That's where I left off. I couldn't think of a way of summarizing the darn thing, and after my "awakening", it didn't seem to matter.
It's interesting how I brush off the "unpredictable weather, failing economies" etc. with words that indicate that this was an aberration instead of a new normality.
I wonder how far along the path to the future we will get before we just can't, anymore. I have basically lost interest in this future, and instead, I'm finding new ways of living a much less complex, fragile existence. I plan on writing much more about it right here.


Missy Staley said...

That, dear sir, was fascinating. One of the most fascinating things I have read in a long time. It is a future that, on a slightly darker scale, we are well on our way to achieving. I am very sorry, however,to hear that you have now lost hope in the future. There is always hope, we just have to find it. Maybe things won't turn out perfect, but life is always more interesting when they don't. God bless you.

brain said...

Thanks, Missy,
True, life does get interesting when things don't work out the way you thought they were going to. I wonder just how "interesting" the future will get.
At any rate, I am not giving up all hope. There's lots of real work to be done, and judicious use of appropriate technology.
I think if i were a young person today, I would be a WWOOFer.

linda M said...

You came to a wise choice in my opinion even if at the moment it may seem sad.. I think that your future scenario was beautiful for what its worth though. "if only"…..
An alternate future isn't any less beautiful or need not be. I suppose as more people wake up we might feel more hope but enough people are awake that we can actually make life better for others too (Green Wizards abound).

Brian Rich said...

Thanks Linda.
Did you see John Michael Greer's blog post today? It is excellent, just like many of his books, including The Ecotechnic Future and Green Wizardry. They are guiding tomes for me now.

Here's a link to the blog post:


linda M said...

Brian, thanks for pointing me back to that post at the Archduid Report. He's on my radar as you know but I have not had much time to keep up with him of late.

I loved that post! Infact there are things there that my husband and I have been doing for awhile such as alternative medicine and our big old masonry heater.

I also loved that he spoke of the contemporary green movement simply because I know people like that. I call it the trend of "positivism" which looks good on the outside yet doesn't face the facts on a deeper level. I guess its a coping skill. I send them over to his blog but I don't think they like it much as of now-its not sugar coated.

One of the things I mentioned to one of my dear green friends was that another friend was from Jordan and he told me how the only running water to be had in his town was to the houses on the route to the palace. Naturally. Looking at third world countries like Jordan-who have the riches but horde the limited resources-thats our future and I am glad that Greer brought that up too.

I don't feel negative about this-my story is too long to post here but I do think that once a person faces an awakening and begins the stage of strategizing-and doing-one begins to feel more in control than every before.
I am friends with some Amish who have made me see that life outside of technology is livable. More than livable actually. Its happy. And safe for now.

What were your thoughts after reading the article?

Brian Rich said...

My thoughts were that JMG is right on, and so I am undergoing a radical change in my life to get a bit more skill in the areas I'm lacking. I've focused my whole career on Physics and the hard sciences. Now I need to learn more about gardening, foraging, animal husbandry, natural and herbal medicine, emergency medical practice, and a list that is too long. I am hoping that there are others in my immediate area that can help, or take on some of this upskilling, because I can't learn it all! I am also trying to educate my youngest children, the ones still at home.
Yesterday I visited the Green Wizards' Forum to post an introduction, but the forum has disabled posting except by permission. Today I have permission, so I'm going to post. Anyone who wants to reply, though, needs to also get their memberships unlocked.

Thanks for your continued comments!

linda M said...

You sound positive ! I didn't know that the forum went private like that but I stopped going because it wasn't that active-maybe it is now.

One thing I can suggest to you is the Regenerative Leadership Institute which is a permaculture organization. If you sign up it will let you find your location with the hopes that you will connect with others in your area. Another big thing in some areas is the Yahoo Meetup. When I lived in Chicago this was how I got to network with beekeepers and permaculturists. There is not guarantee that your area will be that active but you could start something. Park districts and such things sometimes have events. I should write this on my blog too.
One step at a time. You have a huge list there to tackle. Community I think is everything though so taking your first step in that direction is awesome. If every I can help you in anyway, I am willing. I've been doing a lot of stuff for a long time now.