August 19, 2011

On the pernicious de-radicalization of the radical future

Over the past several years a good number of "futurists" and all-out naysayers have systematically worked to undermine and dismiss the potential for radical change to occur in the not-too-distant future. A number of commentators—including some of my colleagues at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies—have openly rejected the potential for paradigmatic changes to occur. While I've always been more a fan of concepts than time-lines, there is little doubt in my mind that a number of disruptive technologies that have been predicted over the past few decades will eventually come to fruition.

But it's suddenly become very fashionable to poo-poo or sweep-aside the pending impacts of such things as the looming robotics and manufacturing revolutions, the rise of super AI, radical life extension, or the migration of humans to postbiological form. My best guesses as to why include the arrogance of the now (i.e. "we currently live at the most special of times and things will never change too significantly"), distraction (i.e. "there are other more important issues that require our attention"), fear of looking silly or losing credibility, denial, weak imaginations, and just plain ignorance.

As David Deutsch notes in his latest book, The Beginning of Infinity, humans are a remarkable species in that they serve as universal constructors. So long as the laws of physics are honoured and the requisite amounts of resources are provided, the space of all possible inventions remains massively large and profound. As for the denialism that has suddenly crept into futurist circles, the burden of proof is shifting increasingly to them; the naysayers need to explain exactly how it is that we'll never come to develop these technologies—and how their presence won't change the fabric of life and the human condition itself.

A number of scientists, engineers and futurists have dedicated their careers to predicting technological possibilities and their resultant social ramifications. With names like Eric Drexler, Robert Freitas, Aubrey de Grey, Gregory Stock, Ray Kurzweil, and Nick Bostrom, these predictions are coming from heavy-hitting thinkers; this ain't your father's Popular Science "flying car" style futurism. And in many cases, the further we progress into the future, the more credible these claims are appearing to be.

Here's a quick overview of what's been predicted—developments that will forever alter what we currently think of as normalcy and the human condition:
So, just keep on thinking that the future is going to be more of the same.


benjamin aldes wurgaft said...

After a Spring of reasonably good PR for Kurzweil and a summer of (related?) attacks on the plausibility of radical and disruptive change, this reminder that things will be different is much appreciated.

Hiro said...

Of all of these the only one that seems to present a kind of absolute change is an A.I. super-intelligence. Each of the others will radically change the face of humanity, but won't really fundamentally alter the balances of power in society, and consequently the fabric of that society. There will still be the haves and the have-nots, no matter how far the standard of living is raised (even perhaps post material scarcity).

ZarPaulus said...

I very much doubt the Singularity will occur within a century. The brain is by no means a simple digital computer and there is evidence suggesting that the "processing power" of that hunk of cheese between your ears is thousands of times higher than Kurzweil estimated.

Anonymous said...

"As summed up by George Dvorsky last Friday, the broad trends of technology in the 21st century seem very likely to involve the progressive development of eternal youth’s tech between 2020 and 2060. Artificial superintelligence, molecular nanotechnology, enhanced and modified humans (i.e. cyborgs, genetically altered humans, postbiological beings) are keys elements of this not-so-far future. If you get to live (with help of LEV’s strategies) until 2040, you will probably have access to unlimited lifespan. Aubrey de Grey, a leading anti-aging’s expert, has predicted that the first person to live to be 1000 years old is already born. But if you can live 1000 years, why wouldn’t you be able to live 1 million’s more ?[...]"

The full article here: