Long overdue: where is this world heading?

It seems to me that this world of ours is running in overdrive towards many dramatic changes. Genetic research, cloning, electronic paper, computer evolution, mobile phones, GPS-systems; many more seem to me very likely to change our world for good. I’m curious to hear people’s views on these - and similar - changes.

An excellent book about where the computer aspect of the future is “The Age of Spiritual Machines” by Ray Kurzweil. Very interesting read. Some might find it a little scary, but I found it exciting.

Really, though, we think nukes are bad? As technology progresses life sure gets more interesting, but the potential for it to end becomes even more of a threat. Already the chem and bio warfare research that somehow still goes on in spite of the geneva convention scares the hell out of me.

What about nanobots? The book mentioned above makes a strange case for a nano-engineered machine threat

You might also try reading Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, which was written by Bill Joy, one of the cofounders of Sun Microsystems, for the April issue of Wired Magazine. It is an excellent article which explores some of the troubling implications of 21st-century technology. We’re at the beginning of a path that could lead to amazing achievements, but could also put the power to fundamentally alter our existence in the hands of someone with an idea and a little venture capital. Exciting, but also frightening.

Yes, I certainly agree that the rate of change has increased, since the information revolution. The world will change not only technologically. Huge social, economic, and cultural changes are also due.

What’s more interesting is that I have a feeling we haven’t seen the start of this yet. But being a technical person, I find it exciting, more than scary.

Social and cultural changes intrigue me the most. I could be wrong, but I can sense that an age of increasing technical complexity will lead to mass reversion to religion and other forms of belief. Not because people are scared and “need to believe”. Rather, with the increasing power and ease technology gives us, a moral standard because exigent.

Technology is a tool; in the right hands it will make the world better, in the wrong hands it has the potential to cause loads of suffering to millions. Religions have taken millenia to evolve into what we see today, and they do provide a ready-to-use moral code (ignoring any restrictions on free thinking).

Risks: Fundamentalism and religious wars.

Religious wars? It sure doesn’t take technology for that.

I agree, tho, that an increase in technology, which is amoral, may very well push some fence sitters into the moralists’ camp. That needn’t be religion necessarily, tho. Probably will be. Fear does some strange things to people.

The government, I think, won’t be able to do much about it either except try to respond to terrorist acts. The legislative progress necessary will probably be slow as usual, and in light of the speed of advancements ever-increasing, unless they hurry up and pass laws now for things that don’t even exist yet, we’ll find a whole lot not being done. Maybe MADD will finally shut up, and the million mom march will turn into some bizzarre luddite movement. :rolleyes:

But once its out, it is out for sure. We’re gonna have to learn to live with it somehow. Or we won’t, eh?

That was a nice article, btw. I still recommend reading “The Age of Spiritual Machines” if you haven’t; it is an incredible book. Pretty damn optomistic, though, even though he does go into some detail about what could go wrong. Plus, the cover is neat and shiny… :rolleyes: :smiley:

A LOT of SF authors (Niven and Brin spring to mind) believe that one major change in human society that is coming soon is that we will lose the concept of a ‘right to privacy’. This will have some major implications.

I also see some serious changes in how many hours are spent working. Automation will do away with a large percentage of the jobs out there (even my own career, network tech support, will not last more than another decade or two due to advances in expert systems and voice recognition software) - what will all these people do with their time?

Thank you, Lightkeeper, for a good input. For the last decades, the people of this world have been relieved from extreme faith in all types of religion. I myself have been an atheist for some years now. However, the more I know about the structure of life, for example our own DNA structure, and how complex an organ this earth of ours is, the more I tend to imagine that some divine force is bound to have designed it all! I always thought that increased scientific knowledge would undermine religion, but instead I find the oppisite! On these grounds I find it likely that people will start taking faith again during the next decades.

Taking it from a different angle, I would say that changes in the way the majority of people think will lead to alot of problems.
The way I see things, as knowledge becomes easier and easier to get, It is easier to get corrupted. Sometimes through ignorance and sometimes intentionally to make money or cause havoc. Look for example at some of what I call the new age movement: (my personal definition)
1)Ghosts, Demons, psychics ect- As more and more of the less educated (ok, stupid then, some are educated and still buy it)take to these type of things, it causes divisions between the “critical thinkers” and the “dividers”.
2)Moon landing Hoax, Pyramids built by aliens, psuedo-and fringe science, “alternative medicine”, and Ufo junkies-
Ok, these guys are normally somewhat more intelligence on average (IMO) than those in #1, but let thier beliefs get in the way of thier logic and reason. This causes many of the #1 people to accept it, after all, they are smarter than them, they must know what they are doing. The rift gets wider.(I consider the flat earthers and creationists to fall in the #1 category though some can actually fall in the #2 category)

If this situation does not get fixed, and the rift widens too much between the educated and non-educated, then our future may split.
This im sure is a major sci-fi topic (I personally havent read any books like this though), but in a situation like this, I can see the world as having the “Intelligent” and the “Stupid” with no Middle ground. Mabey the Intelligent ones get bored and move to mars in the future, Or send the Dumb ones there. Of course, there always seems to be riots of Ignorant people to storm the gates. So mabey even war? Possible.

I agree that war is somewhat likely if the, er, “intelligence gap” increases, but I think its cause would more likely stem from misplaced greed.

I find a trend in modern thinkers to revolve around the zen ideal of the society as a completely connected organism, and thus the product of any one person’s labor is in a way the product of everyone’s labor. Thus, we “deserve” a part of that product. The problem is in the exponential increase in technology with the infinite wants of humanity. The more we get, the more we can get. The more we can get, the more we should get. Thus, anything we don’t get is being withheld from us against our will.

Or something along those lines.

According to a new book, The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed by Rapidly Advancing Technologies by Damien Broderick, the curve of technology is becoming asymptotic; that is, it extrapolates to an infinite level of technological advance by around the year 2050! The author argues that what this means is that by that time, we will have technologies that so alter the human condition that no one can predict what might happen afterwards.

What I have often wondered is when will we reach a point where no thought is required to live any part of our daily lives. Take the issue of food for example. We think much less about food today then people in earlier eras. Many people today rarely face a food decision more complicated than choosing between the Big Mac or the McChicken sandwich, and some adults are never involved with the process of making food. In the future, the machines may make all our food, maybe even plotting the menu to give us things that are healthy and specially designed to please our unique taste buds. Maybe some people will go their entire life without ever devoting one brain cell to thoughts about food. And obviously the same might apply to many other areas of our daily lives.

Anyway, the question is what effect would this have on us. With more time, will humans create new ideas that will revolutionize the world, or merely sit around watching TV (or the technology that replaces TV) all day.

I hate to be the big pessimist, but I think it will be hot in the future

And population growth is not looking to well either: about a fifty-one year doubling time.

And then there is the loss of biodiversity:

Incidentally, the last “biological crisis” was the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Is this depressing or what?

“Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?”

Not the worst summnation…

i’m more worried about the difference in knowledge among members of society than the technology itself. i watched stereo salesman BS customers 20+ years ago. i can only imagine what’s going on in computer stores today. i was at a multi-million dollar company in 85 asking how much memory was on their mainframe. i was selling 286s with 16 Meg as servers at the time. the mainframe had 24 Meg. now you get 128 meg if you don’t try hard. i think very few people understand how much computing power they have, and how much is wasted on useless hi-res graphics and silly noises.

another potential that scares me is what someone knowledgable about micro-biology might be able to do with computing power for designer viruses. the government may be able to do it today, but who won’t be able to do it in 20 years. good thing i’m old.

Dal Timgar

from the Bill Joy article above:

Is that really of dream of the folks working on robotics? Another assertion of the article is that within 30 years we will have computers capable of human intelligence.

My problem with this assertion is that we don’t really know how we think. We also don’t know how life itself began. Sure there is the Big Bang. But we don’t know how life really started.

So will these machines have human-level, creative thoughts and be alive?

I think some designers and programers may think a little too highly of their abilities.

On the other hand, thinking and living machines are not necessary for us to cause our own demise or create a vastly unjust world. As mentioned by others, the negative impact we’ve had on nature may be sufficient for our extinction.

It’s enough to make you hope there is a God and that he/she/it has mercy on us.

Have I become a Luddite?

Good topic. I started a similar thread almost a year ago; permit me to reiterate my own speculation:

  1. Here in the U.S., I think we’re moving closer to a fee-for-service society. Not to the extent of Brazil, necessarily, where money spent on private security firms outstrips the funding for local police, but I see the continued privatization of many things. Certainly the Internet–also parks, beaches, roads, utilities, health care, security, all to a greater degree than today. As evidence, I present the ascendancy of market liberal determinism as a cross-ideological Weltanschauung–the belief that government is increasingly vestigial except as an instrument to facilitate the freedom of markets. (Not that the government bureaucracy won’t be alive and well–a primary function of government has always been self-perpetuation, after all.) Also, anectodally, the proliferation of gated communities, and the concomitant disconnect with civic nationalism.

  2. By the same token globally, the emergence of corporations as something akin to autonomous nation-states will occur (in my opinion) within the next quarter-century. Multinationals increasingly transcend national sovereignty, and the institutional structure of international law is largely designed to faciliate business interests (vis a vis the World Trade Organization’s ability to nullify national policy, and the IMF’s role as world debtor and shaper of national policy); it’s not a stretch to imagine corporations assuming a non-territorial sovereignty of their own, which could change the scope of geopolitics considerably.

I’d say that I still agree with the substance of those predictions.

I think you must not forget (and this has been mentioned several times so far in this thread) that all of these predictions are contingent on 1) our financial/political networks staying intact and 2) the biosphere continuing to support the quality of life needed to fund this new research. All it takes is one wayward meteor (note: we spend more money on sporting events than even looking for these buggers, much less figuring out how to deflect one–sometimes I really think we don’t deserve to survive as a species) and you can say auf wiedersein to all these rosy predictions of the future.

You are quite correct. The privatization of public services is well underway. In fact, the US already spends more on private security than public police (not the latter are lacking funds either). This phenomena is seems to be occurring in other countries. A quick internet search reveals the same privatization of police in Australia and South Africa.

It is much more difficult to quantify your second point, but I would argue corporatization of public policy is well under way as well. For example, look at Bush’s Top Contributors. As the Wall Street Journal headline (July 30, 2000) noted “Bush Donors Have Long Wish-List and Expect Results” (not trying to get in a partisan debate here, the Democrats do the same).

:o Pretend that WSJ headline was July 31, 2000.