Tremendous Exponential Future vs. Incredible Selfish Stupidity

I took a serious look at the world’s future when I attended a masters degree course on the future in Hawaii in 1973 for a public administration degree. My classmates were mostly Vietnam veterans who went off when our professor entered with his long hair, unkempt beard, Hawaiian shirt, Bermudas and sandals. I suspected many might withdraw mentally or physically from the course. It turned out our professor was more conservative than any of them. He became their and my hero far before the semester ended because he forced us to take a serious view of the future for our children and grandchildren.

For our major paper, we had to predict the future cybernetic advances would bring. I found that a stimulating exercise and my paper was surprisingly accurate in predicting how massively computers would change America and the world. What I got most wrong was how fast it would happen. Some things like 3D virtual reality complete with sounds that would mean people could travel anywhere remaining in their own home or how office paperwork and libraries would disappear are still a ways off. I did predict that the impact would rival the discovery of things like the wheel or living in one place.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my predictions were based on what Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist at MIT now calls, The Laws Of Accelerating Returns. He says, “In an evolutionary process, positive feedback increases order exponentially. A correlate is that the “returns” of an evolutionary process (such as the speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall “power” of a process) increase exponentially over time — both for biology and technology.”

The Daily telegraph ran a story this week quoting Kurzweil that said he claimed humans could become immortal in as little as 20 years time through nanotechnology and an increased understanding of how the body works.

I have anything but a mathematical mind. My reasoning in 1973 was based on the simple premise of exponential growth. The faster the computers got, the faster change would would happen exponentially. What I also didn’t count on and certainly should have was the stupidity and greed of my fellow humans.

I point this out not to be self-serving, but to pose that I do have some credentials for predicting the future not on the scale of an MIT professor who has made it his life’s work. I said in the late ’80s that our next war would be an economic war. China would surpass us economically based on population, low wages and ability of the government to control events within China. I readily admit that although Nostredamus may have predicted it, I did not see the unnecessary and damaging wars we would start and maintain in the Middle East or that peace would still be so far off between Israel and the Palestinians. Having just left U.S. Central Command in 1986 and being a part of the military-industrial complex for 25 years and naively believing that congress still had members who would decide things for the good of the greater community, I was very ignorant about the real world and the corrupt thinking that existed in New York-Washington train corridor. It was only after retiring in 2006 and fully entering the Internet world, that my naivete has almost disappeared.

I foresaw back in 1973 that science and medicine would greatly benefit from computers and the linking of them which became the Internet. I did not predict immortality or DNA or the marvels of growing organs and replacing blind eyes with technical vision. They will soon be a reality and in fact already are in crude form.

Professor Kurzweil says the certainty of immortality could be achieved in twenty years. He is an expert that sees the future far better than me and someone we should all listen to. A freshman at the University of Chicago Shane Mackey, whose high school credentials are very impressive, says about Kursweil:

Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist at MIT, has recently calculated that we will see a century of technological change in the next 25 years. Kurzweil believes that exponential growth of computational power – up by an astonishing 40 billion times in the past 40 years – has set the stage for ever-accelerating technological change. This exponential growth, which he calls “the law of accelerating returns,” proved predictive of many of the techological advances at the end of the last century. According to Kurzweil, “the rate of technological progress is speeding up, now doubling each decade….

Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, well known in the scientific arena for his numerous accomplishments and revolutionary concepts. He was a pioneer in the fields of text-to-speech synthesis, reading devices for the blind, and electronic keyboards. Yet with all of these admirable achievements, the area where Kurzweil has influenced me the most is in his work with the Law of Accelerating Returns. This law has shown that technological progress is exponentially growing, doubling every 12 to 18 months, and that we will soon be able to extend our lives, enhance our bodies and minds, and rebuild our environment from the atom up. This exponential rate occurs because one technological advancement gives us the ability to make an even higher technological advancement. The speed at which this rate is increasing is what brings me the confidence and excitement to further my academics and career in biology.

Most of the major universities have world class facilities and cutting edge experiments that will shape the future of medicine, so when I study gene therapy, synthetic biology, regenerative stem cell therapy, RNA interference, computer-brain interfacing, cybernetics, and artificial general intelligence, I know that each one of these fields will grow rapidly. These fields will include more and more tools, procedures, engineers, and facilities that will manifest results quickly as data is gathered and shared between university laboratories, governments, and private companies throughout the world. This offer of such an open, expansive future has never been given to humanity before, and I hope to seize this opportunity and reap the benefits for mankind.

Having laid out a timeline for the next thirty-five years of technological growth, Kurzweil shows that within the next decade (2010-2020), biotechnology will mature and begin to produce results that will not only extend our longevity by many decades but also eventually find solutions for the seven cellular problems that result in frailty, disease, and death (barring accidents), which will allow us to live for hundreds of years with our bodies in a youthful and rejuvenated state. In the last few years, I have been following the research of laboratories around the world that are already investigating remedies to the cellular causes of aging. What originally sounded to me like science fiction has suddenly become very attainable, and by the time I finish college and graduate/medical school, the first commercial products from this anti-aging research will have begun to emerge.

In the following decade (2020-2030), nanotechnology will develop into a fully fledged industry. For me, as I plan to be both an MD and a research biologist, I will be able to utilize molecule-sized instruments and machines inside of our bodies to analyze, clean, repair, and replace our cells on a massive scale by the time I am in my thirties. With the advancement of both biotechnology and nanotechnology, human enhancement will include expanding our senses, gaining new physical abilities, receiving genetic improvements, and incorporating nano-materials into our bodies for increased strength, flexibility, and longevity.

The fourth decade of the twenty-first century (2030-2040) is when we will acquire Artificial General Intelligence (AGI, self-aware robots). Once advanced robots with AGI are given the ability to alter their own hardware and software they will accelerate their own intelligence many millions of times in a very short period of time. Once again, in my position as a forty year old MD/research biologist, I will already be deeply immersed in the science and engineering of cybernetics and computer-brain interfacing which will allow us to link up with AGI beings and thus utilize these machines to advance humanity beyond our current expectations. To allow for this computer-brain interfacing, ongoing studies such as Intel’s three-dimensional transistors and quantum computing, multitasking’s effect on dendrite growth, genetic data mining to find causes of improved brain abilities, programming shape-shifting micro robots called catoms, and nano and neuron based wires for interfacing these future computers and appliances are in effect. These technologies show how artificially intelligent beings can utilize computer brain interfaces to link up to humans with organic brain enhancements to multiply our intelligence one hundred fold and eventually, a thousand or even million fold.

What our young scientist doesn’t talk about is what kind of world will exist during those decades and how many humans will benefit from these marvels. The future is grim from global warming that little is being done about, a world population that still grows when water and resources are diminishing, and foolish leaders who still want nuclear weapons to bring them stature and power. Human immortality is just one more way the powerful can rule over the multitudes and exact an even greater cost on the underclass and oppressed.

There is only one hope for both America and the world. We have to learn to make decisions for the good of the greater community. The people have to take the power and control away from the selfish few who could care less about others or their grandchildren’s future. Our European neighbors are setting an example that we should follow. They have accepted the power of strong governments which serve the people. They have their problems, yet are far ahead of us.

We have the ability through the Internet, to organize and get it done. Those in power in the U.S. have our efforts so divided because of the myriad of vital issues, that we make little progress. When protestors at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh try to protest they are treated as criminals by our police and military. We have far too many dupes, including many so called political leaders who serve those who are doing them grave harm and destroying their and our future.

I know I can be accused of simplistic and naive thinking to believe such a revolution could happen. I also know we have little time left to prepare for the fantastic future that could be ahead of us.

13 Comments

  1. cocktailhag says:

    Great post, Paul, and I certainly share your skepticism about where all this “better living through science” is supposed to be leading us, even as the whole world faces resource crises and a “rich” country like ours tolerates such economic devastation of its lower classes, alongside obscene wealth at the top. That kid has spent too much time just studying one thing, and needs to get out more.

  2. sysprog says:

    Satan will hide many traps for us, in this new technology – -

    - – and none more satanic than http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21271545/

    - – which is always wrong.

    • rmp says:

      On the second link, it depends on whether one is seeking perfection or enjoys the adventure of human frailties and surprises. I don’t see why it belongs in the wrong category. The question is always, wrong for who. If a couple agrees on ground rules no matter how bizarre they seem to others, it can’t be wrong unless it harms more than the couple.

      • sysprog says:

        I was just trying to spice things up.

        The wording in that second link (“always wrong”) was a direct quote from the linked site – - a Christian site.

        • rmp says:

          I appreciate your spicing things up. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we couch things as either right or wrong. Things have beneficial or unbeneficial consequences to varying degrees would be a better way to frame things than good or bad. Our American good guys or bad guys approach has gotten us into a myriad of serious problems and often kept us from solving them. We are generally way to simplistic when examining and solving problems.

          • sysprog says:

            Agreed.

            If it were true that a cartoonishly pure “bad guy” and pure “good guy” actually existed, then those unreal pure guys would be incapable of making moral decisions. If one’s inclinations are purely good or purely bad, then there’s no morality involved, and one’s choices have no moral content.

            The only way to have a moral world is to have a world of mixed morals.

            On a less serious note,

            Frank Zappa:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu6dUX5MNcY

            “This is the central scrutinizer…
            …you have just destroyed one model xqj-37 nuclear powered pan- sexual roto-plooker and you’re gonna have to pay for it!
            so give up, you haven’t got a chance.”

          • nailheadtom says:

            Are “right and wrong” and “good and bad” the same thing?

  3. ondelette says:

    Paul Krugman had a good piece on global warming today.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/opinion/28krugman.html
    Time is really running out.

  4. dirigo says:

    RMP, interesting you refer to the early ’70s, which is when I was enrolled full-time in my undergraduate program in Boston – after the service. A heady time for me for many reasons.

    Very early on, as I was beginning to comment on UT (and in the process meeting you fine folks here), I mentioned there once what I still think was a most prophetic public speech, given at Harvard’s 1978 or ’79 commencement.

    Given my taste for fiction (as an antidote to reality; or, as a salve for it), I found what Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian master, had to say about the future totally arresting.

    In a nutshell, aside from attacking the litigiousness of American society (which didn’t sit too well with the worthies in Cambridge), Solzhenitsyn asserted that the future was indeed upon us, suggesting also that, without enough education, many simply wouldn’t make it over the next several decades.

    In his most pithy phrase, he said, simply, mankind was about to undergo an “anthropological leap.”

    And there was no turning back.

  5. rmp says:

    nailheadtom, my first inclination was to say no they are not. On further reflection, they both can be seen as a moral issue and an issue of correctness or skill. Their biggest problem is they are too general to be of much use. The same can be said for the word love. The definitions are in the eye of the beholder and most often the others hearing or reading the statement, don’t know what the definition is so miscommunication and confusion flows easily.

  6. K. S. Matsuo says:

    My Kindle 2 arrived yesterday and I wanted to post a review before I forgot my initial impressions. The first thing I noted was the shipping package. It appeared to be in the standard Amazon brown box that all Amazon shipments come in, but upon closer look I saw that it was a custom package exclusively for the Kindle. The brown box had a pull tab to ease opening, no need for a cutting tool. Next to the pull tab were the words “Once upon a time…”. Cool.

    The interior packaging was black and stylish, but it could have been a brown paper bag for all I cared. I opened it and looked at the Kindle. Right on the Kindle’s main screen is all you need to know to get the device setup. Basically, just plug into the wall to start charging and flip the switch to start using. It is that simple.

    There was a Getting Started document and guide as well as a welcome letter, but after glossing over these quickly I found I didn’t need much help. You can pretty much figure everything out by just trying the buttons.

    I went to the Kindle Store and noticed that it had a list of suggestion based on my past Amazon purchase and viewing history. Nice touch as I was able to easily find a book that I had intended to purchase. I clicked that books link, hit buy and within a few seconds I had the item in my library.

    Reading on the Kindle 2 is practicaly effortless. With no previous experience with Kindle, I was still able to feel comfortable reading and paging within minutes. I read while exercising, lying in bed and on the train ride to work this morning. You really do forget the device is there. The reading experience is much easier than flipping through a dog-eared paperback.

    I am happy with my purchase knowing I got the best digital reading device on the market today.

  7. Great read! Clearly you are pretty knowledgeable about this topic.