Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hang on, get ready, and go

I think that from the moment mankind became self aware, we began to think about about the future as we thought it should be, and then set out to make it so. These changes might often be slow incremental improvements, but every once in a while, it is something really big. Something that sets a course that never would have happened otherwise. Language, fire, text, tools, industry, economics, phones, television, computers, the Internet, and on and on. More and more, faster and faster. Why?

I think we are about to find out. As we get glimpses of what is possible there are many folks that try and paint an image for us all. Be it in words, film, images, or song there have been many projections about 1) what the future could be, and 2) what it should be. The former is a motivator and the later must be our guide. It seems that a great deal of attention has been spent on the "what could be" lately. Yet a growing tide of people, either fed up, frightened, optimistic, or otherwise, are starting to focus on what our future really should look like. I would like to try and distill some of those views.

In my past explorations and posts I discovered many ideas about how the web would transform thinking and the world. From the likes of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Nova Spivack, Tim Berners Lee, Vannevar Bush, and Ted Nelson, the ideas came from both modern times and from before the Internet was even a possibility. The Internet and what it shall become is certainly a big part of our future, yet I've often wondered what else it would enable? It is, after all, just another tool.

I want to imagine a bit of that future and I apologize in advance if it ends up being incoherent or too disconnected. There is a lot I've envisioned over a long time and I can't seem to find any good ways to incrementally get it out.

Hang On
Life will no longer be about spending nearly all your time getting the tediousness of daily life out of the way so that you can have a few moments to do what inspires you, what you enjoy, and what you love. Food, energy, mobility, and access are givens. All the value in the world is left to discovery, innovation, and contribution. There is no need for conflict, protectionism, and envy, they will have no place in a world with a united purpose.

Technology has transformed us, is transforming us. In current times, for many in the developed world, food is a given, energy cheap, mobility in all manners, and access to an unlimited wealth of information already at your finger tips. Take a moment and imagine all the technology that makes this possible.

Now imagine it doubled over a few more times.

Get Ready
Robots will do all the mindless tasks. They will build everything we can dream up, our cars, our homes, electronics, infrastructure, everything. We must still do the dreaming though. We have to come up with the plans. When we do, it will be a symphony of actions, using all of our technology to put together plans, create funding and measures, and set into motion the great machines that will make it a reality.

Power lines will stretch over highways, extending the range of electric cars that drive themselves in a manner much more like trains, increasing the throughput of roads, while decreasing travel time and eliminating traffic and safety issues.

Food will be a distributed operation with millions of local robotic farms and greenhouses that provide fresh produce daily. As will energy with trillions of devices serving both as producers and consumers of energy. Our connectivity will be truly ubiquitous and transparent. Full high definition multi-person video conferencing reducing the need to travel, and when we do travel, we will simply declare a destination and be automatically routed and transported in the most efficient and timely manner.

Education will be a lifelong opportunity. There will be no cap on public knowledge. One will be able to learn about anything at anytime at any level of detail. Our textbook will be a giant organic collection of knowledge that will adapt to individual learning styles be it, visual, logic, experiential, repetition, or otherwise. It will be available to us anytime through tablets that have e-ink displays on one side, and full motion color on the other. They will serve our every digital need. Internet, phone, video, pictures, high resolution camera, music player, hd-video camera, gps, and computing. When you need a larger display and interface you will simply wirelessly connect to stations in our offices and commons.

Lifelong students will be able to explore any avenue of creativity, since there will be no reason to teach to mediocrity in order to have a workforce to do all the tedious and uncreative jobs. With robots studiously managing all the systematic challenges, we will finally be free to completely explore the depths of human existence.

We will have mapped out all of fundamental particles of the universe with accelerators like the LHC and generations of space telescopes past the Hubble and James Webb will have seen the dawn of time and discovered thousands of inhabitable worlds in our galaxy alone. We will have reached out into our solar system with permanent exploration of planets and moons. Space elevator tethers will make transport to and from space both a safe and efficient.

Health care will mostly be provided using sensors and robotic assisted tools in every home, allowing one to deal immediately with emergencies and preventative care. Institutions will have found treatments and cures for all systemic diseases and will carefully manage all evolving forms.

Conflicts will have long since ended and world travel, trade in music, art, food, culture, and technology will consume our international life. Population growth will have stabilized and consumption turned into an efficient system of recycling and reuse. Life on earth will thrive as pollution and our ecological impact are contained. The economy will be a vast trade in the arts, services, knowledge, and technology.

Taxes and spending will be clearly and directly tied to our priorities and needs. With all of infrastructure built and maintained by robots, education distributed and flexible, health care instant and efficient, and defense needs minimized, vast resources will be at our collective discretion to support research and projects that continually push the boundaries of our knowledge ever wider.

All of the information of our life will be neatly organized and accessible. Our interactions with the digital world will be intuitive and natural. The concept of searching will be lost to retrieving exactly what you need. Purchases will simply be what suits your requirements and can be delivered most efficiently and timely. Planning anything from travel to a meal for dinner will be effortless, freeing up vast tracks of time that we currently lose to all the mundane.

At first all this may seem simply too far out to even consider, but we must begin to think beyond linear growth and start acknowledging that we are on an exponential. The advances our grandparents have seen are soon to be dwarfed by leaps that we can't even see yet. From that perspective, the above will be what is commonplace and the true innovation will be way beyond our current sense of the possible.

What is more is that versions of visions like this have been consistently told over and over throughout our history. Some have even given the moment of shift a name and devoted institutions to the concept, such as the Singularity University. Yet even with all the gloss and attention, this kind of future is not a guarantee. We still have to define it, still have to seek it, and still have to take action. It all starts by imagining the world as it should be, not as it is, or as it may be given the path we have taken in recent years.

There already have been many practical steps on everything I've mentioned in this possible future. The key is then to link these steps to our goals. We want to be free from the tyranny of daily life, we want to inspire ourselves and our children to pursue the edges of our existence, and more than anything we want life to flow on, making us all contributors to the shape and form of our universe.

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