Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Pre-Future

I'm going to start a new topic here on CUANAS, and I will revisit it often from now on. What is it? The future. Actually, this is not a wholly new topic for me. Many of you may have read my posts on Pre-Futurism.

To put it simply, I believe we are on the verge of a major change in what it means to be human. The technologies we are currently developing, and which we will soon develop, based upon the research being done, will present us with physical and ethical challenges unlike any we have ever encountered in the past.

One of the problems we will encounter is the acceleration of change which is the result of the exponential growth brought on by the reality of Moore's Law. New technologies will be coming at us so quickly that we will not be able to think through the physical and ethical implications until well after the technologies have changed our everyday lives.

This is why I have proposed the idea that we are no longer living in the Postmodern Age, but have instead moved into what I call the Pre-Future Age. The issues we are dealing with, or that we need to deal with, are the ethical and physical realities that will soon be slapping us in the face.

In the article below, Ray Kurzweil discusses the Exponential Growth of Change, and what it will be bringing our way in the near future. From

"In considering the genesis of Moore's Law, I put 49 famous computing devices over the past century on an exponential graph. From this exercise, it became apparent that the acceleration of computing power did not start with integrated circuits, but has continued through multiple paradigm shifts(electromechanical calculators, relays, vacuum tubes, transistors, and finally integrated circuits).

"Moore's Law was not the first, but the fifth paradigm, to provide exponential growth in computing. The next paradigm, which will involve computing in three dimensions rather than the two manifested in today's flat chips, will lead to computing at the molecular, and ultimately the subatomic level. We can be confident that the acceleration of computing will survive the well-anticipated demise of Moore' s Law.

"There are comparable exponential trends underlying a wide variety of other technologies: communications (both wired and wireless), brain scanning speeds and resolutions, genome scanning, and miniaturization (we are currently shrinking technology at a rate of 5.6 per linear dimension per decade). Even the rate of technological progress is speeding up, now doubling each decade. The mathematical models I've developed over the past couple of decades to describe these trends, which I call the law of accelerating returns, has proven predictive of the developments we've seen during the 1990s. From these models, I believe we can be confident of continued exponential growth in these and other technologies for the foreseeable future.

"By 2009, computers will disappear. Displays will be written directly onto our retinas by devices in our eyeglasses and contact lenses. In addition to virtual high-resolution displays, these intimate displays will provide full immersion visual virtual reality. We will have ubiquitous, very-high-bandwidth wireless connection to the Internet at all times.

"Going to a web site" will mean entering a virtual reality environment -- at least for the visual and auditory sense -- where we will meet other real people. There will be simulated people as well, but the virtual personalities will not be up to human standards, at least not by 2009. The electronics for all of this will be so small that it will be invisibly embedded in our glasses and clothing.

"By 2029, as a result of continuing trends in miniaturization, computation, and communication, we will have billions of nanobots -- intelligent robots the size of blood cells or smaller -- traveling through the capillaries of our brain communicating directly with our biological neurons. By taking up positions next to every nerve fiber coming from all of our senses, the nanobots will provide full-immersion virtual reality involving all five of the senses. So we will enter virtual reality environments (via the web, of course) of our choice and meet people, both real and virtual, only now the difference won't be so clear.

"Just as people today beam their images from little web cams out onto the Internet for others to share, many people in 2029 will beam the full stream of signals coming directly from their senses onto the web. We will then be able to experience what other people are experiencing, à la John Malkovich. Of course, the everyday lives of many such experience beamers may not be all that compelling, so there will be plenty of prerecorded experiences we can plug into. Beyond just the five senses, these shared experiences will include emotional responses, sexual pleasure, and other mental reactions.

"Brain implants based on these distributed intelligent nanobots will extend our brains in every conceivable way, massively expanding our memory and otherwise vastly improving all of our sensory, pattern-recognition and cognitive abilities.

"Oh, and one more thing: we'll live a long time too. The expanding human life span is another one of those exponential trends. In the eighteenth century, we added a few days every year to human longevity; during the nineteenth century we added a couple of weeks each year; and now we're adding almost a half a year every year. With the revolutions in rational drug design, genomics, therapeutic cloning of our own organs and tissues, and related developments in bio-information sciences, we will be adding more than a year every year within ten years. So take care of yourself the old-fashioned way for just a little while longer, and you may actually get to experience the remarkable century ahead."

Well, what do you think of that? The natural human response is to reject these ideas as preposterous. Many Christians, and people of other religious traditions, will reject what Ray Kurzweil says here because because such realities will invade the sector of godhood.

Yes, that's true.

However, in the Judeo-Christian tradition we, supposedly, believe we were created in the Image of God, meaning we were created to be rational, creative beings, like God. I think we must decide, do we really believe God created us in His Image, or don't we? And, what does it mean, if not that we have tremendous creative ability?

If you look at human history you will see that the evidence is that man can do just about anything he sets his mind to. There are limitations of time and space, meaning everything takes time, and we can not create something from nothing (for matter is the essence of space), as God can. However, I believe, it is the height of foolishness to think that man will not achieve many of the things Kurzweil discusses here in this article, and more.

We have to get ready. These powers that are coming our way present extreme moral challenges. There have been many Christians lamenting the fact that Chrsitianity has not been at the forefront of societal change for several centuries now. The reason for that is too often Christians have rejected change, and have instead immersed themselves in tradition. I say we Christians, as well as brothers in Abraham, need to start thinking seriously about the future so that we can help our brothers and sisters of the human race deal with changes coming our way.

Yes, we need to help them, as well as ourselves.