Now available: My forecasts for the medium and long-range future of humanity. Really!
Via Mike Treder at IEET we learn that Jon Turney's new book, The Rough Guide to the Future, is out. (A better title might be Guide to a Rough Future, if you ask me - but the name comes, of course, from the terrific series of "Rough Guides" that began as travel books and eventually broadened their range to cover ... well, just about everything.) This Guide includes comments and observations from fifty “thoughtful futurologists, scientists, and other experts" ... including me.
Mike writes: "Included are thoughts from such luminaries as Freeman Dyson, Bill McKibben, Gregory Benford, Parag Khanna, James Pinkerton, William Calvin, and James Howard Kunstler. I’m also pleased to report that ten associates of the IEET were asked to contribute commentaries to the book. They are: Nick Bostrom, David Brin, Jamais Cascio, Aubrey de Grey, Richard Eskow, James Hughes, Giulio Prisco, Melanie Swan, Natasha Vita-More, and myself."
I'm an Affiliated Scholar (I think that's the title) with the IEET (the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies.) I think my comments were edited down significantly for the book, but what I originally wrote is below. Jon Turney posed three questions and, after hastily polishing the surface of my crystal ball with my elbow, I wrote my replies (they're below in their original and unedited form, before I and then he edited them.) I concentrated on health and person-centered technologies, which have been an area of research and interest for me.
Like any set of predictions, they're likely to look preposterous fifty years from now. The biggest change since I wrote them a year or so is this: The technology to communicate and control devices using only thoughts has developed faster than expected.
What is your highest hope for what will happen?
My highest hope is that in fifty years we will have eliminated most major diseases, extended the human lifespan, and improved our both our physical and cognitive abilities. Even more importantly, I hope that new medical technologies will have turned us into a ‘human network’ which allows us to experience and communicate a shared worldwide reality to an even greater extent than the Internet makes possible today.
New technology is being developed which will almost certainly enable us to communicate using thoughts alone- as extraordinary as that sounds, there are already crude prototypes. This will not be 'mind-reading,' but more like text messaging without physical movement. In the best-case scenario, we'll also be able to share both information and sensory experiences ‘telempathically’ (my word) with anyone anywhere in the world. (Just one example: Researchers have already been able to monitor the brain of a sleeping person and draw crude images of their dreams on a screen, in real-time.)
These technologies could personalize and deepen the informational and entertainment experiences now occurring on the Internet and even create new art forms. (The same advances will give us a great deal of mental control over mechanical and knowledge-management devices.)
Hopefully an increase in empathy and understanding, across physical and cultural distances, will result. Driving a car with your thoughts sounds like fun, but it won't improve life as much as empathy-enhancing technologies might potentially do.
What is your worst fear?
Make that fears, please. I have three:
1) That we will fragment into two or more social groups, widely divergent, based on widening gaps in economic power resulting from different groups’ ability to purchase added physical and mental ability. We will divide into a new ‘First World’ and ‘Third World,’ in effect – a division based on our accumulated physical and mental resources, rather than traditional economic and geopolitical divisions (although, more likely than not, these divisions will be amplifications of those we know today). Conflict and even genocide could result from these divisions.
2) That poverty, global warming, deforestation, and other forces will result in the rise of new and deadly plagues – which, in turn, could lead to widespread curtailment of civil liberties in North America, Europe, and worldwide. That regional and international travel becomes increasingly restricted due to fears of contagion.
3) And that our increasing ability to communicate at the thought/nonverbal/physical level will result in the proliferation of spam into our every waking moment – and even our dreams! (This third fear is, of course, offered a little more light-heartedly.)
What is your best bet for what will actually occur?
A moderate combination of the above hopes and fears. I think we will eliminate many major diseases and enhance certain mental and physical abilities. Access to certain mental/physical enhancement techniques may even be considered a human right. But we'll continue to suffer the environmental consequences of our neglect, which will greatly harm global health and force us to fight rear-guard battles to protect our physiological well-being. Economic and social divisions will be exacerbated by improvements in medical technology, but the disparities will be eased (though not eliminated) by the rapidly falling costs of some new tools (e.g. drugs, external ‘enhancement’ devices, etc.)
Check me for accuracy when the future comes.