Earlier in the day I was asked by a Hubski member for my thoughts on the future. My response was lengthy enough and sufficiently detailed enough to constitute a blog post, so I decided to repost an edited version of that response in The Ratchet. In the future, I think I will use the heading "Thoughts on the Future" to further articulate my understanding of humanity's future trajectory (hence the "pt. 1").
I believe the best way to understand the future is to utilize exponential modelling from the entire human past. This modelling indicates that time and space within our species is shrinking and will continue to shrink in the future. This continued trend will likely be driven by a major shift in our mode of living in the 21st century (Hanson, 2008). A major shift in human organization would revolutionize our personal lives, but it would not represent a completely unique transformation. Major shifts in human organizations have happened before:
- Hunting and gathering: 2 million years ago - 10,000 years ago
- Agriculture: 10,000 years ago - 250 years ago
- Industrial: 250 years ago - present
Although there is important overlap and diffusion of these modes, the emergent mode always dominates our species existence. For more information on these trends specifically, see my post Economic Evolution.
Exponential modelling of these modes indicate that the next emergent mode should happen this century and should diffuse almost instantaneously (when compared to the diffusion times of the previous modes). This next mode is likely to be caused/driven by non-biological intelligence.
On a meta-system level what appears to be happening to our species is analogous to the transition from single-celled life to multi-celled life (Heylighen, 2007). Single celled life began in a very simple form, with very simply internal structure. Over time single-celled organisms began interacting more and more (and depending more and more) on other cells. As a consequence they needed to adapt more complex internal structures to improve communication, specialize function, and combat invaders (viruses). Over time single-celled organisms interactions became denser and more interconnected, leading to the development of cells that fused and replicated together, creating multi-cellular structures. Multi-cellular organisms have since dominated the planet and have evolved into trillions of different complex species.
Our species throughout history has followed an analogous path. From the development of complex civilizations our internal structures for dealing with communication, function, and invaders has continued to improve. In the future our species should continue to merge, and continue to reduce space-time within our species to the point that it is negligible. We will create a global brain based on future enhanced artificial brains and an improved future internet system (and/or cloud system) (Heylighen, 2008). Within this system information will not only be transmitted and downloaded instantaneously, but should also be understood by all beings instantly as well (Kurzweil, 2012).
After this happens, we will likely explode into the Universe (potentially 22nd century?). If the speed of light remains a barrier than this explosion may be slow (although there are still other ways to get around the speed of light barrier). If the speed of light proves to be easily breakable or we devise some way to get around the barrier very easily, then this spread into the Universe will be very, very quick.
In the long-term future I think there are an endless sea of possibilities (e.g., Goertzel, 2007). We could spread throughout the Universe, infusing our intelligence into anything we come across. We could discover other Universes, or create our own Universes. What the global brain becomes I don't know yet. What changes the future mode brings, I don't know yet. Will we be a part of this? I think a continuation of what you are now will be a part of this.
In the mean time you should expect life overall for our entire species to get better in measurable standard of living terms. This means increased material goods, affordability of housing, access to health care and education, political and religious freedom, as well as decreased class disparity, poverty rate, infant mortality, and hours of work required to purchase necessities. Also, expect life expectancy to continue doubling exponentially (plan your life accordingly) (i.e., life expectancy in the developed world is between 70-80 FOR PEOPLE BORN IN THE 1930s! Life expectancy for people born in the 1980s-2000s will likely be 160. This means we will be ageing slower than technology progresses, causing our life span to essentially be indefinite.). Many aspects of these trends have already become obvious to many different prominent thinkers today (e.g., Ridley 2010, Pinker, 2011; Kurzweil, 2012).
Let me be clear. This does not mean that bad things won't happen in the future. This does not mean war will not exist, violence won't happen, people won't die, there won't be new and challenging obstacles, there won't be poverty, hunger, etc. You could also still die. Just not likely from ageing or age-related complications.
Here is a quantitative example of how quickly our species has improved the average standard of living over time:
The average person in Britian in 1800 had to work 6 hours for 1 hour of candle light. The average person in Britain today has to work half a second for 1 hour of electric light (Ridley, 2010).
As I continue to think about these topics, and continue to research, I'll continue this series on the future. If you want to read previous posts in The Ratchet about the future, you can check out it out here.
Goertzel, B. 2007. Human-level artificial general intelligence and the possibility of a technological singularity: A reaction to Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, and McDermott’s critique of Kurzweil. Artificial Intelligence, 171: 1161-1173.
Hanson, R. 2008. Economics of the singularity. IEEE Spectrum, 37-42.
Heylighen, F. 2007. The global superorganism: An evolutionary-cybernetic model of the emerging network society. Social Evolution & History, 6: 57-117.
Heylighen, F. 2008. Chapter 13 Accelerating socio-technological evolution: From ephemeralization and stigmergy to the Global Brain. In Modelski, G., Devezas, T. & Thompson, W.R. Globalization As Evolutionary Process. New York: Routledge.
Kurzweil, R. 2012. How To Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. New York: Penguin Group.
Pinker, 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature. New York: Penguin Books.
Ridley, 2010. The Rational Optimist. New York: Harper.