The Future ain’t what it used to be.
I suppose it’s my negative nature, but I always imagined the philosopher/baseball player sighing when he made this pronouncement. In later life Yogi explained the apparent malapropism simply: “times change, life is short. Everything’s faster paced.”1 Evidently, he didn’t know the half of it. I recently started scanning the current predictions of a few futurists and found that hyper speed is a given; it’s the destination that’s in question.
The Singularity is near: when humans transcend biology by Ray Kurzweil may have been a bad starting place. At 652 pages this book is dense. And the science, or should I say the blending of scientific disciplines, is challenging. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an explanation of why the ‘the future ain’t what it used to be’ Kurzweil has a theory for you. He posits in his “law of accelerating returns” that technological advancements have, and are, occurring at an exponential rate. In the year 2001, for example, readily available computing power equaled that of an insect brain; by 2010 he predicts computing power will equal that of a mouse. By 2023 we should all be able to buy a computer with the power of a human brain. (Do you program a spare brain, educate it, or train it?)
So why isn’t the book called the law of accelerating returns? See the sub-title. Kurzweil feels that the accelerating pace of technological advances will logically lead the human race to an enviable position. “Merging with our technology is the next stage in our evolution.” Yep, he’s talking about human cells enhanced with wireless communication and nano assemblers. That’s for starters. He’s also predicting that with GNR (genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics) we will create a world without hunger, aging or disease in less than a century. Now there’s the definition of too good to be true.
My first reaction was that we had misclassed this title; it must be science fiction. Then I remembered that this is the man who correctly predicted the date at which a computer would consistently beat a chess grandmaster. And his resume is more than good guesses. Kurzweil has a degree from MIT, is considered a forerunner of pattern recognition software and runs several successful businesses under the umbrella of Kurzweil Technologies. In other words, he’s not a fiction or tabloid writer; he’s a scientist with a sound track record.
My second reaction was that the material was way over my head and I needed Cliff Notes. The May 14, 2007 edition of Fortune magazine published a profile of Kurzweil and an analysis of some of his predictions. His exact net worth is unknown, but generally presumed to be in the millions. Microsoft officers have even been known to invest in his business ventures. (Fortune also published details of his diet, but let’s not go there. After all, geniuses are supposed to be eccentric.)
In 2004 Wired magazine interviewed one of Kurzweil’s colleagues, Bill Joy. Joy agrees with this picture of a world with ‘nano enhanced’ humans, but he doesn’t foresee anything resembling Eden. The article was entitled Why the future doesn’t need us. He predicts that GNR could be the next NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical.) “These technologies are fraught with ethical dilemmas and may threaten mankind’s continued existence. Referring specifically to enhanced humans Joy said, “These possibilities are all thus either undesirable or unachievable or both. The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment…” He’s suggesting that we acknowledge that the disadvantages of these technologies greatly outweigh any advantages. I find it difficult to believe that any government or individual could shelf a technology with such promise regardless of the risks. Has mankind ever done this? Are we even capable of taking such a step? Well, maybe I’m just being negative.
I study nuclear science / I love my classes / I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses/ Things are going great, and they’re only getting better / I’m doing all right, getting good grades / The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades, I gotta wear shades.
The rock group Timbuk3 consisted of Barbara and Pat K. MacDonald and …a boombox.