WHY NOW IS THE MOST EXCITING TIME
SO FAR IN HISTORY TO BE ALIVE
WHY THE EXCITEMENT?
More change will occur in the next fifty years than in all of humankind's previous history. It will completely redirect humanity and not just determine humankind's place in the cosmos, but whether humankind continues to have a place. It will be driven by rapidly improving technologies.
The improvement in a particular technology, such as automobiles, computers, steel making, etc., starts slowly and can continue that way for decades. Suddenly, the improvement rate heads for the stratosphere. Eventually the rate slows to a sedate level or stops entirely. The limited history of modern technology suggests an era of rapid improvement in an individual technology lasts at least a hundred years.
There are no less than five critical technologies that have recently entered their stratospheric climb! This is like reaching critical mass in a nuclear reaction. It will unleash an unimaginable rate of change on humanity which has never existed before. To be an intuitor and have easy access to technology in this era is exciting beyond comprehension.
Is there a down side? Yes! First, humankind will have new possibilities to make serious mistakes. Second, the already huge gap between standards of living in rich and poor countries will likely widen
Benford's Law Part 2). For instance, countries with less than $10,000 per capita GNPs (about 85% of the world's population) will gain less from computers. They will find it difficult to implement as well as maintain wide spread ownership of up-to-date computer systems costing over $1000 per unit (including software and peripherals). Availability of computers is of particular importance since they accelerate all other forms of change and economic gain.
The downsides mentioned are not valid anti-technology arguments. Although the gap will widen, poor countries will still realize significant benefits.
Countries or individuals that refuse to participate in the change process due to
an enlightened but overly sensitive concern over potential problems will fall
hopelessly behind. This would simply leave less enlightened countries or
individuals in control of the new technologies without eliminating the
opportunities for making serious mistakes.
The chart below shows that only a few countries will be able to take advantage of rapid computerization. Note, that the United States is the second bar on the chart just below Japan. To be in one of the lucky countries is a rare blessing.
1. Brain Technology silicon and organic: This is the one technology where improvements accelerate development of everything
else. All scientific research or technological developments require information collection and analysis. The key tools are the silicon brain, or computer, and the organic, or human, brain. The most powerful silicon brain, according to Dr. David Waltz, is still over a million times less powerful than the human brain but is evolving at an astonishing rate, doubling in power about every
eighteen months. At this rate, the two brains will reach similar "power" levels before the middle of the next century although they will still be distinctly different in function. While the human brain itself is not evolving at an accelerated rate, the understanding of how to use and link them together is. The Internet, for instance, is only twenty-five years old and is rapidly creating a massive network of human minds. It's difficult to say where this will lead; however, even a few percent improvement in the use of something as powerful as the human brain would have an incredible effect.
2. A New Scientific Paradigm Chaos and Complexity Theory: A major revision of our scientific paradigm would be a powerful force in developing new technologies. Such a revision must stand on three legs. The first is new ideas. The second is improvements in measuring equipment or techniques. The third is improved ability to model, especially to model mathematically. This makes it possible to rapidly and accurately make predictions and is perhaps the biggest innovation in all of science. Those areas of science and technology which have good mathematical models have made astonishing progress while areas with few mathematical models tend to progress slowly. Revolutionary improvements in either measurement systems or mathematical modeling would set the stage for a significant revision of our scientific paradigm.
The last major paradigm revision heralded the greatest era of technological development in history. This revision viewed the universe as a predictable clockwork mechanism which obeyed mathematical laws. Effects were considered roughly proportional to causes. In other words, small causes would have small effects and large causes large effects. Reasonably accurate predictions could be made with limited resources by ignoring small causes. Increasing accuracy or dealing with complex systems would require consideration of a greater number of small causes but could presumably be done if enough money and time were available.
The paradigm's foundation was laid by Copernicus and Galileo using the newly developed telescope and the concept that scientific theories must be experimentally tested. The paradigm took form from the work of Sir Issac Newton using the then new mathematics of calculus. The new scientific paradigm extends the old. It too says the world obeys mathematical laws but for the first time says that small causes can sometimes have large effects which limit predictability. It offers real understanding of chaotic behavior in systems including the weather, stock market, economy, politics, etc. It uses new forms of mathematics such as fractals requiring the use of a new instrument, the computer.
Foundations for the current paradigm revision which recognizes the true character of chaos were laid by Jules-Henri Pointcaré around the beginning of the twentieth century, but it did not take form until about 1960 when Edward Lorenz began his now famous experiments in computer modeling of weather. The term fractal did not exist until 1975 when it was coined by Benoit Mandelbrot. These could not be analyzed without computers. Today a single Pentium® based computer has roughly the same computing power that the entire world had in the year 1959. Considering the ready availability of computer power along with numerous new innovations in measuring instruments brought on by microelectronics, electro-optics, etc. combined with new thinking about chaos, we can expect a major revision in our scientific paradigm.
3. Life Science Technology genetic engineering, life extension: New life science technology promises to revolutionize many basic human issues including food production, disease cures and slowing of human aging. The social impact will require re-engineering of our society's systems and institutions. Social security, for instance, was designed for a retirement age of 65 years at a time when average life expectancy was about 60 years. The current average life expectancy of 76 years is already straining the system.
The existence of DNA was first announced in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick but did not begin to evolve into a technology until the 1970's. Today it is in the early stages of its rapid development phase. It has the profound potential to give humanity a decision-making
role in its future evolution.
4. Sublight Space Vehicle (SSV) Technology satellites, space probes, etc.: This is technology resulting from space vehicles traveling significantly less than the speed of light, such as present-day space shuttles, rockets, probes, and satellites. The rapid development stage of this technology began with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957.
Aside from manned spaceflight's romantic appeal, SSV technology impacts humankind in two key areas: 1) the ability to monitor Earth from outerspace and 2) the ability to monitor outerspace from outerspace. The first has provided such useful technologies as communication, navigation, and weather satellites. The second uses viewing technologies so superior to land-based techniques they are like removing cataracts from the world's eyes. These include the Hubble telescope and interplanetary probes. Traditionally improvements in astronomy go hand in hand with discoveries in physics. Such discoveries will be required to exceed the speed of light and make travel outside our solar system practical. One way or another, astronomy will eventually define humankind's place in the cosmos. Learning whether or not our planet is unique and whether or not we are confined to it will have a profound effect on humanity.
5. Energy Technology conservation, alternatives, fusion: Energy supply is required for our high standard of living. Consider that human power output is about 75 watts. A hair dryer, by comparison, uses about 1000, a television 300, and a car around 75,000 watts. Hence, a modern American has the equivalent of hundreds of uncomplaining servants available at the flick of a switchenough to make an ancient king envious. Energy supplies clearly create wealth.
Unfortunately, our energy supply depends on fossil fuels such as oil, and coal which are running out. Realistic efforts at conservation and finding alternative sources did not become earnest until the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Harnessing fusion would solve supply problems but may never be practical. Fusion harnessing efforts began in the 1950's. The rapid development phase, if it occurs, will likely start in the next 30 years. Less exotic technologies such as windmills may also play a major
role in solving energy problems. In any event, a secure energy supply could be achieved in the next 50 years.