14 June 2013

The Future Is Mild

Dateline: 1981. The show In Search Of... asks experts what the future would be like in the far off 21st century.

Millions of people moving out into space by 2050? Doesn't seem likely. NASA is just about completely shut down and commercial space flight is still in its embryonic stage. A lot can happen in the next 36 years, but with the way the economy, endemic warfare, and the explosion of government overreach is going I don't think the future looks good for space travel.

Every disease conquered or at least great progress made by 2000? Nope. Not even close, and with the power of big pharma to stiffle cures it doesn't look likely either.

Computers impacting every aspect of our lives? One out of three ain't bad. Wait! I mean one out of three correct predictions. The implications of the NSA saving every single thing every single person does on anything electronic is terrifying.

Arcosanti, the vision of genius architect Paolo Soleri, features prominantly in this program. Begun in 1970, the future home of 5000 people is, after 43 years, still a bunch of crap sitting in the desert. It's a shame the futuristic city was not completed before Soleri died just two months ago, 9 April 2013. A completely self-contained, ecologically sustainable, high density city is something the world needs. Unfortunately, it's not something the world wants.

Computers are getting faster, but the still do things one at a time (as opposed to the brain which is massively parallel), and they still don't think. Furthermore, no program, no matter how advanced, will be able to make a computer think. Thinking is not something programs do, it is something minds do. It requires a host of previous steps, from simple awareness of cells, to the instincts of the reptilian brain, to emotions of the limbic system, to the rationality and metacognition of the neocortex. The artificial intelligence people focus only on a very thin slice of rational mathematical ridgid structured thinking and ignore all the previous steps that were necessary to make that possible. In narrowing their focus, the AI people are really dooming themselves to failure.

What the AI people think is that they will be able to create a program that could produce a behaviour that looks like the computer is thinking and call it thinking. It's a bait and switch just like calling the pre-existing cosmic vacuum "nothing" and then saying the universe came from nothing. But a computer that looks like it can think is not the same thing as a computer that actually can think. These computers are just like zombies in that zombies may outwardly appear human, but there is nothing going on inside. They have no conscious experience, even though they act as if they do.

Implantable computers by 2026? Not that soon, but things like Google Glass are wearable computers that may be able to be fully integrated into everyday life, though with a number of cumbersome social implications that will have to be dealt with.

Dr. Roy Walford, anti-aging specialist and proponent of calorie restriction (which has been deomonstrated in a number of species to double lifespan), says there will be many positive social effects of people living to 150 or longer. Pushing cancer, heart disease, and other age related illnesses from 65 to 130, by which time medical advances may have discovered permanent cures. Living twice as long gives people the option of having multiple careers, even putting off having children until unthinkable ages by which time people have had their fun, done what they want to do, and are ready to settle down.

What if aging could be entirely eliminated? Dr. Walford estimates that if there is no change in the rate of accidents then the maximum lifespan would increase to 600 years, by which point it becomes statistically certain that something will have killed you already. I'm not sure getting hit by a bus sounds like a better way to go than at home in bed, possibly by heart attack or bleeding ulcer while you sleep, nor do I think that living a lot longer with no increase in the quality of life is all that attractive either. Several centuries living paycheck to paycheck, struggling with bills sounds like hell on earth. Maybe by then Arcosanti will be completed and the thus far crappy 21st century problems will be done away with. Who knows?

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