I think now of an interesting concept, which I read recently in an old article by Arthur C. Clarke called “Hazards of Prophecy”.
He outlines two main problems that predictors often face: Failure of Nerve and Failure of Imagination.
Failure of Nerve means being scared to advance a trend forward because it seems too fantastic.
His wise statement is this: “Anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the technical difficulties, if it is desired greatly enough.”
The Failure of Imagination refers to the inability to even conceive of an invention because the science and mathematics has not been discovered yet.
His famous quote on this is: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
Clarke’s very insightful examples of failures of imagination include x-rays, nuclear energy, quantum mechanics, relativity, and lasers. He then lists inventions that people 150 years ago would be able to imagine: automobiles, telephones, submarines, flying machines, steam engines. He lists more of each kind and I recommend the article. It’s very good.
My point today is to help us realize some things which are theoretically possible but which we have not yet internalized as Going to Happen.
Here is a list of some which are very likely to eventually come to pass but which are hard to accept: artificial intelligence, planetary colonization, artificial life, nanotechnology, creations of wormholes, direct linking of minds, and an understanding of exotic physics, such as dark matter and energy and a Grand Unified Theory.
Let’s look at a few of these.
Artificial intelligence is composed of two separate categories: general and narrow. The first means human-level intelligence running on computers, the second is intelligence that is very good only at very select tasks, such as playing chess or winning Jeopardy.
We already have many narrow AIs and it is the tendency of people to first say a task is simply too difficult for computers (such as driving a car), and then saying it’s not really AI.
My point with bringing this up is to help us realize that general artificial intelligence will eventually come to pass.
Can you envision a world where there are beings as smart as you living on your iPhone or laptop? It seems fantastic, way beyond our current abilities, but it is technically possible and people very much want it to happen.
So picture it, a world where you have friends that are purely digital, a world where the boring parts of life (such as running assembly lines and other manual labor like landscaping and driving) are all handled by very sleek minds that are dedicated to the task.
Does that mean humans are obsolete? No, far from it.
Similar to the situation of blacksmithing or putting on horseshoes, humans switch from physical tasks to those involving more brainpower, like designing art and crafting computer apps that people want.
It is my opinion that artificial general intelligence will not spring ready-made from the ether (though this might be a failure of nerve or imagination), but will gradually evolve and become merged with humans are we develop it.
For instance, why create intelligence from scratch when we have seven billion minds that can be upgraded?
The important issue is to accept that this trend is not going to stop and you should invest time imagining what the future will look like so you can plan your life accordingly.
Here’s another one that’s really cool: direct linking of minds.
I recommend Ramez Naam’s book Nexus for an exciting tale of what this technology could be like.
This future may be closer than you think, because we can already put electrodes in mice or monkeys and have them influence each other. Pretty crazy, right?
Idea and emotion transfer is obviously an order of magnitude more difficult but there is no known technical reason that makes it impossible.
So what will it be like to see what another is seeing? To feel what another is feeling? To directly share concepts without verbal communication?
Who knows what changes to society this will cause?
It was not predicted that social media like Facebook and Twitter would help facilitate governmental revolutions, so how could we hope to predict this much more powerful technology?
Yet it could be something like this: As humans communicated over farther and farther distances, innovation and scientific discovery exploded. From letters to steam ships to telephones to the Internet, the possibility of human development and diversity has expanded incredibly.
The world is smaller than ever.
What will it be like to communicate directly with someone on the other side of the planet, at much higher resolution than Skype? It’s a wonderful thought.
Humans are arguably the most social of creatures (or at least the most varied of communicators), and we crave connection with others. To a great extent our ability to share our lives with others is what makes us happy.
Can you imagine the joy of long distance telepathy? We even enjoy it now in a simple form with phones and the Web. How much our lives will be enriched by denser communications.
So let’s consider another miracle that is likely to occur: A deep understanding of the nature of reality.
Have you imagined what it would be like to discover how dark matter works, or if string theory is really true?
These are all things that most likely will come to pass, just as we now have a deep and profitable understanding of electricity, X-rays, lasers, computers, quantum mechanics, and relativity.
It’s fantastic to imagine, but it’s important to do so, because it will soon be a world you live in, and the better you prepare yourself for it the quicker you’ll adapt.
Imagine how others were squeamish to learn cars, or airplanes, or computers.
The level of technological innovation that will occur in the future will probably be as amazing to us as electricity and computers would be to the ancient Greeks. Can you believe that? Can you internalize that fact?
It’s difficult, I know, but the more you accept it the faster you will adapt to the medium-term future.
These are things that will probably occur, and if you get yourself ready now you can be happier, more excited, and better prepared than most.