In my previous blog I pointed out some of my frustration at predicting the future. Given my interest in science fiction and computers in general I have a great interest in predicting but I admit this is very very hard.
Automated Prediction NOT!
Computer models as predictive tools in particular are suspect. I learned this in the 80s. A group of MIT professors and others from academia and business banded together to do a project called the “Club of Rome.” They built computer models of our future. They predicted that in 20 years in almost all scenarios humanity and the earth was going to fall into a desperate situation. Either we would die of massive pollution overdose or massive starvation or overpopulation, etc… Only one scenario seemed to work out. A solution where we all shared everything and lived very ascetic lives.
This reminded me of one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time called “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. In the foundation Hari Seldon has discovered mathematical laws (a computer model) of human behavior and history. He uses it to predict that humankind will suffer a 10,000 year fall into dark ages. He then calculates that if he guides humankind during this period carefully optimizing the outcomes he can reduce the 10,000 year fall to 500 years. The fall happens and using a secret organization called the Second Foundation Hari Seldon sets humanity on a course to save itself.
In the Foundation humanity did collapse and they do save humanity. I think it is a great story and worth a movie but nobody seems to have the guts to make it. The Club of Rome didn’t have such good results. By 2000 the earth was the richest, least polluted, best fed we had ever been. It was the complete OPPOSITE of what the Club of Rome computer models predicted. The climate computer models are NO BETTER than Club of Rome computer models and their predictions of consequences of global warming are no better. A computer lacks the fundamental understanding of how people and the environment react to each other nor does it have any clue where human creativity will take us.
The failure of predictions
Many predictions have been made in history and the vast majority that I am aware of have been completely wrong. Science fiction authors have actually fared quite well in comparison. Many predictions of authors from Asimov, Clarke and even such pablum as Star Trek have shown more accuracy than experts.
The Exponential problem
Many predictions of the future were based on taking a single variable, for instance population and extrapolating this long enough eventually the world cannot cope. This was Malthus great problem. Several other aspects of our society are exponential and counteract other exponential. Substitutions get made. So, people have been predicting peak oil for a while or estimating this resource or that resource will run out.
The Multiple Exponential problem
When one exponential is not good enough let’s replace it with a set of exponential functions. This is the Club of Rome problem. Lots of equations all governed by exponentials. It’s not surprising that at some point one of the exponential functions gets out of control. Somehow so far we have always found that we don’t go the exponential route or we innovate or substitute.
Taking one technology and trying to project it far into the future
This is a common mistake made in press and with scientists as well as in the scifi world. A writer takes an idea like nano-technology and explotes the development as if other technologies don’t compete. Frequently to solve a problem we have numerous avenues. A writer or one thinker will follow the adage if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Well, the world doesn’t work that way either. There are always competing ways to accomplish something and we find that evolving one technology beyond some point becomes uneconomic.
A big factor in the success of any prediction is understanding what will become cool or what will be accepted, what will be the fads or interests. So, we might have taken cars to more and more gull wing absurd shapes but it turns out the energy crisis came and efficiency was important. Suddenly all those extraneous shapes for cars went out of fashion. Today it’s facebook, but technology monopolies have a tendency to fall apart after some number of years. Computer games absorb a lot of people’s attention but at some point possibly they lose favor.
It’s hard to estimate the real cost of something
It seems like a certain technology is destined to become commonplace but there may be issues in getting the cost down and something else of a completely different nature accomplishes the same thing for less.
Innovation is unpredictable
The Club of Rome was smart enough to guess that people might find ways to cut pollution by 75% but they didn’t anticipate we could cut it by 99% or even more. I find it laughable personally to think that in 65 years we will know how we will make energy or what we can do.
Science is on exponential curve
This is one where maybe I am naive. Since 1900 at least the world has been on an exponential curve of knowledge gaining and ability. Our ability to peer ever smaller and manipulate smaller and smaller is enabling us to do ever bigger and bigger things. We are understanding why things work the way they do at exponential rates. We may not be making Earth shattering discoveries of the nature of discovering the electron but we are doing discoveries that are incrementally just as incredible in terms of their consequences.
Just in the last year I wrote a blog on what we learned or discovered that is huge. It’s a huge list for one year. Every year that list gets another 100 things that are shaking the world and giving us new abilities. In the face of such an onslaught of knowledge and abilities it is hard to believe any problem that we set our sights onto will stop us. Even cancer is finally starting to look like we can put an end.
Mitigation is frequently trivial
The IPCC is worried about heat deaths or food productivity in 2080. These are so absurd it is laughable because we have numerous substitutions and mitigation known today which would eliminate these problems entirely without much effort. In 65 years who knows what we can do with food and heat problems. The scientists who wrote these predictions should be ashamed. These are trivial issues.
Let’s try it anyway as an example
One of the most interesting things to look at is healthcare in the near future and predict what will happen. How will healthcare and longevity change over the next 50 years? There are numerous factors to consider all of which have radical impacts likely. This is the essence of the problem. Many different paths and consequences of one technology on another so that predicting which will succeed and win is incredibly hard.
So, let’s go down a brainstorming path and see if we can predict where healthcare will go in the next 50 years.
1) our DNA / Genetics future
Our ability to engineer our DNA enables us to discover the cures to everything and build genetic weapons against all our biologic enemies, to extend and improve the functioning of every human including their brain function. In this theory of our future we are able to engineer DNA as well as filter it.
We modify ourselves and our very nature by modifying, filtering and improving the underlying instructions for running and building the hardware. This is a pure biological solution to health problems based on fine-tuning, rebuilding, leveraging the basic building blocks of life.
Programmed to die
I believe that our bodies are programmed to die. We already know that Telemeres essentially perform this role in all animals. Telemeres fall off DNA with each division and as the Telemeres get shorter they invoke new DNA programs that are revealed by the shortened Telemeres. For a number of reasons nature and evolution really want humans to live only a few years past when our children become independent. After that adults are useless from an evolutionary point of view so it’s not surprising that nature has engineered a pretty reliable way to kill off the older generation. If we could figure out how to prevent this program from happening we might keep humans at a regenerative 25 year old physical age forever.
2) our NANO future
Our ability to see and manipulate down to the atom level and farther and to understand chemistry and physics at this level enables us to build nano-machines, to engineer nano-materials to fix anything, kill anything and repair anything. Numerous science fiction books talk about this nano-future and many times it is with less positive results. In many books our world is flooded with nano-machines going around doing things most of the time not for good purposes. Because they are so small we are powerless to stop them without employing other nano-machines. We end up with a nano-viral war.
Nonetheless, our ability to engineer materials and bots at the nano level enables us to construct new bodies consisting of superior materials, superior mental capacity by connecting computation with biological function.
With this technology we are able to take the fight down to the micro world of our enemies on our terms using our inventions not limited by genetics and the resources DNA enables but utilize any weapon we can invent to attack or build. We can go beyond materials and technology the genes can manufacture or things it can do.
3) Body Replacement parts
Robotics and improved body parts. We will be able to improve the substitutes we have for body parts. We see things like this all the time now. Improved legs that enable athletes to compete at the olympic level. Artificial Eyes that allow blind people to see again. Artificial titanium bones custom constructed to fit and replace bone with even stronger materials than bone. It is not hard to imagine we make devices able to replace kidneys and other organs.
What about devices that could be integrated to make it possible to breathe oxygen from water or devices to make us physically stronger. Some of these are already existent. Of course the one that is the most controversial is brain implants. Giving us the ability to interact via the internet to each other and data so that we wouldn’t even have to look at a phone to know and look up anything. We are getting better at engineering the human nerve/machine interface so that we can sustain long term connection. It is hard to believe we don’t solve this problem and find ways to augment human brains with electronic capabilities.
It has been shown the cortex of the brain is a highly plastic learning machine. You can give it any input and it can make sense of it. We can create new sensory organs to see different ranges of light, sound or even to do things birds can do to hear the rumblings of the long-wave sounds of the earth or feel the quantum infinitesimal force of variations in gravity or magnetic fields. The brain could also be hooked to new appendages that can do things possibly at the micro level or macro level.
If human nerve cells are high temperature quantum computers as some believe (including myself) then we may find ourselves using nerve cells in robots or devices to make them smarter. We find that even the smallest creatures have remarkable intelligence. Sometimes creatures with only a few nerves are able to recognize other creatures and have complex behaviors. This seems to indicate that computers on the order of single cells are possible.
4) Conventional medicine.
It is undoubtedly the case that simple drug discovery, big data and better systems for monitoring and dealing with patients will lead to enormous gains in health. Conventional medicine may be able to handle normal injuries and diseases as we just continue to incrementally improve our existing medical techniques to solve almost all our medical problems. We may discover solutions to problems even later this century using conventional foods and supplements without fancy technology.
5) Physical Brain Transplant
This is more speculative but it is an ultimate goal to be able to capture the essence of you and be able to transplant so that you can have a new body. Some people call it the “inflection point” or “singularity” event.
It can happen in several ways. Physical brain transplant is actually considered reasonably possible by many brain specialists. Some Russians are planning on attempting it this year.
We can learn to transfer our physical brains to “robots” which we can replace and fix easily or other human bodies or the contents of our brain into a computer directly. These each represent significantly different outcomes with significantly different ethical and other issues as well as different technical problems.
A human transplant has ethical problems unless we can find enough brain dead young people to replace into. Clones usually pop up in this scenario which has its own ethical challenges. Technically it would presumably be a lot easier to do a human to human transplant than a human to robot or computer.
Transplanting to robots is technically challenging as we would have to figure out how to interface the brain to the robot world and inputs and outputs. Presumably the robots are aesthetically pleasing robots, ala AI (The movie) but they could have a number of capabilities far beyond the human body. The brain is quite plastic and it is not at all unreasonable that we would find a way especially as we replace more and more body parts with mechanical equivalents that eventually the whole body would be replaceable and we might not have to transplant the brain but simply transplant everything else.
6) The Singularity Event – Copying the brain
The next idea is the singularity event that some refer to. The ability to capture the human brain contents electronically somehow and then store that to later read out to another brain or even better to operate in the computer world directly.
Analysis of the possible technologies paths
On each of these 6 plausible fronts advancements are being made daily. We are getting exponentially better at genetic understanding and manipulation. Our ability to manipulate materials and to get down to the nano level for machines is improving dramatically. I have recently heard about nano-battery technology for powering nano-machines. I don’t have to belabor all the advances along each of these lines if you stay up to date you know there are numerous advances made in all these fields and technology we are developing in other areas will have a synergistic effect of making some of these more and more practical.
So, in 50 years which wins? If I am going to write a science fiction book and project what people will be like and medical technology which of these will be the one that I assume wins?
Given that all of these are advancing it is very hard to say which will win. Some are farther out there. Some things I don’t know if we will be motivated to do. I suspect we will have a combination of genetic, our own materials, nano-robots, conventional medicine and macro robotic pieces.
We see that today with various options available for heart care. There are genetic studies with gene modification, new heart tissue grafting, replacement hearts from donors, robotic hearts. It’s quite conceivable that we will have quite a panoply of different therapies and approaches that will be mind boggling in the future.
Social implications are worrisome
With these ideas we have the biggest ethical problem that I see. If we can eliminate the problems, enhance people to be on average way better than todays children then what happens to the kids who grow up to find they are the inferior ones with lower intelligence, physical abilities? Would only the rich be able to select qualities for their children? Would society impose restrictions like you can only pick 3 genetic modifications to your children. How many people will be able to afford brain implants or enhanced limbs?
Here is an outtake: Go to the original spreadsheet above for the most recent predictions and thoughts
|Genetics||Successful modification of human genome||Parents modify children frequently||Most children modified at least 1 gene||Enhanced genetics for children|
|Discover Genetic aging program||Discover how to turn back genetic aging program||Successful reversal of genetic aging program in some||Genetic aging reversal guarenteed for all|
|Decided Epigenetic programming code||New Animal Engineering||New human engineering||Creating our own genetic code||Rewriting human DNA for space travel|
|Creating our own new species from scratch|
|Adult Genetic therapies common|
|Conventional||Partially successful human head transplant||Cloned Body parts available||First Successful head transplant|
|Medical BigData Produces new drugs and supplements, improves dramatically existing treatments||Many cloned body parts available|
|Monitoring outpatient common||Quality of life dramatically improved with understanding of aging process|
|Dramatic increase in new drug testing||Significant drop in mortality from all diseases with new drugs|
|New/Quantum||Able to track genetic activity in process||New Bones and many substitute body parts better than original equipment with new materials||People get new material and organs because they are better at earlier age becoming a $6 million dollar man or different||Creation of synthetic senses better than human|
|Statistics||Life Expectancy 77||Life Expectancy 83||Life Expectancy 89||Life Expectancy 95||Life Expectancy 100|
|Maximum: 125||Maximum: 130||Maximum: 140||Maximum: 150||Maximum: 160|
|Average IQ: 100||Average IQ: 105||Average IQ: 110||Average IQ: 115||Average IQ: 120|
|Moral Dillema||What to do with modified Genome for parents who want them?||Should people be changed beyond the original recipe?||Should cloing be legalized?||Should Genetic modifications be given to all?||What is maximum age? What to do with dumb old people?|
Here are the areas I have written prognostication and thoughts about: