Pardon my husky voice.It’s dusty here, or I’ve got a Supercold and the future’s all out of throat lozenges; take your pick.
I realize that many of you are thrilled about a possibly-imminent Singularity.I realize this because the young me is among you right now.Anyway, that Singularity sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?Well, it could be, but please heed this warning: If you don’t take certain precautions, your cool Singularity could get damn nasty; and I mean five-stories-tall-robots nasty and scary-robot-motorcycles nasty and ruggedly-handsome-robot-human-hybrids-who-steal-a-movie-right-out-from-under-you nasty.And do I really need to mention the dust problem again, or the Supercolds…
…and the unfortunate lack of throat lozenges around here?
Juan Enriquez' recent presentation at TED juxtaposes the accelerating world financial crisis against the backdrop of the longer term, more profound changes in robotics, biology and genetics. For the former, he suggests that we work longer before receiving social security and not get too tied up in the current morass that we lose track of the incredible advances in the latter. With regard to this he says we are beginning to evolve into a new species - "Homo Evolutis - Hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species...and others." This is not a new meme though it seems to be gaining traction and is popping up more frequently these days. Our ability to manipulate and integrate technology into our very beings will no doubt be one of the hot button issues of the next decade.
The booklet 2063 A.D. (Free PDF download; $25.30 print) was published by General Dynamics Astronautics, and placed into a time capsule in July of 1963.
Only 200 copies were ever printed. The 50 page book contains predictions by scientists, politicians, astronauts and military commanders about the state of space exploration in the year 2063.
As you'd suspect, given General Dynamic's business, there are many predictions about space travel, lunar bases and cheap energy resources. (So there is still time yet for their forecasts to come true!)
Lulu's edition is a reprint made from scans of the original 1963 book.
If you like this type of historical futures also check out the blog Paleo Future
Chris Martenson has created a series of videos called The Crash Course 'to provide you with a baseline understanding of the economy so that you can better appreciate the risks that we all face.'
Martenson shows how important it is for us to understand the enormous implications of exponential growth, debt-deficits, wealth creation, asset bubbles and demographic shifts, resource production plateaus, hedonic models, fuzzy numbers of GDP, et al.
Martenson is not necessarily trying to sell a vision of inevitable collapse. Rather he makes a strong case to highlight the observable fundamental flaws in our current economic behavior and models, and the dire consequences of what might happen if we do nothing to change our course.
This is a must watch set of videos for thinking about the future.
A variety of thinkers have converged on the notion that humans rely on what is essentially "software" to build our simulation(s) of the world around us.
Abstractions Driving the Flynn Effect: Cognitive historian James Flynn attributes the steady rise in IQ over the past 100+ years (known as the Flynn Effect) to better human abstraction abilities, not to any significant increase in physical brain power:
Our brains at conception are no better than they ever were. But in response to the evolving demands of society, we can attack a far wider range of problems than our ancestors could. It is like the evolution of the motor car in the 20th century. Are automotive engineers any brighter than they were 100 years ago? – no. But have cars evolved to meet modern demands for more speed and entertainment while we drive (radios, tape decks, etc) – yes. Our brains are no better but our minds have altered as dramatically as our cars.
In other words, the abstract thought frameworks that we drill into our children during critical periods, including math, science, biology, maps, businesses, social networks, new language, etc, are in fact a form of software that affects our IQ and ability to navigate the world.
This simple yet powerful abstraction (npi) is a critical paradigm shift in our definition of what it means to be human and opens the door to additional metaphors for social, economic and intelligence studies.
Particularly intriguing is the question of how quickly and/or regularly we (individuals, groups, societies, nations) experience software upgrades, akin to loading the latest Windows or Linux versions.
"Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right." - Henry Ford
The worst thing we can do when thinking about the future of energy is to look at possible solutions and simply extrapolate today's technologies and scientific assumptions forward about what 'is' or 'isn't possible'.
There is still a lot we do not know about the basics of energy systems dealing with photons, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, enzymes and metals. Our current first phase efforts to design nanoscale materials used in energy production, conversion and storage are certain to yield systems that will change how we live in the world in the decades ahead.
Remember, only a century ago, coal and wood were king, magical 'electric' light intimidated the general public, only a few could see the potential of oil, rockets and nuclear science were beyond our imagination, and the vision of a tens of millions of 'horseless carriages' reshaping the urban landscape was a ridiculous proposition.
So what seemingly novel ideas could shape the next century?
Let's think beyond simply trying to find new ways to produce more energy, and focus on ways of storing energy. Why? Because this expands ways for us to produce more energy! Confused?
Solar and wind alone are a hard sell to utility providers because of intermittent production when the sun isn't shining or wind doesn't blow. Add utility scale storage to solar and wind farms, and you have a more valuable proposition.
Battery powered cars sound great, but not if we have to plug in our vehicles every 50 or 100 miles. Or what about a new iPhone with a battery that cannot last the entire day.
We have written dozens of posts on energy storage and believe it deserves much more attention from the media and policy leaders. 2009 could be a turning point for awareness around the importance of enabling next generation batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
List of 20+ Energy Breakthroughs in Batteries, Fuel cells, and Capacitors
Many people will say that pursuing aspace-based solar powerenergy campaign is too ambitious, that there are more immediate solutions to get us through our economic/energy crisis until a time when spaced-aged, science fiction-inspired future tech can be safely explored further. They might say that we already have a head start with nuclear, oil and coal, as well as other greener alternatives like wind, water and Earthbound solar. They would be dead wrong.The truth is...
2008 was a big year for science breakthroughs on next generation bioenergy solutions. And that is a good thing for the future of energy.
The modern economy runs on ancient bioenergy. Coal is ancient biomass, oil is likely ancient microbes.
So why not tap the power of biology to ‘grow energy’ resources.
Forget about corn ethanol, the future taps the power of microorganisms not plants.
Next generation solutions such as algae and bacteria ‘eat’ carbon to produce biofuels, or use sunlight to produce hydrogen. Looking beyond 2015, we can imagine real breakthroughs in the field of Synthetic Biology that could change how we look at energy and carbon solutions.