The revolutions that shape us

Seven technologies that are making the industrial revolution look like the introduction of the pitch forkcrowds affected by revolutions

Just as the developed world was shaped by the industrial revolution — making the most significant and rapid change to almost every aspect of daily life as we know it — so our near future will be completely and radically changed by an imminent series of revolutions.

The advances in science and technology — and the way in which they feed into each other — create an ever increasingly rapid feedback loop that pushes us towards changes in society that we can barely imagine. Many give in to the temptation to sit back and wait for the impact to emerge; however — the gap in knowledge about these topics, and the breadth of their possibilities, creates a new socio-economic divide that will create a new super-class, or underclass. The more we know, the more we can shape how they impact each of us in society.

Let’s look at seven currently developing technological revolutions.

Artificial intelligence and robotics revolutions

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will change the role and make up of the work force. Manual and intellectual labour has already begin to be gradually replaced by more efficient machines.

AI also functions as a base technology. Once we have AI working at a certain level it will enhance all other technologies and the way that they evolve, helping bring about other revolutions.

Media about the changing job market due to automation has proliferated recently. Yet it fails to recognise that this process has been going on for tens of thousands of years, ever since humans started using tools. Each tool (or technology) brought about more efficiency helping fewer people do more work. For a long time we still had enough work to keep most everyone busy.

As this process has sped up due to the scientific methodology, mechanical engineering and now computer engineering, we have reached a point where we have more people than work we need done. We also have an increasing amount of work done by fewer people. We will have to redesign our economy to meet this change.

Quantum computing revolution

We also have the revolution of quantum computing. Up to now, computing has improved in very small, incremental amounts. People like Ray Kurzweil have tracked this using Moore’s law showing that every 18 months computing doubles in power and halves in price.

As we head into the age of quantum computing, where we currently see breakthroughs, computing power will extend by orders of magnitude higher than that predicted by Moore’s law. This change will make Moore’s law seem quaint by comparison. A quantum computer can theoretically solve a problem that would take our fastest current computer a 10,000 years to compute in a matter of seconds.

Once again, quantum computing will enable a series of other revolutions to happen. For example: an AI running on a quantum computer can create much more powerful AIs, and that alone can change our entire world.

Genetics and biotech revolutions

The understanding of genetics across all species has redefined biology. The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology allows us to edit genomes as easily as we cut and paste text on a document. We’re already heading onto the second generation of this tech, just a couple short years after its introduction.

Genetics principal limitations come from processing power and analytical techniques, now helped by quantum computing and AI respectively. We’re exploring creating a programming language for life. This introduces the ability to design new life or edit existing life. This ability will allow us to create brand new plants, animals, microbes, and bacteria — from scratch. Whereas Jurassic Park revived dinosaurs from their fossilised genetic remains — this technology will enable you to design a whole new or vintage style dino.

Genetic processing will allow us to create personalised medicine to heal all manner of ailments. And also add abilities to existing genomes. For example, being able to regrow limbs like a lizard or see with sound, like a bat. This sounds outlandish, but as we all evolved from the same genetic source, it can all theoretically happen.

We may use these abilities to create humans better suited to surviving space travel and living in lower gravity planets. We may use it to create superfoods that contain everything a human needs, or even personalised food that only gives an individual what they need.

The biotechnological revolution will also allow us to create new materials and bridge the connectivity gap between the organic and silicon-based.

Brain-machine interface revolution

The deeper understanding of our brains began on the heels of our understanding our bodies through genetics. Brain-machine interfaces, where we connect organic brains directly to computers, continues its rapid growth. At its most basic. this means we get rid of keyboards, touchscreens and microphones as input devices, and we dispense with screens and voices as computer outputs. We communicate directly with machines using our brains.

This allows us to have external processing power, external memory along with thought-based control of our electronic devices. This also introduces the possibility of memory manipulation, allowing us to instantly download knowledge and experiences into our brain. Imagine, as part of your packing for a vacation to Italy, to download fluency in the Italian language the night before you fly.

In addition, coupled with the internet and networking generally this effectively, brings us a brain-to-brain connection. Essentially telepathy with the ability to transfer thoughts and even emotions to others; an unprecedented change in human and interspecies communication.

Energy revolution

Up to the present we have based our economy on the idea of limited resources. We have limited clean water, limited oil, limited materials, limited labour-force. Finite or costly energy drives the majority of these limits. However, over the past 5 decades, the cost of solar power has continually dropped and the power output risen, not quite in line with Moore’s law but not far off.

Presently the cost of solar has dropped below that of fossil fuels and continues to drop, even as efficiency increases. As the cost of energy approaches zero causing abundant resources to proliferate, we will have to redesign our entire economy. We already feel the pressures of that in the current global political environment.

The barriers to a lot of limited resources effectively disappear with abundant energy, for example, abundant energy equals abundant clean water.

Materials revolution

Over the centuries, the materials we have available to us have got better. Originally we used naturally occurring materials such as wood, limestone and iron. Then we started to create our own materials, such as plastics and steel, made from combinations or treatments of those we found naturally. Now we have begun to move to the next step: reactive materials.

These materials react to their environment, such as a cloth that stiffens under pressure or a polymer that changes colour with temperature. We have begun to use these in modern military armour and protective coatings for vehicles, for example. Imagine thin suit that makes you as impregnable as superman. We make these materials by designing them at a molecular level. These materials will soon give way to smart materials through our next revolution.

Nanotechnology revolution

Nanotech refers to creating machines at a very, very tiny size. These can be mechanical machines like a lever, complex machines like an engine, or digital machines such as a computer — but minute. At such a nanoscopic scale no one of these machines really has a huge effect but rather thousands or millions of them working in concert can have significant outcomes. Much like atoms or molecules.

Think of them as smart atoms or smart molecules, which then become smart materials that can adapt. This base technology enhances many other revolutions. Nanotech enables programmable matter. For example, imagine a whole house built of a smart material. A single room can automatically re-purpose from a bedroom into a kitchen in seconds, a smartphone could become a laptop or a you could create a window where one did not exist before. This technology, called claytronics, effectively fulfils the dreams of alchemists, while removing the need for manufacturing of all kinds.

In another use, when we place nanomachines in our bodies they can repair damage, optimise functions and remove disease. It may even stall or reverse aging, leading to a growing population of unaging humans.

No part of human society will escape the phenomenal effects of these technologically driven convergent forces.

Convergence

No one of these technologies stands alone. They will not bring about a singular revolution, but rather the convergence of these technologies will each bring as much change as the internet, the axle or controlled fire did. Each one of these technologies changed the direction and speed of advancing civilisation on earth. I just scratched the surface of seven such revolutions which we have underway — all at the same time. Many more exist: space exploration, augmented/ virtual reality, holography, climate engineering, digital currencies and more.

The impact of this convergence will bring about change like we have never seen. It will make the industrial revolution look like the introduction of the pitch fork. So what will change? These revolutions put into question many basic assumptions. They redefine communication, life, work, identity, culture and even the physical world. They will affect the structure of the economy, the meaning of power, the definition of work and the existence of nation states.

Conclusion

The French could not fathom life without the monarchy — until revolution brought about freedom and democracy. These technological revolutions will catalyse and redefine war, medicine, politics, economy and religion. No part of human society will escape the phenomenal effects of these technologically driven convergent forces.

Many experts and sofa-bound specialists argue that history shows that these revolutions will take a lot of time and be controlled by “men with guns”. As for timing, we know Moore’s law has shown an acceleration of innovation. With the introduction of these technologies we’re set to smash Moore’s law and accelerate at an unprecedented rate.

We can always listen to the argument that guns, germs, and steel rule our world and history shows that nothing will change. I find these arguments naive, at best, in the face of truly awesome technological advance. More and more these technologies fall under the guidance of private individuals and private companies. Breakthroughs both small and large come from entrepreneurs and enterprise, not governments and nations. As astrophysicist Matthew O’Dowd said, “our technology is fast outpacing our ability to choose collectively whether or not to use it.” It rests in the hands of individuals with the willpower, the imagination. and the finance to move it forward.

Now is the time to imagine the world we want. With some forethought we can help guide our future. Let’s not wallow in the past but attend to our amazing future.


This is part of the Freedom series, looking at how near future technology will change civilisation.

See also: Free energy will change your life, Free from screens, Free from fear

Free from screens: a sheep in wolf’s clothing — what to love about screentime

Over the past few months I have overheard or been embroiled in increasingly regular conversations with parents about the detriments of ‘screentime’. One friend recently shared an Atlantic article that even went so far as to declare a mental health crisis and claim that smartphones have destroyed a whole generation.

For the most part I agree with the article and the concerned parents — I have first hand experience of this with my own children, 12 and 6 years old. Significantly, the data tells a compelling story: since the introduction of the home computer and the iPhone, the number of teenagers going to hang out with friends has declined, fewer teens move out of their parents home, and happiness amongst 10–20 year olds has declined. Younger children play outside less, ask fewer questions, and default to screens over human interaction.

While I agree with the data, I found it jarring that both the parents and the article present a reduction in screen time as the only possible solution. Parents, experts, and the article’s author, barely even mention it as a conclusion — and just assume that the reader or listener would see banning and regulation as the only way to reverse the trend. I disagree.

I find the context examined in these arguments very limited, looking back at only the preceding two generations. To truly appreciate what’s going on, we need to look at it in a larger context.

A temporary drug

When we look back at the introduction of books into culture, we can imagine a similar scenario: “When I was a child I was running around in the woods at 6 and I was an apprentice bringing home money by 13. But look at young George, 14 years old, sitting by a candle reading books all day! We’re spoiling this generation!” This wasn’t the case — partly because the transition to widely available books happened slowly. We did not go from no books to ubiquitous books in a matter of months.

Modern technological advance happens so rapidly that our relatively rigid grey matter cannot adapt with enough self-consciousness to avoid the pitfalls of applying primitive desire for gratification to digital interactions: click here, get hit of dopamine, “Cool, I can do this all day.” Consider this a temporary state of affairs.

Smartphones will not last long in society. In 10 years they will be as familiar as VHS is to us now. We need to look at them as very temporary devices as we transition to integrated technology. At the moment the phone and other screens exist as portals to a lot more data, information and experiences than any individual has previously ever had access. Our slow brains with limited memory and an inability to have multiple conscious thoughts at once get overwhelmed and addicted. However as we — inevitably — integrate tech into our own bodies and extend our personal processing power, memory and even physical abilities, the brain will be able to catch up with quantity of input and be less overwhelmed.

The new senses

Aswe integrate technology, we will not need a lot of time focussing through a connected device. Trends — including augmented reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology — show that as everything becomes connected and every object begins to have a digital existence, we will begin to interact with the physical and digital versions of everyone and everything at the same time.

For example, think of your Nest thermostat hanging on your wall. You can currently reach out and touch the physical device. You can also reach out digitally through your phone and ‘touch’ the device. Imagine reaching out with your mind to change the temperature. The same for your best friend. You can meet them for a cup of tea in person or you can interact with their digital self by commenting on their Facebook post. Imagine sending them a thought message directly, from your brain to theirs. This experience will adapt to all people and items: your fridge, your grocery, the traffic light, your car, the swimming pool, the Amazon shop — we will interact with the world in a profoundly different way. Imagine opening the blinds with a thought or watching three TV streams at once, comprehending them all.

Technology has already begun to integrate into us. Look at the person with Air buds in their ears, with Snapchat glasses, and a smartphone in their hand. Amber Case in her Ted talk, ‘We are all cyborgs now,’ accepts the definition of a cyborg as “an organism to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments.” Next we’ll have contact lenses projecting info on our eyeballs.

Soon we can connect ourselves directly to our tech using a neural link between our brain and the internet of everything. Companies like Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink hope to provide the interface between our physical self and our digital world. We can look at the smartphone as a lame simulacrum of this link that serves as the infant phase of the full transition to cyborg.

We need to guide our biological evolution to join pace and merge with our technological one until we cannot tell the difference. This young generation represents part of that transition which started a long time ago. Anything that stands in the way of this movement will get disrupted, adapted and often displaced, no matter how permanent it may seem. This includes how we see our very selves.

Education over regulation

A more interesting path explores ways to integrate digital interaction into our children’s lives, rather than limit them. While we progress to an enhanced technology future, how can we get children to balance the instant gratification of screens with the supposedly more beneficial analogue-world interaction?

I created a chart for my kids to help them develop healthy analogue and digital habits. I seek for them to have full freedom to use their screens whenever they want, but responsibly: taking care of situations in both analogue and digital life.

The chart hangs on the fridge, with a magnet marking how much access each child has to their screens at any time. Ideally, the child maintains consistenly positive choices, gaining full control forever and making the chart redundant. It may not work for everyone, but I know a lot of adults who could benefit from this exercise too. The chart helps the kids take control over their whole life without imposing the idea that analogue life somehow holds more importance or that we consider digital an unnatural state.

As Yuval Noah Harari says in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, “Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.”

Technology comes from the natural processes of the evolution of our brains and our culture. Seeing screens as some unnatural experience or an enemy of society that we need to limit, insults history and displays extreme short-sightedness.

What’s next in this new world?

We have not lost this new generation to smartphones. As parents, belonging to an older generation, we have been left behind as a new technological transition advances beyond our willigness to comprehend. This new world requires new skills which children crave and which we complain about just like our parents complained about TV or the PC.

We assume our solution means we have to get kids back to being ‘normal’, but they consider screen life the new normal. They need these skills to transition to what comes next. Like the generations before us, we can either get on board, get out of the way, or simply become irrelevant. You choose.


This is part of the Freedom series, looking at how near future technology will change civilisation.

Originally published on Medium

See also: Free energy will change your life

The dawn of artificial life

Look around and remember your surroundings, your life, your world. Take a mental snapshot. What you see represents the birth of a world of robotics, bionics and artificial intelligence. You live at the dawn of artificial life. Remember now so you can see how far we will have travelled. Just a decade in our future you will not recognise the world of today.

 

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cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and wonders who will be the first person to take a limb off intentionally to get a more powerful prosthetic.