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 energy will change your life

The entire history of all living things relies on a simple principle: we live in a world of limited resources. It defines how organisms evolve, how societies act, how economies change, and how governments run (or fail). We take this assumption so much for granted that if anyone refutes it, they’re considered ignorant or insane. Tell someone that one day we will have unlimited food or energy and see their response. Civilisation as we know it is going to have the biggest shake-up yet: because this guiding principle will no longer be relevant.

The hunter about to spear fish

Scarcity as truth

Until now, scarcity has ruled our existence. We base the value of anything on how much effort it takes to get it or make it. Make a pair of sandals in India for 89 cents, sell it in London for 89 pounds. The time, skills and effort needed to source it, transport it, package it, and market it adds the value. De Beers has bought, shut down, and lobbied for regulations against, at least 5 companies that have developed large pressure containers that can create a real diamond the size of an almond in a few days. Economics 101: rarity creates value for useful things.

Moreover, the person who can get it, gets rich. An oil company that builds the rigs and ships gets the money. A hunter who could provide fresh meat regularly ruled the tribe and got his choice of meat, shelter and companionship. How much payment depends on the energy expended to get the item and the scarcity of the item. Whether moving a product from one side of the world to another, or killing your prey faster, value comes from effort expended, which we measure in energy.

Efficiency as a driver

Efficiency rules. The hunter that brought back the most food did not necessarily have the most strength. He may have used his wits to hide at the right vantage point and used his skills to distract and bring down his prey. He would finish the hunt early, after expending less energy. He uses this extra energy to either hunt more, bringing more value, or enjoy his spoils more, living a better life. Spending less energy to get more product makes for more wealth.

The more energy and efficiency a group has, the wealthier it becomes. We only have to look at the GDP across the globe to see this. But all of this has begun to change. The decentralisation of energy production that comes from renewable power — especially solar, wind, nuclear and hydro — changes the equation. In the last 40 years, installation cost of solar panels has dropped from $77 per watt to $1 per watt, and it continues to drop.

solar panels as far as the eye can see

Free energy changes everything

Recently Elon Musk (who arguably has done more for making solar practical than any other person alive) told government officials that the entire US could be powered with 100 square miles of panels in a sunny state. In the last 6 months alone, 3 separate new technologies have emerged that can radically drop this cost. A few weeks ago a paper came out that shows how to make a solar cell 50% more efficient. Solar has now become cheaper than any other power source. Soon we will have more energy than we can consume.

An abundance of energy will mean the cost of energy will approach — and eventually reach — zero. When energy has no cost, how do we value everything else? The cost of production will approach zero. The cost of mining will approach zero. The cost of development will approach zero.

What about material resources?

We also have to consider the limit of material resources. Abundant energy will allow for ease of creation of heavier materials. Material scientists already create more complex and useful materials that more and more will replace the materials created naturally by pressure and time.

Just look at graphene, a superconductor stronger than steel, lighter than metal and made of carbon, one of the most abundant elements on earth. Once we overcome a few engineering challenges, the only real barrier to mass production lies in the energy consumption cost. Free energy, free graphene.

Even if we were to deplete earth’s resources, the main thing holding back asteroid mining? Yes, the high energy cost of getting into space.

Remember the hunter? If any tribe member could go out and grab a free burger instead of waiting for the bounty of the hunt, how would the hunter be valued? The single underlying truth of how we organise everything, a world of limited resources, will no longer exist.

The current state of play

This process is not about to happen. In fact, it has been happening all around us for the whole of human history, accelerating in the last 450 years since the establishment of science, and moving even faster in the last 20 because of computing technology.

We can see it in the politics of today as the people who rely on the status quo to remain wealthy lash out. They rage against the machine their companies made possible, fighting to maintain scarcity, reducing distribution of wealth, reducing education and brainwashing the resulting dullards to act against their own interests. We see it as businesses that follow the old guard struggle to maintain the economic system, even as startups emerge that use hyper-efficiency to nibble away at their profits, then get bought by tech giants and we watch the old companies die. Only a few learn to adapt. The choice becomes a choice as old as time: adapt or die.

The world as we desperately cling to knowing it, has a new foundation: unlimited energy, leading to abundance of all things. Space mining requires energy: solved. New material production requires energy: solved. Artificial intelligence requires energy to run machines: solved. And so on and so on, abundance, abundance, abundance.

What’s next in this new world?

How will we live in this new world? How will we organise ourselves when nation states and the economy we know no longer have a place? Will we fight this losing battle against this change and traumatise ourselves as a species, or will we embrace it and speed towards a future of abundance, choice and wealth? What do you choose?


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

Reposted from Medium

See also: A sheep in wolf’s clothing: what to love about screentime