Wraping My Mind Around 2010: A Singularitarian Philosopher Takes a Look at the Near Future
In trying to think the Flux I have chosen to focus my thinking on comprehending the near future of the Flux. In trying to think in this manner I have found the Years 2010 – 2013 to be a point of phase change. The technologies unleashed on the world in this time frame will likely be of a truly revolutionary nature. And when I say revolutionary what I mean is that these technologies will rapidly (over the period of a decade) transform the entire sociological order of global human-machine civilization.
This is, of course, quite interesting, if true, because it is so near in time and so astonishing in its implications for everything that seems important now. Also this kind of thinking is an experiment for me because if I can accurately predict the implications of the current state of the Flux, then I will have validated, to some extent, my methodology. And of course if I am completely wrong I will have shown that my methodology is rather wrong headed and untenable. So in what follows I will attempt to describe the state of the art in technology today, then I will attempt to extrapolate based on trends and the interrelation of those trends what the state of the art will likely be in five years or so, and then try to draw out some conclusions concerning the organization of global human-machine civilization at that point..
In this section I would like to treat the increases in computational power, means and speed of connectivity, software development, and media creation and dissemination as all so closely related as to be one thing. What I am referring to is basically the 'Internet' renamed. I say all of these things are the same because they are all intimately related, and in fact, these things acting in concert are the Internet. As computers gain in performance new software is written to take advantage of that new power. With more powerful programs and more powerful computers the amount of data that can be received and processed in real time increases and hence there is a demand for greater speeds of connectivity. With greater speeds of connectivity the kinds of media being distributed over the network becomes more complex. The purpose of this infrastructure, this 'Web', is to facilitate interconnectivity of human minds via ever greater powers of language (in the form of evolving media). This whole process, of course, is in recursive feedback. So we see that the whole infrastructure is part of the evolution that takes place when technology is applied to human communication. Now since human communication engendered technology in the first place applying technology to advancing communication (which began with the advent of writing) has set the advancement of both language and technology on the path of exponential increase in power. So if we take this model seriously, and I do, the evolution of the Internet becomes a quite logical process with a somewhat easy to predict near-term trajectory. The 'Internet' is precisely that bit of technology that is actively improving the technology engendering human activity of communication.
But what does it mean to improve communication and language? I think this is obvious. Language is the means of an individual to convey something about the world to another individual. In this way those humans who share a language also share a world. So the evolution of language has been, in some sense, the evolution of the 'World' that humans live in. And so the evolution of the technology of language has been the evolution of bringing more and more humans into a shared world and world-veiw. In this way the history of art is also the history of the evolution of language because the artist attempts to convey something about the world of that artist on a level that is not possible with mere words. One important way in which this is done is through simulacrum - whether the art be sculptures, poetry, play act, painting, photography, film etc. The idea though is not merely that the world is reproduced but that it is reproduced in such a way as to reveal some detail of experience that the artist/interlocutor wishes to accent. In such a way a person can go beyond the mere attempt to explain some detail of his/her world and can actually bring an audience into the artist's world and show them that world. This is the power of simulacrum and this is the direction of the Internet – toward always accessible global communication through artistic simulacrum.
Now if it is the power of communication that engenders the power of technology then the point at which all human knowledge becomes instantly accessible and searchable and the point at which any person can create an immersible world to share with others is a kind of linguistic singularity (AGI would be the other one most commonly associated with the singularity proper)
So what is the state of art of this technology engendering linguistic technology and what kind of changes can we reasonably expect over the next five years? Well one way to answer the first part of this question is to measure to what extent the average person can share powerful simulacrum and to what extent all human knowledge is searchable and accessible.
Currently there are three big players here: The movie industry, the gaming industry, and Google (and to a lesser extent every website and program on the Internet). We are now in the midst of major change in entertainment as the gaming industry moves into high gear. We have MMORPG's, hyper realistic first person shooters, and incredible world simulators already. All of these game genres are contributing to the realization of total world immersion. At the same time the state of the art of television and film is rapidly advancing. Witness the advent of enormous HDTV's, Super realistic surround sound systems, and media that holds incredible amounts of information such as HDDVD's. Add these advances to the advances in the cost and power of digital camera's, media computers, and gaming engines; and the ease of transmitting media globally and free through services such as Google video and YouTube, and it is not hard to see that we will be witnessing an ever greater rise in the production and dissemination of high quality homemade media.
As to the access and searchability of human knowledge we are making rapid gains as well. The constraint on this issue is in the power of the artificially intelligent search algorithms, and in the ease of interface with this intelligence, and in the physical availability of access to this intelligence. As far as the search algorithm, Google has been steadily gaining in this field and I see no reason why this shall not continue. As for the interface, rapid advancements are now being made with speech recognition software and we are already beginning to see the implementation of this technology in customer service, automobile navigation computers and cellphone operations. If these advancements stay on course I see no reason why we will not have, at least, rudimentary speech interface with an artificial intelligence that is powerful enough to coordinate all human knowledge and communication by 2013 or so. Now as for physical availability, this will of course begin only in the developed world, but with the current advent of EVDO, full power hand held computers, and 3G phones and networks it seems obvious to me that in another five years one will be able to access the Internet (and hence the entire global system) at any time one would wish.
So my prediction is that sometime around 2010 – 2013 the Internet will finally become a full fledged 'meta-verse'. And of course when this technology fully emerges it will be inextricably tied to all the other technologies, including government, production, and finance.
I have labeled human communication as that which engenders technology but this is only half the story. If the purpose of communication is to share a world then the purpose of sharing a world is learning to coordinate activity in that world. Finance is the means of coordinating activity in an environment of resource scarcity. The sophistication of finance evolves as the sophistication and complexity of economic activity become greater in order to deal with the ever greater scarcity of resources as the population density in a given location increases. Our current global and highly complex system of finance has evolved with the population density of the planet. Right now the global finance system is coordinating the production of the life-infrastructure for over 6 billion people. The technology of finance is the technology that facilitates the storage, transmission, and distribution of wealth in the most economically efficient manner. This system has been rapidly evolving since the Enlightenment and has been evolving especially rapidly since the advent of digital computation. Hardly a day can pass by with out a new form of financial instrument being invented and a new, more efficient, way of trading those instruments. Year after year more and more people own some amount of the infrastructure of economic productivity thanks to these instruments. If we observe the historical records of the value of the economic infrastructure, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or the S&P 500, we must come to the conclusion that the value – and hence the efficiency, of the economic infrastructure of productivity is increasing at an exponential rate. There is every reason to think this trend will continue. We have already moved to a fiat currency and we are just now moving to a fully digital currency. Yes there is still pieces of paper sitting in the bank, and yes you can still operate in the economy merely by exchanging these pieces of paper, but the pieces of paper have no relevancy anymore. Just this month (4/06) PayPal has introduced a means whereby one may pay for things, or otherwise transfer money from one account to another, with a cell phone. Its not hard to imagine that in a world of ubiquitous communication and computation, complete with virtual reality type immersion, that all currency will be digital. More than this, however, is the possibilities to finance that this opens up. In a world such as this there would continuously be perfect liquidity in all markets. What this means is that the average person will be able to store all moneys in high quality investments while at the same time that person will be able to whip out his/her ultra personal computer/cell phone and transfer that money out of capital investment into someone's bank account (where it will then be invested again in such a manner) to make a purchase or what not.
This state of affairs, which I see as having already begun, will have an enormous impact on global economy by 2013. Of course I don't expect it to have already caused a revolution by 2013, what I mean is that by 2013 it will have begun to start a revolution which will still take another ten years to fully, and irrevocably change the world economy. The revolution takes place at the point at which the efficiency and productivity of the economic infrastructure exceeds the immediate demands of human-machine civilization. At this point the storage of wealth becomes irrelevant because any human demand can be immediately satisfied with out laboring or 'spending' stored labor, i.e., money. At that point every individual has a right to a certain percentage of the fully automated economic infrastructure and that amount of wealth will be virtually infinite in as much as the infrastructure can supply any human need or reasonable desire – my guess is around 2030..
So my prediction is that by 2013 digital currency and computerized trading of instruments will provide perfect liquidity of markets allowing for a greater and greater number of middle class citizens of developed nations to become far more wealthy and eventually allowing everyone on planet earth to become very wealthy.
Models of economic productivity
But finance is merely a technology for coordinating labor and allocating capitol. What is really interesting is the manner in which the labor and capitol is coordinated. The environment of market capitalism is a highly competitive environment that aggressively selects for efficiency of productivity or service (which translates immediately to greater profit which translates into greater capitol investment). While it may seem that capitalism only works because of all the sophisticated social norms that we have – and this is true – it is also true that the same basic laws of the biosphere which have been influencing the behavior of Homo Sapiens since the beginning are the same basic laws that continue to govern the technological evolution characterized by the evolution of any capitalist economy. So while we are examining human economic activity we must remember that while it is in a sense an invention of man it is also, in reality, the natural activity of man at this stage of his existence on this planet. As such it follows certain rules, just like any other system of nature, that can be extrapolated through hypothetico-deduction. Namely we can conclude that the efficiency of economic productivity will continue to grow at an exponential rate because that is the nature of the techno-economic society which has arisen on planet earth due to natural memetic selection. This translates into an ever growing knowledge of the cosmological system (science) and ever greater power to control aspects of that system in order to support human life (which encompasses the entire biosphere). This power and its relationship with Humanity is the essence of technology. Technology, which is the outcome of productivity, has emerged out of the biosphere and is a part of the biosphere.
In this sense Man is truly the keeper of the Garden. Either Man will maintain the Garden and so maintain His existence or Man will destroy the biosphere and Himself. So in saying that Man is essentially a technological species we are also saying that man is essentially the keeper of the biosphere. Previously in history Man has conceived of the evolution of technology as a war against nature – a war to wrest the secrets from nature in order to tame Her. Yet now, more and more, we are beginning to understand that no thing can be effected without all things being effected. We are beginning to understand that to take care of Humanity means to bring all of Earth into a system of equilibrium. With out this feat there can only be scarcity, starvation, and war.
But the nature of the exponential growth of science along with technology has finally brought about a state of affairs wherein we can begin to understand how the entire system might be maintained in equilibrium without scarcity. This state of affairs follows from economic efficiency and technological power.
Perfect economic efficiency and technological power would be the knowledge and ability to transform anything into anything with the least amount of energy possible. Who knows what the limits of this are but we are, as yet, far from it. Still at this point we have the knowledge to begin to build an infrastructure that collects all of its energy in a highly efficient manner from the sun, storing that energy efficiently in the form of hydrogen, or in super-capacitors, or fly-wheels etc. Extremely rapid advances are being made in this field every year. At the same time amazing advances are being made in robotics, replication machines, synthetics, and nanotech etc. Every year appliances are getting more and more efficient as well. Already at this time a person with a reasonable amount of capital could completely support his or her self on a relatively small plot of land using existing technologies. So I predict that in about five years a large and rapidly growing number of individuals all over the world will be providing some or all of their own power and using replication technology to make a surprising number of products rather than buy them. I'm not saying that this decentralized hyper-efficient economic paradigm will dominate but merely that it will have a firm foothold by 2013 and that it will expand quite rapidly causing a true economic revolution before 2020. This trend will continue, of course, with the arrival nanofabrication machines and AGI. I don't expect this kind of technology though until about 2030 – shortly before the singularity.
The waning of the State. This is the story I predict for the next decade. For the most part the state is something that must exist to protect property in an environment of scarcity. People don't murder each other for tennis shoes in an environment of plenty. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that the state is just going to up and disappear tomorrow. I just think that as economic productivity and the distribution of wealth increase in efficiency the state will, correspondingly, diminish in power and importance. This is because the function of the state will become obsolete. There will, no doubt, still be law and police, but not many of either. On the other hand there probably won't be much privacy – at least not in the public sphere. What I hope to see is an ever increasing decline in crime as wealth increases and it becomes nearly impossible to break the law without being caught because of ubiquitous cameras. If this is the case people will demand that the law become simplified and manageable – otherwise most of us would end up in jail eventually for some stupid peccadillo. Other factors influencing the soon-to-be irrelevance of the state are the irrelevance of war as scarcity begins to become a none issue, transnational migration, and the complete intertwining of the global economy which is causing all nations to be reliant on the established system to the extent that waging a war is really not an option. So its really pretty simple: No economic scarcity = little crime and no war = the eventual end of the state. And by 'state' I mean the entire military-industrial complex, the enormous prisons filled with millions of people – many of whom are non-violent offenders, and the thousands and thousands of police who patrol the streets pulling over pretty much whomever they like while merely picking a violation from among the thousands there are to charge you with if he likes. And this is in the democratic republics, never mind the state of affairs in the world's tyrannical states. Don't get me wrong – I'm not judging the state on an ethical level – I'm merely describing what it is. That it is a necessary evil is evident by the fact that the state is a sociological condition that arose spontaneously through the activity of certain groups of people living at certain times during the history of biological evolution. No single person had the idea to build a state in order to enter into competition for resources. The state was formed spontaneously from human activity. Yet just because I understand that states exist necessarily does not mean that I believe that their continuance is necessary.
Technology is the result of confrontation and scarcity. It stems from a biological adaptation. The inherent conflict between competing social groups, or species, or nature, is what gives rise to technological evolution. But it is this same technology, once it is cultivated to completion, that ends the condition of scarcity from whence it came. With the end of scarcity comes and end to the state and a new economic and political way of being will take its place.
But before we get to that point the first step in the way of ending the state is establishing international law (by violent enforcment if necessary, i.e. Iraq, Bosnia, maybe Iran etc.) Of course I prefer the peaceful route, and ultimately that is the only rout, but before justice can be established on a global level basic laws protecting human rights must be established and enforced on a global level. We are now in the process of achieving this state of affairs even if it is being violently opposed by militant Islamic fundamentalists and other well intending people such as green peace anarchist types (or even your standard Democrat for that matter). Once this state of quasi international justice is attained perhaps before 2015, then these nations will be ready for a flood of technologies which will help them build an economic infrastructure and be plugged into the global system quite rapidly. So by 2013 or so I expect to see the infrastructure set up that leads to the beginning of the dismantling of militant infrastructure and, hence, a greater investment in the infrastructure of life – which will only serve to accelerate the process of demilitarization. This demilitarization will be demanded in democratic nations once the economic benefit is felt initially.
I think one way to judge a flux is looking at productivity increases in the big free market areas of the world in 2013. If we see the yearly percentage gains continuing like they are now, or even rising then it would be some strong evidence..
I've bet my money on Japan right now, through stocks.. That Japan will see the biggest rises in output.
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While material plenty will reduce some crime, it will take mental health improvements to dramatically lower it. The folks who flew into the World Trade Towers were not poor or looking to increase their material well being.
You write that you "have found the Years 2010 - 2013 to be a point of phase change." Right in the middle of those years at 2012, the Singularity Timetable predicts a fullblown Technological Singularity.
Thanks ，ver ygood！
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