Alan Turing, in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” proposed the following question: “Can machines do what we (as thinking entities) can do ?” To answer it, he described his now famous test in which a human judge engages in a natural language conversation via teletype with one human and one machine, each of […]Read more
Many people are content to let the future take care of itself. Why not? they won’t be around for most of it. Others have an intense curiosity about it, it’s just like having an interest in history except one is turned around facing the other way. All those amazing and interesting things humans have done since they stopped living in nature and got serious about changing the world around them – what will they do next? Some people are interested in the future because they are afraid of it, worried about current trends which when extrapolated into the future bode disaster. Finally, some have a vision of the future as a place that could be better than the world we live in now.
Whether your interest is simple curiosity and you enjoy reading about possible future scenarios like a tourist out sightseeing or you are the kind who wants to take action and do your part to avert disaster or bring about a better world, I hope you will find value here.
I confess I am the latter sort myself, I do feel compelled to understand this journey humanity is on and contribute a positive influence on what may come, if I may. The future is a big place and the ripples made by one stone casted into the river of time are soon erased. But it pleases me to add my small vote, what about you?
Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur and investor (Pay Pal, Facebook, SpaceX and others) is one of those people who is not content to be a tourist of the future, he has visions of the way the future should be and he is working hard to bring them about and with significant resources. On the home page of his Founder’s Fund venture capital firm website is an article entitled: “Whatever happened to the Future: We wanted flying cars, instead we got 146 characters.”
I share his frustration. I was born in 1950, the midpoint of the tumultuous 20th century. I remember when TVs were first coming into American homes, the invention of the laser, the microprocessor, the invention of birth control pills, and of course, the wonder of the early Space Program. In the 50s and 60s it seemed that a wondrous future was just beyond the horizon and it was coming at us fast!
One of my favorite 50s movies, the Sci-FI classic “Forbidden Planet,” is set sometime in the 22nd century. In the prolog of the film the narrator summarizes future history leading up to the time for the movie’s action. Humans, it was confidently related, first reached the moon late in last decade of the 21st century. Future Shock indeed, the film was aired in 1956, the first moon landging was just 12 years later! We soon became confident that we would all be traveling in around in flying cars and taking vacations in outer space while talking robots mowed our lawns.
It was not all optimism in those days of course. We also routinely practiced civil defense drills at school where we would file out into the hallways and kneel down in neat little rows facing the wall, heads bowed with our hands protecting the back of our necks. This was intended as a (pitifully inadequate) method to reduce injuries from flying glass when the shock wave of a nuclear detonation rolled over the school.
Global Thermonuclear War never happened and it seems less and less likely that it ever will. But what did happen to those other brighter visions of the future? Are they just a little father off than we thought or is reality going to disappoint? Today many people see a much darker future and disaster scenarios abound in popular fiction and in scientific journals.
Let us explore our future, learning from the past, avoiding simple straight line extrapolations, and letting neither fear nor optimism influence our speculations. Whatever the future is going to be it will surprise us, it always does, but we need not stumble forward blindly. Our great gift as a species is our imagination, it evolved to help us adapt the world, and our futures, to our needs. Let us use it well.
1. The Environment One trend in the changing landscape of human concerns that has become pervasive and persistent in the last few decades is the growing sensitivity to humanity’s relationship with the natural environment. While people still disagree about the extent to which human activities are currently damaging the planet’s Biosphere and about how long […]Read more
We’ve expected talking robots, intelligent cars and smart houses by now but all we got is a “speech interpretation and recognition interface (Siri).” For all the hype, anyone who has used any of the current crop of so called “intelligent” programs knows they don’t actually comprehend a single word you say to them. The problem […]Read more