technology

Why The Precautionary Principle is Misguided…

It was some two-thousand years ago Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, also known as Pliny the Elder, in book 35 of his 37-volume encyclopedia, Earth, told of an aspiring young goldsmith who presented a shiny new metal to the Roman emperor Tiberius. The metal? Aluminum. The emperor, an extremely wealthy man with vast holdings of precious metals such as gold and silver, inquired if he had shared this discovery with anyone. The Goldsmith’s answer was no. Tiberius had him instantly killed.

The Emperor’s reasoning went something like this: If a rarer—therefore more valuable—metal than gold and silver had been allowed to spread, the Emperor’s holdings would depreciate. (Why he did not just force the potter to work solely for him befuddles me, but emperoral thought is an enigma unto itself—and I may just have made up a word.) The Emperor’s use of the Precautionary Principle (PP) successfully delayed the re-discovery of aluminium by almost 1700 years, where again it became the most valuable metal on Earth. (That is, until 1886 when the method of electrolysis was adapted for aluminium.) Now it is so cheap that we wrap it around our food only to throw it away when we’re done.

This post concerns itself with similar use-cases of the PP in the modern world to nefarious ends. However, before continuing with my extrapolation of the PP in the present day, some definitions are in order. The Precautionary Principle, at least defined by modern standards, was formulated in the early 1990s by the UN as below:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

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religious reasoning

RE: A Terse Explanation for the Finite Nature of Religion

Both Heathen Heart and R.L. Culpeper have written a few posts between themselves discussing, and respectfully disagreeing on the endgame of religion. So now I’m turning it into a chain-mail of posts by adding my two cents (and that’s probably all it’s worth) in response to Culpeper’s post, linked here. It’s written as a comment, but I’m adding it here because I needed to insert links as references  and it’s also quite long (for a comment at least).

So you’ve made some great points in your post, and I’m inclined to agree with all of them. However, and forgive me for being blunt, I think they are rooted in the application of your considerable intellect only to the short-history humanity has had. The assumptions (or fundamentals) that have thus far, underwritten our societies, are changing and will soon no longer be relevant. To elucidate this, let me use an example of a friend who took a similar position but related to GMO foods.

She said that science (read: genetic engineering) has never produced a healthier food than what we can produce organically. In this, she is not wrong. But what was also implied was scientists will never ever produce a healthier food than nature, and this is false (if we set our minds to it, we’ll do it; history is replete with such examples: flight, telepathy (cellphone), space travel, breaking the sound barrier, and so on). Producing a healthier apple than nature merely requires the requisite knowledge and tools, both of which are coming online ever increasingly in abundance with each passing year. It’s just a matter of time, because if nature can do it, it means that it’s possible, and since evolution never produces perfect organisms, there is always a better way to make it. Ergo, one day, provided that research into GM food continues, then GM food will one day trump nature’s food.

So to relate that back to your example. Religion will never release its hold upon humanity. I’d like to modify your statement if I may. I think it should be written as “religion will never release its hold upon humanity while people remain uneducated, mis-educated, disease-prone, conflict-prone, and death providing the existential threat.”

So let’s tackle them one by one.

Global literacy is on its way down, thanks to the Internet, cell-phones, and increasing wealth (this trend is slow but progressing. Global literacy is 84%, while in 1990, it was 76%). Mis-education is a problem, but again, this is also getting better and you need only look to the western countries to see that as economic growth increases, societal dysfunction goes down, more kids are sent to school as a result, instead of having to help the family get food and income, and religious fervour drops as a result. (There was a recent comprehensive study that showed that religion, social stratification, and societal dysfunction are inherently linked, but which causes which is as yet unknown. Does society-wide religion cause economic inequalities, or does economic inequality increase religious fervor?  I think it’s the latter, but there is no way to conclusively show it is one over the other.) This somewhat tackles mis-education indirectly. A prosperous society is more likely to be a freer society. And a freer society is more likely to have criticism, debates, discussions, opposing and dissenting opinions, and this makes its way into the hearts and minds of its citizens.

Disease-prone: This is somewhat self-explanatory. 100 years ago, life expectancy was 47 years. It’s 78.5 today in the west, 89 in Monaco, and 83 in Japan. Chad has the lowest at 48.69, but that is higher than the entire global average of one century ago. More and more diseases are being combatted now (Hans Rosling has an excellent four-minute video of the rising life expectancy as a result of increasing wealth). But medicine, up until now, has been a hit and miss process. As Kurzweil says, we just found stuff that worked and kept doing it with very little understanding of the underlying biological processes at work. With genetic medicine increasing in cost-to-performance ratio ten-fold per year (5 times the pace of Moore’s Law in computers), it is getting cheaper to sequence DNA, understand the information processes that underly biology, and start implementing preventive medicine instead of reactive medicine, which is resulting in Lab on a Chip technology. (Soon, your cellphone will become your doctor and analyze your body on the spot. Pandemics will cease, health will increase, people will have more time to satisfy their own desires and study, and quality of life will increase. This tech is coming online this year. I wrote a post on the future of medicine and health here, and here is a short youtube video to show it in action.) Historically, life expectancy has increased 1-2 years per decade. But because biology is now an information technology, it will (and indeed does) increase exponentially (since 2003 when the genome was mapped), and within 10-20 years, life expectancy will be increased at one year per year. (Note, this requires no new technology, only the technology and understanding we currently have to continue along at a pace equal to, or greater, than Moore’s Law, and this is indeed happening and shows no sign of abating.)

Tackling conflict. According to Steven Pinker (everyone owes it to themselves to watch his 18-min TED talk titled: The Myth of Violence), violence has declined since the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the 20th century was the most peaceful century in existence, even accounting for WW1 and WW2. War is becoming less and less common the more the information about the conflict travels. We need only look at Vietnam here. The first war to bring the reality of death and destruction back to the general population. Needless to say, it was the most unpopular war in history, and look at the conflicts since then, unwaveringly smaller, and more sensitive to collateral damage. (I am not saying it has been roses and happiness since then, but there is a clear downgrade in the severity of conflicts in regions of the world where communication and information are abundant.)

Death is the big one and will undoubtedly remain the biggest motivator, but we must realize that even if no progress is made, progress against religion can be made. Just look at the Scandinavian countries, Australia, several other European nations, China, and Japan which are majority (or close to) agnostic/atheist. But be that as it may, progress towards the dissolution of death is well underway, and even starting to appear in the mainstream press. But for now, we must take it as an assumption that death will be forever removed as the inevitable curse it is. The other examples I have shown are in progress, so is death, but until global death rates hit zero (natural deaths, that is), the jury will be out.

You also mention political and economic inequality. I could write thousands of words on this, but to try to keep it brief. Technology is changing the human landscape and bringing people out of poverty. The book Abundance is a great read to really understand the dynamics. (And Rational Optimist so I’m told, though I haven’t read it yet but I will soon.) But, in the last century: per-capita average income has tripled (adjusted for inflation), food has come down in cost a factor of 10, shelter a factor of 20, transportation a factor of 100, and communication a 1000-fold. And in the last forty years, global poverty has halved while the population has doubled. So we are earning three times more, spending less on the necessities and learning/enjoying more than ever. These trends are actually accelerating (The Law of Accelerating Returns). While we are not out of the woods yet, the trends are clearly in one direction, and short of some calamity, should continue.

Concordantly, global religiosity is on its way down (59% are now religious, 23% are now a-religious, and 13% are atheists, with the none’s being the fastest growing, with the youth leading the way). (Who ever said young people were useless? It is only they that do reliably change the world. Of course, the logical conclusion is that if death is kept at bay, might things never change? The answer, for me, is no, as we tinker with our brains and augment our intelligence becoming in the process more wed to truth than to our cognitive biases as it stands now.)

So in answer to your questions. I do foresee a world of equal economic opportunity. (I think politics is obsolete and will go the way of the Dodo in the age of Big Data we are entering into. It’s even said that the metric system will run out of numbers to quantify the amount of data we will have by 2020.) Equal opportunity for education? Yes, Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC) are ballooning in size. Needing only internet connections to take courses at MIT and Stanford, as well as whole new schools opening up such as udacity.com and coursera that offer the information and teaching content of degrees, and they are starting to become recognized by universities and applicable for course credit. (It’s early days yet, but the trends are there and heading in the right direction. Soon, only an internet connection will be required. Two billion people have internet today; by 2020, it will be five billion, and soon thereafter, close to everyone.) A time when people will want to learn? This one is harder to be so confident on, but my gut realization is yes, and allow me to explain my gut (and subjective) reasoning for such an answer. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. I’m not content in not knowing, and though I have always been like this, I often never had the leisure or time or requisite knowledge to go out there and gather more knowledge. I get better at this every year, and continuously want to continue. Now, with a sample size of just one, I cannot confidently extrapolate this out to anyone else (though I’m sure I can to you), but I do think this is part of human nature; this innate curiosity. It requires we adequately provide for one’s basic needs, then education and wants, then the potential for self-actualization (Nietzsche’s will to power: superman). As we move forward into the future, we are becoming smarter (and the lag-time between the have’s and have-nots is halving every decade [Source: The Singularity is Near]), so it is only a matter of time before inequality becomes insignificant. Here, I’ll use the world ‘believe’. I believe that once the needs of most people have been provided, and they have been educated properly, and become more prosperous, religiosity will decline, and people will want to know more, and thus wed themselves to truth. Big Data will also elucidate the many mysterious workings of the Earth and our societies, as well as making it accessible to the public.

I recently read an article on the explosion of Big Data and the death of the theorist. Historically, when we wanted to find out more about the world; we proposed a theory, computed the results, and went to gather data by experimentation/observation to confirm or falsify that theory. This process is reversing. We are now generating so much data; science and scientific studies, tweets, facebook, blogs and webpages, planes, trains, and automobiles along with everything else that our computers programs can find, and pull out the theories and do science after the fact. This is great for two reasons. Firstly, less and less will get missed as a result. Before, if somebody wasn’t thinking about or trying to find out something, then the theory was missed, lost forever, or delayed, or when found often suppressed (we lost the knowledge to make aluminum for 1800 years because of Tiberius if I recall correctly, the Emperor of Rome). Now, with an army of AI’s whose sole job it is to pull it out the world’s information, we will learn that much more about the world. Pandemics will be a thing a past, resource depletion will be foreseen well in advance, known troublemakers will be spotted beforehand and terrorist attacks possibly stopped. (If you read the article, which I recommend you do, you will see that Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad could have been derived from publicly available information on the internet before hand to within 200km. Imagine the possibilities of stopping future attacks instead, which should do away with the politics of fear, and perhaps, even the CIA and military industrial complex.)

So, I think the future is bright (provided we can move fast enough on climate change and other vexing problems of urgent immediacy), and we can do away with religion, or at least, and perhaps more likely, relegate it to irrelevance, much as flat-earthism is today. There are also other interesting aspects which I do not have time to explore; such as the merging of humanity into a global mind, the technological potential of a universal fact checker (I recently had an idea to create a script that scours what you read on the net and highlights dubious/false claims. We don’t all have time to fact-check every claim we read, we are modified skeptics in that regard, but this is what we use technology for, to alleviate our shortcomings. Kind of like a modified Watson who will soon start informing and helping doctors in their diagnosis’ because the amount of info is expanding exponentially and a doctor can’t hold all that info in his head, so we’ll be using AI to augment their powers of diagnosis, and I see no reason why it will stop at just medicine. It will subsume all fields where knowledge is definitively known, and most likely provide probabilistic answers for other fields). But, I’m in a rush so I’m skimming. (If you watch any YouTube lecture by Kurzweil in the range of 45-60 minutess, you will immediately see where I’m coming from and I recommend that.)

Anyway, I don’t disagree with anything you said. In fact, I learn lots every time I read one of your posts. It’s only that the dynamics of our society, which still allow religious belief to be insulated from facts, truth, reason, and humanism are finite, and now that we are above the knee of the exponential curve, greater change will occur in ever-decreasing amounts of time. Lastly, I do not mean to make it seem so easy or underplay the consequences of any conflicts, local or global, of humanity. Merely, that it is becoming easier to understand, communicate, and tackle them, and this trend is becoming ever more pervasive, understood, and the means of production ever cheaper democratizing them in the process. There is a lot of work still to be done, a lot of people still needlessly die, and many more are unable to enjoy the comforts that many of us now enjoy. However, these problems are being more and more understood, tackled, and it will only become easier in the future.

This is, believe it or not, brief, and I have only explored them rather inadequately and quickly. But I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to write a counter-post; disagreeing or agreeing for whatever reason, and if need be, I can explain in more detail, any point I’ve inadequately expressed. Looking forward to hearing from you.

tech future

Future of Tech

This is probably my favourite chapter. Here be sub-chapter #19, of Chapter #5, Technology, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. I would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the full PDF of the book, then you can download it by clicking here—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published. If you wish to read the previous chapters in one convenient place online, please follow this link, and lastly, thanks for reading!


FUTURE OF TECH

 

The future is going to be very bright, brighter than a lot of us can imagine, though that is predicated on getting out-of-the-way of the engineers, scientists, and companies that will make it happen. (Not that we shouldn’t keep a watchful eye.) And if we do, the stars are the limit.

This chapter will focus on two emerging technologies that have the potential to bring about a beautiful future, and try as hard as I might, it will more than likely be an under-estimation because well… I’m dumb. You think I wrote this book? I was compelled to write it by something claiming to call itself free will, but I digress…for the last time…maybe.

 

3D Printing

3D printing has the potential to render the factory obsolete, and for very simple reasons; technology is beginning to move past economies of scale. Economies of scale refers to making so much of one product that the individual cost per unit is brought down by the mass quantities, which can be sold for a cheaper price, thus selling more quantities and increasing the likelihood of turning a profit.

A physical book makes a fine example (so long as I ignore print-on-demand). When a book is published, a certain number of books have to be printed, bound, distributed and subsequently sold to entail pricing it at say, thirty-dollars. Otherwise, the manufacturers’ and publisher take a loss. If that manufacturer is only printing a quantity that is one-quarter as large, the price results in a book that costs four-times as much, which makes recouping the initial investment increasingly difficult. Making more books allows each individual book to be sold cheaper and therefore increases the chances of recouping the investment, turning a profit, keeping people in work, and, in at least this case, increasing overall knowledge.

With eBooks, there is no such restriction on the cost per unit of the product as it is digital, and there is no difference between having one copy or one million copies. It is a simple command between the two quantities. An eBook has become a digital information technology. This is happening to objects. Physical objects are becoming (slowly for now, but increasing in speed) a digital information technology.

Today, every Jane and her Joe has a printer in the home; this printer is capable of printing rudimentary, usually multicolored, characters onto a 2D sheet of paper.

The future of printing goes well beyond this seemingly simple technology; we will soon be printing physical 3D objects. The 3D printer, otherwise known as an additive printer, will be able to ‘print’ any object that can fit within the length, width, and height of its laser-equipped arms; the user will be able to make three-dimensional, solid objects from digital files.

The first consumer 3D printers were released in 2012, but big corporations have been using these magic machines for decades for the purpose of prototyping. If they needed to make a spanner, a spare car part, an intricate widget, or whatever else tickled their fancy, they simply printed it out to touch it in real life. No theory, no spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to have it custom-made in a special factory somewhere far away, but created, tested, and demonstrated to management and engineering without lag time or exorbitant costs right there in the office, allowing many more innovative and riskier projects as a result of the cost savings. Before 3D printing, the shoemaker Timberland had to spend $1,200 and one week to create a prototype sole.Today, it takes them ninety-minutes and costs them $35. The airliner, EADS that makes the iconic Airbus A380 (the largest plane in the world), are printing shoe-sized titanium landing-gear brackets for use in their airplanes. Normally, such a device would be made via a process called subtractive manufacturing, which results in ninety-percent of the titanium being wasted (since you have to start with a square block and titanium ain’t cheap, and whittle it down to the final design). Additive printing is the complete opposite, which also allows more efficient structural changes and integrity. They eventually hope to print out an entire aircraft wing! The savings in material and reduced time to production is enormous. 3D Systems (which invented additive manufacturing twenty-five years ago), is involved in a consortium printing hundreds of parts for the F-18 and F-35 fighter jets: clearly machines that demand the utmost precision in their capability. If it’s good enough for some of the most expensive machines in history (between $154 to $236.8 million a pop), then surely our home accessories and cars will be more than satisfied.

Slightly off-topic, something similar—decrease in cost and production time—will soon be happening with semiconductors (used in computer chips, batteries, and solar panels), where a new manufacturing process has been demonstrated, in which gallium arsenide semiconductors are assembled by growing them from freely suspended nano-particles of gold, instead of using the more traditional subtractive methods from silicon wafers, accelerating their creation by thousands of times. This tech, while not explicitly part of the 3D manufacturing framework operates on similar principles (by reversing the subtractive process) and is expected to be operational within two to four years, and will result in just as significant a cost-savings. By the end of this decade, computer chips will cost about a penny, and they’ll be used with throw-away mentality. We’ll be able to afford to put them in everything; clothes, tabletops, walls, you name it. A simple way to think of the increasing speed, efficiency, and clockwork reliability of the exponential increase of computers is like this: we are using computers to build faster computers, which we then use to build faster’er computers and so forth. (The same goes for 3D printing, which is why I went on this little detour. )

Back to 3D printing. The manner in which additive printing works is quite simple. An object (encoded as a digital file) is selected and sent for printing. The printer then goes to work building it one two-dimensional layer at a time from the ground up, using (in the first mainstream devices) a plastic resin that is laid down and heated with focused lasers, solidifying in the process. This process continues, layer by layer, creating multitudes of two-dimensional layers that gradually build up until printing is completed, and a three-dimensional object stands revealed. The size of the object is limited only by the 3-Dimensional space of the arms, though nothing will stop you from assembling objects piece-by-piece; such as a table, chair, or plane.

This technology, once it comes down in price for the mass-market will explode. The first ones that are rolling onto the consumer shelves are of the world of plastic, and therefore, only able to print, or create, products in plastic. With time, silicon, metals, et al. will be added to the mix, then eventually all of them will be combined in one to be able to print electronics, watches (Rolex anyone?), cars, food, drugs, and has recently been used to print human body parts; a human lower jaw, blood vessels, bones (five-to-ten years away),  teeth, and even DNA. The tech that goes into making the 3D printer, is subject to Moore’s Law. (Doubling of price-performance per 12-18 months, so ten years from now, they will be approximately one-thousand more powerful and intricate.)

These products are functional now; the one obstacle that remains is of making them mainstream. Something that technology is exceptionally good at doing. Forty-years ago, a normal (or back then, state of the art) computer was a building in size and cost $100 million. Today, a phone a million times smaller and a thousand times more powerful is probably in your pocket as you read this. This is known as Moore’s Law. Every twelve-to-eighteen months, the computational capacity doubles for the same price (adjusted for inflation), and 3D Printers are subject to this exponential increase in capability without a subsequent cost increase, and if you forego the increased capability, the cost of any current technology becomes half the cost in the same time frame. The same goes for solar panels, every year they become roughly thirty-percent cheaper (compounded), and fifty-percent more efficient (also compounded). Since 2009, solar costs have dropped seventy-five-percent, even while contending with the Global Financial Crisis.

Decades ago, Bill Gates stipulated his dream of having a computer in every home. The new dream is to put a 3D printer in every home and with the exponentially declining costs and increasing capability, we may be no more than a decade or two from this goal.

 

“The rate at which the technology is getting faster is itself getting faster.” ~ Peter Diamandis (CEO)

 

Maybe one day you’ll break a mug and gasp; it was your favorite mug. There are no more stores to sell such antiquated mugs because you’re living in the future! Who knew? So you jump on your computer, open AutoDesk (or some other consumer-friendly program), and design the same mug again, perhaps adding your signature this time or a picture of your girlfriend. Perhaps you made a digital backup of it, or took some photos that can now be converted into its digital equivalent to save the work of designing it again. With that finished, you send it to your printer, and off it goes layering, resining, and laser’ing your new mug, layer by incremental layer. Voila! A few minutes later, you’re making yourself a new cup of coffee. Imagine the possibilities: toys, tables, chairs (assembled piece-by-piece), plates, cutlery, bikes, cars, or anything else you have in your home, or that you can dream of. Recently, a pair of students printed off a plane part-by-part, assembled it themselves, and flew it at a hundred-mph (it was unmanned), at a cost of $2,000. Just five-years ago, a plane of similar size and capability would have cost $250,000 to build. Imagine what we will be able to create five-years from now when it is another order-of-magnitude cheaper to print and create. This technology is taking a hammer to the rich-poor divide, though it will not completely obliterate it. (Something else will, and I’ll get to it in a few paragraphs.)

Now, some might think that we will be utterly dependent on the companies who will make these nifty, life-giving contraptions, much as we are to the energy conglomerates now, but technology sometimes has a funny way of being made of pure awesomeness. When your printer nears the end of its life, you’ll be able to print yourself a new one. Todays 3D printers can print off seventy-percent of the parts to create a new model of itself. Five to ten-years from now, it will print one-hundred-percent of its own parts. It will be next to impossible to monopolize this technology, and even if safeguards were built into it, the hacker mentality will sprout up to circumvent such restrictions. You will more than likely be reliant on someone for the printer cartridge. Though, the feed should be easy enough to make so that a distributed market is created out of it, with no one entity having a monopoly.

Economics will be thrown out the door in so violent a manner; it will be the Italian Renaissance all over again, with far-reaching consequences: negative in the short-term for working people, positive in the long-term for everyone. Look at what the printing press did to the dark ages. Gunpowder to knights. Cars to horse carts. Planes to boat travel. The cellphone to the landline. The CD burner  (and Napster and Bit-torrent and consumers and artists) to the music industry. iPads to netbooks, and I leave you with the homework of imagining what will happen to every industry once the 3D printer is mainstream.

iPrint, therefore I am?

The most groundbreaking example of this technology is what the Italian Enrico Dini, has set his life’s purpose to. He can print a house! Albeit only a small one for now as the technology is still in its infancy, but again, this technology exponentially increases in capability, so we won’t have to wait long. Imagine having the home of your dreams built exactly the way you want, to exacting specifications, with high-quality materials, no human labor, and no supply chain (save the cartridge). What previously required the work of a dozen men working tirelessly for months could be done by one man in one day! No more living with your in-laws while you wait for your dream home to be completed. Not to mention that within the three-dimensional reach of the printer, you will not be restricted to the boxy walls and triangular roofs we’ve grown accustomed to. All number of shapes, contours, and home-types will be possible. Want an upside-down fish bowl home? No Problem. Wavy home? Easy. Roman Pillars? Call me when you’re ready to start using your imagination. Again, numerous prototypes of 3D-building homes (also called contour crafting) exist around the world in many companies and inventors. What remains is bringing it to the mass-market, and I imagine the developing world will be the first to embrace it. Just as they did with mobile phones, completely skipping the antiquated resource-intensive landline telephone. There are several other people and companies pursuing this technology. One among them, Professor of Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, Behrokh Khoshnevis, though he calls it by the latter name, Contour Crafting. (I highly recommend you watch his TED Talk on the subject. Google ‘contour crafting TED’, but suffice it to say; plumbers, electricians, and constructions are going to have a tough-time of it.)

3D printing, Additive Manufacturing, Contour Crafting, or whatever we want to call it will snatch from the future and bring into the present an economy with very little waste, unimaginable possibilities, huge economic and energy savings, and most importantly very little lag time between creativity and creation (see quote below). This will allow the ingenuity of humankind to spring forth and create a beautiful world not bound to the rules and bylaws of monopolistic practices that have manifested themselves as a result of the consolidation of knowledge, influence, and power into the hands of a few, and subsequent protection of that monopoly through government conscription. Human creativity, in short, is becoming unbounded, and technology is the great equalizer that makes it so!

As the futurist Jason Silva ruminates in his short-form video, Imagination, “If you were able to look at human progress, as if through a timelapse of the last hundred years, you would see that literally thoughts spill over into the world in the form of technology. We engage in feedback loops with that technology, which then extends our ability to instantiate new realities.” 

 

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is considered to be the technological Holy Grail. If nanotechnology were to fulfill its ideal, then every single material problem we’ve ever had or ever will have will disappear, or simply not exist to begin with. Nanotechnology, in its simplest form, is building with computers on an atomic level, usually between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). To put that in perspective, the DNA double helix is approximately 2nm wide. It is essentially creating, or building things a few atoms at a time from the bottom up, with zero waste.

Some examples: carbon nanotubes assembled in this fashion into solid metallic-like objects are one-hundred times stronger than steel, yet six times lighter. Someday in the future, cars and airplanes will be made with them, increasing fuel efficiency and passenger safety. Some scientists want to build a space elevator with this miraculous substance reaching 22,000 miles into space. The cost of putting objects into space would drop from thousands of dollars per pound down to a few tens of dollars, which would begin a third space renaissance (Apollo and SpaceX were the first two)—and I’ll stop using renaissance now.

In medicine, current research is pointing to nanobots programmed to attack only cancerous cells and viruses, carrying the required medicine directly to the point of contact, thereby affecting only the targeted unhealthy tissue, leaving healthy tissue nearby unaffected—no more balding chemotherapy patients! The bandana industry is going to suffer—rally the goldfi…uh politicians to protect their jobs! And as I alluded to in Fear of Fission, we can get down into the nitty-gritty radioactive waste, rendering inert—or isolating—the oxidative ions that are stripped away forming the radiation, leaving behind an inert, harmless substance.

Nano-tech surgery is on the horizon. Infinitely more precise and able to perform functions such as diagnosing and correcting internal disease or trauma, free of slips of the surgeons’ hands, potential infections, and without need of surgical cuts, all from the inside out. (And if you recall from Future of Food, antibiotic super-bacteria are evolving that will make surgery all but impossible potentially within the next decade.) That is, individual intelligent nanobots will be able to travel to the trauma; assess the damage, and repair only the affected tissue, while skipping over healthy cells. We will potentially enter an age where life expectancy takes another huge leap, much as it did in the twentieth century, from a worldwide average of forty-years to kissing eighty years, and in some parts of the world, moving beyond. It’s helpful to note that in twenty-five years, computers (nanobots as we may call them then) will be a hundred-thousand times smaller than the iPhones and Android smartphones we use today, as well as being a billion times faster, i.e., they will be the size of blood cells.

We may even reach a point where a person never dies of old age and is kept in optimal health by an array of nanobots floating throughout his or her body, attaching to cells and repairing them daily. We could stay twenty-five forever! Consider this quote by the Foresight Institute:

 

“Nanobots work like tiny surgeons as they reach into a cell, sense damaged parts; repair them by reformatting new atoms, and leave. By repairing and rearranging cells and surrounding structures, nanobots can restore every tissue and bone in the body to perfect health – including replacing aging skin with new, resilient skin, restoring youthful looks and good health.”

 

That’s a future they think is possible by 2020. Eight short years away, but a more realistic timeline by Ray Kurzweil, inventor and futurist, is the late 20s. I’m already counting down the days because as a non-theist heathen, there’s no heaven waiting for me, just a boring eternal darkness where I can’t even get bored—how boring! Now, to not accidentally die in the next eight to eighteen years is the task I have given myself…

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this technology is only for the rich. The concept of poor and rich exists only in environments of scarcity, as does the concepts of the trading and price. While the rich will most surely have first access to miracles such as nanotechnology, as they will be the investors—so thank you rich people!—the concept of nanotechnology is that each nano-computer, or nanobot, can turn anything else into another nano-computer. It defies the very laws of scarcity and economics that we live in today.

One nanobot becomes two, two nanobots becomes four, four become eight, eight become sixteen, sixteen transmute into thirty-two, and forty-four steps later, thirty-two is 5,600,000,000,000,000 nanobots. Try assigning a price to that!

Now, there are numerous dangers in having unrestrained nanobot replication in the world; known as The Gray Goo Scenario, in which the biomass of the Earth is turned into dead matter. The envisioned controls are a bit beyond the scope of this book (as well as my limited expertise), but such control systems would more than likely involve Artificial Intelligence and centralized replication servers that keep things in check by doling out permission or denial requests for nanobots in light of the predisposed environment and usage. Perhaps using quantum cryptography security systems: unbreakable codes generated by quantum entangled states, which take advantage of a quantum state known as quantum superposition, where a change in one particle (after it has been entangled with another), invokes an instantaneous (and equal) change in the other entangled particle; thus if an eavesdropper listens in, he or she irreparably change, by way of observation, the quantum state. The security system is just a guess on my part, and there will undoubtedly be many layers of increasingly difficult to crack security to protect us from the harmful effects of nanotechnology, and ensure only the positive effects are unleashed into the world, to the benefit of all. For a more in-depth primer on this, exploring in far greater detail, the pro’s and con’s of nanotechnology, Ray Kurzweil’s, The Singularity is Near, is an excellent read on the subject (as well as on biotechnology, additive manufacturing, increasing computational capacity, turning the Universe into God et al).

The potential of the human race is being realized, and it will usher in a future brighter than any one of us can imagine. There will be pains along the way, especially economic (though due to technology, per-capita income worldwide has tripled in the last century), and the usual social unrest that accompanies such pain, but technology, as it has done so in the past, is the only thing that will alleviate us from the woes of the twentieth century, and all those that came before it, and the only thing that can provide a beautiful life to all seven billion people on this little blue rock, so it must be embraced with open arms and from a platform of knowledge, as opposed to ignorance, as is usually the case when we enter turbulent, exciting times. It is, and perhaps always will be, easier to invent new technologies, than re-programming the irrational hearts and rationalizing minds of billions of people.

 

We didn’t stay in the caves, we didn’t stay on the planet, and we won’t stay with the limitations of our biology.” ~ Ray Kurzweil (Inventor)


Note: the book is fully sourced, but because of the writing program I use, the links don’t transfer over to WordPress, and I can’t be bothered inserting them in one at a time. The final book will have all the relevant sources in the proper locations.

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The Communist Ideal

I recently completed reading The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Max. At only thirty-two pages long, it was a long and grudgingly boring read. I thought I was reading a book ten times the length, but I do believe I have imparted the general idea of what he espoused. While communism in its many forms that were tried in the 20th century, have failed, often disastrously, with the exception of China (which by opening up ever more aspects of its economy to free-market principles, essentially forestalled the political ramifications a central-command government eventually faces). I don’t believe that communism, as attempted so far, is the communism that Karl Marx proposed. In this post, I am not defending those 20th century communist regimes. In fact, after reading the Communist Manifesto, I do not think they were very communist, and if they were, they may have started out with the best of intentions, but the results, at least in the short-term, were anything but.

The end-result, or logical progression, of Karl Marx’s communism, in essence, was the abolition of government, and by extension, money, and equal status to all people in terms of opportunity (not possessions). What he saw, and wrote, must be understood in context of his time, and realized that the future he envisioned, would not come within his lifetime (though maybe he didn’t know this, I can’t tell). He lived at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and saw the rapid industrialization that occurred, and was right to say that capital would flow upwards in the antagonistic struggle between capital and labour, as those lower on the totem pole would eventually be replaced and relegated to a smaller subsection of the populace in an anarchic free-market system, and correctly extrapolated that this trend cannot continue indefinitely. But, he was unable to extrapolate that new jobs would be created to replace old jobs, but the jobs engines that has been continually creating new jobs is finally showing signs of its mortality, and it probably won’t last forever.

In those nations that tried on communism, the age-old dilemma of mistranslation and misappropriation of ideas, coupled with the rarely changing mindsets of people, led to poverty, and sometimes tragedy, where ever communism was exported, as well as in the free-market also (working workers to death, slavery, and unequal pay between the sexes etc.).

But I think that Karl was ahead of his time (perhaps a little too far). Consider where we are now with our current trends racing relentlessly into the future. We are moving towards an increasingly automated future where jobs will become more and more scarce as the law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head (new technologies now are creating fewer jobs than they replace), which will grind away at social stability. Soon, machines and artificial intelligence (AI) will do human jobs better than humans; without lunch breaks, smoke breaks (or any breaks for that matter), insurance, distractions, sick leave, and so many other factors that retard human output as well as increase the cost of labour, and thus goods and services.

We are moving into a future where potentially everyone will have a 3D (additive) printer in their homes, replacing the need for factories and factory workers. You need a new mug, you’ll print it. If you need a new phone, you’ll print it, and if you’ll need a new printer, you’ll print it, and so on. Materials will be assembled into the feed for these printers most likely; inside the countries themselves by automated processes, reducing international shipping and all the jobs it provides. Indoor farms combining aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics will be capable of growing any food from any climate anywhere and everywhere, further reducing trans-city-country-continental transportation. Portable medical devices are on the horizon that will replace your general practitioner (GP) in identifying what type of illness you have, as well as articulate in detail the remedies for the proper healing taken in consideration of your genetic makeup, all analysed in the blink of an eye with 99.99% accuracy (predicted), and the drugs will be printed on an additive printer no lessNanotechnology is on the up and up, and in the coming decades, may release the awesome potential of building everything, anywhere, anytime using any input, at the atomic level with zero-waste. You will literally be able to turn anything into anything else!

How could something as medieval as money survive in a future like this? Money is a physical manifestation of scarcity. Replacing the ancient tradition of trading goods directly and acting as a medium of exchange between all goods, and evolving along with society. In the beginning, predominantly taking the form of gold and silver, as well as dozens of other forms (cheese in some parts of ancient Italy, and tea in Siberia way back when). Then constantly oscillating back and forth between gold standards, silver standards, paper standards, and combinations thereof. Now we find ourselves in the midst of a global paper standard. But because money evolves lineally, and our technology has in the last hundred years, begun evolving exponentially, money will, by necessity, eventually shed the characteristics that necessitated its original conditions because everything else in its environment will evolve beyond a need of it. This is a core concept of evolution, and since technological evolution is an extension of biological evolution: we can think of money in a resource-scarce environment as random mutation in a naturally selecting environment (society). But technological evolution continues, and now, exponentially increases in capacity and capability. Thus the conditions that selected the monetary-mutation are beginning to move beyond scarcity, i.e. money is losing its value (and hopefully will die), and into abundance, soon afterwards, perhaps infinite abundance (nanotechnology, anything becomes everything and trade essentially ceases).

To side-track to biological evolution to try to further the point. We humans evolved with enzymes that could process and digest raw meat, yet we no longer have them because we invented fire and the frying pan; an external stomach that replaced raw-food enzymes (and which by the way, allowed the necessary conditions to grow our brains far in excess to other primates and become the dominant ape by out-eating them). Within just a few tens-of-thousands of years (an evolutionary second), we could no longer eat raw meat (if you ate only raw meat for 90 days, you’d die). Money evolved, i.e., was bought into being as an improvement to the previous paradigm of direct trading, facilitating a division of labour, which amplified co-operation, increased specialization, resulting in technological progression, and societal advancement. Yet in evolution, it is very rare for a trait to outlast for long the conditions that necessitated its creation and subsequent survival, and such will (hopefully) be the case for money soon. Money is subject to the same laws of diminishing returns as everything else. Much as the faltering, or sputtering of the jobs engine of our current economies as they are replaced by technologies that far out-do people in terms of cost, speed, and reliability, in the process, creating fewer jobs than they replace. Yet due to the stigma of 20th century communism, I fear the necessary discourse will never occur, or perhaps occur too late in updating capitalism to keep pace with the continually evolving and accelerating change of this technological century.

Only a simple understanding of ‘Supply and Demand‘ is required to understand this point. If the demand and supply of a product stay constant, then the price remains stable. If demand increases without a comparable increase in supply: that is, demand outstrips supply, then the price rises and vice-versa. If a product has a large unrefined supply, but requires expensive tools of production to bring it to market: then the price is high and vice-versa. So in this future we find ourselves barrelling towards, where both supply is bountiful, or its use so exceedingly efficient as to nullify it, or where any resource can be used to create any other resource as is done with additive manufacturing and nanotechnology, then what possible use will money have? This is not to say it will disappear overnight, more than likely, it will deflate and continue deflating as our technological progress accelerates until we come upon a day where we find it is no longer necessary. Whether that takes 20, 40, or 100 years remains to be seen. That process will create economic pain, even if exponential in nature, because if people still need money to buy food, water, and shelter, and if the majority of the population is out of work; how does taxation, government, redistribution, and public benefits work so as not to antagonize class differences? (The end result of this exponential technological progress is that there are no more class differences or haves / have-nots, but the ramp-up is where the concern lies as the system which will eventually benefit everyone might be dismantled by shortsighted doom-and-gloom thinking)

Providing we can circumnavigate such problems, and arrive to the other side in one piece. In such an economy, where supply and demand become irrelevant, and individual needs and wants take precedence, where government is no longer required as an ‘impartial‘ arbiter, and where people are simply given everything they need to survive and thrive since it costs nothing to produce in terms of human labour, does not the ideal of communism ring true? I don’t mean the central bank that it demands (we still use them anyway), or the agricultural army it stipulated, or any other requirements that served more as a transitory approach, but the overall meaning. That everyone is equal, and we all deserve opportunities, all men and women are given the ability to shine, if they so choose.

I do believe that the essence of the message rings true, despite what other subjects he waxed on about, or didn’t, which seem obvious to us now in hindsight, but which wouldn’t have in his time. A lot of meaning is lost in the translation between German to English, and I imagine even more so, between the 18th century and the 21st. He did live two-hundred-years ago, so the allure of projecting todays moral and ethical framework on to his thinking is tempting, but which, at the end of the day, is only a shortcut to ignorant thinking. To truly understand it, we must flip the polarity of time and study it in that sense, which is what I have attempted to do in this post and distil what he may have meant (of course, I may still wrong).

Looking to history and projecting into the future, we find that most of our descendants views on several issues as immoral. Slavery, segregation, extreme classism, rules of war, as well as acts of war among many others. I see no such difference in today’s morality looking forward and fully expect those in the future to look back upon our own morality as incrementally better than the generations before us. Perhaps they will be as quick to judge us, as we to those that came before us. From our Keynesian fantasies which prolong, expand, and exacerbate the misery of billions (via a central bank and extraction of wealth), along with its isolation, consolidation and subsequent corruption of a few elite bankers who hold monetary power over billions, to those down the lower end of the monetary totem-pole being unable to afford certain necessities; healthy food, healthcare, and shelter, which would otherwise increase quality of life by removing the negative influences that affect mental and physical wellbeing (often diet-related), and which, when removed result in increased cooperation, knowledge-creation, which in our modern society makes it healthier for all involved, rich and poor alike and those who fit snugly in-between.

To use a real example of the potential problems down the road. Studies have shown that it cost society far less money to house chronic homeless people; that is, give them a free home, income benefits, and health insurance, than it is to leave them on the street, or even put them in a shelter. A Boston Health Care study tracked one-hundred-nineteen chronic homeless folk, and found that over five-years, they were admitted to emergency care 18,834 times, and that’s with thirty-three of them dying, and seven placed in a nursing home. A study in San Diego found that putting homeless people in an actual home resulted in a 61% reduction in emergency room benefits, and a 62% reduction in inpatient days over two years, with each visit costing at least $1,000. Putting chronic homeless people in a shelter costs $24,000 per year per person. And during the day, they are roaming the streets and increasingly likely to end up in jail, so that $24,000 does not include the cost of jailing, guarding, and feeding them when they are put in jail, which often occurs as a result of depression, and substance abuse that often accompanies their wandering street-life. What will we do in the future when joblessness is increasingly common, and the tools to create high-quality automated homesautomated medical care, and food are a tiny fraction of todays cost? Will we turn our back on them, because of out-dated free-market-principles? Besides, you can’t have a society that neglects a majority of its citizens without decay and eventually revolution (or in the case of an advanced force against those with nothing, mass-jailing or genocide).

People are created equal, not genetically, nor in their physical or mental ability, but morally in the context of our societies. If we allow any (unfair) inequality to creep in (which for now is inevitable), it slowly but surely grinds away at the fabric of society, only for the potential of violence to rear its ugly head.  In this regard, one of the great moral achievements of humanity is the slowly increasing minimally acceptable status one can have by providing help to those unfortunate enough to be at the lowest of the low (both by free-market economics driving the prices down and public assistance in the form of welfare, which was inspired by communistic thinking). Of course, as many will rightly point out, the latter is easily abused, mostly by political pandering and selfish voting, and we’ve seen the indulgences and problems inherent in an overburdened welfare state, but that in no way undermines its validity in the correct doses.

Nothing is perfect, much as we live today in a bastardized version of the free market, the communism of the USSR in the 20th century turned into a bastardized version of communism (though I’m glad I live in the former). With that being said, what many people overlook, or completely neglect to take into account is both socioeconomic systems are context-specific. In environments of scarcity, the free-market reigns supreme (though without a moral framework, it goes horribly wrong, i.e. slavery). In environments of limitless abundance, money, government, and classes have no place. And in the transition period between the two, ideological and emotionally based, shortsighted thinking tends to outweigh reasoned and objective analysis, potentially turning otherwise fixable periods into disaster due to the nature of democracy and political pandering. In the future when we have the technological marvels that will arise out of today’s inventions, bought into being by the capitalist workings of scarcity, will not the ideal of communism ring true in an age of abundance? (Not its 20th century misappropriations).

The rigidity of our political and economic institutions is what is at issue here; it must evolve and adapt in response to the self-changing environment we created, instead of boxing us into the past. In human history, we have example after example of people and societies holding onto tradition and frameworks for far too long after their usefulness has evaporated, and being unable to let go of the past, they often paid the price, some the ultimate price. Capitalism will be in a similar position soon.

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Immortality and Life’s Purpose

I’ve been recently reading and watching the works of futurists Ray Kurzweil and Jason Silva, and I am ecstatic about their optimistic predictions for the human race in the coming decades. I’ve also been coming across the claims of their detractors, and I want to highlight the most consistent statement made in response to the prediction that life will become indefinite as a result of advancements in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology in the coming decades; that people’s finite lives give meaning to their existence, and thus, immortality would rob us of the urgency of purposeful living. An existential crisis, in reverse if you will…

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Major iPad Disruptions Coming

One of my first posts on this blog, was ‘Which Industries Did The iPad Disrupt?‘. I thought I was smart listing out a few industries here and there, but it never hit me just how huge the disruption of the iPad is really going to become, like this article from cultofmac titled ‘Why the iPad is the Most Hated Gadget Ever‘ suggests.

– Millions of toys might never be purchased
– Millions of tonnes of paper flight manuals won’t be printed
– Tens of millions of Netbooks won’t be made
– Millions of Restaurant menu’s will never be made as apps are developed and an iPad is shoved into the middle of the table.

The list goes on and go.

I for one, think this is a positive development. Yes, there will be lots of pain felt in these industries, and undoubtedly many layoffs, and while I feel for these people. This is the cost of human progress.

Short term pain = Long term gain.

Of course, that doesn’t mean people will see it that way, especially politicians but lets leave that subject alone for now. I am very exciting about the merger of all these industries into one device (maybe not just the iPad, but eventually other tablets too like Android. Monopolies suck).

Think of the efficiency gains that will be made, the energy savings, the millions of trees that won’t need to be cut down to make millions of flight manuals and hundreds of millions of books. The millions, perhaps billions of tons of oil that won’t need to be converted into plastic to create toys and cheap netbooks.

And of course, the cost savings. We all know money talks, and all else simply falls upon deaf ears. No wonder 92% of Fortune 500 companies are currently using the iPad, or testing it for potential deployment. That a lot of the top hospitals around the US are using iPads, and it is becoming an increasingly used tool in schools. It saves you money, both in terms of resources and huge time savings. Colour me impressed!

Now, think on the backend. The millions of toys and netbooks that we won’t have to throw away into overflowing landfills, contaminating our planet with chemicals. Of course, tablets might replace a part of that landfill, but any downhill movement in terms of pollution and waste is a win, and just a step on the way to zero waste.

The future is beginning to be realized, and I think it is going to be brighter than anyone of us can imagine. Yes, there will be huge pains on the way, especially economic pain, and social unrest resulting from this economic pain, but I have high hopes for the technology that will alleviate us from the woes of the 20th century.