The earth is humanity's garden, and we should make it as productive and beautiful as we can. This view is in contrast to the somewhat religious view that humanity is an intruder on Nature.
Here are some considerations:
Within the limits of possibility, what humanity will do will be increasingly determined by what humanity wants to do. There will be many more options than are taken.
Ever since WWII, but most prominently today Bill Joy (pessimist) and Ray Kurzweil (optimist) have claimed the progress has been accelerating in recent years (pessimists claiming too fast for humanity to adapt). Unfortunately, in my opinion, progress has been slow since WWII in many important aspects of daily human life. For example, nothing as important as the availabilty of telephones, cars, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and washing machines has come along recently except for the 1970s availability of microwave ovens. Here's an extended comparison. The above did not take into account the importance of the Internet and the World Wide Web which are of comparable importance to cars or radio or TV.
Therefore, we should think of the future in terms of opportunities than in terms of inevitabilities.
One important area in which technology has advanced society is in the position of women. Susan B. Anthony said, "The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world". Surely somewhat of an exaggeration.
Here are some ideas on how humanity can last a very long time
I suppose there are some inevitabilities for the 21st century and I'll take my turn at Predictions for the 21st century.
Here's some of what I advocate for the 21st century. I think all are feasible.
I am skeptical about most of the innovations futurists and Silicon Valley people are proposing. I don't think giving toasters web pages will be worth the bother. However, there are possible innovations that will make a substantial difference to human life.
It is worthwhile to consider the virtues and defects of the present situation of humanity before proposing changes. It is easier to make things worse than to make them better. The status quo has many good aspects as well as bad.
The pages on Sustainability of progress show that humanity will be able to maintain material progress.
Those pages were conservative in not assuming any new science and very little new technology in order to offer good evidence of sustainability. In these pages, we will discuss future technology but will mention substantially new science only in pages designated as speculative.
It is possible, and it seems to me desirable, that humanity will become more fragmented, and different cultures will form that pursue different options. The science fiction writer Larry Niven depicted different cultures setting out for different solar systems and establishing different societies. However, Niven's societies tended to be exaggerations of various aspects of historical human societies. This was good enough for literary purposes but is inadequate as extrapolation. I think Lois McMaster Bujold has done better than Niven in portraying a variety of future societies and their interaction. Still she finds a variety of feudalism (in the process of modernization) more fiction worthy than the peaceful, democratic, and technologically advanced society that she depicts as co-existing with it. I fear she is right about what's fiction-worthy, and worse yet, I fear that enough people will find democracy, prosperity and material progress boring to make trouble for the rest of us.
As the Sustainability of progress pages show, the earth will be able to support several times its present population at an American standard of living or higher, and therefore there are plenty of opportunities here on earth.
There are two ways of finding inventions. One is to look at the science and technology and see what new powers it gives us. The laser was developed before the applications were found. It certainly wasn't invented with playing CDs in mind. The other is to look at human activities and problems and try to find what technology will help solve them. Both approaches are valid, and there are plenty of people to pursue both. In these pages we mostly follow the second approach, but there are some examples of just seeing what the technology will do.
As for science, there are always people who want to organize it to investigate questions leading to practical results. This is a bad idea, and has worked out badly every time it has dominated the funding of science. Science is hampered, and the practical results don't materialize. None of the important scientific discoveries of Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Einstein, Goedel, Turing, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Watson and Crick were the result of a plan aimed at practical results. Neither Lisp nor time-sharing, ideas for which I have been given substantial credit, were the result of a committee deciding that these were worthwhile areas to investigate.
Here is a collection of my ideas. I thought of them independently, except where I credit someone else, but I can't guarantee that no-one thought of them before.
Here's a new civil right. Its implementation has been feasible for a long time, but every advance in Internet technology makes it more feasible. No institution (e.g. governmental, corporate, or educational) should be allowed to require a person (including a corporation) to supply information it already possesses. If the institution is nervous, it can ask for confirmation.
People will want to live much longer.
Computer controlled cars have become a popular idea recently. My opinion is that current projects settle for too little to make the fundamental difference in people's lives that a full automated chauffeur will make possible.
Personal flying machines are possible and may be easier than fully chauffeured computer controlled cars.
Automatic delivery to homes of every kind of commodity is feasible.
Remote service by people in low wage countries may benefit both them and us till automatic robots become available or until increasing global prosperity causes a shortage of low wage countries. Still, China will last quite a while as a low wage country.
Eventually household robot servants will be available.
People have eyelids, and we use them to control what we see. However, we don't have earlids that give us equal control over what we hear. Once we start in the direction of controlling what we hear, many more ideas suggest themselves. These are my 1970s ideas, and some of them are being realized - no thanks to me.
Skywires is a proposed system for transportation within a city. It's not as good as teleportation, but it is compatible with science.
Starting in the early 1960s I wrote about home use of computers. The idea then was home terminals on public utility computers. Now home computers have realized most of the ideas of my old article and many that I never thought of. Consider this article to be mainly of historical interest. I'll give my present ideas of how home use of computers can be made better in another article soon. The main difference between my ideas and most current computer futurism is that they relegate the user to a passive role. I want the user to be in control of the resources available to him.
Expansion into space will be a major feature of the next few centuries, but the reason will be the attractions rather than relieving a population crunch.
Here's one from my own area of research - non-monotonic reasoning, as developed in artificial intelligence research, although the idea goes back to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the co-inventor of calculus with Isaac Newton. Leibniz's hope was that careless argument could be replaced by calculation within mathematical logic. We explore this possibility for achieving objectivity in human affairs and extending the right to get ideas seriously considered to more of the population.
Here are some technological explorations. I have some files about each of them with some calculations, but none of them is fully worked out. I'll include more details in time.
Journey to the center of the earth
Moving Mars to a warmer orbit
Digestive tract sampling pill
I swallow a pill, and eventually emit it at the other end. In the meantime, the pill opens a separate compartment every (say) 20 minutes, the compartment fills with a sample of what's in the digestive tract at that point, and then the compartment closes. When the pill is collected, its analysis gives the pill taker and his doctor information about the chemical and micro-organism environment all along the digestive tract. I suppose this would be useful and is presently feasible.
This isn't my original idea and is being vigorously pursued. At present diabetics have to prick themselves several times a day and test a drop of blood for sugar. The goal of present research is to put a sensor in a blood vessel that will communicate the blood sugar level electronically to the outside. The present difficulty is that the body detects the sensor as foreign and coats it over so it has no access to the blood. [Strain gauges in the vertebrae, which don't require access to the blood, work ok today.] My opinion is that the problem of keeping access to the blood will be solved, perhaps very soon, and much more than blood sugar will be monitored. I believe that the ability to read out on one's wrist watch the chemistry, including hormones in one's blood will have a substantial psychological effect. When one finds onself depressed, one may say, "Oh, that's just the wrong amount of serotonin in my blood. I'll fix it." "That man's pheromones are really affecting my blood; I need to watch out for that."
A person who can monitor his blood state can also control it, sometimes just by willing it but also by operating implanted pumps that emit chosen substances into the blood.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I sometimes make changes suggested in them. - John McCarthyThe number of hits on this page since 1998 April 14.