Thursday, May 11, 2006

Apocalypse Tomorrow

If the apocalypse comes, beep me."
— Buffy Summers in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer"
My freshman year in college, we had to read Future Shock by Alvin Toffler for Sociology 101. I got about halfway through and decided I could find my own brand of malarkey, thank-you very much. I mean, there was an interesting premise, but after that it was just some guys imagination. But for finals we had to write an essay on this question:

According to Toffler, what will be the major problems facing the post-industrial society?
I answered 'Gonorrhea and...expand Zits'.

I explained briefly that I meant it metaphorically. A culture faced with nomadic technicians engaged in rapid technology changes driven by materialistic pursuit would become fixated on its appearance and people would turn to sexual gratification to escape the loss of their sense of personal value and that I didn't bother to read the rest of the book. In short, Toffler was wrong. I got an 'A'.

What made me think about this was in part Vimy's post on global warming and Keifus' post on negativity and the news that Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last American survivor of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, recently died at the age of 99. One year short of a centenarian, she still experienced the tremendous change that one hundred years has brought. She lived roughly from goalpost to goalpost in a century like no other in terms of change.

Standing on the brink of this next century, I can't help but wonder what lies at the other end. I expect us to get through global warming and the related addiction to combustible hydrocarbons. It will be painful, but the remedies will be in incremental doses. Hundreds of millions of people will starve or be displaced, but what's a hundred million people these days? Most of them will be third world nameless and faceless statistics. It will also likely increase the economic stratification between thos who can step up and those left behind. Progress is not for everybody. And everyone expects something like the avian flu to thin out the herd anyway. We haven't had a good culling for a while. Anyway, we'll get past that. It looks like civilization will make it through the midterm.

But I was wondering, what then? What does the second half of this century look like? I confess a biased dismay in researching the views of most Futurists as they tend to be geeks and put their emphasis solidly on the exponential advance of technology. Moore's Law is their battle cry, but I think less of Moore's Law than they. People like Bill Joy, Ray Kurzweil, and Vernor Vinge anticipate a technological Singularity - a point at which our machines will become more intelligent than us and the future - particularly our own - becomes unknown. They all expect this event in this century and anyone who says otherwise is a neo-luddite.

I'm a technician.- a technological parasite living in the bowels of the beast that brung us. I'm too close the the end product to have an objective perspective, but I do know that intelligence is highly overrated. You don't have to spend much time in the BOTF to figure that one out. If I can simulate intelligence with ease, then a machine can't be far behind. My divergence with the futurists is that they think of these machines as 'others', where I suspect we as a society will embrace them - not as partners, but as body parts. As we become dependent on them, we will internalize those devices we cannot live without. Cellphones and GPS locators, media players, stock-quote feeders and analyzers, and infrared night vision. Not quite like the Borg in Star Trek - more like a Smorgas-Borg. They will be integrated, they will be in unison, they will be the cyborg-hybrid-matrix and they will not need you.

This will cost. Those with the money can get the right juice and start sailing away from the rest of the pack. No more Democrats and Republicans - only the Borgs of the Apocalypse and those Left Behind.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I do think that something short of the Singularity will happen in the latter half of this century. I don't plan on travelling that far, but some of you will. What will you see when you get there? Will you have telescopic infrared night vision?

Posted by .
To reply to this post, click HERE. Requires Microsoft Passport.
Tags: | | | | |