the latest issue of Time magazine looks at future tech

From: John M Grigg (
Date: Fri Jun 16 2000 - 04:06:11 MDT

I eagerly bought the latest issue of Time when I saw the cover story was entitled "The Future of Technology." Ray Kurzweil(our hero!) wrote an article called "will my pc be smarter then I am?" that discusses how AI could be reached by designing artificial brains after our biological ones, how nanotech will transform and enhance our own brains and how nanotech will allow for the ultimate in virtual reality. His final point was that we would in the end merge with our technology.

William Gibson, the science fiction author, wrote the article "will we plug chips into our brains?" He actually disagreed with Kurzweil's view and believes that our hardware will simply outpace our biological bodies and there will be no real need to augment our physical brains because of distributed processing interconnecting the individual with the globe.

Gibson ended with the statement "so it won't, I don't think, be a matter of computers crawling buglike into the most intimate chasms of our being, but of humanity crawling buglike out into the mingling light and shadow of the presence of that which we will have created, which we are creating now, and which seems to me to be in the process of re-creating us." So the famed leader of the cyberpunk genre is not quite the transhumanist I would have expected.

Michael Lemonick's article "will tiny robots build dimonds one atom at a time?" was a good though short primer for the public about the future possibilities of nanotechnology. He talks about the incredible possibilities of nano but also the dark side. Lemonick even discusses the (much discussed here) concept of a global nano immune system to protect us from disaster, intentional or not. His final statement is "one way or another, nanotechnology is coming." Following his article is a fun, humorously drawn diagram to easily get across the basic concepts of nano. I liked it and was surprised Time would use such a visual aid.

Michio Kaku(successor to Carl Sagan now?) wrote "what will replace silicon?" He gives a rather pessimistic view of the alternatives while discussing Moore's law and even interviewing Gordon Moore. Kaku says the slowdown in Moore's law may actually be a good thing so we don't by mid century face super AI. "Evolution says organisms are replaced by species of superior adaptability. When our robots are tired of taking orders, they may, if we're lucky, show more compassion to us than we've shown the species we pushed into oblivion. Perhaps they will put us into zoos, throw peanuts at us and make us dance inside our cages."

Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog and author of The Clock of the Long Now, wrote "is technology moving too fast?" He explained how with aerospace or automobiles, there were times of technical hyperacceleration but generally things would than stabilize in what he calls "lock-in." Brand feels nanotech, biotech and computing will not do this but instead are self-accelerating. They will have a synergistic effect on eachother which will only increase over time.

Brand jests that the world needs a "not so fast" button to slow things down. He gives scenarios for a slow down on technological development. One is due to an aging and conservative population. Also different religious, cultural and political groups could be antagonized and move against development. Finally, if only an elite group can keep up and really prosper then the rest of the population could grow frustrated.

I enjoyed his closing paragraph "with many powerful forces in play, technology could hyperaccelerate to the stars with stunning rapidity, or it could stall completely. My expectation is that it will do both, with various technologies proceeding at various rates. The new technologies may be self-accelerating, but they are not self-determining. They are the result of ever renegotiated agreement with society. Because they are so potent, their paths may undergo wild oscillations, but I think the trend will be toward the dynamic middle: much slower than the optimists expect, much faster than the pessimists think humanity can bear." I wonder how this bears on the coming of the singularity...

I didn't even touch on the "will cybersex be better than real sex" article(he says no), the Stephen King interview about the timelessness of the bound book,"will frankenfood feed the world?"(says that the third world needs gene modified plants), or the article by Bruce Sterling called "will cybercriminals run the world?" This week's issue of Time magazine really indicates to me that transhumanist memes are getting out there in the public mainstream. Even the mass media seems to be saying, "brace yourself for the coming singularity!"

best regards,

John Grigg

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