Re: Near-Term Scenarios

GBurch1 (
Sun, 17 May 1998 10:21:45 EDT

Thanks for the responses to my call for some detailed generation of near-term
scenarios. I spent some time systematically reviewing the responses this
morning and, as always, I found that it helps to think together! Some things
pointed out by others seemed so obvious once I saw them. Some examples:

-- Mark Crosby reminded me of TELEVISION! Pinpointing the time when this most
influential of mass media begins to merge with what we now think of as PCs and
the web will be an extremely important prognostication point. I suppose I
have thought about this as happening more effectively once consumer-level VR
becomes ubiquitous, but an earlier merger could cause an acceleration of media
tech developments simply because of the huge consumer power of the television
viewing audience.

-- Paul Hughes pointed out that the web, combined with increasing computer
power might make "ecological accounting" a realistic near-term development.
I'd encountered this idea before, but completely forgot about it in my first
pass. A comment: I think (1) the "greens" and the big accounting firms would
have to work together somehow to develop some kind of GAAP with this idea
before it became common and (2) some kind of market or governmental impetus
would have to drive it before it was widely adopted. Perhaps effective
micropayments for resource handling would do the trick.

-- In power technology, Paul Hughes also raised another point that slipped my
mind, fuel cells. I was always fascinated with this technology when I was a
kid and it was used in the U.S. space program starting with Gemini and, more
importantly, on Apollo. (I can still locate the fuel cells in both
spacecraft!) I would like to know more about the state of the art and the
near-term milestones that must be achieved for wide-spread implementation.

I was also struck by how important cross-disciplinary views are. The folks
more oriented to computer technology seemed far less optimistic about things
like bio-medical developments and, in the case of space technology, than
folks, like "Spike Jones" and myself who appear to follow it more closely.
The computer gods, such as the two Dans (Fabulich and Clemmensen), were
consistently (although moderately) more optimistic on the development of
computer speed and capacity. In the case of space tech, the astonishing
number of serious private launching ventures seem very likely to yield
impressive advances in LEO and translunar development before 2010; yet much of
this development is not widely known outside of the space industry and its
ancillary cloud of enthusiasts.

This cross-disciplinary effect points to the continuing value of this list and
the activities of the transhumanist and extropian community generally. A key
insight of the transhumanist vision is the importance of synergy between
developing technologies. Only by actively sharing information and informed
speculation can we expect to maintain a clear vision of the future, whether we
see it as a "spike" or a "swell".

With these comments and bearing in mind the input received so far, I offer
some speculation for the decade following 2005, although I abandon somewhat
the format I had originally offered, in part because some disciplines will
merge beyond their current meaningful categorical divisions:

2005 - 2015

The VR Revolution is universally recognized in the first world: "virtual
consumption" of many "luxury items" beginning to supplant "real consumption"
(i.e. why pay $250k for a real Lamborghini when $100 gets you 80% of the
experience with "Lambo 2.0"); Design of virtual environments and highly
interactive scenarios becomes the principle artistic enterprise, significantly
blurring the line between the "software engineering" and "artistic"
communities; A large portion of business travel supplanted by virtual
meetings; Social interaction in virtual environments becomes ubiquitous;
Merging of VR into Chislenko ER "Enhanced Reality" in first world toward end
of this period.
The AI Revolution arrives: Toward the end of this period autonomous agents
become important economic actors, treated as human agents are now in law and
business; Industrial and product design and engineering become highly
automated with the use of various species of AI assistants and agents.

Toward the end of this period, using bioinformatic techniques, large parts of
the dynamic metabolic pathways leading up from the now-completely-mapped human
genome through actual organic expression are understood, giving rise to
effective genetic therapies for a majority of pathologies; Organ cloning is
perfected and, toward 2015 implemented; Nerve regeneration is mastered, making
whole body transplants feasible but as yet untested; Common pathologies are
treated with same-day DNA chip diagnosis and gene therapy; At least one first
world society (the EU dominated by the greens? The US dominated by religious
fundamentalists?) completely rejects advanced biomedical techniques; Uploads
still seem RELATIVELY remote, as emulation achieves small network level and
scanning technology still unable to achieve massive fidelity.

Smart materials pervasive in high-end products; Smart buildings universal for
new construction in the first world; Programming/control continues to be major
impediment to "Drextech", limiting molecular manufacturing to centralized
materials construction only; Environmental degradation slows significantly as
lower-impact manufacturing technologies continue to develop.

Virtual consumption causes proliferation of low-capital, high-flux, small
enterprises characterized by fluid agency structure; "Agency management" model
comes to predominate in many first-world businesses (management of human and
AI agency resources); Market fluidity and decreasing transaction costs cause
capital fund managers to dominate industrial leadership, creating increasing
tensions between "planners/builders" and "profit-seekers".

Single career paradigm in first world becomes minority lifestyle; Immigration
pressure into the first world abates as employment opportunities for non-
information workers stagnate and then decline; Industrial production (even
with increased automation) increasingly concentrated in second and third world
as a result; Fertility rates and energy consumption in the first world begin
to decline as virtual consumption supplants "real" consumption;
"Balkanization" of culture in the first world as virtual communities cross-cut
geographic boundaries; Major reductions in violent crime and second and third
world political tyrranies through implementation of "transparent society"
techniques; Conflict between privacy and transparency dominates social and
political agendas in first world; Development of a few Orwellian ultra-
surveillance tyrannies in the second and third worlds (Iran? Iraq?); A few
tech-terrorist incidents spark lightning super-smart weapon responses from
coordinated first-world militaries.

Proliferation of quasi-governmental adjudicative agencies dovetailing with
continued development and spread of smart contracts (primitive PPLs);
Traditional state judiciary and government increasingly preoccupied with
"info-torts" arising from conflict between transparency and privacy; Many late
20th century NGOs (non-governmental organizations) mutate into quasi-
governmental agencies (also identifiable as primitive non-territorial PPLs);
Some first-world governments become preoccupied with legislation and
regulation of biotech, others take laissez faire approach.

Human/robotics debate "resolved" as relatively small human presence is
perceived as necessary for high-level management across light-speed gap, thus
LEO manned station is only a way station to small human surface base managing
lunar prospecting and construction of research facilities and manned orbital
Mars facility is planned; Large growth in telerobotic LEO service industry for
telecomm sats.

Note that I continue to be conservative on advanced nanotechnology. The
informational load for full-blown assembler-based nanotech seems so high that
many, many orders of magnitude of advance in capacity and, more importantly,
very significant QUALITATIVE advances in computing ability will be necessary.
Accordingly, I continue to see "ultimate Drextech" as coming after 2015,
although how much later I don't think we can say.


Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."