AI? Robotics? Climate Change? Transhumanism?
Any other forum members interested in these topics? 🙂
I made a timeline of my predictions across 10 sectors. What do you guys think?
I know lots of this may be controversional. Discuss!
This is very rich and realistic on the whole and hints at an impressive knowledge base.
Part of me wonders whether the "can computers be sentient" debate will ever actually end. But since we generally orient ourselves by their behavior in any case, it may not matter for your predictions. Such philosophical questions sometimes turn out to be moot or vague to begin with. Probably the most impressive AI paradigm I have come across that is relatively under the radar is that of Stephen Thaler: http://imagination-engines.com/iei_founder.php It is highly private and proprietary which is understandable given its power since apparently the government contracts with them, but they claim computers can already do remarkable AI tasks thought to be impossible (or close to impossible) even without supercomputing power. But people may just never listen to them due to the power of money and PR campaigns.
"Xavier, welcome to my nightmare! Pride and economics usually stand in the way of broad acceptance of the technology. After all, this AI paradigm does it all, but IBM and Apple have millions to spend on their media campaigns. So, while the press pounces on the opportunity of reporting on what these companies merely plan to do (or glitzy demos of stale AI principles) the struggle is on to trumpet what has already been done here. On the Adobe/Autodesk side of things, one must communicate directly to the management level without asking the purely technical underling what they think of IEI. Typically, the engineers and scientists feel threatened by the whole proposition. Furthermore, it’s a bit like Hero of Alexandria designing a steam engine in ancient times, when there were lots of slaves to supply power. Things haven’t changed in this ‘modern’ era where there are lots of programmers to write code." - Stephen Thaler
This documentary might be a good introduction to the paradigm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5z7n5_E9IU
And it may be that if properly understood, the capabilities of AI could make us questions our own sense of pride as a species, what is sentience, and whether we can combine with machines to become immortal (but perhaps not in a Von Neumann architecture!) so these are indeed very serious questions.
Also some speculate that weather control technology may already be a developing thing in relative secret, which could be used to combat climate change but also much more sinister ends. But Mouthy Buddha deals with highly controversial and speculative topics so no guarantee of course, but maybe it is worth entertaining. However, speaking of Von Neumann from before, he did used to be interested in weather control technology and if he thought it was really possible, who knows.
"I remember a talk that Von Neumann gave at Princeton around 1950, describing the glorious future which he then saw for his computers. Most of the people that he hired for his computer project in the early days were meteorologists. Meteorology was the big thing on his horizon. He said, as soon as we have good computers, we shall be able to divide the phenomena of meteorology cleanly into two categories, the stable and the unstable. The unstable phenomena are those which are upset by small disturbances, the stable phenomena are those which are resilient to small disturbances. He said, as soon as we have some large computers working, the problems of meteorology will be solved. All processes that are stable we shall predict. All processes that are unstable we shall control. He imagined that we needed only to identify the points in space and time at which unstable processes originated, and then a few airplanes carrying smoke generators could fly to those points and introduce the appropriate small disturbances to make the unstable processes flip into the desired directions. A central committee of computer experts and meteorologists would tell the airplanes where to go in order to make sure that no rain would fall on the Fourth of July picnic. This was John von Neumann's dream. This, and the hydrogen bomb, were the main practical benefits which he saw arising from the development of computers."
-Freeman Dyson, in an account of a 1950 talk by von Neumann, in Infinite in All Directions (1988); the statement "All stable processes we shall predict. All unstable processes we shall control" is sometimes attributed to von Neumann directly, but may be a paraphrase.
Or are these just Faustian pipe dreams, as Oswald Spengler predicated many years ago; utopian dreams of a dying culture?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsaieZt5vjk
John Michael Greer might also be a fascinating read if you are interested in ecological spirituality and want to hear some skepticism of techno-futurism: https://www.ecosophia.net/the-twilight-of-the-monofuture/
... sunset of the west already having been predicted by Spengler as an inevitability, at one point at least
This is very rich and realistic on the whole and hints at an impressive knowledge base.
Part of me wonders whether the “can computers be sentient” debate will ever actually end.
I agree with it being moot.
Philosophy has been debating consciousness for a while and will continue to do so. The debates of where its parameters/boundaries lie, whether it applies to animals, and now AI, will be still ongoing. But pragmatically, if you're interfacing with an intelligent program and it won't just do what you say (i.e. it has independent thought) then you have little choice but to treat it as a cognitive agent -- and people will, simply because they must in order to interface with it at all.
Or are these just Faustian pipe dreams, as Oswald Spengler predicated many years ago; utopian dreams of a dying culture?
I watched the Spengler video. Very interesting! I really like his perspective, and need to read up more on it.
As for how cultural rise & decay cycles relates to my timeline, the timeline is mostly focused on technological forces and the vectors they are currently heading in. But if there is one element that may be relevant to Spengler from a sociological angle, it's the rise of VR cities in the 2030's+. This is an unprecedented situation and it will give rise to a culture that is truly 'new' in a way we haven't seen before. I think this may become the seed or hotbed of a new creative explosion and ideology.
VR Cities will be based on an entirely new set of ideals that challenge everything previously known, and yet will likely converge on a few values. Materialism will not be part of VR cities because objects/products can be cloned ad infinitum. Expansion into infinite space won't be a value because there's easy access to as much virtual space as you want. Endless worlds can be made. Conquests make no sense. Basically all the Western pipe dreams and fantasies can be fulfilled (or voided) in VR cities, then leaving the question of... what now?
I think some of the ideals that may likely take root are ideals based on the sacredness of 'information', where evolved information structures (and the evolving of ever-better information structures) become equivalent to the soul of things, and the elevation of souls towards godhood -- where god is redefined as the apex/highest/densest possible information structure.
The human brain then comes to be redefined as an information structure making use of squishy tissue as its medium for hosting consciousness. But AGI's, many of which will live in these cities, will also be seen as conscious-- yet using a silicon medium to host their consciousness. In VR cities, whether your mind is being hosted on a carbon or silicon server will be a minor detail. The common denominator will be information structures, and people will aim to create more refined versions of it -- new forms of consciousness. There may be a Cambrian explosion of new forms of sentience, and then the resulting evolutionary selection of forms suited to explore the cosmic unknown in the best/new ways. It's this new-life that will truly populate the galaxy, but this falls outside of the timeframe of this timeline.
Many of these predictions are fascinating, and as Mitchell has said above, I am very impressed that they encompass such a wide sphere of topics. These predictions more likely than not originate (like the predictions of anyone else) in your mind; the mind has supplied you with premises and pre-stored information, and you have used this information to deduce your way to certain conclusions regarding the future of technology and many other matters. Here I do not contest the validity of the reasoning that led to these conclusions (as I think that this is sound), but rather, my post will be a critique of the premises and the data that allowed you to arrive at these conclusions, as I believe that many of these predictions focus extensively on a single area/sector but do not quite take into account the influence of other important sectors. In particular, while I wouldn't disagree with many of the forecasts you make here assuming that the premises you used to arrive at them , I think you are downsizing the importance that socio-political factors play in this.
Though intuitively I can say that all of your predictions are too optimistic, I do not know specifics regarding many of the fields that you have made predictions in, so I will limit specific criticism to two main fields in this post. I view your analysis of the housing industry, VR/AR digital consciousness and artificial general intelligence as being particularly flawed. It's important to keep this post structured because I don't want the criticism to occupy all of the content (as despite these obvious flaws I do view your predictions as having salient aspects to them), so the order that I will follow will be based on the methodology whereby which I will assess the predictions that are flawed, that is, I'll address dialectical/philosophical problems first (as there do appear to be a few in the post above), and then move onto some of the predictions which arise from empirically flawed premises (though some of these predictions actually have philosophical and empirical flaws, these are beyond the scope of this post to address).
To start off, I have a problem with the conclusion you arrive at from your analysis of VR/AR introduction in major cities, particularly the idea of a "digital consciousness". In addition, there are numerous problems in the line of reasoning you employ to arrive at this conclusion. In your pathway arriving at this conclusion, you also refer to the introduction of AR aspects to city-life and to optimize the city experience. The main problem I have with this is that most VR/AR technology requires the hosting / presence of advanced technology in the citizens. This creates a demographic problem. The phenomenon that would be seen (especially in developing countries), would be one of infrastructure disparity, those with smartphones advanced enough to access points of the AR would enjoy more benefits than those that do not. One could say that "all smartphones have AR capability", but this is not true. It is actually already quite resource-intensive as a process for most smartphones to access a camera process, and layering 3D imagery upon camera imagery is something only really the most advanced / big-name smartphones can do. Most people have shitty, entry-level phones. The current political climate (decisively so) in most countries that would even bother to consider such a developmental consideration is one of polarization, and more importantly, class consciousness. There are already people using many developments as an excuse to allow for social stratification / division into what's perceived as classes (based often on the all-encompassing conceptual primitive of "privilege"). If the ability to access AR systems were to be considered "clout" (and those with access to more social social services and benefits as a rule are often seen has having more "clout"), this sort of move is actually something that could lead to a great deal of political resistance, and so the subsequent points you outline (specifically those regarding the integration of a digital consciousness) likely will not follow in most atmospheres (based on the grounds, of course, that access to these AR systems will be considered a "privilege"). Of course, it's possible that governments will anticipate this and attempt to limit the presence of AR in relation to city-life integration, but in this case, this will be totally useless (as the integrated facilities will be trivial, as the integration of non-trivial facilities means public resistance from those without access). Your contingency regarding the building of alternate, AR/VR-only cities is interesting, but I think ultimately this will be met with the same political resistance (possibly even worse, because of the undertone of "apart"-ness). Progressing with more specificity, I have deep problems with your idea of a "digital consciousness". Consciousness is something that we are not able to even comprehend yet at an individual level, so unless you are deferring to a digital cultural synthesis (progressing in accordance to some standards or laws of social progression, perhaps Spengler's), I don't actually think technologically grounded inter-linked system has access to qualia of experience (as thus far, qualia seem to be exclusive to biological systems). However, I don't have enough evidence at hand to refute this conclusively, so I will end my criticisms regarding the VR/AR predictions here.
I will address your predictions on artificial general intelligence in this portion of my writing (which I will refer to as AGI, as you do, for the sake of abbreviation). I think in this case that your prediction, rather than being philosophically unsound, fails to account for many logistical contingencies that would otherwise rather significantly impact the course of events. In regards tot this topic, I think that the timeline you have provided is far too optimistic given the rate of current research into this area, in particular, for there to be fully operational VR-based AGI citizen-rooted cities in 2055 is completely untenable, because of one very important factor, public perceptions of the issue. The debate regarding the ethics of AGI is ongoing, and like most moral-philosophical dilemmas, will likely remain unsolved (even if companies continue research regardless of these debates). One could say that whether or not these debates are consequential or inconsequential is irrelevant because most of these things are at the whims of companies and corporations anyways, but I think that in this specific case there is a very important aspect to public perception, and that important aspect stems from funding. All governments, as a rule, rely on from citizens to fund their public projects, and the construction of a city for AGI citizens is fundamentally in a public project. Many citizens of developed countries are opposed to AGI citizens on either (a. ethical grounds (most often replacing to jobs, etc...) or (b. ignorance (and thus fear, as the general tendency in human beings does seem to be towards a fear of the unknown, and so it is very unlikely that governments will receive the consistent public funding needed for the setting up of this endeavour. Though it is possible that funding from a particularly large AGI manufacturing corporation / company could assist governments in the funding of these projects without citizen interference is possible, it is very unlikely that companies will engage in this kind of behavior because (a. even with confidentiality guarantees, a company will have individual members that will be morally opposed to this kind of behavior, and thus rejecting of it and (b. as a result of this moral opposition, word of the company's plans will reach the public (a meme as a unit of information transmission is a relevant concept to invoke here). Even if this does not lead to a general boycott of the company, public perception to it will most likely be severely impacted, and as a result, profit too, with another result being the general delaying of the conclusion that you have outlined. There is another logistical contingency (though it's easier for most people to see this one as "boring"), and that is the allocation of the actual land for the construction of these cities. It's not unlikely that several citizens being opposed to these projects could hold on to the allotted land for the city and stage protests to prevent its construction. Even in the case that the government were to do it from a secret location, the advances in communication and information-transmission by that time (which I think definitely will occur) will make this essentially public knowledge. A broader problem here is also AGI citizens being allowed independence; I think those that do will face significant persecution (if it does even happen, and I think that reasons I've outlined above are plenty to show why none of this will happen) and perhaps form a fringe group (which leads to some interesting considerations of social dynamics that I would love to comment on but won't have time to do here).
Though these specific criticisms will be significantly more boring (where boring means that the analysis will be primary causal and not philosophical or dialectical), I think it is still necessary to criticize the analytical projections you have regarding the meat industry and the house industry, two industries you seem to oversimplify significantly (of course while it's possible that you're not oversimplifying them, based on the evidence, I am inclined to think that you are). The house industry is being oversimplified in this case because I think you underestimate the power that real estate agents hold in many places economically. Especially in lesser developed countries (like my own experience in Myanmar), there are certain land-lords that trademark specific kinds of houses in small regions. It is a tight logistical battle to attempt to dismantle these housing empires. Not to mention the obvious logistical challenge of transporting entire pre-printed houses to said places, or even printing them en-site (the topographical constraints that I brought up earlier are quite relevant still). The prediction regarding the meat industry is just... no. Not only is there the potential environmental catastrophe when attempting to relocate animals from existing farms to other ones (which can bring changes in climate to places where you are not intending them to be) but assuming that the technology does eventually develop to become cheaper, why should meat companies, some of the largest corporations on earth, give up their primary sources of income for something far less profitable?
I have exhausted my capacity for specific criticism (as the criticisms I've outlined above are entirely within the bounds of my knowledge-base), and thus any more attempts at specific criticisms for me would be unfair on you (as I would be projecting my incomplete ideas as being superior to your potentially more-complete ideas), and a manifestation of intellectual dishonesty from me. This is why I will focus this next section of my response on a few more general criticisms of patterns in your reasoning processes and perceptions of causality, to be specific, I think there are two main problems that I'm seeing here. The first problem I see is that even your global-scale predictions seem to largely ignore the population of the developing world (which in terms of quantity, is actually more significant than the developing world), which is a blunder, because the developing world consistently has shown itself in the 21st century to have a higher rate of economic growth than the countries your analysis seems to concern. The second problem I see is that there seems to be a certain ideological undertone to the predictions you're making, that is, it seems that a lot of these anticipated outcomes arise not from objective perception of the trends that lead to them, but a certain emphasis on some schools of thought and a de-emphasizing of others. Let me address these points in more detail below.
Firstly, you make several assertions regarding "major cities" and "major countries" without actually qualifying what these terms are referring to. Though it might seem pedantic that I am picking on this at the moment, this is actually a very necessary distinction to make. As Mitchell has outlined above, Spengler's analysis regarding the "Decline of the West" is something very important to consider here - the development of China's Zhongguancun district (as representative of the larger technological bent that the country seems to have), and the multiplication of corporations therein is certainly leading to the introduction of a new "major country" in regards to technological hegemony (which is relevant, because many of your forecasts here regard technology). However, you also see many societies in Asia becoming "major countries" for opposite reasons, several countries have projected their domestic conflicts onto neighbour nations, turning these into geopolitical conflicts (as you see is the case with the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, for example), which means many of these "major" countries have things to deal with that aren't relevant to anything that you're saying, and if anything, the introduction of your predictions would hinder these resolutions. The point is that the major players are changing quite fast, for different reasons, and too inconsistently for you to be able to refer to them at all without extensive analysis of temporal trends to justify these predictions. You're making too many assumptions that they will even care.
Secondly, I get a vague undertone that you have a somewhat untempered, childlike (not in a derisive, but endearing manner) optimism regarding a technologist view of the future. I think the realization a lot of the predictions that you've made here will be dependent on social/political perceptions of the issue, and that you are ignoring factoring these perceptions into your analysis because it seems as if you have the desire to see these manifested. In the case that you don't, it's fine, you can ignore this section of my post as this is basically just a subjective impression that I get from reading it. However, in the case that you do want to see these things happen, I suggest that (a. you analyze the trends taking into account the factors that I mention above (and there are several that aren't present in here) and (b. you figure out ways to get these trends to manifest.
In conclusion, this has been a highly engaging post-prompt to think about, and I hope that future discussions on the forum take a similar vein to what's been done today. I don't have enough time to make my own predictions for the next paradigm shifts today, but I will reply to this forum post with them some time within next week.
@auburn - interesting. I am quite ignorant of the specifics of most of those domains except climate change, but I'm confident that dimension alone is sufficiently damaging to the perpetuation of the timeline. Intuitively my impression of your timeline is that it's a very good sketch in the absence of any large catastrophes, but that's precisely where I would add my contention.
The first thing I'd say is that 'climate change' is itself a woefully inadequate term; 'change' would be much more accurately swapped for 'destruction' or 'devastation' given how utterly world governments have failed to ameliorate its consequences over the past three decades. Major damage has already been assured, and grows worse by the day. I'd refer anyone to The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells for an up-to-date, comprehensive review of the literature for laypeople.
The picture that emerges of the near-future is gruesome, but not completely hopeless. Many of the countries that will be hardest hit are already experiencing a refugee crisis numbering in the millions, such as Syria and South Sudan. Room could be made for more millions of refugees, but when conditions inevitably become tougher in almost every nation due to global warming, world history would indicate that the most likely scenario is to "close the gates" and abandon those outside in fear there will not be enough resources for everyone. This scarcity mentality isn't a direct rebuke to the development of nations further along in their technological progression, but it certainly paints the overall picture in a significantly darker tone.
And while I do believe that you are correct that the pretense of climate denial will eventually cease to hold any significance, likely within 20-30 years, that timeline in and of itself is damning for the human race. Our current political and corporate structures are woefully inadequate to deal with this issue because they are designed to be short-sighted: corporate boards think of time primarily in terms of fiscal quarters, politicians think of time primarily in terms of election cycles. This doesn't work for a sequence of problems that will cascade over years and decades, and because the consequences have yet to come directly to vast spans of the voting populace, there is no desperate surge in grassroots political will to stop the ensuing damage.
Where this directly impacts the timeline is infrastructure. Nations' current infrastructures are designed to be just adequate enough to deal with current problems at a current temperature. Although my understanding is that more than a few Western European nations have delayed upgrades to critical infrastructure (i.e. drinking water, transportation) for decades, I'll use the beautiful dystopian U.S.A. to illustrate the point: The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) current grade for U.S. infrastructure is a D+. This rating has been static for a decade.
The pattern is to fix things only when they approach a significant level of dysfunction, and rarely before. This shoddy method of repair will be painfully exposed, and itself rendered dysfunctional upon the advent of widespread flooding, wildfires, drought, crop failure... the list goes on, and they will happen one upon the other. Our current building and transportation specifications will start failing due to heat stress in a sweeping fashion. If action is only taken at the apex of the crisis, the economic consequences will be severe enough to significantly curb an optimistic timeline of human technological achievement, as infrastructure (economic infrastructure in particular) undergirds the entire system that widespread technological applications are founded upon.
It is quite possible that many of the technological advancements you've predicted could outrun the clock and start proliferating before a series of climate (or other, as yet unforeseen) catastrophes damage global infrastructure, but I have grave doubts that the distribution of these resources could remain ubiquitous in light of such events. Already there exists a staggering disparity in quality of life when directly comparing most desirable to least desirable nations to be born in, and though there is certainly truth in the idea that 'a rising tide lifts all boats', I think there are very reasonable doubts to be had concerning the constancy of this arrangement; so that while it is true that almost universally quality of life has increased for billions of people in recent decades, some significant limitations to this growth and prosperity will arise when the staggering climate costs for the most recent three decades of marked progress are manifested through widespread damage to global infrastructure.
Of course, the major assumption beneath most of what I've written here is that world governments don't get their acts together within the decade and begin instituting massive reforms. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening look abysmal from my perspective.
Yes, I share your sentiment here and unfortunately think that the climate denial at the political level won't go away until it's directly in our faces..
I think the solution would need to come in the form of a few policies such as:
None of these are fun or easy for people to do. First of all, nobody likes the prices of gas at the pump to go up. People don't support a carbon tax because they don't want to see that gas number rise. Secondly, people like their meat -- it's tasty and yummy. People don't want their meat to rise in cost, nor to be told that it's bad and guilted over it.
There are two (possibly complementary) ways that I see this inertia being fixed. One is that the individual toll felt by civilians from climate change becomes greater than their need for gas and meat. Humans have poor willpower, but I suppose if it was their life versus their gas juggler and their meaty steak, they might choose life. Might!
The second way this inertia can be fixed is by compelling alternatives coming to market. If electric cars are 1) as affordable, 2) as stylish, 3) as fast -- as gas cars, then people can keep their lust/adrenaline for cars without the fumes. And they can keep their wallets from being drained by high gas prices. But if these cars are not widespread enough, they won't make the shift.
And if meat-alternatives can be made to taste just like real meat (indistinguishable), and be as affordable, then they can change their ways. But if they do not taste as good as regular meat, the mainstream is not going to deprive themselves of steak and bacon. So there's a technological threshold that will need to be met. Heme-iron meat will need to be mass produced at low cost, and electric vehicles too.
Basically, the "acting now" is not happening because the solutions in place would require average citizens to forego their personal needs for the (as-yet-semi-invisible) greater good, and human will sucks at that. So it's not necessarily just the governments, it's all of us.
Awesome predictions AND criticism !
As Safsom said above, which I admire, by the way, I also don't know enough about many of these topics, so it would not be fair to intervene there.
There is one issue that I will address though, because it has not been addressed and the conversation is getting precisely there.
I am currently reading a book - "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Noah Harari.
So, the dreadful reality that is mentioned in this book is that not all countries will be affected in the same way by climate change AND by gas being replaced by solar/electric power.
I am speaking here specifically about countries that have few coastlines or few major cities close to the coastline, cold weather and that are, above all, gas and petrol exporters.
You probably guessed it...
Russia is one of the major gas exporters, so, it has all interests to keep selling gas. It is currently the largest exporter of oil, natural gas and hard coal to the European Union. ("30% of the EU's petroleum oil imports and 39% of total gas imports came from Russia in 2017. For Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and Finland, more than 75% of their imports of petroleum oils originated in Russia." )
Now, if you look at it, there are not as many coastlines that are prone to massive destruction when the sea levels rise and where there are, I doubt there is a lot of population.
This question is being asked seriously in the book - could wheat be cultivated in Siberia if the general temperature went up ? Not tomorrow but in a longer time span?
I am not a specialist, I don't know. But if someone thought about this scenario, Russian politicians have thought about this scenario too. Hence even if it was completely wrong and insane, the belief that it could be right will weigh in the political decisions they will make.
Russia will be impacted, it already is being impacted by climate change, like all other countries, but it has big interests to sell gas and petroleum and the impact it will suffer might cause some temporal damage but on the long (though not very long) run this damage could be less significant for the population compared to some benefits.
Taking all these factors into account, will these measures you propose be taken by Russia? I doubt it. And we are talking here about a huge power, the largest country in the world by area and the 9th most populous country in the world (according to wikipedia, so if anything I say here is wrong, you guys tell me). That also has influence over other smaller countries.
AND I only happened to read these points about Russia - we don't know exactly what interests each country has.
According to the same book, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also big petrol and gas exporters and their economies will suffer from gas being replaced by solar and wind energy. Some other countries might be in the same situation.
So, I think this should be analyzed specifically, as we start from the assumption every country has the same interests, but actually, they have competing interests even in the face of a total disaster that is menacing to destroy us all.
Another issue that is mentioned in this book is that some politicians and some entire political parties don't believe in climate change, not because there is not enough evidence supporting it, but because their ideology simply does not contain any solution for climate change. Especially extremist nationalists...simply can't tie climate change very well into their world view. Because it is a global issue and their ideology is not oriented towards solving global issues at all.
By the way, I want to make it clear I am not criticizing any of these countries or political ideologies.
These are simply some possible major setbacks to climate change measures/policies.
Oh, one more thing - I haven't read much about the meat problem, but Safsom's point looks valid to me :
but assuming that the technology does eventually develop to become cheaper, why should meat companies, some of the largest corporations on earth, give up their primary sources of income for something far less profitable?
I also doubt they will. But I need to read more about this subject. I would personally pay even a double price for meat. I would rather give up my mobile phone than meat. So, we need to also assess how willing consumers will be to replace meat with...I am not sure what you (Auburn) are even talking about here but I can't imagine a viable replacement. This is the most dystopian part of these predictions. :))) I mean, ok, the environment goes to hell and robots will take our jobs, everyone knows that...but NO MORE BACON??? 🙁
I will read more about all these issues and come back if I see any other useful information; this is a fascinating thread.
I mean, ok, the environment goes to hell and robots will take our jobs, everyone knows that…but NO MORE BACON???
Hehe! Hence why I said "if meat-alternatives can be made to taste just like real meat (indistinguishable), and be as affordable," and that "the “acting now” is not happening because the solutions in place would require average citizens to forego their personal needs.."
I'm specifically talking about companies like Impossible Burger, which is a new company that has cracked the secret to the taste of meat. You're right that nothing tastes quite like bacon or beef, but why is that? What chemical is it that gives meat it's signature/unique taste? Labs have been trying to work this out for a while and identified the key molecules responsible - allowing them to synthesize that in a lab to make non-meat legitimately taste identical to meat because it has the same taste markers.
People are certainly not going to give up the experience or taste of meat. But I think that nobody wants to kill animals. In other words, if people could have all the same delicious taste but know that no animals are being slaughtered in the process - I think that's a checkmate. And from what I've seen so far, many diehard meat-eaters taste the Impossible Burger and cant' tell the difference.
The company's explicit goal is to replace the meat industry by 2035. However, I think that goal is great but over-ambitious. The amount of infrastructure and sheer volume levels needed to replace the meat industry won't be easily turned over, even when a better alternative is present. So the estimates in my timeline have the meat industry losing government support in 2040 and fully collapsing by 2050.
But there's actually more reason to believe this will happen beyond climate change, health-consciousness, and animal rights. As if those weren't enough reasons, they'll actually be cheaper to produce eventually. Meat is a very resource-heavy thing to make/grow. Plants are far easier to grow (per kg) than meat, taking up less water, less land, less resources. This means that, in terms of economics, it's also a viable/sensible --and I might argue inevitable -- switch to make.
Hmmm, ok, so they managed to obtain the taste of meat. Still there are some issues to discuss here.
How healthy is soy? And what is soy's nutritional value?
I don't know much about this issue and of course meat has unhealthy effects too.
But this should be properly analyzed.
I read soy can cause fertility issues, which are already affecting a lot of people anyway.
2. What about the eggs and dairy industries? Do these remain in this timeline? Do we keep using animals for food only without slaughtering them? And since we are here, what about fish?
I really don't know what you will say, so I leave this as a question. Especially since cows are mentioned but I'd argue cheese is a more relevant product coming from cows than meat. Many people prefer pork or chicken but still eat a lot of dairy products.
3. How far does this go on a longer timeline?
This question is linked to the previous question. What if we get an almond milk that tastes just like cow milk? Or some tofu that tastes just like the most fancy French blue cheese?
Or a synthetic gelatin based product that tastes like kale? 🙂
Where do we draw the line between what is an acceptable replacement and what is not?
4. In which ways would taking out meat completely impact our identity?
This is my biggest concern.
We deeply identify as hunters/predators. Maybe this does not apply to all of us. But many of us see ourselves as being a specific type of animals that kill and eat some other animals. And that can also be killed and eaten by some other animals. A part of the food chain.
My impression was we were higher on the food chain, but since we also eat a lot of veggies and meat from animals that are very low on the food chain, we aren't apex predators...from a biological point of view. (though our general behavior is of apex predators, which I think is why many people have the tendency to view humans as higher on the food chain than they really are - I read we are at about 2,21 in the food chain, in a similar position to pigs. 🙂 )
Still, no matter what the actual score is, hunting or farming, killing the animals, cooking them and eating their meat is a part of who we are. It can be seen as a gruesome part but...you can't quite wipe out the fact it exists. Removing meat completely, with no possibility of return, raises the question if we will still be fully human after. This will change our identity as hunters and tamers and our perspective as a part of the food chain. I can't predict all the consequences but it's a drastic change, that can have many psychological effects on people.
Now many of us buy food instead of hunting or farming but we are still aware we are eating meat. And we are aware we have a position IN nature, ABOVE certain animals that we eat and BELOW others that sometimes eat us. This implies being predatory and being vulnerable. And it carries with itself a certain set of qualities or rather it impacts and is impacted by a set of qualities.
After stopping eating meat as an entire society, would our perspective regarding our place in the food chain change? As our place would change, it would go lower. But I wonder more about perspective. If it did change, would this make us less humble? Or too trusting of others? And, on the other side, would it make us less assertive and capable of defending ourselves?
Because these are qualities we developed based on our specific place in the food chain. Could we lose them in time?
I frankly don't know, but humans are already losing the ability to be aggressive enough in a world that is falling apart and in the future we might end up in a much more dangerous environment, with far less coping skills than the ones we have now.
There is another issue here.
5. Small farms can have a certain level of self sustainability. Generalized production of highly processed foods does not. What could be the consequences of outlawing or of simply economically and socially discouraging the development of small farms ?
I think we would come to depend more and more on the state and on corporations, something many of us want to avoid, as the general distrust in the state and in corporations is on the rise and I'd say for good reason. States can't even handle the Covid pandemic. Can we trust them to handle the future?
I think @Staas and @Elsie could give a better perspective on this. I can only point out the issue, but I don't have the details.
I will not go further and ask about traditions, as I do agree economic and ecologic issues are more stringent than that of keeping traditions. But I do think the points above have the potential of weighing more than the benefits of replacing meat with other products. They might also not, but the discussion is worth it.
Oh, these are some good questions! ...and I don't know the answer to all of them, but here's a try:
The transition to plant based meat won't necessarily have health as the prime objective in mind, as it falls second to ecology, animal rights and climate change. It may be slightly more healthy than regular meat to one's personal health, but even if it wasn't, people don't really eat meat for its health value either and I doubt that'll change.
But if soy does have averse effects, like fertility, I'd expect they'd swap it out for something else in the long run. Since the plant-meat formula is in our hands, I think we can modify it until it's acceptable to our health. Impossible burger also relies on potato protein, not just soy protein, so maybe it can swap the soy out?
Dairy/Eggs & Cheese
I am not well read on this one or where things are at with it, but what I can say is that our ability to synthesize molecules in the lab will only continue to expand until we can synthesize everything from the taste of eggs up to eventually engineering new forms of DNA. At some point (though I didn't include dairy in the timeline) I think cheese's taste will also be synthesized. I know Impossible Burger is working on Pork right now. So I can only expect that similar efforts to find the molecular markers for the taste of these other products will also be identified and synthesized. But I don't have a timeframe for this.
In which ways would taking out meat completely impact our identity?
Well, this is a curious point to make! I'm interested in what others think about it too. For me the short answer is that we'll have to re-frame our identity, as we have many times in the past. We used to be horseback riders, remember? What was a man without a horse? Or, we used to hunt with spears -- what was a man who couldn't hunt a deer?
Do we feel feeble now that we can't tear meat apart ourselves? Or has our desire to hunt and dominate been sublimated into earning dat money? I think the average person is fully removed from the physical slaughter of animals nowadays, and yet our society is still here, which means our impulse for domination is still alive and well but it's likely been redirected. I don't see how supplanting real meat would have much impact since we already have supplanted our hunting instinct for a metropolitan economic jungle. We won't become more pacifist because of this, as we still are plenty adept at competing with, and killing, one another.
Small farms can have a certain level of self sustainability.
Yes, wow this is a subset of another quite big topic. It goes into way more than farming.
As our jobs themselves get taken over by automation, our "power" and "independence" will be in peril overall. In the most dystopian scenario, machines and governments might wonder why the world needs humans anymore at all. If bots will eventually out-work us & out-smart us, why would the new world pamper homo sapiens with free stuff, rather than make the economical decision to toss out the couch potato? We'd be at their mercy.
Humans will face an existential threat at this point, and this is the biggest wildcard in the timeline. People like Elon Musk recognize this danger too, and know we have to be proactive about sustaining our relevance and power in this world. (hence Neuralink)
I think the way to ensure our security is to retain our relevance, and thus power, in the new world -- which cannot happen without us advancing alongside machines through transhumanism.
The other option, imo, is to kill off the machines that threaten our relevance -- and with them the automated labor. Which, okay, we do that, then what? We go back to working our fields by our own hand because we want to keep our jobs and land? Really? Alright, then what? For how long? Another 100 years? Another 1,000?
Quite frankly, we will either stagnate at this same agricultural level forever, retaining our power and relevance as meat-bags doing meat-bag jobs, or we will advance away from such jobs to higher heights -- and find new sources of meaning, identity and power.
I agree that civilian power needs to be maintained, but not by farmers having guns and keeping their land. Not in the long term. That model of power, based on land and food, will need to be replaced for another model.
I only have intimations as to what that new power model would be, though.
I need to read more about all this to be able to add an informed opinion. So, I'll just mention some points and come back to it when I know more.
people don’t really eat meat for its health value either and I doubt that’ll change.
We eat meat for protein and some other nutrients. Meat gives us fast energy resources without causing gut problems (that many veggies do and 1 in 5 people has IBS/IBD) and without raising blood sugar very much (that most fruits do).
Meat can have negative health effects but it's simply the only product that does this right now. So, for example potato starch doesn't have the necessary protein amount and can trigger IBS flare ups. This sounds like a minor issue until we accept a huge part of the population suffers of gut problems.
Now, I will admit I don't know if our reactions to many plant based products are a consequence of humans being omnivores leaning towards carnivore 🙂 at core or if it is simply because all these products are genetically modified and/or contain dangerous chemicals. The fact is meat keeps you going without causing immediate gut problems, which is rare in other products. They either contain too little proteins or they trigger gut issues. That aren't like - in 20 years you might get cancer, they are immediate. Not to mention the alarming rise of allergies. And soy is an allergen.
There are people who have reactions to so many types of foods, they simply go carnivore. Like Mikhaila Peterson. Who stopped suffering of depression and severe arthritis symptoms by changing her diet to carnivore. She calls it the Lion Diet and it's composed of "fatty ruminant animal meat, salt, and water". 🙂
I don't think these people don't realize meat in excess can be very unhealthy. I think their health is in such a poor condition it doesn't matter anymore. They eat meat because it is the only option that works for them now.
Of course, some of these issues could potentially be solved with the proper gut treatment or with discovering what it is that causes these gut problems and taking it out of veggie based products. But this is only a possibility, we don't really know if it will work, it could very well fail.
In which ways would taking out meat completely impact our identity?
We used to be horseback riders, remember? What was a man without a horse?
That's a very good point. We did replace horses with cars and motorcycles.
I think they are still a big part of our culture too though. We don't have real horses but horses are common in video games and in certain movie genres.
I am not sure the issue is exactly the same though, simply because eating is a really important part of life. 🙂 So, the implications can be deeper.
And another argument is we have in fact become less aggressive than our ancestors since we buy our meat in the store and then cook it instead of hunting deer and eating them. :))
Small farms can have a certain level of self sustainability.
As our jobs themselves get taken over by automation, our “power” and “independence” will be in peril overall. In the most dystopian scenario, machines and governments might wonder why the world needs humans anymore at all. If bots will eventually out-work us & out-smart us, why would the new world pamper homo sapiens with free stuff, rather than make the economical decision to toss out the couch potato? We’d be at their mercy.
YES ! Exactly, this is a very likely scenario.
It's mentioned in this book I was talking about too. The main problem is many people will become unnecessary and irrelevant.
In the past workers united against the bourgeoisie and obtained some results (varying from country to country), because they were needed, but if in the future workers will become unnecessary because bots will be able to do anything better - why would anyone in power grant them any rights?? What do common people have that they can offer in exchange for their rights being respected? Because this used to be and luckily still is WORK.
To be honest, it looks like huge portions of the population will become unnecessary and this will be happening in a period in which the environment will keep deteriorating. So, I can't stop visualizing this moment in which only top tier sciency people and extremely rich people are left in the cities and everyone else is simply tossed out and left at Nature's mercy.
I think the way to ensure our security is to retain our relevance, and thus power, in the new world — which cannot happen without us advancing alongside machines through transhumanism.
The other option, imo, is to kill off the machines that threaten our relevance — and with them the automated labor. Which, okay, we do that, then what? We go back to working our fields by our own hand because we want to keep our jobs and land? Really? Alright, then what? For how long? Another 100 years? Another 1,000?
I agree these seem to be the two options we have.
The question here is though - what do we want to obtain with all this technological improvement? Is it immortality? Is it the expansion to other planets?
Because in the end, in order to make a choice - assuming both are viable - we need to see what our purpose actually is. Or rather what our values are, because we might never find an indisputable purpose.
It could be an immortality vs. freedom game. But both immortality and freedom are pretty nebulous concepts, none being truly attainable and a diluted version of each being only possible in congruence with the other.
Also, I suspect the second choice might not be possible if we don't simply use the coming environmental catastrophes to kill them with fire and move on with our axes and machine guns to a new old world. 🙂 Because if an opportunity is not found fast, the people who will try to destroy the machines will need a similar technological advancement in order to be able to destroy them and after fighting for a while, there will only be minor differences between the two camps.
But is this about immortality? Or about something else?
It's now 2021! So, how's the timeline holding up? 🙂
^ What you see above is Tesla's Full-Self-Driving (FSD) beta version, which rolled out to beta-testers about two months ago. Youtube is flooded with videos of FSD beta where you can see the cars performing everything from stopping and going on street lights, stop signs, making blind left-hand turns, handling roundabouts, waiting for pedestrians, etc. My prediction says that Tesla will roll out level 4 autonomy this year (2021) - which will allow point-to-point travel mostly autonomous. But it will not be level 5 (i.e. no driver attentiveness needed) until 2026.
I put this very long timeframe for level 5 because I think we cannot do level 5 until the self-driving car is paired with an A.I. assistant (like a more advanced Siri) which can intuit your intent, and function as an intelligent chauffer. For example, if you wanna say "just drop me off at the curb here" or "no, go around the back side" - you can say that to a chauffeur and they'll get it. But if you can't say that to your car, and if they can't understand your nuance, then you'll ultimately have to take over the wheel yourself to complete the trip in a lot of cases. So we need an A.I. assistant, which I don't think will be integrated until around 2022, but I'm giving it a margin and saying it'll be there at the latest in 2024, and perfected at the latest by 2026.
^ What you see here is not CGI, haha. This video went viral last week or so, I watched as the views went from 7 million to 19 million in a day. The comments section is filled with a mix of "no way, it's fake" and "we're doomed" reactions. I really feel this video was a pivotal moment in human mainstream awaraeness that "they're happening." Before this video, I think Boston Dynamics seemed obscure to most people - and a lot of people didn't think things were this far along-- hence the thousands of "its fake" comments.
Anyhow, the level of dexterity the robots have, and which is necessary to performed dancing like this is something nobody can deny anymore. If they can do this, it's possible to imagine any other dexterous activity being a non-problem. Still, I don't think Atlas will be ready for commercial use this year, and it will need an AI program to be a complete product - just like the Tesla FSD cars. That won't happen until around 2026 at the latest, I think. Virtual assistants will need to mature from now to then, which will be what paves the road to some good AI.
Starship is the name of a SpaceX vehicle being developed that will be able to lift over 100+ tons to orbit, while being fully reusable. For those who know what that means, it's absolutely insane. If it develops, it will be like a railroad or highway to space, opening up space exploration for cheap -- because reusable rockets are what can allow that.
My timeline had a Starship orbital test flight set for 2020. Admittedly an orbital flight didn't happen in 2020, but we did get a 12km high altitude test flight, descent, and landing attempt. Although the rocket exploded on landing, it performed 95% of its mission successfully, and SN9 is current on the launch pad awaiting launch probably in a week or two - which will try to stick the landing.
The timeline says there will be a 2022 moon landing by this rocket, and I think that's still on track.
^ There are a lot of videos on this, so this is just one example. But basically Tesla's new battery design, which is already in the process of scaling-up, is a game changer that will allow overall around 2x more energy density. This is a significant leap in battery technology, as it would allow battery-powered vehicles to be very competitive to gas-powered cars. Energy density and cost reduction of batteries are what are needed in order to transition the world away from gas powered vehicles.
Sandy Munroe, a well respected expert in the automotive manufacturing industry, gives a thorough review and support for this engineering feat - saying it spells the end of the ICE engine. I think it's getting fairly close to that point. I think just one or two more breakthroughs will be enough to completely end the fossil fuel age.
Impossible patties are indeed surging in popularity and are now available in several retail markets. They taste indistinguishable from meat but contain no meat. This will provide a real/true replacement for meat products, if the price can become competitive. The price is one thing, but the taste has to be there in order for the mainstream to truly switch away from meat. This will help that happen. More identical meat alternatives will continue to pop up in retails over the next few years.
This will assist in the legislative argument against the animal food industry, which should pass anti-slaughter bills sometime in the early 2030's.
There is some problems in trying to make humanity go completely meatless. Yes, taste is the main driving force behind our over-consumption (and production) of meat, but it is not the only one. If we are to follow scientific recommendations, appropriately planned vegan diets should be nutritious and healthy for everyone at any age. There is a drawback though: Some nutrients are lacking in vegan diet--the vital one being Vitamin B12--which needs to be obtained via supplementation. This isn't something drastically impactful for majority of people. Most of us are already deficient in some way and often obtain Vitamin B12 from fortified foods like cereals, protein bars, etc.
However, there are some diets that have been gaining momentum currently, like keto or raw meat diet. Okay, if the majority of society agree to outlaw the consumption of real meat, maybe those minorities would be forced to submit to majority anyway. But seeing the current political climate, how more people are becoming more wary of certain political agenda being forced upon them, somehow I doubt if they would even be that minority enough to ignore. Maybe we'll need another century, if not more, for near-complete effect to take its place. But yes, majority of society will definitely go into that direction, it's just a matter of when.
Unfortunately, I really doubt that "everyone" would happily choose plant-based meat over the real one even if the taste is completely identical, or if it would reduce animal suffering. For some reason, this dietary choice seems to have become an integral part of some people's sense of identity or tied to their ideological beliefs. I once stumbled upon a Youtube commenter, saying something along the line of, "I eat meat because it's pleasurable to know the simple fact that what I am consuming was once a living and breathing animal." Unironically, mind you. Maybe he's trying to find justification for his position, I don't know. Some people also love to hunt (which by the way, is far more merciful than factory farming if we're talking about quality of life). Some people are just capable of distancing themselves from animal's suffering--you won't believe the way some are able, with full intention, to prepare a dog, as example, for consumption in the most cruelest fashion (this is happening on one particular region in my own country). And I don't know if this is still up, but there's even a mukbang channel on Youtube of a woman eating and "playing" with sea creatures alive, complete with some free-royalty jolly music spinning in the background. People are just... random, selfish, purposeless when left to their own account. And I'm not even trying to be judgmental here, but my point is suffering eventually feels kind of inevitable. You make the world a safer place, then does its tolerance of pain becomes lower? In the end everything probably balances out. The way I can be mistaken is if we somehow able to completely annihilate pain, which just doesn't compute in my mind.
Sorry, just wandering a bit to the philosophical side.
Getting back to the topic--another reason that I doubt plant-based meat will be the future is the fact that we care for other animals, including those carnivorous little fellows such as felines, snakes, etc. Even the most die-hard vegans won't be able to deny that these creatures need meat. This is just impossible to cater in a wholly plant-based society, unless you're willing to make some exceptions for them. And that would raise many ethically ambiguous positions regarding animal rights, I mind you. So the solution can't end simply on Beyond Meat patties if that's one of your concern. But luckily for you, there's another alternative that food scientists have been working on since the past decade: that's where in-vitro or cultured meat come into the picture. The name basically says what it means: meat grown artificially in a lab.
It's also said to be able to drastically reduce greenhouse transmission such as methane. But there's a possible downer to this. According to this article citing a 2019 study, even if methane emission is reduced, CO2 produced by the labs could create a far worse issue for environment in the long run. The study is running on the assumptions that we'll be using the same method of energy generation that we currently use in power production over the span of 1,000 years. If humanity is able to find another method to produce energy, then the technology could be the most feasible solution to reduce environmental impact while considering aforementioned issues. The only question left is if people are willing to make the switch. There are many that seems to be skeptical with eating anything made in a lab although they had probably just munched some junk foods or even fruits that were probably altered genetically in a lab.
I agree with you @grockl, I don't think veggie-only options are the full solution. I've also been looking into lab-grown meat and I think that is also part of the solution. There is a restaurant which opened recently some 30 minutes from where I currently live that is selling lab-grown meat right now:
I'm excited to try it out and plan on going there soon.
I foresee lab-grown meat and (taste-identical) veggie meat to be a dynamic duo that will move things forward into the future. For those who can't leave behind actual meat, then actual meat options will still exist --- just without the slaughter process. Most of what lab-grown meat removes is the cruelty. It's the same substance, really, but it's just that there's a nervous system and a brain there in the process right now. We'd just be removing those parts.
What I cannot see, though, is a future where slaughtered meat exists at the same time as we have viable lab-grown meat that is ethically on better ground. I believe the arguments that "it wasn't really alive" and "I didn't get to kill/hunt it" will ultimately lose the battle in court. Sure there may be a minority who oppose the mass-production of lab-grown meat because they want to know their animal lived, walked, breathed, saw things, and suffered death. But I think those voices will be outnumbered. To me the ethics are sound, the technology is now here -- and the rest is about logistics and how fast an industry that has become so central to the production pipeline of all major countries can be re-tooled. (I think lab-grown meat and veggie meat are great buying opportunities right now, for those into investing.)
Scale is the immediate problem, and this is the same issue currently holding up electric vehicles. It's a sheer matter of logistics and infrastructure. To reach meat production scales and numbers that can match current (let alone future) supply for billions, will take a decade at best to mature into existence. However, I think a 100 year estimate is unrealistic -- since the cost of veggie meat alone will drop below meat within this decade. Form a sheer energy-consumption perspective, a pound of cattle meat takes multiple times (I've heard 10x?) more pounds of plants and water resources to produce it. This means that from an economics perspective plant-based meats are cheaper to make, in principle. It just doesn't have the economics of scale at the moment.
But when the scale is realized, they will under-price meat for the same taste and texture. And if a person is at a supermarket and they can buy a guilt-free veggie alternative to meat which is also cheaper, and it tastes indistinguishable, the rules of economics will not allow for this option to take 100 years to actualize. Market pressure will develop to bring the product to full scale. It won't take more than 10 years for the price to be competitive with real meat, let alone out-perform it. And increased tangible climate change effects will start hitting soon, which will also put greater legislative pressure on this happening by the 2030's.
Yes, lab meat still relies on other resources which have a carbon footprint - which is another matter. The transition to sustainable/solar energy will aid in that process. I think lab-grown meat is not the ideal solution but it's better than the current one. And I think it will eventually phase-out, but it will be a bridge many people will need. If nothing else it allows for the cessation of deforestation for cattle-raising, which is also causing climate problems and wildlife destruction problems.
That's really cool, @auburn. Maybe I can try them out soon too, seeing that Singapore which now has debuted lab meat is close to where I live.
Now that you said it, I agree that lab meat and veggie meat will form a dynamic duo. I disagree that lab meat will only be a bridge to transition to the other option. As I said earlier, there are still other uses for animal flesh beside for human consumption... It can also be used for pet food, farm sanctuaries where the animal in question is a carnivore, but not even only this. Our reliance on animals run deeper. We use animal's DNA for vaccines and drugs and we also rely on animals for experiments, testing, and such. But I guess we can eventually find alternatives for medical purposes and rely on advanced computer models for lab testing in the future. Hmm... Okay, those could be done.
What I'm not sure about is market behaviors towards animal-derived products. In fashion industry for example, even though we already have alternatives to fur, down, feathers, leather, etc., they're still available and people do buy them. I guess the only way for this thing to be eradicated is if it's brought into the court of law as you suggested. As to is that necessarily what would happen once these alternatives become available? It doesn't happen with fashion industry, so how can you be sure it will be made illegal for food consumption? Maybe climate change will drive the effort towards it.
By this point, I seem to be answering my own questions. But if you had better explanations, I'd be happy to hear.
I'd love to live in a future where this does happen though.
Updates for the Transhumanism column:
I relate to this monkey's life on a spiritual level, and I want to tell him that it's OK: I am also paired to an iPhone. "Pager is amazingly good at MindPong" just became one of my favorite out-of-context statements.
The technology is very interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops, but the use of primates in scientific experiments has a long and dark history; the ethics of the laws surrounding it are always ten steps behind the experimental results.
Hi! I just joined the site. Awesome to see people taking cognitive functions/ typology to a higher level.
Speaking of BCI's and transhumanism... Have you guys seen a movie called Anon? Resembles a world where it's normal to have something like neural link.
Welcome Alex! 😀
Oh I haven't, but now I know what to watch next.
I watched Anon last night, and thought it was an interesting thought experiment.
I don't think it was a very accurate depiction of the future though. (spoilers ahead)
The cars were oldschool, and while I can suspend some disbelief imagining that future cars go retro, their functionality is just wrong -- they're not self-driving, they're still lacking screens in the center console, they're not high-tech at all. Naturally this was probably budget related, and a stylistic workaround.
As for the idea of an 'Ether' where everyone's optic feeds are stored as records -- that's some serious 1984 big brother dystopia. Even though I think it'll be technically possible to do this, I think people will push hard against that in legislation. We already see Facebook being taken to court for what it does, and I expect others will be too.
But the movie does serve as a warning that we should push hard against these sort of surveillance laws, if they ever start to crop up.
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” –Ursula LeGuin
So I’ve been wanting to respond to this topic for quite a while, and I briefly outlined some of my thoughts in that video I sent @auburn. Admittedly, I don’t have much knowledge about the specific technologies discussed in this thread, so I can’t offer an opinion about whether they’re realistic or likely, etc. But I still think I can say something about the broader social implications society’s relationship to technology.
Even if I allow for the possibility that each & every one of these technologies could be a net positive force for humanity, I’m deeply skeptical that any of them, by themselves, are going to lead the way to a healthy or constructive future. After all, so much depends not on the technology alone, but on the socio-political environment in which it appears (as a few posts have touched on above).
When I think about the future implications of incipient technologies like robots or AI, one of my first questions is, in what sort of socio-political-cultural context will these technologies emerge? Who is going to control their use? Who is going to profit off of them? Who’s going to benefit from them? What I see so far isn’t very encouraging. Access to many new technologies is extremely uneven between the rich & the poor, and between rich countries & poor countries.
More ominously, we see many new technologies being weaponized by governments, corporations & other powerful actors. Facial-recognition technology, for instance, is circumscribing people’s freedoms by allowing far more precise surveillance. This is bad enough in democratic-leaning countries like the UK, but in places like China’s Xinjiang Province, this kind of technology is being used for flagrant subjugation & even genocide.
Part of why it’s so necessary to harp on this is because the entrepreneurs & futurists who are constantly promoting technological innovations always paint extremely rosy pictures of how their applications could make the world a better place. (On notorious example of this is that during the Cold War, the US had a program, Project Plowshare, whose mission was developing “peaceful” applications of nuclear weapons technology). Today, we have so many billionaires who are pushing their ideas for high-tech gadgets on us, which they’d love to finance at the public’s expense.
But our social foundation is rotten. A lot of the technology these capitalists want to develop will likely be used to enrich small numbers of global elites, at the expense of the remaining 99% of us. Authoritarian leaders, who rising to power at an alarming clip, will have new ways to control their populations. The rich & powerful will have new tools with which to shield themselves from the climate calamities that they are primarily driving, and from which poor people are primarily suffering.
As potentially helpful as any of these technologies may be, they’re only as good as the societal environment that produces them.
Moving beyond capitalism
How do we build a more solid social foundation, in which these kinds of innovation would not be so threatening? Ironically, I believe part of the answer lies in a kind of technology, which I’ll explain in just a bit.
In my view, one of the best hopes for the future lies in supplanting—or perhaps overthrowing—global capitalism. Capitalists has way too much invested in commodifying Earth’s people & resources to be part of finding healing or solutions. Because it is capitalism that is driving our most pressing problems—climate change, wealth inequality, authoritarianism—in no way do I trust the markets to find sustainable ways of ameliorating any of these. We need a system that is based around the values of healing & nurturing life on Earth rather than around those of markets & self-interest.
The challenge with moving beyond capitalism is that it’s the small number of billionaires & elites—those with the most stake in the current system—who control all the ever-more-centralized technology, resources & power. While these capitalists are vastly outnumbered by the rest of us, they also exert outsized influence over how our society is organized. As long as they keep the masses divided up & struggling against each other, nobody will challenge their power.
And this is where I believe technology comes in. Organizing masses of people to challenge the status quo is an enormous, complex task that is in no way intuitive. This is where we need technologies of social organization. This kind of technology is immaterial, and is often overlooked in discussion that tend to focus on high-tech gadgets. But if we look at many definitions of technology (e.g. Merriam-Webster: “the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area”) the notion still applies. And I believe the kind of social organization we need right now is something that requires intensive study, refinement, and the development of technique. There have been thousands of social movements, political pressure campaigns, uprisings, revolutions, etc., just in the last century—more than enough to draw general conclusions about what kind of strategies are effective at achieving social goals, and which are not. The past several decades have seen the emergence of social movement studies as a serious field of academic study, looking at just these sorts of questions. This kind of technology gives me more hope for the future than anything like AI or robots.
Of course, like all science and technology, social movement theory is morally neutral. It, too, can be used to humanity’s detriment. The radical organizer Saul Alinsky was extraordinarily influential in developing & articulating the methods of structure-based social organizing. Much of his efforts focused on empowering blue-collar workers. But the Tea Party also recognized the brilliance of his methods, and took advantage of them, even though their objectives countervailed everything Alinsky stood for.
So, no form of technology is going to be a magical savior that will save humanity from itself. More than anything else, we need moral clarity & vision. Technology is just the means by which we can get where we know we need to go.
Technology in a noncapitalist world?
For the sake of convenience I’ve sort of acted as if technological development can be considered separately from global politics, culture or other aspects of humanity. In reality, though, there’s no real separation between the kind of social-political system we inhabit and the kinds of technology we are going to develop. In other words, the priorities of our culture shape our technological reality, which in turn feeds back & influences our culture. The very kinds of technology described in this thread—to the extent they are being prioritized for development—reflect the priorities of those who are holding the purse-strings in our current system.
Right now, the most mainstream climate science says that the Earth is in deep trouble—and many scientists even believe mainstream, politicized bodies like the IPCC are understating the nature & extent of the problem. If our goal is to move onto a more sustainable trajectory and ensure that everyone is able to live, then a lot of our investments & efforts into technological development should be guided by these goals. Instead, we see lots of buzz & excitement around technologies like space-flight that are realistically only going to benefit a few privileged people, and may further pollute our planet. Again, this is no accident; it’s the nature of our capitalist system.
Yes, it’s possible that lab-grown meats could help us in our fight against climate change. Yes, I’m sure artificial intelligence has applications that could be used to improve social or environmental conditions. Yes, maybe the same thing could be said about robots n shit. But is this the purpose toward which these technologies are actually being harnessed? Or is it, again, some excuse that capitalists & futurists are using to rationalize what they already want to do anyway?
If our goal truly were to ensure a habitable planet & healthy human population, I suspect the entire suite of technologies we’d be taking seriously would be different. For example, so many proposed technological fixes for climate change seem to boil down to high-tech machinery: electrical-powered gadgets, lab meats, pumping Sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, pumping CO2 out of the atmosphere (which at this point is purely fantasy, but a fantasy on which the IPCC has based all its scenarios for getting to 1.5 C). While there are some high-tech solutions that I certainly support (e.g. renewable energy) it’s a massive failure of imagination if big tech is the only kind of solution our society can get excited about. But this is, once again, the nature of the capitalist system. By promising high-tech, market-driven solutions to climate change, capitalism is desperately trying to ensure that we can have our cake & eat it, too. That adapting to climate change doesn’t mean actually challenging the techno-capitalist status quo.
What potential solutions to the climate crisis are being impeded by capitalism? Here’s one example. On the food production front, there is so much that can be done with regenerative agriculture and livestock husbandry that would build healthy, carbon-storing soils and help restore biodiversity. These kind of solutions involve a kind of technology, but they are generally not “high-tech.” They don’t appeal to the capitalist worldview. While this kind of regenerative agriculture is far healthier for the planet than the prevailing industrial monoculture type, it also requires a lot more human labor. How do you get more people to want to go back to the land and become farmers when social trends have been moving in the opposite direction for the past two centuries? I don’t have the answer. Some of it would surely require large-scale cultural change, but a starting point would be subsidizing this kind of agriculture, so that being a farmer was as well of a paying job as being an IT specialist. Again, this would only be possible if we leave behind capitalism, and the notion that the markets will establish fair values for everything.
Of course, I'm not saying that capitalism always favors high-tech solutions to problems, or that a noncapitalist systems never would. It's more just to say that the kinds of technology that come out of the capitalist imagination inherently tend to be things that, first and foremost, further perpetuate capitalism.
Can we keep up with our own innovation?
I have zero concern about humanity “stagnating” as auburn suggests could happen:
“The other option, imo, is to kill off the machines that threaten our relevance -- and with them the automated labor. Which, okay, we do that, then what? We go back to working our fields by our own hand because we want to keep our jobs and land? Really? Alright, then what? For how long? Another 100 years? Another 1,000?
“Quite frankly, we will either stagnate at this same agricultural level forever, retaining our power and relevance as meat-bags doing meat-bag jobs, or we will advance away from such jobs to higher heights -- and find new sources of meaning, identity and power.”
I’m not really concerned about being a “meat-bag,” and to the extent it’s true I don’t believe anything will change that at an essential level. Instead, I worry much more about humanity flying too close to the sun and melting the wax that holds our wings onto our body.
Like all life on Earth, humans have evolved over untold eons of living & dying on this Earth, in relationship & communion with countless other “meat-bags.” Everything about us, including our psychology, is of course a product of thousands of years of evolution. Compared to other creatures we share the planet with, we already seem to be quite dynamic & quickly-evolving. The environment to which much of today’s humanity is adapted to is different from the pre-industrial one of 200 years ago, which in turn was different than the pre-agricultural one of 10,000 years ago. Cultural/technological developments such as agriculture, cooking, written language & modern medicine have had profound consequences on such variables as our population size, Earth’s carrying capacity, and on how we act, adapt to our environments, even think.
Now, it’s very tempting to say, “well, we’ve adapted to all these changes just fine so far; why can’t we continue adapting to even-more-profound changes?” The problem with this is that the changes we are imposing on ourselves, and on our environments, have become so fast-paced that we really have no idea how they will play out in the long term. The agricultural revolution began almost 10,000 years ago, but in many ways the environmental consequences of it are still playing themselves out. And many of them are not good.
In the truly long-term sense, we have evolved as a part of Earth’s ecological communities. Our somatic & emotional constitutions have all evolved in relation to Earth. As it is, I’m not convinced humans are adapted to live in vast expanses of straight lines, right angles, concrete & glass. I’m not convinced that’s what truly makes members of our species happy & fulfilled in the long term. Yet ahead we’ve plowed into this brave new world with a kind of tunnel vision. Are we so evolutionarily adaptable that our species seamlessly adapt to being transhuman? To spending large parts of our lives in VR simulations? To living in outer space? How well, psychologically, have we actually adapted to living in boxes and staring at screens all day? In the grander sweep of history, it only happened like two seconds ago, so we don’t really know for sure.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” –Mark 8:36
I myself have no desire to explore the stars, or to be transhuman. I simply want to be human. A quintessential facet of being human is our web of relationships with other humans, nonhuman creatures, and the planet itself. Those relationships depend on a healthy, living planet. Right now, our relationship with the Earth and its beings is toxic & abusive. So, even, is the relationship to ourselves. Perhaps this is partly because of a collective megalomania. We’ve begun to believe that we are the only creature that matters. In a few short years, we tell ourselves, we can construct our own environment, our own reality—one superior to the web of ecological interrelationships that evolved & adapted over countless eons. While our home & all the companions we share it with are burning up & withering away around us, we are frittering away our last best chance to address these urgent problems as we idly dream about roaming the stars.
I share your viewpoints. I trust in us, however. I trust in a divine plan, with many characters and people at play. Everything has an expiring date and like life, something works for us for a certain time and then it must be let go for something new. I don't think our tale ends at capitalism.