We all change. The future is emergent and dynamic, evolving with our minds and our society. Technology plays a fundamental part in this evolution, this evolution of complexity.
So I ask, how does technology affect society? How does technology affect our minds and then society in turn? How does our economic and political system affect society and technology? What are the products of this evolution – and what are our goals?
Now playingSpaceCollective Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction.Introduction Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
If we were to replace our bodies, one atom at a time, would we be the same person? One would think this would be the case. Every 10 years, every cell in our body will have been replaced at least once, with bone marrow taking the longest to renew. Most of the body renews every 7 years.
Our bodies are an ecosystem not unlike any other. Take the sea – remove and replace it one atom at a time and no fish will notice. Replacing larger pieces will cause problems for its inhabitants, but it will soon renew itself. Replace a large proportion, and this will likely have huge implications for the entire ocean. As it is with humans, replacing one small section at a time would be easily accounted for and would not have any dramatic effect on the system as a whole.
This is a dramatic realisation – for what are we if not our bodies?
We are not single entities. We are systems, and we are made from smaller systems, which in turn are made from smaller systems. Cells take in matter from our food and convert these molecules to be part of us, replacing extinguished cells. We are not the matter that constitutes our body – we are its collection of systems.
The brain, the place that for some reason is believed to house the “mind”, is almost certainly more than just a material structure. As yet we have failed to deconstruct it to any significant level, but we do know that its functionality relies to some extent on electrical configurations. However, the brain is not some simple electrical circuit which can be reverse engineered by simply following current paths and measuring voltages.
Brain operations are less logical, hiding their true functionality in the encoding of patterns. It’s these patterns that are more of an accurate reflection of who we are.
In fractals, an equation determines a configuration that is iterated. This type of pattern, known as self similarity, is an underlying mechanism of nature. Using fractal equations, we can now work out how many leaves and how much carbon dioxide a tree will create. It is the "DNA" of reality.
We are all connected
We should also remember that while we are made up of systems, we ourselves are composite parts of a larger system, the ecosystem of the universe. While we may not feel that we’re “connected” with the Earth or the Sun or the Andromeda Galaxy because we see no physical connection, we are connected in a scientific and logical way.
All atoms are surrounded by orbiting electrons which by definition are negatively charged, meaning that every atom in the universe repels every other atom – in other words – you never actually touch anything. So, your body is not even connected to itself, yet it is, albeit by magnetic forces. Therefore, we are all just as connected to the entire planet – and each other, as we are our own arms.
Through the vacuum of space, the magnetic forces continue but weakly, while gravity takes over to keep us connected to the rest of the universe. And every day we are learning more about how the universe is constructed, discovering phenomena such as dark matter that continue to reinforce our connected nature.
As well as our scientific connection, from a logical perspective, we are also as much a part of the universe as it is of us. Our actions affect the universe around us, and we enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of these actions accordingly. We rely on our surroundings to survive. The only thing holding these implications away from us is time. While we may not see the implications of our actions personally, they echo into the universe, which we are part of. Karma, in essence, is real.
So we could end it here on “we are all one”, but if that were the case, why do we all have minds that “feel” like they are separate? Is it an evolutionary accident or is there some divine purpose to our individual consciousnesses?
Perhaps individuality is a deliberate outcome of evolution, a mechanism to bring about the most efficient thought system possible? There is no doubt that humans have the ability to take over from evolution now, increasing the “power” of our consciousness, our life spans, and the efficiency of our resource usage to drive our own destinies.
Following this thought-train, we could provoke more questions than answers. Is consciousness determined by individuality? Could there be alien species that evolved without any concept of individuality? This would depend on what would be the best evolutionary advantage.
The big question, is could this individuality be an illusion, created in our own minds? We are, after all, not one entity, but a collection of systems and a system within a larger system.
This begs the question, is a brain the pre-requisite for consciousness, or could consciousness evolve from any collection of systems complex enough, for example, artificial software, a complex cell, or even a star? We are, after all, just different versions of the same kind of fractal patterns that make up all of nature.
Imagine the person you love, someone you have known for decades, someone who has become the very meaning of your life, suddenly, and unexpectedly has a stroke. Their body is crippled to near uselessness, relinquishing them of their dignity. And, having lost the ability to communicate with them, you’re not even sure if their mind is as it was, if they’re even able to recognise you any more. Your best friend has become a dependent.
Then, come and tell me that campaigns and research to cure aging are “against god’s will”.
Curing aging is not about “playing god”. It is not about living forever. It’s about freedom from the suffering of aging. It’s about doing what mankind has always done: using the tools of science and technology to ease human suffering.
If “god” had wanted us to grow old, frail, and crippled, he would also want us to continue to die of the common cold, diarrhoea, or dysentery. Instead, we have created the means to easily prevent death from these illnesses, allowing us to live longer and healthier lives than we did a century ago. There is no difference in curing the seven causes of aging.
There is absolutely no reason we should not take every step necessary to give us healthier, longer lives, free from the frailty of aging. In fact, just like those old illnesses, it would be cruel and irresponsible of us not to.
Being a future enthusiast, there are many things I am interested in. I often talk about gadgets, social change, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and space exploration. However, curing aging is by far the most important aspect of future technology. This is obviously so that we can have more time to explore all the other exciting aspects of the future.
In the future, we may decide that a virtual existence, a life inside a fully immersive computer game where our every desire is fulfilled, is a more appealing option than the real world we currently inhabit. Many people have presented the idea that we are already in such a virtual reality, but I don’t believe this is possible. This is because virtual worlds provide us with many possibilities that the real world does not, so why have they not been “programmed” into the real world we know?
Since the early 21st century, the residents of the virtual world Second Life have been working hard to recreate real life as accurately as possible. Despite the virtual platform giving occupants the ability to fly and teleport, they still prefer to meticulously create staircases to walk their avatar up and down. At discos, people require the coolest dance animations and best looking clothes. In meetings, virtual characters sit down to rest their virtual legs. It seems the confines of reality provide a comfortable and familiar environment.
But virtual worlds are created by us – so why limit ourselves to reality? We could create entirely new realities. By realising that we are free of the rules of real life, the doors are open to incredible new possibilities. In many ways, virtual worlds already provide us with glimpses of alternate realities. Its time we took notice of these instrumental differences.
In Second Life specifically, we are introduced to many “virtual concepts”. These ideas exist only in the virtual world and they provide us with an insight into a possible future, exposing us to their possible implications.
In Second Life, you cannot die. Your avatar may still exist (although it won’t be “physically” present) in the virtual world even after your real body has passed away. Although it is possible to harm you by the use of scripts, you will always exist unless you are deleted by the administrators. People can always view your legend whether you are personally online or not.
It is entirely possible to record every action you perform in your virtual life (although, as far as we know, this feature has not yet been implemented into Second Life). All of your memories can be put into the virtual world by means of screen grabs, videos and saved conversations.
One can only imagine this becoming more and more sophisticated, recording thoughts, movements, emotions, desires, preferences, and more onto a central server to be accessed at any time. Perhaps with this kind of in depth recording in place, prediction of alternate futures within the virtual world might not be far behind.
Distance is not a real concept in virtual worlds, so can easily be circumvented. Transporting instantly from one place to another is easy. This is because everything’s location is catalogued, and then referenced in a more human way, via context. Just like the internet, we don’t care where a website is hosted, we just care about the content. In the same way, communication is not affected by physical distance.
Nanotechnology and the non-existence of the laws of thermodynamics
In the future, we may have desktop devices that can create any object instantly from a few basic raw materials. It promises to change the economy and the way we think about possessions.
In Second Life, it is possible to build anything you want, instantly, on the spot, from nothing. Providing you know how to build, it is a simple matter of putting together the polygons you require to create a new “physical” object in the virtual world. More sophisticated items require programming, however, so just like it will be in nano-fabrication, programmers are sought after for their creation skills.
One of the most fun things in Second Life is flying. Humankind has long looked up to the skies, wishing we could join the birds and see the world from another perspective. In virtual reality, this is not a problem. You can even use scripts to fly higher and faster. This is just one more showcase of possible future powers of humans, inspiring us.
There is a technique that exists in Second Life called “Cam Scanning”, which involves manipulating the camera any way you wish. This allows you to “scan” the surrounding area, even seeing into private rooms, while your avatar is somewhere else. The people being observed cannot tell that they’re being watched, and people around your avatar can’t tell that you’re doing it. This feature completely undermines privacy and brings up some important social questions. Should it be programmed out of virtual worlds? Or should we just accept that our previous perceptions of body language, proximity, and presence, are obsolete?
In addition to exposing us to new concepts that do not exist in real life, virtual worlds also reveal some concepts that are made obsolete by the virtual reality paradigm, perhaps giving us a glimpse of the future.
Although your avatar can experience harassment and “physical” effects such as “bumping” and being propelled by programmed projectiles, feeling physical pain is no longer an issue. This is profound in that those who enjoy hurting people no longer have any way to satisfy their desires. It demonstrates the primitive nature of physical pain.
Obviously whilst still in possession of a physical body, we will always need fuel to keep us alive. But in the far future where we may have our minds completely uploaded to a virtual reality environment, there will be no need for food, other than virtual food for our enjoyment. Of course, the machines running the virtual reality interfaces would require fuel, but in the virtual world itself, we may have no concept of starvation or even eating.
Most aspects of biology aren’t relevant in virtual worlds at present. However, as the programming of these worlds is improved, it may be possible to incorporate biological aspects. Sex is a biological element we would almost certainly want to retain in a virtual environment, as would other positive physical sensations such as the benefits of exercise. However, none of these would be necessary, just desirable options for virtual living. Certainly, biological limitations and problems such as illness do not need to be present in a virtual world.
In Second Life, there are rules to adhere to. The company who runs the servers create the guidelines and control the economy. There is no voting for new leadership. It is essentially a dictatorship. However, in the future, we may decide that we prefer a virtual world that is entirely open source, created by the public and run by the public, with no overall leadership. Could this demonstrate that liberty is a perfectly viable and highly desirable system once concepts such as sadism are nullified, or would it lead to anarchy on the virtual streets? Or most profoundly, would we be able to program outany chances of wrongdoing, thus creating (in the eyes of the creators) a perfectly behaved society – the dream of autocratic leaders?
On the flip side, there are many concepts that we do not (yet) escape from in virtual worlds. Mostly related to the human element, these concepts illustrate what is important in life. Whatever “reality” we decide to live in, it is unlikely we’ll escape from our core humanity.
Social Interaction, Emotions, Humour
In a virtual world, we are still ourselves. We still have to talk to people as we would in real life. Our personalities aren’t changed by the fact we look like Spongebob Squarepants with a machine gun. All the vital elements of personal interaction, timing, humour, affecting other people’s emotions, debate and relationships, are impossible to escape from, no matter how the reality is programmed.
Art and Entertainment
No matter what the environment, art and entertainment will always be a vital part of humanity. People will always want to be entertained, and there will always be people that want to be creative. Creativity is a vital aspect of humanity that I see transcending all transformations of our environments, entities and existences. With infinite life spans, what else can hold our interest but an infinite array of possibilities?
The difference with virtual reality though is that the reality we know no longer confines these possibilities. Art no longer needs to represent reality, in a virtual world, art itself opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For instance, in today’s world, art is represented by a picture on a wall, a movie, a piece of music. But in a virtual world, it could be an experience, a highly abstract representation of a situation, or something else entirely.
In a virtual world where every fantasy and desire can be fulfilled, will there be any need for people to use trade to get things they want? Surely the point of a “Better than Life” simulation is to obsolete the need for money, work and business? This is an interesting point, but I believe that due to the need for new art and entertainment, enterprise will continue to have a place in a utopian reality, virtual or otherwise.
Creativity is something that we all possess, but everyone is different, so there will always be new ideas, new art, and new ways to entertain. This continuing need for entertainment, and the fact that there will always be those who want to create, will keep enterprise alive. Perhaps creative ideas themselves will become the new currency in a virtual utopia.
Cause and Effect
If you’re dealing with real people, you’re always going to have an effect on them with the interactions you have. There will be no way of turning back the clock on other people’s minds. However, if you were dealing only with Artificial Intelligences, their memories could be erased and you would be able to re-live situations, essentially going back in time. Which kind of world we would like to live in is up for debate. It may even be possible, in the case of the virtual world dictatorship, that the actions and memories of real people are undone for the benefit of elites within the world, thus giving a select few complete control over their lives at the expense of the rest of the population.
As you have seen, the idea of a virtual world goes far deeper than a 3D chat room. Looking from the perspective of a futuristic, perfect virtual reality, we are forced to question the very essence of our existence. What is the point of living if a utopia is provided for us? Once the superficial shell of reality is peeled from us, what is left of the human soul? What are the common denominators of our existence?
The virtual world paradigm opens up our eyes to the limitations of reality, and shows us the true essence of what it means to be human.
A technocratic society has the goal of:
Producing optimum quality goods and services at the lowest possible energy cost, and distributing the maximum amount of goods and services to everyone.
Our broken economy has so far prevented this from being possible. The constant need for money has forced producers to continually produce poor quality goods, essentially, in order to keep the consumer buying. If you have to keep buying, you have to keep working. In today's developed world, we have far more than our parents did, yet we still continue to slave away, even massively increasing our debts to own more and more.
The technocracy attempts to solve these needs from the bottom up, to rethink production and distribution without the need for money. While I don't agree with all the ideas of technocracy, 3 specific points cannot be ignored.
1. Too many people go without the essential needs.
2. Providing the essential needs, even the secondary needs, for everyone on the planet, is really not as hard as we've made it out to be. It can be done by technology, namely automation.
3. Once everyone has been provided with the essential and secondary needs, the need to work will be eradicated, changing the fundamental shape of society.
Whatever we all think about the political economic systems of the world is soon to become irrelevant. The days of the dollar are numbered, the fuse connected to the entire system of money has been lit. Shortly, the systems of capitalism and socialism will barely matter.
Lets focus on how to achieve step 2. We need to harness all the energy we need from renewable sources, storing and distributing it automatically. The sun, sea, wind and geothermals can provide more energy than we'll ever need, and it's all environmentally friendly. Maintaining these energy harnesses, as well as creating clothing and consumables, will eventually be taken care of by automation. However, these tasks will be minimal, due to the increase in build quality. Genetic engineering, nanotechnology and other new technologies are set to solve current issues of food and water shortage. Eventually, extraction of raw materials, creating consumables, and maintenance of machinery, will all depend on one thing - the one thing we have in abundance - energy.
Scarcity, which has so far fuelled our doomed financial system of debt and greed, will be replaced by abundance. Automation will be helped by exponentially increasing scientific and technological breakthroughs. Regardless of whether artificial intelligence becomes reality or not, we are already well on the way to destroying the current economic system. This is thanks to the increasing awareness of the potential for abundance.
Fulfilling the essential and secondary needs of the planet will then free us up to focus intensively on the tertiary needs of society. We'll work because we'll want to. Human beings will learn to reconnect with their creative sides, providing value for society with creations and discoveries.
Once this situation comes to pass, technocracy will have made socialism obsolete, as the previous generations will have paid for the essential needs of all future generations. Whether or not capitalism is also likely to be dissolved, is up for debate. There'll be no need to sell anything as you'll have all your essential needs, and many people will probably share their creations just "for the love of it", but perhaps competition in the creative industries could help continue to drive innovation and art. If a money system did still exist, it would only be applicable to the tertiary needs, and in this case, it would be beneficial to society.
What can I do?
Once built, the infrastructure for the technocracy will obsolete the money system, and this is what those in power are afraid of. This is why you won't see your politicians putting too much effort into fully renewable energy sources. There always needs to be a cost involved, some kind of maintenance. However, what's becoming apparent is that the ability to build this infrastructure is being taken out of the hands of politicians, and being put into the hands of individuals. This power needs to be realised.
As individuals, we can help this situation by creating technology that will bring abundance. Basically anything that is highly efficient, and preferably automated, falls into this category. We need to show the world how easy it really is to provide the essential needs to everybody. And we need to show them how technology will create abundance, obsoleting the money system in favour of harnessing the immense quantity of free energy available to us.
With the current state of virtual reality, it's unlikely that virtual supermarkets will take off in the near future. They're just too...clunky. However, one distinct possibility is a reversal. Computer controlled reality.
RFID will play a large part in this. The data it will provide will change the way we look at reality. By reporting and recording our locations and activities, it will digitise us - turning us into real life avatars.
In virtual reality, everything we do can be recorded. The software can record our every movement and interaction. This will soon be possible in real life, thanks to RFID and our interactions with computer interfaces.
Real life benefits will get us to adopt the data collection methods without question. Contact lenses or eventually brain modifications of some kind could provide us with a computer interface while in the real world. In the meantime, we'll have to make do with the iPhone. Right click a person on the street to see that person's shared details - subscribe to their Twitter feed or download their blog. Perhaps they could, from time to time, broadcast from their own eyes, allowing you to essentially inhabit their body. Extreme sports participants could make a fortune out of this, especially once physical sensations can be shared.
The information recorded about us will then take a similar shape to credit card records of the present, only far more in depth. This is not conspiracy paranoia, this is based purely on the corporations' desires (and our own) to record our data. Our purchases already provide a profile of us. In the future, our travel could be logged to provide "statistical data" for the authorities. Our work history and qualifications could be recorded in new and interesting ways. An extremely in-depth analysis of our health could be recorded on a continual basis and shared with our doctor. With enough information about enough of our actions, and the profile that is put together could eventually create some serious possibilities. What if our past could be mapped out so accurately that our future could be predicted?
Think about it; if you know the exact position, mass, and direction of every particle in the universe, in theory you should be able to predict their next moves, based on what is around them and the current laws of physics. Although chaos theory puts a dampener on this, human beings are far more predictable. With enough historical and psychological data on a person, which can be collected post hoc in a triple blind test method, we can provide immensely powerful speculation techniques. Prediction of entire populations needn't be far behind.
But you don't need me to tell you about this. Isaac Asimov's been talking about it for years. I just don't think he imagined we'd make it so easy.
When computers were first invented, users had complete freedom and power, there was no other option but to allow it. However, if they didn't follow the computer's strict set of rules, the computer would break or just not work. Even in the days of Windows 3.11, computers remained obscure and frightening to the masses.
Once computers infiltrated more and more of our lives, it became necessary to remove the need to for "user rules", computers had to become "user friendly". Computers were forced to shed their unforgivable interfaces in order to increase their popularity.
So now, computers, when used by the general public, no longer have that level of freedom. To avoid them being used wrongly, computers simply limit the options general users are allowed to access. Then, instead of telling users how to act, they simply guide users through their processes, anticipating rule-breaking, and absolving responsibility. Users lost their fear of computers, complying with the rules not because they are asked to, but because any possibility of breaking them is simply removed. General users no longer have raw power over computers, they just follow the guidelines provided for them to achieve what they need from the machine. As such, even the desire to break the rules is diminished.
A direct parallel can be applied to politics. Now, people are told not to speed on the roads because it's dangerous. Not everyone follows these rules so we need police and legal systems to deal with the rule breakers. In the future, technology will simply stop your car from being able to speed, absolving you of responsibility. In the future, and it's happening already, technology will remove the need for rules, because it will completely remove the possibility of wrong doing. It will absolve our responsibility.
Your car will be computer controlled and therefore it will be impossible to speed it, drive it off a road, or crash it. Your TV simply won't show adult content if it detects a child in the room. It will be physically impossible to steal, as all items will be installed with an RFID chip, tracking their location and ownership at all times. Alcohol dispensing machines won't work if, upon checking your RFID chip with the government database, it realises that you're underage.
In the even more distant future, nanobots will prevent us from damaging our bodies with unhealthy habits. They may even control our brains to remove criminal elements or immoral desires. Virtual reality could provide us with an environment where it is impossible to do anything wrong, because the computer interface doesn't allow it. Alternatively, virtual reality could provide the means for wrong doing to be carried out with no consequences.
It is often said that technology will set us free. Certainly the need for law enforcement and ruling government will diminish at the hands of technology. But is this destined to put us in a dictator's ultimate fantasy, or an incredibly free yet safe society?
Retro gaming is a bizarre phenomenon. Being a technology driven medium, games go through generations in just a few years. However, the differences between generations is more profound than technological advances. It seems that more advanced possibilities change the entire landscape of gaming culture.
Retro gaming is a growing trend, but it is becoming hard to define. There are so many generations of games now, all differing so significantly, that the definition of retro changes according to age, tastes, and personal nostalgia. It's not enough to simply say "Retro means old" any more.
The reason for this blurring of definition, is that games advanced so fast, that human creativity couldn't even keep up. To understand this, remember how old 8-Bit games had such primitive sound, yet the creators did what they could to make the sounds good. We still remember the old music with fondness, not as impressed by today's music that was created with no limitations.
It was the limitations that made the old games so good. It forced the creators to focus on gameplay, and on doing as much as they could with the little they had. Of course, as technology advanced so rapidly, game creators didn't need to do this for long. It's this limited time frame that seems to have inspired the retro-remake scene.
What these ventures go to show, is that there is a lot of potential for art if we look back at opportunities missed. There is so much left unexplored because of the incredible acceleration of technology. There are so many possibilities that have passed us by, not just in art, but in culture, and in application of technology. A prime example of this would be the Nintendo Wii, it ignores the advances of technology and focuses on providing new experiences, new solutions.
So why not stop waiting for tomorrow, and take a look around? Lets try and do the best we can with what we have, embracing limitation for a moment before eradicating it!
Otherwise, the doors will be broken down before we've had a chance to explore the room.
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SpaceCollective is a joint initiative of filmmaker Rene Daalder and designer Folkert Gorter. Daalder is the project's main author and creator of The Future of Everything. Gorter is the site's interaction designer and the curator of the Gallery. System architecture and technology created by Josh Pangell. The Future of Everything episodes are edited by Aaron Ohlmann and produced by American Scenes Inc; executive producer: Joseph Kaufman.