In the year 2525….

technology-2025795_1920Another favorite song from my youth (see this article for the other song) was In the year 2525 by Zager and Evans, which was a great hit in 1969. It made the book listing 52 most depressing songs, for those of you who love trivia.

In two years it will be the 50th anniversary of this hit, and I thought it would be fun to see where we are today and where we are predicted to be heading (OK, so I couldn’t wait another two years to do this, since the thought struck me yesterday as my playlist presented it to me).

We are moving more and more towards the world that is expected to be shaped and managed by the “exponential” advances in technology. These advances are all at once very exciting, and terrifying.

In his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil claims by 2029 machine intelligence will match human intelligence.  Nanorobots with superior intelligence would enhance human intelligence (may be swallowed as a pill?). The exponential advances in GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) will morph the life form that we know today as humans.

In the article Old Mice Made Young Again With New Anti-Aging Drug by Shelly Fan, we learn that scientist have identified a clever way to eliminate senescent cells that cause aging, and human trials would be next. There is a lot of progress made in the man-machine interface such as the implanting of microchips to identify yourself, which is a tiny step in our journey to the future defined by the exponential technologies.

In the The Rise of a New Species of Human Being, on the question on how Darwin would characterize the new world, Juan Enriquez responds that there are two parallel evolutionary structures: one that Darwin and Wallace discovered, with random mutations and random selection; another, where we humans are starting to apply intelligent design to evolution, which is anything but random. This is quite true. What would have our great grandparents thought of test tube babies? Or this news article’s robot bride? Or the vision of embedded machine interface in the brain?

In the Q&A for The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil says:

“G, N, and R each have their downsides. The existential threat from genetic technologies is already here: the same technology that will soon make major strides against cancer, heart disease, and other diseases could also be employed by a bioterrorist to create a bioengineered biological virus that combines ease of transmission, deadliness, and stealthiness, that is, a long incubation period. The tools and knowledge to do this are far more widespread than the tools and knowledge to create an atomic bomb, and the impact could be far worse.” 

Acknowledging the downsides is the first step, but then it must be followed through with the commitment to prevent the downsides.  The focus today is all on how we get there “exponentially”. It would be important to weave in the safety factors with the trajectory.

In Too Much Too Fast: Why It’s Time for Humans to Slow Down, Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is quoted as saying: ”But there is a difference between what we were doing when we were hunting some mastodons and what we’re doing today. Our impact on the planet has been called “the great acceleration.” Becoming aware of our capacity to change the planet could be a good thing and could potentially lead us to reassess a lot of the things we do.” 

You and I are not going to be around to find out what happens in 2525 but I would sure like to feel that we left the place a good one for our descendants (who would they be?)!

P.S. Some interesting articles to read:

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