A Challenge to Futurists

NeuralLaceI love futurists, the very idea that we can take a statistical model and from the information revealed divine what might occur in the future is a spectacular feat of magic. And, in saying just that, I should be clear, I’m not suggesting that there is a problem with this process. The models are as accurate as the data from which they’re derived.

But there is an art to modeling as there is a science. And I suppose that many futurists tend toward optimistic predictions. For instance, take this quote from Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and author of “The Future of the Mind.”

“In the next 10 years, we will see the gradual transition from an Internet to a brain-net, in which thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories might be transmitted instantly across the planet.

Scientists can now hook the brain to a computer and begin to decode some of our memories and thoughts. This might eventually revolutionize communication and even entertainment. The movies of the future will be able to convey emotions and feelings, not just images on a silver screen. (Teenagers will go crazy on social media, sending memories and sensations from their senior prom, their first date, etc.). Historians and writers will be able to record events not just digitally, but also emotionally as well.

Perhaps even tensions between people will diminish, as people begin to feel and experience the pain of others.”

Yep! All upside, no down. I would suggest that an investigation into the issue, coupled with a fair understanding of what is taking place within the domains of technology and medicine might repeatably yield the same optimistic conclusion. Soon we will map human consciousness and develop a machine-mind interface which will allow real time exchanges of all sorts of information formerly hidden in the human heart. The implications are simultaneously staggering and astounding.

But I’d like to challenge this model, perhaps just a little bit, because it only seems to consider what we’re technically capable of achieving.

Below is a segment of a recent John Oliver, Last Week Tonight piece (I’ve started the video at 6:06 because this is where a relevant conversation begins. The conversation Oliver exposes is relevant, but watch the whole thing.)

Climate change, social justice issues, violent crime, illegal immigration, even the threat of terrorism: none of the facts of these critical, arguably whole societal issues, matter to a significant cross-section of the population.

“The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.” — Newt Gingrich

The narrative/ideology regarding these questions (and much more) are the only considerations of consequences for some people. Now imagine a technology, say neural networks or the accurate mapping of human consciousness, which will not only expose the flaws in these competing narratives but erode the power base that upon which these ideologies are built.

My challenge to futurists is this: develop a societal component to your models. Look at the many narratives that are in play and which may affect the technologies you’re examining. Consider the possible downsides of these technologies as well as the marvelous potential.


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