September 23, 2003

Seven Questions with the Posse Ringleaders

Well, it looks like the ringleaders of the FastForward Posse have decided to celebrate their week in charge by holing up in a little cantina on the outskirts of town, where they're reportedly drinking copious amounts of Tequila and playing Willie Nelson tunes way too loud. Luckily, our newest ringleader, Mike Sargent, hasn't (yet) found out where the party is, so I got him to answer the Seven Questions About the Future before he headed off for the wrong side of the tracks.

I expect we'll be hearing from the others later this week when the booze starts to run out. Anyhow, take it away Mike...

  1. The present is the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living here in the future?
  2. To my mind, the best thing about living in this era is the combination of several factors. We live in a time in which a vastly greater number of the people now living are healthier, wealthier, better educated, better traveled, and more informed about life beyond their immediate horizons than has ever been the case in the past. The daily lives of a significant fraction of the current human population are more comfortable and more stimulating than the lives of royalty of a century earlier. Add to this overall comfort level unprecedented freedom of movement, flow and variety of information, and variety and value (cost / quality) of goods and services and this would be the ‘best of times’ even if these were the only features to consider.

    However, they are not the only features, or even perhaps the most salient ones. We also stand at the beginning of an era of change unmatched in human evolution. At least four simultaneous transitions are beginning that will make our era pivotal in the history of our species. We are witnessing the dawning of new phenomena in human communication, technology, environmental range, and reproductive strategies that, if detected in the historical record rather than reported in the morning news, would each stand as compelling evidence of speciation within the genus Homo and taken together may indicate a division deeper than that between Homo and Australopithicus.

    We can point to the embryo of a seventh* revolution in the means by which humans communicate. The implications of real-time access to the whole of human knowledge and, simultaneously, to the mind of every person are only outlined in the current iteration of the ‘internet concept’. (Note: Of the previous six revolutions in human communications; language, representational art, writing, printing, sound recording and transmission, and photography only the last two occurred in circumstances where life could be described other than ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ To be able to participate in this one from the comfort of a climate-controlled, well-lighted, and, at least comparatively, safe vantage is icing on the proverbial cake.)

    Within the lifetimes of persons now living, our species has demonstrated the ultimate ability to shape the material world. Elements have been transmuted, matter and energy have been interconverted, individual atoms have been precisely maneuvered into place. While nobody has yet started with a fusion reaction and gotten a peanut butter sandwich out of the other end of the apparatus, the difference is in degree, not capability.

    For the first time in fifty millennia humans have added an area the size of a continent to their permanently inhabited range (Antarctica) and have taken the first amphibious steps into two other, much larger territories (interplanetary space and the lunar surface) that promise room and resources to grow into for the entire biosphere.

    That biosphere, too, is about to undergo changes that will make the Cambrian explosion seem like a soggy squib in comparison. As the distinctions between devices and lifeforms become increasingly blurred and size, composition, and behavior are no longer sufficient to make a distinction, capital ‘L’ Life (or at least that part of it that has spent the last few billion years here) will expand into the solar system.

    In summary: What is the best part about living in the future? Being one of the six-odd billion persons lucky enough to play midwife to what happens next!

  3. What's the biggest disappointment?
  4. Most disappointing to me is the fact that, after expending in excess of the economic equivalent of 150 million person-years of effort (and that estimate is conservative) the current worldwide capacity to travel in space, given a month to prepare, is less than thirty people to Low Earth Orbit. We are currently incapable of getting anywhere with local resources (other than solar power) to support a mission.

  5. Assuming you die at the age of 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave?
  6. Children born into the world one hundred years after me will never know what it might be like to NOT have access to information to answer a question.

  7. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?
  8. Because a loved one in my life contracted unrecognized rheumatic fever in childhood and will require eventual heart valve replacement, the convergence of tissue engineering, robot-assisted surgery, and minimally-invasive (endoscopic) surgery is both personally interesting and a source for hope.

  9. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?
  10. I detest the evolution (at least in urban areas) of the total surveillance society.

    1. " . . . and what are you going to do about it?"

    If this trend isn’t offset by traditional limits to invasion of privacy (social mores, and legal structures) and/or doesn’t find a balancing threat in identity theft and other fraud, this could become the driving force for me to emigrate (to the American hinterlands if that would suffice, offworld if necessary and possible.)

  11. Assuming you have the ability to determine (or at least influence) the future, what future development that you consider unlikely (or are uncertain about) would you most like to help bring about?
  12. As both a space enthusiast and a technician, I am fascinated by the concept of the ‘space elevator’ [I prefer the term coined by the Russian co-inventor of the concept, Yuri Artsutonov, ‘cosmic funicular’.] I don’t think that the engineering and social limitations on the concept will be overcome in my lifetime (under current actuarial assumptions), but it would be a project worthy of Washington Roebling, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Edward Harriman.

  13. Why is it that in the year 2003 I still don't have a flying car? When do you think I'll be able to get one?

Humans are fallible, both as engineers and as operators, and most humans are aware of these faults, therefore many ideas that begin "wouldn’t it be nice if . . . " run headlong into the cynical (if accurate) "Yeah, right!" The proper solution to this derailing of dreams is twofold. First, keep dreaming the big dreams because technology rises to overcome human weakness and eventually (at least in most cases) the impossible becomes the difficult and the difficult trivial. Second, take the cynics’ inputs as constructive criticism (even when they aren’t offered that way) and use them to make the dream better, simpler, and even more fantastic. For the record, my ‘flying car’ dream is computer neural interface, the classic plug in the back of the skull. I don’t think that, given the current state of information security or human nature that it would be a good idea to ‘jack in’ right now, but it can be made safe, effective, and eventually cheap.

What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

Posted by Phil at September 23, 2003 05:16 PM | TrackBack

?Tequila? We don' need no steeenking tequila!

Posted by: Mike Sargent at September 24, 2003 12:10 AM

No, dude, it's badges.

"We don't need no steeenking badges."

Tequila we definitely do need.

(See, folks? I told you he was new.)

Posted by: Phil at September 24, 2003 09:25 AM
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