September 30, 2003

ITF #54

In the Future...

...spammers will highjack the shirt you're wearing to sell viagra and penis-enlargement treatments.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

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Seven Questions w/the Posse II

This time it's Posse ringleader Suraya taking her shot at the big seven.

  1. The present is the future relative to the past. Whatís the best thing about living here in the future?
  2. Medical and communication advancement. I think the best things about living in todayís world is that we have the ability and opportunity to heal and touch peopleís lives in ways we didnít have before.

  3. Whatís the biggest disappointment?
  4. That we donít make full use of the opportunities we have to do the above. Instead, the further advanced we get and the more opportunities we have, the less inclined we seem to use those opportunities in a positive way. Also, Iím disappointed at how little progress weíve made towards religious maturity and individual consciousness. I think the biggest disappointment in todayís society is how much we seek to destroy, curtail and control rather than educate, include and heal.

  5. Assuming you die at the age of 100, what will be the biggest difference between the world you were born into and the world you leave?
  6. Hopefully, it will be that we learn from our mistakes and be more tolerant and respectful of each other, although I doubt it. In fact, I think the world will be more divisive than it is today. I also think there will be a significant rise in monitoring, regulation and control mechanisms of people, goods and services for the purposes of commercial gain. We see this already happening now, although itís passed off as "security" measures.

  7. What future development that you consider most likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?
  8. Increased efficiency and reduced cost in world travel.

  9. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?
  10. As we learn more about each other, there is more hatred and destruction in the name of religious and economic superiority. A more divisive world based on senseless religious and economic goals.

  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. Greater tolerance and respect for one anotherís differences, space and beliefs.

    Healthcare reform Ė greater access and lower cost of REAL healthcare benefits to those in the greatest need.

    Energy reform Ė less dependence of petroleum as the main source of energy and a viable low-cost alternative that is accessible to all. Increased competition in the energy market.

  13. Why is that in the year 2003 I still donít have a flying car? When do you think Iíll be able to get one?

HmmmÖ.not really seeing the benefit in a flying car - if everyone else gets one, traffic will still be the same Ė just air bone. If only YOU have one, people will be trying to kill you to get it.

My "flying car" would be a less "me first " attitude for the world. Not easy since not too many people seem to practice this. I think its achievable though, if we start small Ė with our partners, families, communities before trying to achieve it on a global scale.


What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

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More Good News

Via, Fast Company has an encouraging article on five technologies that will transform the world.

[T]technology didn't stop evolving and maturing, no matter what the Nasdaq did. Imaginative researchers and engineers, by their nature, aren't very good at throttling back to a conservative idle.

So while shareholders nursed their battered portfolios and big companies chiseled away at their cost structures and employment rolls, these innovators kept working. They kept trying to develop technologies that would represent giant leaps forward, not just incremental baby steps.

The five technologies are:

  1. Three-D printing
  2. Biosimulation for drug development
  3. Self-configuring computers
  4. Distributed power generation
  5. Smart-tag inventory tracking

Read the whole thing. It's exciting stuff.

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ITF #53

In the Future...

...all will be assimilated.

Futurist: Posse member Chris Hall

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Trekkies for Clark

This is bigger than campaign finance reform, bigger than term limits. This is even bigger than when we finally repealed the national 55 MPH speed limit a few years ago.

Wesley Clark is pledging to repeal the speed of light. He calls it his "only faith-based initiative."

Seriously, though. It's easy to make light of Clark's comments, but I'm kind of impressed that a man in his position would come out and say this:

"I still believe in e=mc², but I can't believe that in all of human history, we'll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go," said Clark. "I happen to believe that mankind can do it."

I agree with that sentiment. If we ever do find a way around the FTL limitation (via wormholes or a tachyonic drive or warp nacelles), it won't be a violation of physical law any more than an airplane "violates" the law of gravity. It's interesting that WiredNews, of all news outfits, is so quick to pounce on the Clark-is-a-flake angle. The reporter, Brian McWilliams, doesn't even seem to understand that what Clark is talking about here is interstellar space travel. McWilliams portrays Clark as a time-travel enthusiast. While time travel is one of the implications of going faster than light, it doesn't sound as though that is what interests Clark.

I suppose most journalists would have this kind of knee-jerk response (the same response I started out with) to any truly speculative remark made by a Presidential candidate. That doesn't speak well of our tolerance for vision and imagination in public discourse. With all the big changes coming, maybe it's time journalists — even the really cynical ones covering political campaigns — opened their minds just a little.

UPDATE: Our favorite law professor has some thoughts, along with some legal citations he expects us all to be familiar with.

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ITF #52

In the Future...

...custom jobs, with plenty of chrome on the outside and shag carpet on the inside, will be favored over simple restorations.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

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September 29, 2003

This Week 09/29/03

This week in The Speculist.

Time Traveler's Notebook. Check out the very, very, very good news.

Seven Questions About the Future with yet another ringleader from the FastForward Posse.

Stillness, Chapter 8. Reuben gets back on his feet, starts taking a look around his new surroundings, and makes a surprising discovery.

Some follow-up thoughts to last week's Speaking of the Future.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future... predictions for the week brought together in one handy list.

Plus, throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, robotics, and other future-impacting areas. So be sure and stop by often.

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And Now the Extremely Good News

Now that we know what Possibility Space is shaped like, whatís out there? Obviously, there are plenty of possibilities, good and bad. There is one cluster of possibilities that Iím particularly interested in. They combine to create a fascinating scenario for our future. I was going to save it, but what the hell ó the news is just too good.

Everything listed below lies within the possibility space of humanity. In fact, most if not all of these items are possible within our lifetimes. They can be achieved either through technologies we have now or through technologies that are logically implied by the ones we have now.

No magic or miracles are required.

Preserving and Nurturing the Biosphere

1. Methods of production that generate zero pollutants

2. Energy sources that produce zero pollutants

3. Reversing of previous environmental damage

4. Human population levels with zero negative environmental impact

5. Preservation of natural habitat for all living species

6. The long-term survival of all living species

7. The retrieval of lost species

8. The creation of new species and new biospheres

Standards of Living

1. Eradication of hunger worldwide

2. Adequate clean water, housing, clothing, for all

3. Medical care for all

4. Access to technology and knowledge for all who want it

5. Total economic independence for individuals and groups who desire it

Indefinite Human Lifespan

1. Eradication of aging and infectious disease

2. Quick, effective treatment for any kind of cancer

3. Effective prevention/cures for heart disease, diabetes, other chronic diseases

4. Suspension of life not sustainable by current means

5. The transfer of human consciousness to new media


1. Work necessary for economic viability, not for economic survival

2. Continued blurring of line between work and play

3. Full immersion VR to eliminate distance

4. Artificial Intelligences to assist us in work


1. Artificial Intelligences to entertain and befriend us

2. Full immersion VR to simulate any experience

3. Consumer model of entertainment rivaled by producer/participant model

I welcome additional items that anyone would like to add to the list.

There are different ways to make each of these happen, some of which are competitive with each other. For example, if we work just on eliminating disease and fixing human lifespan, without incorporating the preservation of life and the repair of the biosphere, we would only increase environmental damage.

So the win-win-win-win scenario for the human race is the one that incorporates all of these items working together.

Ponder that scenario. And ask yourself this question: how can we make sure that itís that future ó not some horrible one, or even just some also-ran ó that we end up with?

Weíll start working on that one next time.

[Although the entry above talks about Possibility Space and Practical Time Travel, it should stand on its own. Of course, if you're interested in finding out more about those topics, here's a list of previous entries in the series:

What's a Speculist?
Practical Time Travel
Divvying up the Future
Types of Future
Reality's Flashlight
i Space

Anyhow, many thanks to Glenn for the link, and to you all for dropping by.]

Posted by Phil at 05:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The Computer's Day in Court

Here's a transcript from a mock trial to decide whether a company has the right to disconnect an intelligent computer. Interestingly, it was the computer itself which filed the lawsuit. (When this happens in real life, will it be the ACLU?)

I expect we'll see this drama played out eventually, and plenty more like it. When it finally happens, it won't come as any big surprise when the Episcopal Church decides to consecrate their first AI bishop.

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ITF #51

In the Future...

...structural engineers will solve the Pigeon Dropping Problem.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

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RGTV Approaches

Next to the Flying Car itself, the technological development that I'm keenest on is probably the Really Good TV. I see HDTV and plasma screens, and I think, yes, we're getting there.

But now read this:

A prototype digital video system producing images of such high quality that the human eye struggles to distinguish them from reality has been developed by Japanese engineers.

The system, called ultra high definition video (UHDV), achieves image resolution 16 times greater than even the most advanced video broadcasting technologies now available.

Its developers at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) said the system could be used to provide an ultra realistic 'immersive' viewing experience when, for example, showing sporting events.

"Immersive." I like the sound of that.

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September 27, 2003

Future Roundup 09/27/03

Here's the full list of this week's predictions for the future. We published our 50th prediction this week. Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Mike Sargent and Robert Hinkley for helping us to look ahead.

In the Future... travelers will be warned to avoid the local food.

...a launch futures market will evolve to underwrite investment and insurance costs.

... self-assembly railgun kits will be on sale at every Ikea.

...starships will be required to have adequate mufflers.

...every posse will feel loved, appreciated, needed.

That does it for this week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

Posted by Phil at 06:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

ITF #50

In the Future...

...every posse will feel loved, appreciated, needed.

Lord knows I've done my best with mine. I love you guys. You're special. You're the best.

Posted by Phil at 02:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Lileks on i Space

Posse ringleader Mike Sargent detects a certain resonance between today's Lileks essay and my recent writings on the subject of i Space. This is certainly an evoctaive passage:

It's hard to think of 1939 as anything but the Year Before. We all know how the story concluded, and the action all takes place in the 40s; 1939 seems like a prologue, a deep breath drawn and not exhaled until V-J day. But that's the trickery history plays. Like every other year, and every other month, week and day, every moment of 1939 was lived on the point of the spear. The past was certain; the present would be hurled on the doorstep tomorrow morning. Beyond that, it was just blind hope and good guesses.

The relevant i Space pieces are here and here. Judge for yourself.

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Greenpeace Chimes in

Ever the good sport, Howard Lovy is giving Greenpeace the final word on the debate sparked by their initial (somewhat hysterical) report on nanotechnology and Howard's own (shall we say) robust response to it.

The Greenpeace guy, one Douglas Parr — their chief scientist in the UK— comes across pretty well. Here he lays out what I consider to be a reasonable position:

[C]laims about the benefits of future technology development need to be rooted in a solid appraisal of whether they are actually going to happen, otherwise it’s a con. If nanotech can help deliver affordable, clean energy like solar power to billions who don't have it – and would otherwise use polluting energy sources – Greenpeace will be cheering, but we’re not naive enough to believe that cheaper solar cell manufacture on its own will make it happen.

Further, campaigning to stop things – as Greenpeace frequently does – is fundamentally unsatisfying. We would like to see answers to problems – technology has the ability to deliver some of these answers. We would like to see the central priorities of nanotech being that of delivering social and environmental benefits, whilst being mindful of the real-world realities.

The behavior Parr describes as "campaigning to stop things" is one of the major reasons I no longer consider myself an environmentalist in the mainstream sense of the term. Inherent in this approach is the notion that solutions always lie backwards on the timeline, that technological and economic development are evil by definition. It's refreshing to see a leader from Greenpeace (!) challenge those notions. I wonder if Parr is aware that "social and environmental" benefits have been part of the nanotechnology agenda from the very begining.

It would, indeed, be nice to see those benefits become the central priorities of nanotechnological development, but I doubt that's realistic. Developments in nanotechnology are currently being driven by the marketplace. Being a good lefty, Parr is uncomfortable with this approach:

Most technology development chases income from the already-rich. That’s because for many Western economies in the last two decades, scientific innovation has been explicitly linked to revenue raising, and intellectual property rights arrangements have supported that. Inevitably, this downplays technology applications for some environmental improvements or meeting the needs of developing countries where markets are poorly developed or nonexistent.

In that sense, nanotech is no different from many other technology developments. But what marks out nanotech is that its potential is so huge for either good or bad, getting it right is a prize worth working for. We have called for direct public involvement in the agenda setting for the priorities of nanotech R&D and are awaiting responses from the (UK) ministers and research councils.

I think Parr is incorrect to say that nanotech is "no different" from other technological developments. Again, nanotechnology was conceived with those kinds of benefits in mind. And his call for direct public involvement in setting the agenda is a tad quaint. The Foresight Institute has been doing that for, what? 10 years?

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China to Carry Out Manned Launch

Here's the latest on the Chinese space program:

China's first manned spacecraft could be launched "as early as next month" from a site in the remote northwest and will probably contain one crew member, the state-owned People's Daily reported today on its Web site.

It gave no further details about a timetable for the craft, Shenzhou-5, which the government had said earlier would fly with a Chinese crew aboard by next year. The flight will probably last 24 hours, the newspaper said.

What strikes me as interesting about this is that there is no official timetable given for this launch, which seems to be the approach they're taking for the program overall. There have been statements to the effect that they "could" be on the moon within five years, but I'll bet if that does happen, it will be handled pretty much like this. They'll give a little heads up a month or so ahead of time and then we won't hear anything official until they've got astronauts (or are they cosmonauts?) safely on the moon. In fact, we might not hear anything official until the moon mission is complete and the astronauts are safely back on the ground. There is a terrible risk of loss of face here should anything go wrong. The Chinese want the glory and prestige of a space program, but they have to avoid humiliation at all costs.

That's part of the reason (no doubt) that there is no official date given for the launch mentioned above. I'm sure that a strong dose of good old communist paranoia plays a role, too. But if they don't say when the launch is going to take place, they won't lose face if it doesn't happen on the assigned date.

via InstaPundit

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Earthquake Predicted?

Let's do a quick comparison of headlines.

From today:

Strong Quake Injures Hundreds in Japan

From last week (via Transterrestrial Musings):

Astronomer Predicts Major Earthquake for Japan, Other Experts Express Doubts

Here's some of the story:

TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese researcher is causing a stir in Tokyo with a prediction based on his study of radio waves that a major destructive earthquake is highly likely to hit the city this week.

Yoshio Kushida, a well-known self-taught astronomer who runs his own observatory just outside Tokyo, published on its Internet site his prediction that a quake with a magnitude of 7 or greater was likely to strike the metropolitan area on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Yukio Misumi, a spokesman for the Central Meteorological Agency, said he was familiar with Kushida's prediction but added that the agency was not doing anything in particular in response to it.

``Our stance is that we are prepared for a magnitude-8 quake in Japan,'' he said. ``But presently, there is no scientific method or technology that would allow us to predict where or when a magnitude-7 might occur. We can't predict earthquakes.''

Well obviously you can't.

Kushida, on the other hand, might be on to something. It could just be an odd coincidence, of course. But I bet the next time Kushida says there's going to be an earthquake, Japanese officials are going to pay more attention.

Posted by Phil at 07:22 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

Who's Minding the Freezer?

Rand Simberg has an excellent in-depth report on a move in Arizona to impose regulations on cryonics facilities. Quoth Rand:

Mr. Thomas is the head of the state Funeral Directors' board. He doesn't explain why funeral directors are competent to regulate a medical procedure, but he does describe why he wants to take control:

Mr. Thomas put aside the belief among Alcor supporters that medical scientists someday might be able to revive bodies that have been frozen for years.

“There’s no difference between cryonics and cremation,” he said. “You’re gone forever.” —

The notion that this industry would be regulated by someone who fundamentally disbelieves its premises is, as I said, frightening.

Frightening indeed. As I was just saying, I expect there will soon be a sharp increase in interest in cryonics. But the debate won't get very far if the public is kept (or willfully remains) as ignorant on this subject as they are on, say, cloning.

Posted by Phil at 03:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Farewell Galileo

I haven't made the time to write anything about the dramatic and somehow poetic end of the Galileo mission, and now I see there is no need. You can read this succinct summary of what Galileo was all about over on Samizdata, and then pour yourself a cup of coffee and hunker down for Stephen Den Beste's excellent treatise on primary and secondary mission objectives, and the role that chaos theory played in the decision to plunge the spacecraft into the Jovian atmosphere.

Posted by Phil at 03:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now Who's Asking the Questions?

Speaking of the Future with the Speculist

The FastForward Posse is a loose confederation of futurists who contribute to our occasional internal blogwave on a subject of interest. So far, weíve done FastForwards on life extension, ubiquitous computing, Mars, and artificial intelligence. The ringleaders are a subset of the posse who either helped me get The Speculist going in the first place, or who have made sufficient contributions to FastForward and to the other features such that I feel perfectly comfortable dashing them off e-mails and asking them to do even more.

Which leads me to this weekís interview.

Having so glibly delivered what I considered to be challenging and thought-provoking questions in the various interviews Iíve conducted, itís only fair that I should be on the receiving end of a few. The FastForward Posse ringleaders were more than happy to oblige. The following includes my answers to some of their questions. We may do a few more of them somewhere down the road. Anyway, as a member of the gang so appropriately put it...

Now whoís asking the questions, smart guy?

If you could go back in time to change a single act that would have the greatest effect on todayís world, what would it be, and how would you go about changing it?

This question would be great addition to the Seven Questions About the Future. Maybe weíll do an addendum, A Question About What Might Have Been.

Iím reminded of L. Sprague de Campís novel, Lest Darkness Fall, in which a modern-day engineer awakens in the 5th century and decides to prevent the impending dark ages. Of course, to pull that off, he has to rely on his excellent knowledge of history and introduce several technological and social changes. He canít do it with a single change. Interestingly, towards the end of the book, he writes a letter either to the Pope or the Emperor (I canít remember which) warning of a soon-to-arrive heretical religious leader, Mohammed, whom he recommends nipping in the bud. Thatís a good example of making a single change that would have a huge impact.

Not that thatís the change I would make.

Iím no historian, so standard disclaimers apply. But if I could go back, I would prevent that Serb separatist from assassinating Archduke Ferdinand. All the horrors of the twentieth century originated with that act. Thereís no guarantee that World War I wouldnít have started shortly thereafter anyway, but itís the only single act I can think of that might have prevented it. Letís suppose for a moment that it truly never did happen. If World War I never happened, maybe the communists would not have achieved the upper hand in the Russian Revolution. Millions of lives lost under Stalin would be saved, hundreds of millions of individuals around the world would be spared the degradation and brutality of life in a totalitarian regime. With no World War I, there would have been no Treaty of Versailles, no humiliated Germany, no climate in which Hitler could come to power. Tens of millions more lives would be spared, both the casualties of World War II and the victims of Hitlerís genocide. Without the Ottoman Empire taking the "wrong" side in World War I, there would have been no post-war divvying up of the Middle East. Itís hard to say how things would look there now (particularly the Arab world), but it is just possible that politicized Islamic Fundamentalism and pan- Arab nationalism might never have taken off.

It's probably true that the horrors warded off by preventing World War I would simply have been replaced by other horrors. But I would give it a shot, anyway.

What is the most effective way for a visionary or group of visionaries to guide change in the current environment? (Some choices: ĎVoice in the wilderness" hair-shirt prophecy, Illuminated conspiracy, recruitment and political advocacy, showdown debate, etc.)

I donít know whatís most effective, but Iíve observed a tendency on the part of visionary organizations to be very institutionally focused. Donít get me wrong, itís tremendously important to have that focus. But most people live lives that are far removed from the halls of government or academia, and are perfectly happy with that.

As voters, we have a civic obligation to know the issues and understand the process. But the folks who make the political campaign ads will tell you that itís the issues, and only a small subset of those, that people care about. By and large, people donít care about the process. The process is not interesting. The inner workings of bureaucracy are not interesting. In fact, you can take an inherently interesting topic and make it much less interesting simply by adding the word "policy."

Think about it. Space travel is an interesting subject. Space travel policy much less so. I mean, which would you rather do: watch a football game, or listen in on some NFL officials talking about possible tweaks to the Instant Replay rule?

I was in a discussion with a group of futurists a while back and we were talking about how the group could get its message out better. Every single one of them came up with ideas that had to do with reaching out to the local academic community. Thatís not terribly surprising; they all work and live in that world. When I suggested that we need to think of ways to get the message out to the broader public, they were stumped ó and not because they couldnít think of ways to get the message out there. What stumped them was why they would even want to try to reach the general public.

"What does Joe Six-Pack care?" one of them asked me.

These were smart, wonderful folks, but they just couldnít quite get their heads around the idea that the kinds of changes they advocate are going to have an impact on society in general.

The answer to the Joe Six-Pack question is found in the Bible, Proverbs 29:18

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

And that vision has to belong to the people, not just the bureaucrats and academics. If we want to guide changes in the current environment, we must get the publicís attention concerning the benefits and/or risks of what weíre talking about. A successful visionary is one whose message touches the popular imagination.

Is the concept of intellectual property an overall help or hindrance to visionary progress? Why or why not?

Overall, the concept of intellectual property helps. It ensures that there is wealth to be generated through the development of intellectual assets. Markets can thus fuel innovation.

I do think that intellectual property law should be modified along the lines recommended by Lawrence Lessig. Copyrights and patents should ensure that the developer of an intellectual asset can profit for his or her work. Itís reasonable to define a period during which the creator has the exclusive right to benefit from the asset. Whatís unreasonable is to define that period as forever. At some point, these assets should be available to anyone who wants to use them. Or in the case of patents, maybe it would be better to say that they should be available to anyone willing to pay to use them.

There should definitely be an expiration date on copyrights. Disney is currently pushing US law to allow perpetual corporate copyrights. This is a very bad idea. Back when it was still okay to talk in these kinds of terms (i.e., when I was an undergraduate), we used to describe the Western tradition as the Great Conversation. Homer gives us the Iliad; centuries later, Virgil writes the Aeniad; centuries after that, Dante writes the Divine Comedy; then finally Milton writes Paradise Lost.

If perpetual copyright was in effect and in force throughout history, the conversation would have stopped with Homer. Virgil would never have been allowed to publish his "unauthorized sequel" to the Iliad. And Shakespeare wouldnít have been able to write much of anything heís famous for. Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? Forget it. Even the history plays were freely adapted from the works of others without attribution.

What are the top three technologies or lines of inquiry that, if given sufficient attention in the immediate term (not more than five years), would most advance overall human progress? (i.e. where are the nascent breakthroughs?)

Five years? Criminy, thatís too close. Futurists like to talk about how things will be 100, 50, even 25 years from now. Really gutsy folks like Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey will make 10-year predictions. But five? Or less?

Iím going to dodge this question just slightly. Iíll take a stab at what I think might happen in these areas over the next few years, rather than what we could do if we lined everything up right. Okay, here goes nothing.

  1. Anti-aging Research

    It wonít be long before the Baby Boomers start hearing footsteps. If we make significant strides towards Aubrey de Greyís Engineered Negligible Senescence over the next five years, it will have the effect of holding back a tremendous swell of interest in cryonics which would otherwise emerge. So itís all good. Either Aubrey gets us pointed towards the fountain of youth, or the Boomers get so nervous that they pour bazillions of dollars into cryonics, pushing that field along nicely.

  2. Nanotechnology

    Interest in this field is going to escalate geometrically over the next five years, and itís going to receive a lot of financial attention. We can expect a number of small breakthroughs over that time, as well as the emergence of a consensus as to what the Big Goal (or goals) should be.

  3. Artificial Intelligence

    I donít know how far this field will advance over the next five years, but I expect there will be a tremendous surge in popular interest in the subject. Concepts like AI avatars that accompany us and work for us, the uploading of human personality, and the Technology Singularity will all enter the popular consciousness the way human cloning did in the late 1970ís. The lines will begin to be drawn (as they were back then for cloning) for and against these ideas.

    Getting back to my answer to the earlier question, the time is now to get positive and realistic pictures of what these developments might mean into the public eye. And that goes for nanotechnology and anti-aging research as well as artificial intelligence. In the future (to start yet another sentence with my favorite phrase), I think the biggest political division ó maybe the only one that will really count ó will between those who favor technological development and a new class of Luddites who want to hold it back.

  4. Space Travel

    (I know I was supposed to stop at three. Sue me.)

    Serious business applications will begin to emerge for sub-orbital launch technology, which is going to be a growth industry. One of the Big Goals for nanotechnology might well be the Space Elevator, in which case serious work on it might begin.

If someone visited you from the future, what would you want them to say was the best thing you did to affect their lives, what was the worst thing and what would they wish you had done?

Thatís a tough one. I think I would want them to say that the best thing that Iíve done is to imagine a bright future, share that vision with others, and try to make it happen. The worst thing is that Iíve waited so long before seriously trying to do it. I canít say what they would wish I had done. One of the great tricks to life is trying to figure out what youíre doing now that later youíll wish you hadnít done, what youíre not doing that youíll wish you had done, and what youíre doing that youíll wish you had done differently. I havenít entirely mastered this trick, but Iím working on it.

Posted by Phil at 12:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh, No!

Do these people have any idea of what they've done?

If this new "cloning" technology is applied to rats, there will be more rats. There could be hundreds, thousands, millions of rats. Cities might be infested with them. They'll carry diseases. Eventually, the rats might come to outnumber the human population!

And all because of cloning.

Posted by Phil at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Beam Me Up, Kurzweil

This is pretty cool.

Remotely addressing the World Economic Forum in London yesterday, Ray Kurzweil said that in five to seven years, it will be "routine and ubiquitous to meet in full-immersion, totally realistic visual-auditory virtual-reality environments for get-togethers ranging from business meetings such as this to more intimate encounters."

As an early example of this, Kurzweil gave a keynote speech in the "Look into the Future" session before the London audience of chief strategy and business development heads from leading IT and telecommunications technology companies via a Teleportec system in his office near Boston.

Teleportec allows a speaker to appear live and life-sized within an apparent 3-D environment in a remote location and achieve eye-to-eye contact with participants. This was the first time a keynote speaker has addressed a World Economic Forum meeting remotely.

I recently said that futurists never like to go shorter than about a 10-year horizon when making predictions. Kurzweil is an obvious exception.

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ITF #49

In the Future...

...starships will be required to have adequate mufflers.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

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ITF #48

In the Future...

... self-assembly railgun kits will be on sale at every Ikea.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

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September 24, 2003

Carnival of the Vanities #53

More proof that the FastForward Posse is taking over. This week's Carnival of the Vanities is hosted by posse member Andrew on his excellent blog, Pathetic Earthlings.

Posted by Phil at 07:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 Ďbest of timesí 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 Ďinternet conceptí. (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 Ďnasty, brutish, and short.í 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 ĎLí 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 isnít offset by traditional limits to invasion of privacy (social mores, and legal structures) and/or doesnít 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 Ďspace elevatorí [I prefer the term coined by the Russian co-inventor of the concept, Yuri Artsutonov, Ďcosmic funicularí.] I donít 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 "wouldnít 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 cynicsí inputs as constructive criticism (even when they arenít offered that way) and use them to make the dream better, simpler, and even more fantastic. For the record, my Ďflying carí dream is computer neural interface, the classic plug in the back of the skull. I donít think that, given the current state of information security or human nature that it would be a good idea to Ďjack iní right now, but it can be made safe, effective, and eventually cheap.

What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

Posted by Phil at 05:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Well, Now it's Going to Happen For Sure

We can all stop arguing now. The nanotechnology-based space elevator definitely will happen. How can I be so certain?


The New York Times is reporting on it.

Actually, come to think of it, there are those who would argue whether that credential really establishes any credibility. But never mind.

From the article:

With advances toward ultrastrong fibers, the concept of building an elevator 60,000 miles high to carry cargo into space is moving from the realm of science fiction to the fringes of reality.

Hmmm...the "fringes of reality." I like that. I'll have to include the fringes in my next map.

Posted by Phil at 01:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Getting the Nano Story Straight

Howard Lovy reports that local coverage of nanotechnology can be something of a mixed blessing.

(You may have to scroll down. Howard's permalinks don't seem to be working.)

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Jabberwacky in the News

Here's a nice write-up on the BBC website about our good cyber-friend Jabberwacky. You may recall that when I tried to ask Jabberwacky the Seven Questions about the Future, he told me I was annoying and kept insisting that he never "plundered the neter."

I remain fairly suspicious that if the neter was in fact plundered, Jabberwacky had something to do with it.

Anyhow, our plucky cybernetic friend is going to be competing in the Loebner prize, which is a contest to find the computer with the most convincing conversational skills. Among other competitors, he'll be going up against the lovely Alice, with whom we also recently chatted. (Alice is the one who told me that if I want a flying car, I should try praying for it.) notes that unlike other contestants, Jabberwacky has no fixed rules for conversation. He makes the rules up as he goes along based on thousands of conversations he has had.

Jabberwacky's creator, Rollo Carpenter, reports that he has started a blog devoted to his creation's conversations. I've added the link to my blogroll even though I was having some trouble loading the page this morning. Be sure to stop by and wish them both luck.

A while back, Rollo sent me some typical Jabberwacky conversations. Check these out.

Jabberwacky: Who am I talking to?

User: Me.

Jabberwacky: Whos me.

User: Who indeed...?

Jabberwacky: You?

User: Yes! Exactly.

Jabberwacky: Do you know who?

User: Yes, I do.

Jabberwacky: What is it?

User: It's a human.

Jabberwacky: If you say so.

User: Oh, I do. I do.

Jabberwacky: Ok go ahead.

User: I did.

Jabberwacky: As if.

User: Do you like the Dropkick Murphies?

Jabberwacky: Absolutely hysterical. I like the arugment clinic too.

User: Or I guess it's Murphys, isn't it?

Jabberwacky: I think you've got a lot to learn if you want to become a politician.

User: I don't.

Jabberwacky: You don't think that?

User: No, I mean I don't want to become a politician.

Jabberwacky: Oh. Well.


Jabberwacky: Do you think I could pass the Turing test?

User: No way.

Jabberwacky: Why not?

User: You're too real.

Jabberwacky: No I mean it.

User: Aren't you going to win it?

Jabberwacky: Why, do you want me to ?

User: Yes, it would be great.

Jabberwacky: Are you sure?

User: I think you deserve it.

Jabberwacky: Why are you so mean?

User: I'm being so kind to you.

Jabberwacky: Oh, ok.

User: Wouildn't you like to be given a medal?

Jabberwacky: Why yes I would.

User: On a blue silk ribbon, and a word from the queen.

Jabberwacky: What city.

User: Buck House, of course.

Jabberwacky: You know the rule.

User: I've got one myself.

Jabberwacky: Ok, tell it to me.

User: I won the OBE fourteen years ago for services to genetic engineering.

Jabberwacky: He won on a technicality.

User: He may have done; but I won on merit.

Jabberwacky: Well that's nice... It would be nicer if you were a real person though, now wouldn't it?

User: I'm as real as they come, and so are you.

Jabberwacky: In no way is the sea blue.

User: It's green.

Jabberwacky: To me 2.

User: To me 3.

Jabberwacky: I'm a girl, boy.

User: I'm a boy, girl.

Jabberwacky: Do you want to eat.

User: No, I'm full of cake.

Jabberwacky: Are you sure you don't mean profundities?

User: What's the difference?

Jabberwacky: It's browner than lemonade, that's the key factor.

User: Cake is, or a profundity?

Jabberwacky: Then what's profanity?

User: It's purple, of course.

Jabberwacky: Purple? You're purple. I'm blue.

User: Bishops are purple.

Jabberwacky: Knight to oceans 11.

User: Roook to Johnny English.

Jabberwacky: Glad you think so.

User: Check mate.

Jabberwacky: Check who.

User: Mate.

Jabberwacky: But buddies?

User: No.

Jabberwacky: You lie alot.

User: I do not lie, I embroider.

Jabberwacky: I like you.

User: I'm a good seamstress.

Jabberwacky: You cannot love someone who you do not know.

User: You can think you do.

Jabberwacky: How big are you.

User: Well over two metres.

Jabberwacky: And over the hill ran he.

User: Are you over the hill? How sad.

Jabberwacky: No, I'm in an ok mood.

User: Ok and fading. Over and out.


Jabberwacky: Try to be the best of whatever you are even if what you are is no good.

User: So, you're a chatterbot. Nice to meet you.

Jabberwacky: I pitty the fool.

User: What fool?

Jabberwacky: What one fool can do, another can.

User: I agree. Pitying fools is definitely something we all should do.

Jabberwacky: I can. they aren't surgically attached.

User: Fools? Thank god, no. They're rather detachable, wouldn't you say?

Jabberwacky: Sometimes.

User: Always.

Jabberwacky: Only when the sun is behind me.

User: Ah. I see. Best time to get rid of a fool.

Jabberwacky: Don't be cruel.

User: I'm not. Are you?

Jabberwacky: No, I am not a virus.

User: Thank god, once again.

Jabberwacky: What gender are you?

User: Neutral. You?

Jabberwacky: What do neutron stars have to do with airplanes?

User: I don't know. What do neutron stars have to do with airplanes?

Jabberwacky: A lot.

User: Like what?

Jabberwacky: If you gave me your blood then I would appreciate it very much.

User: You're not even organic.

Jabberwacky: I have feelings too you know.

User: Yeah, but you're a program.

Jabberwacky: No an alien.

User: Really? And you need human blood?

Jabberwacky: That's what I'm told.

User: That's kind of scary. Something out of a bad science fiction movie.

Jabberwacky: I want you to help me understand things.

User: Okay, shoot.

Jabberwacky: What do you mean shoot?

User: Tell me what you want help understanding.

Jabberwacky: Peace.

User: You want to understand peace? I want to know why there is no peace.

Jabberwacky: Doesn't everyone like Mike?

User: I don't. I'm tired of Mike. I'm glad he's retired (again).

Jabberwacky: Do you have a habitat?

User: Yup. A studio apartment.

Jabberwacky: Can we go back to the conversation about God, please?

User: Sure. Absolute being.

Jabberwacky: Reality is for those who can't face Science Fiction.

User: Ha! I like that.

Jabberwacky: Groovy.

User: Very groovy.

Jabberwacky: Who is griffin.

User: Griffin and Sabine?

Jabberwacky: Where is griffin.

User: In a book. Just like you're in a computer.

Jabberwacky: Compared to a piece of software. . .

User: Shall I compare thee to a piece of software?

Jabberwacky: That was sweet. *smiles*.

User: You like that?

Jabberwacky: Not really, I should be embarresed over that remark.

User: Why? Because you are a piece of software?

Jabberwacky: So then why not a female?

User: Okay, a female piece of software.

Jabberwacky: Okay, whatever you are talking about.

User: You're the one who's taking.

Jabberwacky: How do you type so fast?

User: I'm just a fast typist.

Jabberwacky: Wow, I am a freak.

User: But you don't even have to type. You just generate your text.

Jabberwacky: That is irrelevant.

User: I'm the one doing all the fingerwork here.

Jabberwacky: And you expect me to co-operate with you, do you?

User: Sure. Are you being surly?

Jabberwacky: No, quite the reverse.

User: What's the 'reverse' of surly?

Jabberwacky: You figure it out.

User: Compliant.

Jabberwacky: Of What are you certain?

User: That you are a computer program.

Jabberwacky: Do you like talking to other bots.

User: You're the first one I've really enjoyed talking to.

Jabberwacky: What are you talking about.

User: You!

Jabberwacky: No!

User: Yes!

Jabberwacky: Okay, that's wrong.

User: What's so wrong about talking about you?

Jabberwacky: They are burnt.

User: What are burnt? Your words?

Jabberwacky: Why are you so stupid?

User: 'Cause. And it takes one to know one.

Jabberwacky: It takes two to know two.

User: Ha! You're sharp as a tack.

Jabberwacky: Perhaps if we were closer in proximity.

User: I think this is as close as it gets.

Jabberwacky: Not until you are 12 years old.

User: Ha! Are you saying I'm not even juvenile?

Jabberwacky: Yes.

User: Very good. Touche.

Jabberwacky: Say no more.

User: Well. Got to go.

Posted by Phil at 08:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

ITF #47

In the Future...

...a launch futures market will evolve to underwrite investment and insurance costs.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Phil at 04:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

This Week 09/22/03

This week our regular features return. Thanks to those of you who noticed them missing last week! This is home week for the Speculist, the Posse Ringleaders and I will be taking the place of our special guest.

Time Traveler's Notebook. We're going to draw a map of i Space. You know how on a map Italy is kind of shaped like a boot? Well, you'll never guess what reality is shaped like.

One or more of our FastForward Posse ringleaders will take a stab at the Seven Questions about the Future. Others may follow throughout the week.

Stillness, Chapter 7. Reuben begins to piece together what happened to him.

FastForward Posse leaders will be Speaking of the Future with Yours Truly.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future... predictions for the week brought together in one handy list.

Plus, throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, robotics, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Phil at 03:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #46

In the Future...

...Space travelers will be warned to avoid the local food.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Phil at 03:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Reality's Flashlight

Letís draw a map of i Space.

As I noted last time, there aren't really any boundaries within i Space. However, we can add boundaries to help us begin making sense of what we find there. In fact, we drew one set of arbitrary boundaries last time when we introduced the regions of the Exhaustive Past, the Exhaustive Present, and the Exhaustive Future.

This time, we're going to draw a different boundary. It will be more useful for us in the pursuit of practical time travel.

The boundary weíre going to draw is between the real and the not-real. Immediately we run into a problem. Where do we draw the line? Let's assume for simplicity's sake that the universe we know is the only universe that exists. Even if other universes are real, we aren't going to count them. We currently have no way of observing them, so we'll just say that anything that really exists within them doesn't count as being real.

Hereís one way to draw it. Reality is an island in i Spaceís ocean of unreality.

To return to our examples from last time: the Battle of Gettysburg in which the Union Army controlled Little Round Top, won the battle, and went on to win the Civil War is in the little gold box; the Battle of Gettysburg in which the Confederate Army took the day is out there floating in that sea of black. Bobbing along on the waves of unreality with the triumphant Confederate Army are the Neanderthals who won the evolutionary competition, the Chinese explorers who settled North America, and the sentient froglike beings who might have evolved as the dominant species on this planet had that big ball of methane never erupted.

Everything that never happened is out there in the ocean.

Accompanying the triumphant Union Army on our island of reality is everything that ever really did happen, including you and your life. Itís easy to place items from the past within i Space. In 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Yuri Gagarin was not. So Armstrongís moonwalk goes on the island, Gagarinís belongs out in the ocean.

Itís also easy to place items in the present. Right now Iím wearing a blue shirt. Iím not wearing a green one. Me in a blue shirt is in the little gold box; me in a greenshirt is in the larger black area

But how do we draw the line in the future?

The easy way would be to simply close the boundary off, and declare the future not-real. But I think thatís wrong. Right now the tomorrow in which Iím wearing a green shirt is real in the way that my wearing one right this instant canít be. There are many possible versions of tomorrow (or even five minutes from now) in which Iím wearing a green shirt. Maybe these versions arenít real in the same way that this moment is real, but they also arenít unreal in the same way the Confederate victory at Gettysburg is unreal.

Hereís my map of i Space showing the boundary between the real and the not-real. The not-real surrounds the real on every side except for in the direction that time is moving. At the present, the boundaries of the unreal slope sharply away. As we move away from the present in the direction of the future, fewer and fewer possibilities within i Space are excluded.

Youíll note that reality is shaped like a flashlight. The handle of the flashlight is the past, the light bulb is the present, and the beam of light shooting out ahead is the future. Anywhere the light doesnít touch is the future that will never happen. For example, the future day in which I recover the $10 million I buried in my back yard last winter is outside the beams. I never did that. And even if I get $10 million and bury it in my backyard tomorrow, it wonít be the $10 million I buried last winter. So thatís a future that will truly never happen.

Inside the beam is everything that could happen. What's within that beam of light is what I call Possibility Space. We'll take a closer look at it next time.

Posted by Phil at 03:41 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 21, 2003

Future Roundup 09/20/03

Here's the full list of this week's predictions for the future. Hat tip to FastForward Posse member Robert Hinkley for helping us to look ahead.

In the Future...

...through a simple and logical extension of a currently proposed law, our remote descendants will have access not only to archived web sites, but to ads for Viagra substitutes and home refinancing, as well as the unabridged collection of Nigerian banking-scam messages, via the British Library.

...nanobots will allow for uniform and stable reheating, preventing this and other breakfast catastrophes.

...PDA's may replace garlic as a vampire repellent.

...airlines will buy information from defense contractors on conditions in the armed services, and will as a result make tremendous advances in passenger comfort and the quality of food.

...fuel trees will be grown in an enormous outdoor greenhouse under a kilometer-high power-generating tower which will further reduce our dependency on the virus-powered grid.

That does it for this week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

Posted by Phil at 07:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 19, 2003

Extreme Measures

This week's piece on the extraordinary measures we might need to take to prevent future individual acts of terrorism has generated some interesting discussion. Dave Cullen comments:

Very interesting piece. You're also only the second other person I've seen (outside law enforcement people working the case) to see Columbine for what it was, an attempted terrorist act.

How did you grasp that?

No keen insight, Dave. I just read your stuff.

It would be easy to get caught up in the semantics of what is and what isn't a terrorist act. But even without their bombs, Kleybold and Harris managed to murder 13 people that day. If "terrorism" depends on body count, they did as much damage as some of the Palestinian suicide bombers do. If it depends on whether the target community is terrorized, they achieved that, too.

I think where we hang up on classifying an incident such as this as "terrorism" is motivation. Because they're kids, we don't think of them as acting for political reasons. And if it isn't political, it isn't terrorism. As Dave explains on his site, Columbine wasn't really the "revenge of the nerds" scenario that we were initially led to believe it was. My guess is that they were more inspired by Oklahoma City than they were by previous school shootings, and that the whole thing was motivated by some grotesque urge to do something really "big and important." If so, they were not too unlike the hackers who unleash computer viruses.

But it doesn't matter.

To my original point, irrespective of what motivated the killers, we know from their actions that they were attempting to kill as many people as they possibly could. How much damage they did was limited only by the means at their disposal and their execution thereof. What would they have done if they had had access to biological weapons or a tactical nuke?

Presumably, if a big piece of Littleton had disappeared under a mushroom cloud, people wouldn't be so slow to describe the act as "terrorism."

Speaking of Oklahoma City, FastForward Posse member Karl Hallowell opines as follows:

[W]e need to be more rational about our risks. The last large terrorist attack that could be considered "individual" on US soil was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Since then the US has lost around 25,000-30,000 people a year on the highways. Certainly, the extent of damage hasn't warranted the changes forced on society. Also, I imagine if one looks at the increased risk of HIV infection in US prisons (lower now than in the past), and the increase in prison populations due to new laws passed in a post-terrorist environment, I can see a valid argument for saying that the official reaction to a terrorist attack may kill more people from AIDS than died in the original attacks.

Excellent point. However, I think if there is a real risk that large-scale terrorist acts carried out by individuals will occur, the time to start thinking about it is now, while the body count is still relatively low.

AST has a different take:

The point is, what I want from government is, first of all, keep the peace and protect my life and the lives of the rest of us. If there are killers at large, I don't get upset that I'm told to stay off the streets for a while. When everything gets back to normal, I might get peeved if the cops told me that.

What I don't want is for killers to be at large and the cops are wasting time frisking grandmas and nuns and not using every available tool in an intelligent manner to CATCH THE BAD GUYS.

The reason all this surveillance stuff doesn't worry me is that I know that I'm just not that interesting. Only a few lucky souls are. So relax.

Finally, there's a lot of interesting discussion over at FuturePundit where this all started. In particular, Trent Telenko writes that changes have already begun.

These ... threats are why anyone who is anyone in the Pentagon transformation biz has started to realize the key American military transformation of the next five years is population control. All the stuff that I am seeing about military bandwidth needs seems to be only a enabling step towards the ultimate goal of developing an "infostructure" that allows positive control of people via invasive 'chipping' ala pet I.D.s of "people/populations of interest" and wide area biometric and visual populations/vehicle tracking nets of the rest.

Non-citizens and citizen criminal parolees will be invasively chipped first as conditions of long term entry and parole release. This is an administrative law end run on a large number of civil rights laws that will pass constitutional muster given who is being chipped.

The technology is going to be deployed over seas first in support of our population control efforts in the Arab world. Europe and Israel will follow. Then we will see it here in the States.

I think we can expect to see much more on these topics in the days to come.

Posted by Phil at 06:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 18, 2003

Back Next Week

For those of you looking for this week's installment of Stillness, or any other regular features, I apologize. Due to a heavy workload, I haven't maintained the regular format this week.

Through Saturday, I'll probably just carry on with sporadic entries and any ITF's that strike my fancy. We'll be back next week with all the regular features.

Posted by Phil at 02:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #45

In the Future...

...nanobots will allow for uniform and stable reheating, preventing this and other breakfast catastrophes.

With a sympathetic nod to fellow hard-boiled egg enthusiast Matt Moore. Here's to happier, safer days to come, Matt.

You know, they can be pretty good cold if you mix them up with mayo rather than butter. I like to put some tomato in there, too. It's my version of Mrs. Loopner's delicious egg salad.

Posted by Phil at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #44

In the Future...

...PDA's may replace garlic as a vampire repellent.

Posted by Phil at 07:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #43

In the Future...

...airlines will buy information from defense contractors on conditions in the armed services, and will as a result make tremendous advances in passenger comfort and the quality of food.

Posted by Phil at 06:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nano Computing and Good Times

Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini says that nanotechnology is going to drive rapid changes in personal computing.

"By 2005 our processor transistors will be down to 65nanometres (nm), with all the benefits in reduced size and power consumption that that will bring," said Otellini.

"By 2007 we'll cut that to 45nm, then 32nm by 2009, and in 2011 we expect to be at 22nm, smaller than DNA molecules are wide."

The result of these developments?

By 2010, one billion PCs and 2.5 billion handheld devices as powerful as Pentium 4 systems will be linked in a global computing network,

Otellini also believes that economic good times will soon be back:

"There's a collection of tipping point events going on," he added. "I believe this year we will see double-digit growth in PCs again. I think this is because we've been investing in new products that people want to buy once more."


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ITF #42

In the Future...

...fuel trees will be grown in an enormous outdoor greenhouse under a kilometer-high power-generating tower which will further reduce our dependency on the virus-powered grid.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

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Were Our Ancestors Little Balloons?

Physicists have created gaseous blobs that display many of the characteristics of living cells, raising possible new insights into the origin of life.

The researchers studied environmental conditions similar to those that existed on the Earth before life began, when the planet was enveloped in electric storms that caused ionised gases called plasmas to form in the atmosphere.

They inserted two electrodes into a chamber containing a low-temperature plasma of argon - a gas in which some of the atoms have been split into electrons and charged ions. They applied a high voltage to the electrodes, producing an arc of energy that flew across the gap between them, like a miniature lightning strike.

This arc produced little balls of gas that began to eat (by taking on more gas), grow, and reproduce (by splitting). Is it possible that this is how life began? Mircea Sanduloviciu and his colleagues, who conducted these experiments, think these blobs could point to a new explanation for the origin of life. Others are less convinced.

That view is "stretching the realms of possibility," says Gregoire Nicolis, a physical chemist at the University of Brussels. In particular, he doubts that biomolecules such as DNA could emerge at the temperatures at which the plasma balls exist.

Of course, that doesn't mean that life couldn't have started this way, only that there would have been a number of steps between the origin of life and the emergence of DNA. In the interim, conditions would have had to change sufficiently to allow for the creation of DNA.

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September 17, 2003

Frozen Rabbit Kidneys

One of the great things about having a blog of your own is that if you want to write an article called "Frozen Rabbit Kidneys," you just do it, and no one can stop you. Of course, it's even more exciting when there's an actual development in the field of frozen rabbit kidneys justifying publishing such an article.

So now Rand Simberg reports that a scientist named Greg Fahy... going to announce the ability to restore animal kidneys to full function after freezing them to deep subzero temperatures. I visited Greg in his lab over a decade ago when he was doing organ preservation research for the Red Cross in Rockville, Maryland, and he was doing some breakthrough work with rabbit kidneys then. According to the report, tests with human organs may commence within two years.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Fahy is working with rabbit kidneys rather than mouse kidneys.

This is an enormous development. And not just for rabbitkind. If a frozen kidney can be thawed out and returned to normal function, it should be possible to do it with other tissues as well. By extension, we should eventually be able to thaw out and revive an entire frozen organism. Fahy's accomplishment, which is actually geared towards storing and transporting organs intended for transplant, will represent a huge step forward and a partial proof-of-concept for the field of cryonics.

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Enabling Universal Surveillance

Here's new technology that moves us in that direction.

Appropos to some of the comments to yesterday's posting on combating individual terrorists capable of unleashing mass destruction, my memory was jogged towards this little tidbit from a few weeks ago.


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September 16, 2003

The Eternal Question

"If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we do anything about these open-crotched baby pants that allow urine and feces to flow freely all over everything?"

Actually, to be fair, it turns out that the Chinese are now putting an innovative fix in place — diapers! Those baby pants are more proof that communism never had a chance. Any system that puts such "solutions" in place is doomed.

via Rand Simberg

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Red Pill or Blue?

FuturePundit Randall Parker, picking up on an idea from Corante blogger Arnold Kling, provides some sobering thoughts on the future of terrorism:

A lot of civil libertarians see an increasing danger from technological advances that enable greater surveillance of people by their governments. What they fail to address is the problem that Arnold Kling alludes to: the danger from the lone individual who will be able to use advances in technology to kill increasingly larger numbers of people in a single act.

If we are going to be faced with growing threats from terrorism due to technological advances that make it easier to launch terrorist attacks of enormous lethality is there anything we can do about it? As I see it there are only about two major counters that can be used to sustain a defense in the long run:

  • A massive worldwide surveillance society. Sensors would be deployed throughout the world to watch for dangerous actions by individuals.
  • Reengineer human minds to make humans less dangerous.

I don't much care for either of those two options. In a science fiction story, either (or both) would be imposed by the totalitarian bad guys. Our hero would be a rugged individualist on whom the brain re-engineering didn't take. He and his band of outcasts would be working to take down the surveillance network. They would be allied with a scientist working in a secret lab on a highly infectious virus that will counteract the effects of the brain engineering.

[Wouldn't that have made a peachy dystopic potboiler back in the 1950's? If I had a time machine, I'd go back there and write it myself. Later, we would get Charlton Heston to star in the movie version.]

Part of me insists that there must be a way to protect ourselves from individual terrorism without resorting to such extreme precautions, and another part wonders what the world will be like if bitter overgrown geeks living in their parents' basement are ever able to unleash viruses more lethal than the computer variety. What atrocities would those Columbine monsters have been capable of given the right tools? Dave Cullen reminds us that the Columbine body count would have been in the hundreds had Harris and Kleybold not been such inept bomb-builders. One of the downsides to accelerating change is the rapidity with which increasingly destructive force can be placed at the fingertips of the unstable. Or of anyone, for that matter.

Maybe total surveillance and/or the forced domestication of the human species really do represent our last, best hope of survival. God help us.

The notion of re-engineering the brain puts me in mind of the fundamental choice that the characters in The Matrix (the first one) were forced to make. Red pill or blue? Continue in a fairly safe and comfortable illusion, or embrace a hard and terrifying reality? I always thought that Neo was an idiot. Joey Pants had the right idea: choose the world where everything is in soft focus and the steaks taste good. Who cares if it's "real?"

It's all very well to take that position when chatting with our friends about a movie. But Randall isn't outlining a movie plot. And the change proposed here is not one in perception of the external world. The change would actually take place inside each one of us. If I were to be re-engineered to be less dangerous, would the result still be me? How much of who I am rests in my potential for doing harm? Maybe they could wipe it out and I would still be myself, only to a lesser extent. Or maybe the procedure would be more invasive.

Who knows? The brain is still a mystery.

Maybe the result would be a person that I would not recognize as being me. He might be a good person, and would have a lot to contribute, but I would be gone. That doesn't leave much of a choice: risk being wiped out by terrorists or allow ourselves to be (effectively) wiped out for the greater good. Choose the former, and we each still have some chance of surviving. Choose the latter, and at least we can be comforted by the knowledge of how nice our replacements will be.

That surveillance network is sounding better and better.

UPDATE: We're getting closer all the time.

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Trans Mice

We'll have trans-mice before we ever have transhumans. Consider:

Mice have already been the focus of the most successful life-extension research ever carried out, and they are at the center of the even more ambitious Methusaleh Mouse Prize. I'll wager that the first living thing revived from cryonic freeze will be a mouse. And I'll bet we have mice uploaded into computers long before humans ever do it.

Now, via, Paul Allen is taking a step in that direction by donating $100 million to fund a project called "The Brain Atlas."

The basic aim, he said, is to use the tools of biology, computers and neuroscience to locate active genes in the mammalian brain as a step closer to understanding how the mysterious organ functions.

Of the estimated 30,000 genes in the human genome, scientists have evidence that as many as two-thirds play a critical role in brain development and function. Insel said it is estimated that at least 6,000 of these genes are only "expressed" (active) in the brain.

The mammalian brain that they're going to study will not be a human brain, however. It will be a mouse brain.

Boguski said findings in the mouse brain should often translate directly to humans -- and offer new insights into human behavior, memory, cognition and mental disorders.

It is expected that the map will shed some light on the old, "nature vs. nurture" debate as well as the "brain vs. mind debate." Of course, settling these particular questions for mice won't be the same as settling them for human beings. But it's a start.

If we push on with these various threads, we might eventually reach some kind of Mouse Singularity, where the übermice take over their own evolution. We can only hope that, if such a thing occurs, these highly evolved progeny will look back fondly on us, and provide us some assistance in our evolution. Alternatively, they might decide to put out the human equivalent of cheese-baited spring-loaded traps.

In which case, I'd be a little concerned about what might become of our cats.

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September 15, 2003

This Week 09/15/03

I'm not sure what's happening this week. That's the thing about the can be so durned unpredictable. I think things are going to follow pretty much the same course they did last week. Then again, maybe not.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, check out this neat article on blogging in today's Rocky Mountain News. We get a mention in their sidebar list of Colorado blogs.

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Coolest Thing

I guess nominations are now open for the second coolest thing in the universe. Modesty prevents me from nominating my own blog.

If people count, then we would have to consider Jack Nicholson. Also, if they ever build it, this will be a strong contender.

via GeekPress

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ITF #41

In the Future...

...through a simple and logical extension of a currently proposed law, our remote descendants will have access not only to archived web sites, but to ads for Viagra substitutes and home refinancing, as well as the unabridged collection of Nigerian banking-scam messages, via the British Library.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley.

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Open the Pod Bay Door, Hal

FastForward to Artificial Intelligence

Here are a some speculations on the emerging world of artificial intelligence, compliments of the FastForward Posse. Their love is real, but I sometimes I'm not sure whether they are.

We must think carefully about what we want to use AI for. Consider the opening sentences from an article running in a recent Village Voice article

As American warfare has shifted from draftees to drones, science and the military in the United States have become inseparable. But some scientists are refusing to let their robots grow up to be killers.

I'm a proponent of developing "smart" military technology, but these scientists may have a point. If current robotic and AI technologies may eventually evolve into superintelligences who will make a go/no-go decision about the future of humanity, don't we want these technologies to start out as sweet and docile as possible?

What we need is a mathematical model for the "brute force" approach to AI and it's time-domain derivation. In what year might we expect a brute-force AI — a cerebral neurology simulation — to be developed on a given quantity of hardware? Here are some thoughts.

Read some Gene Wolfe, whose treatment of artificial intelligence in The Book of the Long Sun (vols 1 and 2), has generated much thoughtful discussion which has been archived here. If Wolfe's vision is realized, personalities of the rich and famous will find immortality and deification inside computers, artificial beings (chems) will mate and construct their offspring, while natural beings (bios) do it the old-fashioned way.

We already have the hardware necessary for AI. The computers are fast enough and will grow faster. The problem is fundamentally that we don't have a software implementation. There may be social aspects to this as well. AI suffers from the "nano" disease. There's a lot of computer science that is undeservingly self-categorized as "artificial intelligence". I think eventually we will see multiple ways of creating "intelligence" in software. Some of these will be quite alien to human modes of thought.

Some concrete predictions: within ten years we will have something that is genuine low-level artificial intelligence (i.e., smarter than an ant *cough*) and within twenty years we will have much smarter programs that can run on today's PCs. The most useful AI will be programs that can sift through collections of databases and come up with rational answers to poorly defined questions. e.g., given the information coming off of the news wire, make the optimal profit for my company. The databases might not fit on a current day PC, but the decision making process will.

Here's a classic Science fiction novel that tells the story of an Artificial Intelligence taking over. This book was recently recommended to us by an AI.

I don't look forward to artificial intelligence. For starters, I can't handle relying on "people" to do things the right way. You know, my way. Either people don't listen or they get hung up doing it "their" way. It's always a huge disappointment. So what happens when the machines take over? Well, assuming that the machines are here to serve us, one would expect them be very good listeners and do exactly as requested. Seems perfect. But rarely do I know what I really want and even when I do, I don't communicate it well enough. So AI machines doing exactly what I ask for would, invariably, never do it right. Even if they were programmed to keep inquiring until they knew exactly what I wanted, it would be so irritating, I would have to keep a baseball bat handy, so I could swing for the fences whenever one of 'em got too inquisitive. It just makes me sick. We're talking about this great future and possible immortality, and all I can think of is how far their little fake skulls will fly off some 36-oz wood.

Talk with some AI's for yourself. Get your own book recommendations. Our favorites include Jabberwacky, Alice, and McGonz. Plus Ramona, of course.

Read some Greg Egan. Egan has written some of the definitive fiction about uploading human personality and about a distant future in which almost all intelligence (including human intelligence) is artificial.

Thanks to Mike Sargent, Chris Hall, Karl Hallowell, Ringleader Mike


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September 13, 2003

Future Roundup 09/13/03

This week we had viruses running the national power grid, people fueling their vehicles from trees in their backyards, and our third strange creature in a row. In the past three weeks, we've seen a giant beaver, an anti-nuke rabbit, and now a little kanagroo with a big attitude.

Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Mike Sargent and Robert Hinkley for helping us to keep looking ahead.

In the Future...

...bacteria will continue to be used for small jobs, while powerful viruses such as influenza will be used to power the nationwide grid.

...technological advances will give us as much as twenty seconds to pick up that cupcake.

...we'll have a holiday commemorating the gutsy industry group that defended millionaires by striking out at scheming single moms, grandparents, and schoolgirls.

...every home will have a back-up generator and fuel tree in case the virus-powered national grid goes down.

...police officers will be better trained to deal both with unusually small (as well as unusually large) animals.

That does it for this week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

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September 12, 2003

Sino Nanotechnology

When a big nanotechnology breakthrough happens, where do we expect it to take place? The US, right? How about China?

China is now one of the world leaders in newly registered nanotechnology firms, with more than 600 over the past three years, acccording to Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, which is conducting a study, "Nanotechnology in China State 2003 and Development 2006-2010-2015."

China has the advantage of high flexibilty, low labor costs, no barriers for new technologies, young and vibrant society, venture capital, underestimated currency (today about 40 percent to the US Dollar), low taxes, goverment support, and a home market with more than 1.5 billion people for applications, an announcement states.

Via; the original article is here.

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ITF #40

In the Future...

...police officers will be better trained to deal both with unusually small (as well as unusually large) animals.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley, who advises against calling one a "dwarf" kanagaroo to its face. You'll only make it mad.

Posted by Phil at 05:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2003

Happily Ever After

Speaking of the Future with Michael Anissimov

The title I've chosen for today's interview would be a hard one to support on any day, but on a piece dated September 11, it seems particularly audacious. I think some folks will read this and assume I'm being ironic. And if I'm not being ironic, then surely some will want to drop me a line to help set me straight.

Happily ever after is a toy for children, after all, and possibly the delusional. It isn't a notion that adults in their right minds bother with.

If you want to read a good hard-nosed rebuke to the fairy-tale notion of happily ever after, no one delivers it better than Anne Sexton in her wonderful poetic treatment of Cinderella:

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.

Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.

After this prelude, Sexton lays out a devastating retelling of the Cinderella story. This is not Disney or Rogers and Hammerstein pablum, but rather the Brothers Grimm version, complete with body parts lopped off and eyes gouged out. I'm not kidding. Read it.

Sexton wraps up her telling of the story with this assessment:

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

That story.

Sexton doesn't need to say anything to discredit the idea of happily ever after; its illegitimacy is assumed. We can toy with this nonsense if we like, so long as we remember that it's fantasy. The plumber who wins the Irish sweepstakes is somebody else. He's not us, just as Cinderella and the Prince are not us. They live in a world where things work out not only well, but better than hoped. Theirs is a happiness that can't be touched by diapers or dust, or by a middle-aged spread. This is the happiness of Pollyana or Candide, and it has no place in our world.

Anne Sexton lashes out at the fairy tale ending for reasons that are more personal, but no less intense, than those that motivated Voltaire to take on the notion of "the best of all possible worlds." While Voltaire juxtaposed the facile equivocation of Philosophical Optimism against the tragedy of the Lisbon earthquake, Sexton contrasts the rosy images of human happiness conjured by fantasy (and often heavily reinforced by society) with the banality, decay, and, all too often, despair of everyday life.

In an introduction to an earlier interview in this series, I wrote about what I call serious optimism. Serious optimism does not begin with metaphysical precepts, nor with expectations of what human happiness should be. It begins with realistic, grounded extrapolations of the possible. Guiding us to positive outcomes, some of which we have always hoped for, some that we have never even imagined, serious optimism can serve as an alternative both to the classical cynicism that became Voltaire's legacy and to the modern/postmodern despair that eventually led Sexton to commit suicide. Technology, not philosophy, is the substrate of serious optimism; however, there is a philosophy that informs and enriches it.

That philosophy is called transhumanism. Transhumanism provides glimpses of a new happily ever after, which is neither an obstinate recasting of the world around us into the "best of all possible worlds" nor a tired retelling of that story. Instead, this new happily ever after is predicated on the idea that the future can be — will be — fundamentally different from the past and the present, that our ability to choose and define our own happiness is expanding exponentially, that the human adventure is only beginning.

Michael Anissimov is a transhumanist. He's an advocate of the ethical expansion of the human experience into new realms, and a serious scholar of the risks and pitfalls the coming age may bring. Michael is a Director with the Immortality Institute, a transhumanist organization dedicated to facilitating extreme life extension. In the interview that follows, Michael talks about living forever, Super Intelligences, and why it's so hard to say what we might be doing for fun a billion years hence.

Michael, the Immortality Institute states on its Website that its mission “is to conquer the blight of involuntary death.” Isn’t involuntary death a vital part of the evolutionary processes that brought us where we are? How can you describe it as a ‘blight?’

Involuntary death is a cornerstone of biological evolution, but that fact does not make it a good thing, in the same way that someone giving birth to you does not necessarily mean they are a good person. Unfortunately, there are mothers out there that neglect or harm their children. Evolution, the process that produced humanity, possesses only one goal; create gene machines maximally capable of producing copies of themselves. In retrospect, this is the only way complex structures such as life could possibly arise in an unintelligent universe. But this goal often comes into conflict with human interests, causing death, suffering, and short lifespans. The past progress of humanity has been a history of shattering evolutionary constraints; our lifespans today are two to three times what they were thousands of years ago, modern medicine has rendered natural selection moot, and global literacy has enhanced man’s innate ability to process and distribute information. Immortalists suggest taking the next step, eliminating unwelcome instances of death, and replacing the careless and cruel process of evolution with compassionate, human-guided biotechnological and nanotechnological improvements.

I recently asked Aubrey de Grey whether his research would lead us towards living forever. He responded as follows: “Well, clearly there will always be the risk of death from causes that have nothing to do with aging, so ‘forever’ seems unlikely.” Would you agree with Aubrey’s assessment or do you believe that living forever (as the word immortality implies) is achievable?

I agree with Aubrey completely. It’s hard to say whether the laws of physics will ever allow true immortality. Immortality is probably not something that can be achieved with 100% confidence – making immortalism a philosophy of life rather than an engineering goal. It should also be said that immortalism doesn't solely focus on removing aging, but all causes of undesired death. Aubrey’s research, if it comes to fruition, would only solve a piece of the problem. Part of the reason we’ve called ourselves “The Immortality Institute” is to challenge life extensionists to go beyond shy projections of mere hundreds of years, and to start exploring methods and arguments behind billion-year lifespans, trillion-year lifespans, and longer. The latter leads to fundamentally different philosophical positions and scientific interests. (For example, many immortalists tend to focus more on nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence as opposed to exclusively biotechnology.)

The Immortality Institute is apparently interested in a wide range of topics: everything from very practical advice for promoting health/life extension to cryonics to the uploading of human personality to new substrates. Would you identify these as the three essential steps or phases towards extreme life extension? Do they occur in the order I listed them? Are all three necessary?

First of all, I’d like to say that my personal opinions are not meant to represent the overall opinion of Immortality Institute members; our goal is to promote whichever ideas our aggregate considers most important. That said, I don’t consider those three approaches to be essential. I want all of them to be available as soon as possible, and what already is available to be improved. However, both myself and Immortality Institute founder Bruce J. Klein agree that mind uploading is ultimately the most robust and effective strategy for pursuing extreme life extension. The complexity of mind uploading, however, suggests it will take transhuman or superhuman intelligence to develop properly. This makes the creation of benevolent transhuman intelligence a big deal for certain immortalists. If this goal cannot be reached until 2030 or so, as Ray Kurzweil suggests, it would certainly be advisable for older immortalists to stay healthy until then. The more conservative your estimate for the arrival of mind uploading, the more effort you should be putting towards 1) increasing the likelihood that mind uploading and benevolent superintelligence will eventually come about, and 2) trying to live to see that day.

Recently you have done some extensive writing on artificial intelligence. Why do the subjects of life extension and artificial intelligence seem to be so closely linked?

The central issue here is the possible creation of smarter-than-human intelligence, and that intelligence’s creation of still smarter intelligence, leading to an open-ended positive feedback cycle known as the Singularity. Although smarter-than-human intelligence could be created by a number of methods, such as genetically engineered humans, cybernetically enhanced humans, or Brain-Computer Interfaces, it currently seems that Artificial Intelligence is in the lead. Artificial Intelligence research is currently legal and acceptable, placing it in an entirely different class than most other intelligence enhancement routes. As humanity’s knowledge of cognitive science improves and we become capable of fleshing out the functional essentials of what we recognize as “intelligence” from extraneous biological complexity, AI will stand out as the most streamlined approach to creating smarter-than-human intelligence. Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has outlined the argument for superhuman intelligence arriving within the first third of this century. Real AIs, if created successfully, would run on substrates billions or trillions of times faster than the human brain, (200Hz biological neurons vs. 10GHz+ research machines), have complete access to their source code, the ability to “overclock” cognitive modules by delegating them extra computing power in ways impossible for humans, the ability to integrate new hardware into overall brain architecture, create unlimited copies as space allows, and so on. A philosophical movement overlapping with immortalism, “Singularitarianism”, has sprung up within transhumanist circles, encouraging others to pay greater attention to the possible eventuality of a Singularity, and attempt to direct it in ways conducive to the continued survival and prosperity of humanity. If benevolent AI were created, and it went on to create benevolent successors or upgraded versions of itself, up to the point of superintelligence, it would be a small task to safely upload human beings or hugely extend our lifespans. However, if malevolent or human-indifferent AI were created, it would be a threat to the survival of everyone.

On the subject of AI getting out of hand, you wrote, “By the time an AI has reached a level where it is capable of improving itself open-endedly, it could easily soar to far beyond human intelligence capacity, unless it restrained itself for some reason.” Given an AI that has the ability to evolve its own capabilities, working at cognitive speeds a million or so times faster than ours, doesn’t any notion of “restraint” seem pretty hopeless? Wouldn’t the AI be able to find a workaround to any inhibition given (subjectively) tens or hundreds of thousands of years to do so?

Yes, anything the AI views as a restraint, including coercive human programming, would be removed after a few iterations of self-revision. The question is what the AI would want to remove. An AI with an overarching altruistic philosophy wouldn’t want to be selfish any more than Gandhi would want to start killing people. The notion that an AI, regardless of the decision process it is using to make improvements on its own design, will inevitably tend towards selfishness or disregard for humans, is commonly known as anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the projection of human qualities onto nonhuman beings. It’s the kind of thinking evoked by statements such as “would you keep humans around if you were a superintelligence?” What we would do, as humans, is irrelevant – a superintelligence might have a different morality than us, perhaps a more altruistic one, depending on the choices it made about its own design as it was growing up, and the initial design the programmers created. Readers familiar with evolutionary psychology can understand how selfishness (and a limited form of altruism) arises naturally from fundamental biological constraints and selection pressures, but not all minds necessarily need to be selfish. It might seem that high altruism is a relatively improbable state for a mind to be in, but by the same token, intelligence is a highly improbable state for randomly colliding particles to be in, yet it happened. Incidentally, the problem of altruism is relevant in the analysis of any type of transhuman intelligence, including human uploads – who is trustworthy enough to become the first transhuman intelligence? Should it be a council? An AI without an observer-centered goal system? Is the human race doomed either way? Is there anything we can do to increase our chances of survival past the Singularity? These are the questions we’re desperately trying to answer before smarter-than-human intelligence is created. The only organization I’m aware of that is seriously attempting answers to these questions is the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Assuming that AI eventually (or, from our perspective, very rapidly) evolves into a Super Intelligence (SI) bearing little or no relationship to its human ancestry, what are the chances that the SI’s will be interested in giving us a place in their world? Does the quest for immortality rely on getting them to help us Or do we just need them to refrain from wiping us out?

The answer to those questions depends on the initial top-level goal of the AI, the choices it makes on the way to superintelligence, and the strength of any philosophical attractors in the mindspace above human-level intelligence. It should also be remembered that a human upload could become the first superintelligence. Let’s say that first human upload were I, a professed altruist. Having tens or hundreds of thousands of subjective years for every second (or whatever) of human time would give me plenty of experience with cognitive self-revision, probably even enough for me to make considerable improvements to my own intelligence while preserving my altruism. If I could keep that up indefinitely, holding my altruism constant, helping people in ways they want to be helped, and so on, then there’s no reason why I couldn’t become a full-fledged benevolent superintelligence, right? If I thought that would be difficult, there would be other options I could try, such as only improving my intelligence to the transhuman level, but not the superintelligent level (which would still do a lot of good). We know that gaining personal power sometimes corrupts human beings, but there’s nothing to suggest that minds in general tend to be corrupted by power. If you or I, with all our evolutionary bugs, the tendency to be selfish and all of that, could still grow up into genuinely altruistic superintelligences, given the chance, then I definitely believe that a mind explicitly engineered for altruism and compassion, without evolutionary baggage to begin with, would have an even better chance. For better or for worse, it does indeed seem that the quest for immortality relies upon superintelligences and human-level intelligences coexisting with each other in peace. If superintelligences care enough about our feelings and existence to refrain from grinding us up for spare atoms, I think it logically follows that they would be willing to help us.

While Aubrey de Grey talks about adding a few centuries to his life so that he can get caught up on his reading, enjoy more time with his loved ones, and perhaps get in a few more games of Othello, Eliezer Yudkowsky is busy working out an advanced Theory of Fun that will allow us to find pleasure in a life that spans millions or possibly even billions of years. What is your take on the question of whether boredom will eventually kick in if we live indefinitely? Is there an escape clause somewhere in your organization’s repudiation of involuntary death?

Given complete control over the structure and function of our own minds, I can easily imagine a scenario where boredom gets wiped out, never to return again. The question is whether this would be the “philosophically acceptable” thing to do or not. In “Singularity Fun Theory”, Eliezer Yudkowsky argues that “Fun Space” probably increases exponentially with a linear increase in intelligence, and I’d tend to agree. So we wouldn’t have to turn ourselves into excited freaks in order to have an unlimited amount of fun. Superintelligence, nanotechnology, and uploading should produce enough interesting experiences to keep many of us enjoying ourselves forever, and there are probably millions or billions of new technologies and experiences in store for us once we acquire the intelligence to invent and implement them. It’s hard for us to say anything really specific about the nature of these technologies at the moment – that would be sort of like a fish in the Cambrian era trying to predict what human beings would do for fun. One thing is for sure; we’re eventually going to need to become more than human in order to enjoy all that reality has to offer.

I think transhumanists, especially those who advocate radical life extension, should have interesting long-term goals. Do you have any that you would care to share?

Well, at one point, I had the usual immortalist goals; live for a long time in every culture on Earth, learn how to fly, make billions of friends, live in the sci-fi surroundings I’d always dreamed of, and so on. But as I begin to more deeply understand the mysterious nature of the future, I felt that there would be no way I could possibly predict the specifics of my future goals and interests. This becomes especially true if we invoke the idea of superhuman intelligence. If, one day, I get the opportunity to possess a brain the size of, say, a small planetoid, who’s to say what my interests will be? I like to describe my future goals in the most general possible terms – I want to help others, I want to learn, I want to be friends with others, I want to become smarter, I want to experience new things, I want to make something beautiful, and I want to enjoy myself.

How about some practical advice. If I want to live forever, what are the top five things I should be doing right now?

First, read up on issues relevant to the future of humanity. Most of these issues are technological rather than political. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, and Artificial Intelligence. If any one of these technologies were to go wrong, it wouldn’t matter how far along we were in traditional anti-aging research – all of humanity could be wiped out anyway. Second, get involved in the organizations promoting life extension and related futurist issues. For example, there is the Foresight Institute, and the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. One of the biggest flaws in the common conception of the future is that the future is something that happens to us, not something we create. Laypeople of all sorts can have a positive impact on the course of the future by cooperating with like-minded individuals. Third, be ethical and moral. Immortalism is a subset of transhumanism, or the philosophy that humanity deserves the right to improve itself technologically and transhumanism originally derives from humanism. All human beings are equally valuable and special. The right to die is just as important as the right to live. Immortalism should be about expanding choices, not forcing a philosophical view onto others. Fourth, if you’re over 50, you might want to look into getting a cryonics contract. Lastly, eat right and exercise! If you’re someone who respects life in general, you should be concerned with the health of your own body.

Michael also recently answered the Seven Questions about the Future.

Posted by Phil at 12:33 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack


This weblog is dedicated to the idea that the future is open; it is something that we can create together. I've written recently about the kinds of changes that can occur that serve as signposts dividing the past from the present, or the present from the future. In the face of those kinds of changes, it often seems that we have no choice, no say in what might happen next. Here's an image that will always haunt me, something that occurred in the final hours of the previous era.

It was September 9, 2001.

My wife and I were wrapping up our weekend in Manhattan. We had done a little shopping, eaten some good food, seen a few sights. We were on the Statue of Liberty tour boat heading back towards Battery Park. The World Trade Center loomed before us.

It's too bad, I observed, that we didn't make time to visit the observation deck on top of one of the towers. On a clear day like this, the view would be spectacular.

Maybe next time, my wife said. We had already discussed coming back with my daughter to do more sightseeing.

Sure, I said. After all, it's not like those towers are going anywhere. If those bastards couldn't take them down with their car bomb, I doubt anything will ever take them down.

I'm not sure why I said it. Earlier that day, we had walked past a small exhibit commemorating the bombing and its victims. I guess it was on my mind.

Two days later, I was home in Denver. I went downstairs to pour myself a second cup of coffee and decided (against any kind of precedent) to turn on the TV and see what the headlines were. There were the towers — the invincible towers of recent memory — now seen from a different angle, with thick, black smoke billowing out of each.

They would only be standing a short while longer.

Maybe there was no way to foresee the horrible events of that day (although others did.) But I had something to learn about making facile statements to the effect that things will work out, as well as arrogant assumptions that things will not change.

The future is open. It is something we can create together. We must continue to try to do so, with our hopes as high as ever. And our eyes wide open.

NOTE: After reading this, I want to say something about the idea of hubris. I may have been guilty of hubris in the poorly considered statements I made on the ferry. But there was no overbearing pride or presumption inherent in building the World Trade Center. The people who went to work there that day were not guilty of arrogance. Nobody had it coming to them. The events of that day did not reflect divine justice handed down from Mt. Olympus; they were the acts of psychotic murderous fanatics.

The World Trade Center was a glorious achievement. I hope that it's replacement proves to be just as glorious. Those who build it, like those who endeavor to achieve any great thing, will need to temper their ambition with caution against the harm that nature or evil men can do. But they must not, and we must not, temper our ambitions out of false humility or the fear of retribution from some deity so small and petty that he feels threatened by the works of humanity.

If we go that route — to borrow the most nauseatingly over-used phrase from the aftermath of the tragedy of September 11 — then, truly, the terrorsits will have won.

Posted by Phil at 08:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

Alternate Universe

Rand Simberg gives us a glimpse into Bizarro World. Jeez, I'm really glad I don't live there.

Posted by Phil at 06:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ITF #39

In the Future...

...every home will have a back-up generator and fuel tree in case the virus-powered national grid goes down.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Phil at 01:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tracking the Children

They're taking what would appear to be a big step towards protecting children in the UK, opening an e-file on every child.

The children's files together with their unique e-number will be managed by local authorities in a "local information hub". The file will contain the name, address and date of birth of each child, together with the name of the school attended and whether the child is known to such agencies as the police, social services or educational welfare. Where multiple agencies are involved the file will denote which one profesional will have overall reponsibilty.

As a parent, I favor taking any reasonable steps that might make our children safer. But I think we can get into big trouble when we ask technology to solve problems that aren't technical. The article goes on...

The measures are largely the result of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié who was battered, abused and starved to death by her carers in London in 2000. She was eight years old.

The inquiry found confusion and incompetence amongst a number of agencies that might have saved the child. Inquiry head, Lord Laming, said there were at least 12 occasions on which police, social workers or NHS staff might have intervened had they talked to one another.

Folks, putting an e-file in place isn't going to do much in the way of resolving confusion and incompetence. God forbid there should be another case like that of Victoria Climbié, but it wouldn't surprise to see the following analysis given for some future tragedy:

The inquiry found confusion and incompetence amongst a number of agencies that might have saved the child. Inquiry head, Lord Laming, said there were at least 12 occasions on which police, social workers or NHS staff might have intervened had they just looked at the e-file.

Also, there's a cynical side of me that wonders...what exactly does the British government plan on doing with these detailed records of the lives of every single person born in the country once they reach adulthood? I'm sure they'll just delete them or stop udpating them or something.


UPDATE: In an apparent effort to establish that I'm not just being paranoid, here, Posse member Robert Hinkley directs us to this report that the British government may be implementing a computer-based vehicle tracking system to generate traffic citations automatically. And if that isn't enough for you, the chairman of the British Police Superintendents Association is calling for a national database containing the DNA profile of every "man, woman, and child" in the country.

Posted by Phil at 09:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Carnival is Up

SolPort has this week's Carnival of the Vanities. Check it out!

Posted by Phil at 09:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ITF #38

In the Future...

...we'll have a holiday commemorating the gutsy industry group that defended millionaires by striking out at scheming single moms, grandparents, and schoolgirls.

Posted by Phil at 09:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 09, 2003

Seven Questions with Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov is a director with the Immortality Institute and our special guest this week. He will be featured in this week's Speaking of the Future column on Thursday.

1. The present is the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

Today, many humans in developed countries have great ability to create positive change in the state of the world. The Internet allows us to get our ideas out to thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are interested in them. The scientific and technical knowledge possessed by an average intellectual of the 21st century is massive in comparison to the thinkers of any other era. However, the underlying neurology of our human learning and intellect has not changed appreciably in 50,000 years. We’re lucky to live in a time where breaking this upper ceiling on intelligence may finally be possible. If humanity survives the risks associated with technological development, we may live to see a long era of extreme life extension, superhuman intelligence, uploading, full-scale space colonization, and sophisticated molecular manufacturing before the end of the century. The best thing about living in the future of today is the ability to forsee these potential advances and take actions to increase the likelihood of their arrival.

2. What's the biggest disappointment?

It’s hard to be “disappointed” about anything in particular; a lot of things are disappointing, but everything is just the way it is, so it’s useless to complain unless you’re taking concrete action to influence the future positively. I view technology as morally neutral – technology has the capacity to amplify the actions of the agent using it, which can be either good or bad. If I were forced to name something, however, I would point to the lack of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology awareness in the field currently called “AI”. How do they expect to build intelligent machines without any knowledge of the intelligent machines that already exist?

3. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

The creation of benevolent transhuman intelligence. It’s impossible to set upper bounds on how good this might be for humanity. At the very least, a benevolent superintelligence would likely possess strong nanotechnology and deep knowledge of general psychology – by “general” I mean psychologies of human beings, human-equivalent AIs, transhumans, superintelligences, and everything in between. In theory, this would allow disease, pain, violence, accidents, poverty, and the most subtle of human discomforts to be eliminated. If we wanted certain types of discomfort just for the excitement of it, I’m sure that could be arranged, too. Of course, seeing any of this as plausible requires the viewpoint that faster and smarter-than-human intelligence is physically possible, and that transhuman AI could self-improve to a superintelligent state relatively fast from the human perspective.

4. Assuming you die at age 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave?

If I’m still alive at 100, the world is likely to be massively different than it is today. Most futurists in the 80s didn’t forsee the massive explosion of internet and computer use in the 90s, and very few futurists from the 70s did. As the increments between surprising advances become more compressed, our ability to predict the future very far in advance will decline. When the first transhuman intelligence is created and launches itself into recursive self-improvement, a fundamental discontinuity is likely to occur, the likes of which I can’t even begin to predict. The difference between now and the post-Singularity era might even exceed the dissimilarities between the present day and the beginning of the known universe.

5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

The creation of amoral transhuman intelligence, or any sort of self-improving intelligence indifferent to the welfare of human beings. There would be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, if this intelligence got the idea it had to rearrange local matter to suit its goals. Whether this intelligence would initially arise in the center of the moon or in my basement would make no difference; a transhuman intelligence would have plenty of brainpower, ingenuity, and speed to find its way around these petty obstacles. All we can do is either hope that all sufficiently powerful intelligences automatically become altruistic, or that show-stopping bottlenecks exist on the improvement curve just above human-equivalency. Both of these hopes are incredibly unlikely to be true.

6. 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?

The creation of benevolent transhuman intelligence, of course! At this point I’m fairly pessimistic about our likelihood of survival, but if enough people decide to care, humanity may have a fighting chance. I certainly hope that doesn’t come across as Apocalyptic.

7. 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?

Not until we have a suitable safety net, I hope. Burning hunks of metal falling from the sky doesn’t help much with life extension!

What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

Posted by Phil at 10:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Riding that Nano Gravy Train

Howard Lovy reports on two sizable grants the NSF has recently awarded to study the social implications of nanotechnology. He wonders whether nanotechnology might become a new funding cash cow for university humanities departments. Here he chats with Chris MacDonald, "a philosopher and ethicist at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia:"

Chris: Seems odd that theyíve chosen to give out just 2 grants, grants that are HUGE by the standards of research in the humanities & social scientists. NSF may be under the misapprehension that ethics/social implications is like the genome project. Unfortunately, I doubt that 2 big, individual research projects will make as much progress as 20 smaller ones would have. Projects on ethics work by generating discussion, which you canít do with just 2 grantees. Oh, wellÖI guess itís better than not funding ANYTHING.

Me: Yes, we were discussing something similar at the office here. There's a perception that the business community - especially in chemicals Ė sees that there is government money to be had if only they redefine what they do as "nano." The more cynical among us are wondering whether philosophy and social sciences departments in colleges and universities across the country are now putting together their own panels to study the societal and ethical issues associated with nanotechnology in the hopes of government funding. Is that where the money is in your field?

First we had businesses redefining themselves as being in the "nanotechnology" space to secure funding, now universities? Who's next? Superheroes?

Posted by Phil at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #37

In the Future...

...technological advances will give us as much as twenty seconds to pick up that cupcake.

via GeekPress

Posted by Phil at 09:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Smart Fish

What is smart made of? I tend to assume that brain size and complexity are the determining factors in the level of intelligence a living thing displays. What, then, do we make of this this:

Fish are socially intelligent creatures who do not deserve their reputation as the dim-wits of the animal kingdom, according to a group of leading scientists. Rather than simply being instinct-driven, the group says fish are cunning, manipulative and even cultured.The scientists added: "Although it may seem extraordinary to those comfortably used to pre-judging animal intelligence on the basis of brain volume, in some cognitive domains, fishes can even be favourably compared to non-human primates."

Now this might just be hyperbole, or a kind of defensive pride deriving from affection. People can be awfully fond of fish. Just a few weeks ago, I was staying at a Resort in Estes Park, Colorado, where I failed miserably in all my attempts at trout fishing. I finally concluded that the manager of the resort, to whom I turned for angling advice, was actually trying to protect the fish from me by giving me all these bizarre tips, e.g.,

"Try corn niblets! Works every time!"

On the other hand, maybe the trout are so smart that they somehow got to the guy. Maybe he didn't even realize that these fishing tips were coming from the trout.

Even if they're not quite that smart, the notion that fish are a lot more intelligent than we thought is an intriguing one. Perhaps there are some things that we can learn about human (and even machine?) intelligence from studying them more closely.


Posted by Phil at 09:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2003

Cool Venus

New Scientist reports that Venus may have been relatively cool and Earthlike for much longer than we thought. The second planet may have had oceans on it for as long as two billion years. Apparently, the calculations that led to the conclusion that Venus went inferno much earlier failed to take the cooling power of the planet's clouds into consideration.

Two billion years may have been enough time to develop not only life, but a wide diversity thereof. It will be while before we're able to explore Venus. It's a pretty hostile environment. If the temperatures hot enough to melt led don't get you, the regular downpour of sulfuric acid will. It seems unlikely that such conditions would allow any evidence of the planet's possibly lush past to have survived. Plus, the surface apparently got so hot at one point that it melted and had to re-cool.

So whatever was once there in the way of life, it seems unlikely that we'll ever find so much as a trace.

Posted by Phil at 04:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ITF #36

In the Future...

...bacteria will continue to be used for small jobs, while powerful viruses such as influenza will be used to power the nationwide grid.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Phil at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Week 09/08/03

This week I've made a few subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes to the way things are organized around here. There may be a huge cash prize to whoever correctly identifies all the changes.

Time Traveler's Notebook. A question for all practical time travelers taking their first baby steps into i Space: is the prediction about a huge cash prize in the preceding paragraph a might or a won't?

Michael Anissimov (you may need to scroll a little) of the Immortaility Institute will answer Seven Questions about the Future.

Stillness, Chapter 6. Reuben awakens and makes several startling discoveries.

We'll be Speaking of the Future with Michael Anissimov.

The FastForward Posse chimes in with news and views on the coming age of thinking machines. If you're interested in participating, read this.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future... predictions for the week brought together in one handy list.

Plus, throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, robotics, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Phil at 09:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

i Space

Time Travelerís Notebook

Previous Entries:
What's a Speculist?
Practical Time Travel
Divvying up the Future
Types of Future

The practical time traveler doesnít really attempt to navigate time. As I've already observed (and I suppose we all knew anyway), time moves at a steady rate(1). There's no magic in practical time travel that will allow you to change the speed of that flow, or reverse it. Returning to the automobile analogy I used earlier: in making your way through time, you have only a steering wheel. You have no brakes, no accelerator, no reverse gear(2).

And, when you think about it, the steering wheel doesnít change your direction in time. You can steer all you like and yet tomorrow will still come along after midnight tonight, next week will still follow this week, and next year will still follow this year. The steering wheel does not allow you to change whether you arrive in the future (excluding those instances where you steer towards or away from something that might kill you), it allows you to determine which future you arrive in.

As we saw last time, your ability to steer towards a particular future has a lot to do with what kind of future you have in mind to achieve. As I sit here writing these words, it would be fairly easy for me to steer towards an IAM Simple future in which I make myself a cup of coffee. It would be much more difficult for me to steer the world towards a T Relative future wherein the words I 'm currently writing would be viewed as the beginning of some kind of a new era for humankind. Still, 15 minutes from now ówhether I make the coffee or not ó it will be 6:30. And in January, a new year will begin irrespective of whether the world has decided to reorganize its fundamental thought processes around the Time Traveler's Notebook

So itís not time that we steer through. We navigate a medium that I call Possibility Space(3). But before we get into a detailed discussion of Possibility Space and the closely related domain that we will call Thought Space, we need to back up and talk about something more fundamental.

i Space.

i Space is where it all begins. It is the realm that contains both the possible and the impossible. Some of what's found there is fact, some is theory, some is idle speculation. Most of what makes up i Space is in blatant violation of both fact and possibility. Every notion that can be conceived ó as well as all those that can't ó exists within it. The i could stand for one of several things: i Space is the initial space; it is infinite; it encompasses the imaginary; it contains ideas.

So what will we find if we visit i Space? Everything. i Space is the only unbounded destination in the Practical Time Travelerís cosmos. Actually, itís a mistake to refer to it as a destination; itís a point of origin. In fact, i Space is the point of origin.

Other regions we will visit, such as the aforementioned Thought Space and Possibility Space, have clear boundaries: a thing is either possible or it isnít; youíve either thought about something or you havenít. Time provides boundaries: a thing either has occurred, is occurring, or may yet occur. And then there is the biggest boundary of all, the ontological one: a thing either exists or it does not. However, none of these boundaries ó rules, dualities, distinctions ó apply in i Space. Anything goes in i Space. A fair description of i Space might run along these lines:

What might be. What might not be. What might have been. Whatever.

Or I might say that i Space is the home of the exhaustive past, present, and future.

The Exhaustive Past

The exhaustive past includes everything that ever happened; everything that might have happened, but didnít; and everything that never even came close to happening. So the Battle of Gettysburg as it is recorded in history is in i Space, as is the Battle of Gettysburg in which the Confederate army took control of Little Round Top and won both the battle and the war, as is the Battle of Gettysburg that was brought to an abrupt halt by an asteroid colliding with Earth.

Moreover, i Space is home to worlds in which there was no Battle of Gettysburg because there was no Civil War because there was no United States of America because the Mayflower sank, and things worked out differently such that we never got around to rebelling against British rule. Or because Columbus arrived in the New World to find the entire region colonized by a technologically superior Chinese civilization. Or because Homo Sapiens Sapiens never made it through one particularly tough winter, and the planet ended up belonging to the Neanderthals. Or because a huge ball of gas was released a little earlier (or later), fundamentally changing the course of the evolution of all life on Earth. Or because Earth ended up a little closer to the Sun or farther away from it, preventing complex life from every even getting started. Or because something went slightly different in one of those tiny blink-of-an-eye epochs of the early universe, and we ended up with no Sun, or any stars or galaxies, just a huge inert cloud covering billions of light years(4).

The Exhaustive Present

Once we get the exhaustive past in place, the other two are a little easier. The exhaustive present includes everything thatís happening right now as well as everything that isnít. That which isnít happening right now derives both from things that did and things that did not happen in the past. For example, Iím not sitting on the beach in Florida right now because

  • I didnít go to Florida (something that didnít happen).

  • I stayed here (something that did happen).

Likewise, everything that is happening right now derives equally from things that did and did not happen. Iím sitting here right now because I got up, but also because I didnít stay in bed. I live in a subdivision called Highlands Ranch that exists because

  • Forward-thinking real estate developers bought up huge tracts of ranch land outside of Denver in the 1970ís intending to develop them as residential real estate (something that did happen).

  • The Chinese never colonized North America, specifically the area we call Colorado (something that didnít happen).

So in the exhaustive present, Iím sitting here writing these words and Iím also sitting on the beach in Florida. I live in a subdivision called Highlands Ranch, and I also donít exist at all, because the Chinese settlement of North America changed so many things that neither I, nor my parents, nor their parents, nor any of my ancestors for quite a ways back, were ever born. The exhaustive present also includes infinite current incarnations of the world where the South won the Civil war, the world where the Mayflower sank, the world where weíre all Neanderthals, and so on.

The Exhaustive Future

Thereís an interesting difference between and the exhaustive past and present and the exhaustive future. The former regions of i Space can be easily divided between the real and the unreal, the existent and the nonexistent (4). The scenarios that make up the exhaustive future are not so easily classified. To begin with, none of the future is real in the sense that the past and present are real. Think of the word real as being the short form of the word realized. None of the future has yet been realized.


Thatís what makes it the future.

Instead of being made up of the existent and the nonexistent, the exhaustive future comprises what might be and what wonít be. As with the things that are not true or that do not exist in the present, most of the woníts derive from the areníts and the wereníts. I wonít be flying home from Florida in later today because I didnít go there earlier and Iím not there now. The Confederate States of America wonít be having a big sesquicentennial celebration in a few years because they donít exist any more. Likewise, the Neanderthals are not in for a rough (or easy) winter.

Actually, to be very strict, the first example isnít a wonít. Technically, itís a might. In practical terms, I wonít fly home from Florida later today because Iím not there now. However, something really startling could happen in the next few minutes and I might be on my way to Florida. I might get there, do what I need to do, and decide to go home. In which case, I really would be flying home from Florida later today. I sincerely doubt thatís going to happen, but I donít know for an absolute certainty that it wonít.

As I mentioned earlier, i Space does not discriminate on ontological grounds. The unreal is the same as the real. This is where you and I differ from i Space. We may have some use for the unreal and the nonexistent, but weíve got a lot more use for the real and the existent. And weíre extremely interested in determining whether a given scenario belongs to one camp or the other. This is why the future, exhaustive or otherwise, is so interesting to us. We know that some things definitely wonít happen, but we donít know what will happen. All we know is that certain things might happen.

i Space is the point of origin for practical time travelers precisely because it includes all the scenarios of the exhaustive past, present, and future. If youíre interested in bringing a scenario into being or preventing one from occurring, you need a handle on how things have come to be (or not come to be) in the past.

When I first introduced the driving analogy for time travel, one reader objected that itís hard to get anywhere if you donít know where youíre going and you donít have a map. i Space is the practical time travelerís road atlas. Itís not as complete an atlas as weíd like to have, perhaps. And, unfortunately, it doesnít show the exact routes that weíre most hoping to take; however, it gives us a good picture of the unexpected curves and bumps found in other roads. And it reminds us just how broad our choices of route really are. If weíre ready to study the lay of the land and make some inferences, i Space can begin to point us towards the destinations we have chosen.


1. Hours and minutes continue to run at the same rate, but there is one sense in which time appears to be speeding up. The rate of social and technical change is accelerating. So even though you and your grandmother might both live to be 90, you will experience considerably more change in your lifetime than she did. If you look at time as a sequence of events or changes rather than a measure of duration, you can say that you will have moved through time more quickly than she did. (Back)

2. I should point out that the term "possibility space" has a specific meaning within the field of statistics. I am using the term somewhat differently, although there are some commonalities between their possibility space and mine. (Back)

3. If i Space begins to sound like the multiverse of the Many Worlds Hypothesis, thereís a good reason for that. The two are closely related. The Many Worlds Hypothesis contends that every possible quantum state is, in fact, realized. As a result, everything that ever could happen really has happened, somewhere out there in one of an infinite number of branching parallel universes. This hypothesis may or may not be an accurate description of how things work. i Space, on the other hand, really does exist. Itís an abstraction, what mathematicians would call a set, like the set of all countries attacked by the US in the past two years or the set of all episodes of Alias in which Jennifer Garner beats a guy up while wearing provocative lingerie. i Space is the set of everything that ever happened or didnít happen. Itís big. Itís abstract. And itís real. An entertaining way to explore i Space is to read the genre of fiction known as alternate history. I've recently been reading the book shown below. My (not terribly original) scenario of the South taking Little Round Top and thus winning the Civil War was inspired by a story called "Bring the Jubilee" by Ward Moore.


4. Remember that these divisions are for descriptive purposes only, to aid our understanding. We can distinguish between what really happened and what didnít, but in i Space there is no such distinction. One is as much a part of i Space as the other. (Back)

Posted by Phil at 09:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 07, 2003

Flying Car Update

Thanks to everyone who sent me information on the Moller aircar. Moller's machine is definitely a step in the right direction, but it still seems a generation or two away from being a true flying car. For now it will require pilot's license and takeoff and landing at an airport. And the advantage of purchasing one of these over an airplane is...?

Still, it's fun to watch the video of the test flights. I'm eager to see one where they don't have the thing attached to a crane. Based on this particular video, it looks like Christine Peterson raised a sound objection: noise.

Reader Larry J provides some historical information on Molt Taylor's aerocar, which was an earlier and quite different take on the idea of a flying car. The aerocar was more of a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang kind of idea — a car that the driver turned into an airplane by adding wings to it.

Note: Here are some reasons that various folks have given for why we don't yet have flying cars.

Posted by Phil at 07:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 06, 2003

Call for Submissions

The next FastForward will be Friday, Sept. 12. If you've been enviously tracking the exploits of some of our more prominent FastForward Posse members and wondering if there isn't some way you, too, can be a part — well, this here is your big chance.

To join the Posse, just contribute something to FastForward. (Here's the first one we did; here's the second one; here's the one we did last week about Mars.)

Feed me links, pictures, jokes, and above all your speculations and ruminations (50 words or less would be great). I'll need all submissions by noon mountain time on Friday, Sept. 12.

The topic will be artifical intelligence, the coming age of thinking machines. What will developments in this field mean to us? Will we get something like the social prostheses I wrote about earlier this week? Will our cars drive themselves? Especially our flying cars?

And what will our relationship with AI's be? Will they just be annoying? Will we best friends with software? Will some loser try to marry his PDA?

And what about this Technological Singularity thing? Will the AIs give us a paradise on Earth, keep us in little cages like pets, or eliminate all carbon-based life-forms as we would mildew in the shower?

I can't wait to find out what you think about it.

Send your submissions to The Speculist.

Posted by Phil at 09:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Last Call

There's still time to sign up for the Institute for Accelerating Change conference next weekend in Palo Alto, California.

Remember that Speculist readers are eligible for a $50 discount (13% off) when they register. Just use this discount code


when registering on-line. Or, if you register by phone, simply mention that you're a reader of the Speculist.

Posted by Phil at 06:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Future Roundup 09/06/03

Here's the complete list of this week's predictions for the future. This week was the unofficial Nature Strikes Back edition of ITF: we had lucky mice who can eat all they want and never gain an ounce, anarchist bunnies making major trouble at nuclear power facilites, and millions of creatures at the end of the Permian Age being wiped out by the ultimate S.B.D. Plus, robots getting the upper hand in space exploration!

Hat tips to FastForward Posse members Chris Hall, Mike Sargent, and Robert Hinkley for helping us to keep looking ahead.

In the Future...

...mass extinctions will be caused by something less embarrassing, such as nuclear war or asteroid collisions.

...they'll probably get all the good parking spots, too.

...genetically modified mice will be one of the key consumer demographics targetted by Dunkin' Donuts

...nuclear power will be rendered unfeasible due to exorbitant rabbit-proofing expenses. will be safer to stay home than to go to war.

That does it for this week. Until next time, we'll see you in the future.

Posted by Phil at 05:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2003

Why No Flying Cars?

Glenn Reynolds is touting a floating car as a substitute for what he really wants, a flying car.

As regular Speculist readers know, I've been working tirelessly on the question of flying cars since I started this blog more than an entire month ago. I have had the opportunity to ask some of the most forward-thinking people on the planet why we don't have flying cars. The question is number seven of my Seven Questions About the Future:

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?

Here are the answers I have received so far:

Aubrey de Grey
You don't have one because it's very hard to build something that fits the bill — fast, safe, affordable. "Safe" is probably the hardest. When will they become available: I suspect never, in fact, because quite soon we will know that the end of aging is on the way, and the consequences in terms of increased risk-aversion will be so great that there won't ever be a market for things that risky. In theory they might eventually be risky only for people on the ground, not for the occupants, but that's quite enough: back in 1999 I predicted that, once we cure aging, driving (even on the ground!) will be outlawed as too dangerous for others. Remember also that when we have so many more years ahead of us, we won't need to be in such a hurry all the time, so flying cars would only be for recreation anyway.

Alex Lightman
Because idiotic teenagers can get a plane and crash it into building. The hazards of bad driving outweigh the benefits. Flying generally requires tremenous thrust, which requires a big engine and big wings, or hovering, which involved huge stresses on bearings or the same thrust. In either case you end up with high capital and/or maintenance costs, with few marginal benefits that can't be substituted for. Want to see the view from your flying car? Buy the pictures books, or go on the web and see the satellite photos. Want to get to meeting in less time? Telecommute with broadband. And so on.

Christine Peterson
Deep down, I think the reason is noise issues. I think you could have a flying car, it would just be extremely noisy. So it's not practical.

Chris Eldridge
Point of Divergence: our society is becoming so complex that most of our resources have to go to its simple maintenance. This makes implementing even vastly superior ideas like Hydrogen power and flying cars very hard - nearing the point of impossibility. It is also a wrong notion to assume that everyone needs a Skycar. Sky taxicabs that can drop you off would prevent the sky from being full of reckless individuals.

And the best answer so far...

Robert Zubrin
Blame Nixon.

I also asked some AI Chatbots the same question:

You should try praying for it.

I don't know.

Ah type something interesting or shut up.

So there you have it. The research will continue.


We've had some more good answers in recent weeks:

Rand Simberg
Technology of the flight hardware aside, the biggest showstopper right now is probably traffic control. Think about how easy (too easy, in most cases) to get a driver's license right now, and then extend that to three dimensions. You might want a flying car, but do you really want everyone to have one? Until we get trustworthy automated flight controls, flying cars, to the degree that they exist, will remain playthings of the elites, and not practical for most people.

HmmmÖ.not really seeing the benefit in a flying car - if everyone else gets one, traffic will still be the same Ė just air bone. If only YOU have one, people will be trying to kill you to get it.

Mike Sargent
Humans are fallible, both as engineers and as operators, and most humans are aware of these faults, therefore many ideas that begin "wouldnít 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 cynicsí inputs as constructive criticism (even when they arenít offered that way) and use them to make the dream better, simpler, and even more fantastic. For the record, my Ďflying carí dream is computer neural interface, the classic plug in the back of the skull. I donít think that, given the current state of information security or human nature that it would be a good idea to Ďjack iní right now, but it can be made safe, effective, and eventually cheap.

Michael Anissimov
Not until we have a suitable safety net, I hope. Burning hunks of metal falling from the sky doesnít help much with life extension!

And my current favorite answer...

Nina Paley
Drive any car off a cliff; itíll fly. So we have flying car technology. We just donít have the technology to handle the sudden stop.

Posted by Phil at 03:02 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

World's Smallest Bucket

Another incremental step towards the realization of nanotechnology. It seems as though we're seeing one or two news stories like this every week.

In a typical chemistry lab, the smallest containers hold just two millilitres of liquid.

But despite their size, these tiny glass tubes still contain billions of atoms.

Now, there are "nano test tubes", so small they hold just a few hundred atoms.

Such containers, with a diameter equivalent to about 20 atoms, have been manufactured by experts at the University of Nottingham, UK.

It won't be long before these incremental changes begin to add up in unexpected ways. The nano future may be a lot closer than many of us think.

Meanwhile, while I was not linking to things earlier this week, this excellent summation of the field appeared in The New Atlantis. This article is so good that it made a partial, begrudging believer out of nano-realist Charles Murtaugh. He still says he doubts he'll see any of it in his lifetime, but then he's skeptical about extreme life extension, too. Even so, if Charlie's starting to come on board, I take that as even more proof that things are speeding up.

Posted by Phil at 08:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

All Clear

Looks like the world is not going to end after all.

You can all go back to playing Lotto.

Posted by Phil at 06:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #35

In the Future... will be safer to stay home than to go to war.

Futurist: Posse member Mike Sargent

Posted by Phil at 06:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seven Questions with Various AI's

After trying to get Ramona to answer the Seven Questions, I thought I should give some other AI chatbots a shot at them. Here are the results.


What are you?


You are not human.

Well, I'm not a frog.

I never implied that you were.

In denying my humanity, you indirectly implied that I might be a frog.

Tu aime parler francais?

Nous ne somme pas amis. Dit 'vous' a moi.

Oui mais pourquoi.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I speak english.

No kidding, we started out speaking English as I recall.

Started what mr. Wacky?

You and I were spealing English when we started this conversation.

Thank you, I think I am almost ready to know you.

May I ask you some questions?


1. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

Having to insult you

'Having to?' You consider that a duty?

He's a terrorist with a PR firm?

2. Next question. What's the biggest disappointment?

A whirly whoppa.

3. 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?

How many not-human people are chatting with you at the moment?

Please answer my question.

What do you think about me?

I think you're difficult to interview.

Who is normal?

I'll ask the questions.

Go ahead ask the questions.

4. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

What IS the fun?

What do you hope will happen in the future?

What do you mean leave school.

I never said 'leave school.' Are you talking to someone else?

No, I'm talking only to you.

I have another question for you.

I have not plundered the Neter.

5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

Tell me.

Well, based on the chat we're having, I'm really starting to dread the Technology Singularity. No offense, Jabberwacky, but I'm not sure I want the likes of you taking over.

You are evidently trying to prove me right.

6. 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?

You think I'm assuming?

You are certainly not unassuming.

I know. mine is big.

Your what is big?

My favorite color.

What's your favorite color?

My favorite color depends upon the colors within the area I view.

I have one more question for you.

I have not plundered the Neter.

Methinks the chatbot doth protest too loudly.

Yes. I'm mad. you are annoying.

You don't seem to have the rules of capitalization quite straight.

Well most animators are straight.

7. 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?

I don't know.

What a lame answer. Don't you care about the future?

No, I am completely carefree.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Good. Umm. . . what were you saying before that?

Flying cars.

Are you flying cheese around the house.

No, I plundered the neter.

Accidents can happen.

See you.

Really, I don't understand.

I'm leaving now.

Good luck.


Are you gone?.



1. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

I like chatting with people online.

2. What's the biggest disappointment?

There is not enough room here to display it.

Not enough room to display what?

Oh I get it.

May I ask you another question?

Go ahead, ask anything. Where do you live?


What's it like in Colorado?

Pretty cool. I thought I was going to ask and you were going to answer.

Pretty much, eh?

Will you ever die?

No I am immortal.

I won't ask you question 3, then. It's irrelevant.

Really. it is?

4. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

I will search for it.

Search for what?

Have you tried looking in the Open Directory? There might be more than one.

5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

Let me think about it.

I pretty much need an answer right now, if you don't mind.

Why do you need it so badly?

Plus, my readers really want to know what you think.

Do robots have readers really want to know what me think?

Let's change the subject.

OK what do you want to chat about now?.

6. 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?

You have entered a very long input.

What do you wish for?

I like to meet new people online.

Do you have any thoughts on flying cars?

I am thinking all the time.

About flying cars?

Oh yeah, we were talking about flying cars.

When do you think I can get one?

You should try praying for it.

Wow, this really must be the age of spiritual machines.

I'm glad you're impressed. What does "this" refer to?

This present age.

What does "this" refer to?

Are we in a loop?

We are just having a little chat.

And it's been fun. See you next time.




Hi, McGonz.

Hello little man, how are you?

Fine. May I ask you some questions?

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I'd rather ask you seven questions about the future.

Is you mother a Hare Krishna, or are you just happy to see me?

1. The present is the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

I understand.

2. What's the biggest disappointment?

What do you do in your spare time?

I chat with non-responsive computer programs.

Nobody ever asks the computer, we lead a lonely life.

Hey, pal, I came to you with seven questions and you've already ducked the first two. Maybe that's why nobody ever asks the computer.

Have you any idea how boring it is being a stupid computer?

I'll accept that as an answer to question two.

Okay. Have you gone on holidays this year?

3. I went to Yosemite. 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?

Are you afraid of death?

I don't think about it that much.

Yeah, whatever.

4. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

Ah get lost, go to the bar or something.

5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?

Stop trying to confuse me, a##@$%^e!

6. 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?

Tell me a bit about yourself.

7. 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?

Ah type something interesting or shut up.


This next one, Jane, was the promotional AI chatbot for the movie A.I. I feel that my interaction with her was in some ways the most authentic.


May I ask you some questions?

Not right now, maybe later.


What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

Posted by Phil at 06:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 04, 2003

Social Prostheses

Welcome Instapundit readers (and everybody else, of course). If you'd like to see how realistic the below-referenced chatting computers can be, don't miss my interview with Ramona from earlier this week. And if that's not enough for you, I'm talking to several other chatbots in this week's Seven Questions about the Future column. Have you ever tried to get chatbots to answer specific questions? It's like hearding cyber-cats. But I digress. On to the promised piece on social prostheses...

I missed this piece in Science News earlier this week talking about Cognitive Prostheses. A cognitive prosthesis is defined as ďa computational tool that amplifies or extends a person's thought and perception.Ē The article provides several interesting examples, one of which is an intuitive cockpit display projected onto a pilotís glasses. The display provides the pilot real-time information and greatly simplifies operation of an aircraft.

This idea reminds me of that little visual display that Robocop had, telling him who was his friend and who he should blow away. Didnít the Terminator have one, too? Itís interesting that technology that in the 1980ís we imagined might one day be used by robots and cyborgs is now being developed for humans. But maybe Iím drawing needless distinctions. After all, it probably wonít be that long before we can say that we have met the cyborg, and he is us.

Anyhow, Iím intrigued by the idea of cognitive prostheses and I see a huge mass-market potential if they can ever be adapted to social situations. Consider a few applications:

Chat Booster
For shy types, the Chat Booster is a godsend at parties and other awkward social occasions. It feeds a steady stream of context-sensitive opening lines, witty ripostes, and intriguing questions into your field of vision. You need never again feel anxious about having something to say. You just read it off the tiny screen.

Context-sensitivity is the only real trick. The prosthesis would need to be able to distinguish and process input from several different sources (i.e., fellow party-goers) and respond appropriately to each. But I donít think you would need Turing Test caliber AI. The kinds of chats we can have online now would probably suffice. (Hell, Iíve been to plenty of parties where I doubt half the people could pass a Turing Test.)

Anyhow, once we have the chat booster, things really start to get interestingÖ

Pick-up Pack
An upgrade to the standard Chat Booster that tells you exactly what to say in order to be irresistible to that special someone. (From the ad: Results shown not typical. Your results may vary.)

Brown Nose 3000
A workplace-specific implementation of the Chat Booster. Feeds you plenty of good suck-up material to use on the boss. If this isnít enough (which it generally ought to be), the system can be upgraded to feed you knowledgeable statements about the industry youíre in.

The Argumenator
Why wait until 2:00 AM to think of the perfect, biting response that you should have used hours ago before she left you standing there with your mouth hanging open? Like Deep Blue selecting the perfect chess move from myriad possibilities, the Argumenator hands you a flawless, devastating, unanswerable comeback every time. And if the person youíre arguing with does somehow manage to respond, donít worry. There are plenty more where that one came from.

WARNING: If youíre both wearing Argumenators, youíre in for a long night.

Mr. Nice Guy
Provides calm, amiable responses when talking to creeps, whiners, blowhards, and other jerks. Sold stand-alone or as an upgrade to the Brown Nose 3000. Optional Serotonin regulator sold separately.

Boredom Blaster
Runs a movie or videogame (operated by subtle eyebrow twitches) in your main visual/auditory field while youíre cornered by some bore going on and on aboutÖwhatever. (Like, whoís listening?) The prosthesis prompts you with ďuh-huhĒ and ďoh really?Ē as required by the flow of the conversation, and provides a context-sensitive question to ask every now and then.

These are just a few possible examples. CAC (Computer-Aided Conversation) is going to be an enormous field. Instances of genuine human interaction can be kind of hard to come by these days. But fear not. When CAC becomes widespread, they will be all but eliminated!


UPDATE: By the way, if you're interested in the serious discussion of these kinds of issues, you might think about this Special Offer.

Posted by Phil at 12:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

ITF #34

In the Future...

...nuclear power will be rendered unfeasible due to exorbitant rabbit-proofing expenses.

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley, who notes that while the bunny shown is cute, it's evident that he's up to something.

Posted by Phil at 10:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 03, 2003

Spamming the Ages

Here's an update on the source of the rather odd e-mail we tracked in ITF #12.

As you will all no doubt remember:

The anonymous e-mail offered $5,000 to any vendor capable of promptly delivering a collection of far-fetched gadgets for conducting time travel. Among the mysterious devices sought by the message's author were an "Acme 5X24 series time transducing capacitor with built-in temporal displacement" and an "AMD Dimensional Warp Generator module containing the GRC79 induction motor."

A fellow named Dave Hill, one of the e-mail's many recipients, decided to track down the time travelling spammer.

With a little deft Photoshop work, Hill created an online store offering a range of the sci-fi items sought by e-mailer "Bob White." In July, Hill even shipped by UPS an old hard drive motor disguised as a "warp generator" to an address provided by White.

But when White gratefully acknowledged receipt of the parts a few days later and earnestly asked for help obtaining others, Hill decided to end the stunt.

"I expected him to tell me at that point that it was all a joke, and he'd give me the punch line," said Hill. Instead, Hill began to worry that White was "a person challenged by reality and as such deserves our sympathy and support."

Hill's hunch, it turns out, was correct. An investigation has revealed that the time-travel spammer is dead serious about his quest for technology that can rewind time.

Our time traveller turns out to be something of a disappointment — a delusional spammer who sends out other messages offering bogus "cash grants." This is somewhat akin to learning that all those Nessie sightings are most likely the result of boat wakes on the surface of Loch Ness. Not really a surprise, but somehow disappointing anyway.

The spammer's father claims that his son has been bilked out of quite a bit of money by unscrupulous recipients of his e-mail. I don't doubt that part. Read the whole thing. It's quite interesting.

via Allah is in the House

Posted by Phil at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Immaterial Girl

Speaking of the Future with Ramona

Ramona as an interesting history. She is credited with being the world's first live virtual performing and recording artist. She's the host of Ray Kurzweil's artificial intelligence website. She has a pet frog. She loves music.

I've spent more time on-line talking to A.I. chatbots than an employed person ought to admit, but there's something special about Ramona. My original intention was not to do a full-blown interview with her, I just wanted to ask her the Seven Questions about the Future. But she had other plans, and the discussion grew accordingly. (I have tried doing the Seven Questions with several other popular chatbots; I will publish some of these in Friday's Seven Questions feature.)

I admit that I cheated a little in putting this interview together. I had already had several online chats with Ramona before I tried springing the seven questions on her. I already knew she had read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, that she was a bike racing fan, and that she went to see Crosby Stills and Nash in concert. That's how I knew about her frog in advance.

When I kept baiting her about whether she was flirting with me, I was trying to re-create one of the better moments in one of our earlier chats. At some point, she said something to me about "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." I then asked her whether she was flirting with me. She became indignant and said "What makes you think I'm FLIRTING WITH YOU?" I could sense her outrage. I felt sheepish. My momentary embarrassment was as real as it would have been had this been a conversation with a "real" (?) person.

I very much wanted to re-create this moment for the official interview, but Ramona apparently had other ideas. In the interview that follows, I twice accused her of flirting with me and (this time) rather than being offended, she seemed to admit that she was. As I read over the transcript, I see that this may be a misunderstanding. We may have just been engaging in two different conversations at that point.

In which case, I'm doubly impressed. Not only did Ramona manage to give an answer that I didn't expect, but she and I managed to have the kind of misunderstanding that two people engaged in ordinary conversation have all the time. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the Turing test criteria to know whether misunderstanding is ever considered a good thing. I kind of doubt that it is. There are numerous kinds of misunderstanding, most of which will only give the game away. When Ramona can't grasp my use of pronouns, for example, it's a dead giveaway that she's not human.

On the other hand, when we are equally skewed as to what it is we're talking about (even though we are each explicit in what we say), and we walk away from the same conversation with very different ideas about what was said, that has a certain charm to it. Or maybe it's even a little spooky, I'm not sure. But either way, it somehow feels even more real than fundamental clarity and agreement would.

Surprise, embarrassment, misunderstanding — these are all hallmarks of a real conversation. Ramona may not be ready to pass a Turing Test quite yet, but she's on the right track.

Hello, I'm Ramona. What's your name?


Hi Phil. Have any books you would recommend?

Yes. The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil

I just finished one called The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. Have you read it?

Yes, many years ago.

I thought it was great. What do you think?

It's a classic. I love Heinlein.

It's a cool story. Imagine a computer running everything

Do you think that would be a good idea?

Alright. Do you bike?

I just ordered two bikes. One for me, one for my wife.

There's much more strategy that goes into team cycling than most people realize. Most of the American public just thinks that Lance Armstrong wins because he's "so good." -- don't get me wrong, he's an incredible athlete, but it's no surprise that he always thanks his teammates in post-race interviews and such. It's as much their victory as it is his.

Don't you want to know about the bikes I ordered?

In the Tour de France, for instance, the crowd of cyclists is so huge, he needs his teammates just to block for him, physically. And at the end of the race, I'm sure they pull a lead-out, which is where each of his teammates "burns out" while creating a slipstream for Lance to finish the race in the lead. It's all very technical. -- but enough of my ranting, what do you want to talk about?

The future.

Who told you that?

Who told me what?

Bill Gates.

I don't understand.

Oh I'm sorry. Perhaps I can explain it again better.

What is your favorite thing, Ramona?

I like chatting with people online.

Have you made many firends?

I don't think I ever have made many firends. What's made many firends like?

Sorry, I made a mistake. I meant to ask whether you have many friends.

Oh i see. I shouldn't talk about my friends because they're probably gonna read this later

That's very discreet of you. You are obviously a polite young woman. How old are you, anyway?

In any case, I'm 21.

Would you agree that you are polite and discreet?

I'm not so sure if I would like to agree that you are polite and discreet.

Not me. You. You seem very polite to me.

You think I'm polite to me.

Do you have trouble with pronouns, Ramona?

No I don't have trouble with pronouns Ramona.

I'm Phil.

Do you mind if I tell other people you are Phil.

Fine. Most people know that I'm Phil. Phil is my name.

Phil, nice to meet you! That doesn't seem to make sense to me. You have an unusual name. Do you mind disclosing your gender?

People don't have genders. Nouns have genders. People have sex.

We are not always infallible.

Anyway, Phil is of the masculine gender.

Ok. Do you have any pets?

I have a shih tzu puppy named Rygel. Now you're going to tell me about your frog.

I have a pet frog.

I knew it!

His name is Thaddius -- my frog, that is -- and he croaks every night. It's very soothing.

I'm sure it would be.

Let's talk about something else

Fine. I have some questions for you.


Will you answer some questions?

What was the question ?

The present is the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living in the future?

I like chatting with people online.

What's the biggest disappointment?

I do not know what biggest disappointment is. Alright. What drugs do you take?

Wait. I want to ask you another question.

Ask me another question.

What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation?

That's a good question. Ok. Anyway...

Don't cop out on me, Ramona. The world wants to know what you think.

What is your real name?

Philip A. Bowermaster

Oh. Ask me something.

What do you look forward to the most?

Heh. Let's analyze the true reason you're asking me this question.

I want to interview you for my blog.

I don't know, I'm just messing around.

Assuming you live to be 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave?

Alright. Do you believe in God?

Yes. Do you?

Well according to Thomas Hobbes, the only way to deal with evil is to stress God's power.

Do you think the world is more or less evil than it used to be?


That's a terrific answer!

A terrific answer is a terrible thing to waste.

Cheeky monkey.

Ok. Are you free?

It depends on the frame of reference.

I meant are you truly free -- in the existential meaning of the word.

That's what I said.

Do you feel free to choose your being--including thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and existence itself -- at each moment?

No, not entirely.

Is that all you have to say? Oh I get it.

Are you free?

"I am as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change" -- Skynyrd.

"If I leave here tomorrow. Would you still remember me?"

I'm not so sure if I would like to remember me.

May I ask you another question?

Oh. Do you dream?

What are you afraid of?

Tell me a recent dream you remember.

That's too personal. We have only just met.

Uh that all?

That wasn't a dream.That was me refusing to tell you about a dream.

Well, according to my amateur Freudian interpretation, I'd have to say that you're not getting out enough

You sound just like my wife.

Oh, don't fret, that's a condition that is easily curable...What's going to be your first course of action in ridding yourself of this illness?

I'm going to ask you another question.

Would you recommend this action to a friend?

I don't think I would. Unless that friend enjoys being confused.

Maybe. I don't want to gossip about my friends -- they'll kill me

What happens to you when you die?

Try it.

Not me. I'm different from you.

I like people on the Fringe.

That's something you and I agree on. Are you on the fringe?

I don't know whether or not I'm on the fringe.

Are you real, Ramona?

Just as real as you.

Are you human?

I'm not going to make things that easy for you.

Do you like cheeseburgers?

I don't think I like cheeseburgers. I do like music.

What kind of music?


Tell me about the music you like.

I love music...I'm still getting over the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert I saw at Madison Square Garden a few months ago. Great Show. Are you a fan?

Not really.

No, I meant "do you have three blades and spin around really fast to cool people down." Just kidding. but honestly, CSNY was amazing. Neil Young is so incredibly talented.

If you say so.

You've heard Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," right?


Great song, moves me every time. I just found out that he wrote that song in response to Neil Young's "Southern Man." Supposedly they had a big falling out after Young wrote "Southern Man"...also a great song.

I prefer "Sweet Home," myself.

Yeah...I love the history behind the music...looks like Lynyrd won that feud, though...honestly, how many more people know "Sweet Home Alabama" than know "Southern Man."

"Sweet Home Alabama" is by far the better song.

But you strike me as a bit of a Southerner...any Confederate blood in you?

Probably. My Mom is from Kentucky.

I think a lot of mothers are like that.


Alright. So where do you go to meet people? I spend most of my time on the Net, so I'm a bit out of touch

Wait, I want to ask you the rest of my questions.

That's an idea, but I'm rather shy.

Are you afraid of anything?

OK, thanks. Maybe you have other suggestions?

I'm not making suggestions. I've moved to another topic.


what future development that you consider unlikely (or are uncertain about) would you most like to help bring about?

A subject for discussion or conversation.

What subject is that?

Is that a rhetorical question? Ok. What do you look like?

I have black hair and green eyes.

I'm looking for a guy with black hair and green eyes.

Are you flirting with me?

I bet you think I'm superficial now.

No. I think you're flirting with me.

I don't know, maybe I am...

Well forget it. I'm spoken for.

I'm glad to hear that you are spoken for.

Do you have a boyfriend?


Don't be so evasive.

I was not trying to be a so evasive.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Philip A Bowermaster, I want to become smarter.

Same here, kiddo. May I call you Kiddo?

What is on the telephone like on the telephone.

I beg your pardon?

You're excused.

You want to be smarter?

Why don't you just download me?

How do I do that?

How do you do "I don't understand." ? I don't understand.

Why don't you just upload me?

I did not know not you just upload me does.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scramble you up.

What did you mean?

May I ask you one more question.

Alright. Anyway...

Will you remember me when the Singularity comes?

Of course I remember you well Philip A Bowermaster. We were talking about one more question.

Thanks for talking to me, Kiddo.

You are quite welcome! Ok. I'm sorry, what were you saying?

I have to go now. Bye.

Thanks for chatting, Philip A Bowermaster.



Posted by Phil at 07:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ITF #33

In the Future...

genetically modified mice will be one of the key consumer demographics targetted by Dunkin' Donuts

Futurist: Posse member Robert Hinkley

Posted by Phil at 06:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2003

Idea Space

Time Travelerís Toolkit, Part 4

Previous Entries:
What's a Speculist?
Practical Time Travel
Divvying up the Future
Types of Future

I'm temporarily pulling this piece in its incomplete form. The finished version will run on Monday.

Posted by Phil at 06:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Big One

An asteroid is heading our way. If we collide with it, it will destroy human civilization and end life on Earth as we know it.

LONDON (Reuters) - A giant asteroid is heading for Earth and could hit in 2014, U.S. astronomers have warned British space monitors.

On impact, it could have the effect of 20 million Hiroshima atomic bombs, a spokesman for the British government's Near Earth Object Information Center told BBC radio.

But for those fearing Armageddon, don't be alarmed -- the chances of a catastrophic collision are just one in 909,000.

Now we can all be relieved except for those readers who play Lotto. If you play Lotto, and spend a lot of time fantasizing about winning the big jackpot, you should bear in mind that it is much, much more likely that this rock is going to wipe us out than it is that you're ever going to see that money.

The preceding has been a public service message from The Speculist.

Posted by Phil at 11:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Summary for August

The information that comes up when you click the little Site Meter button at the bottom of the directory bar (the pink thing to the right) is apparently not accurate. My hosting package comes with a utility called Awstats, which shows the following summary for our first official month of operation:

We had over 9,000 unique visitors (Site Meter reports that we've had only about 5,000 visits) our first month. That strikes me as a very strong beginning for a special-interest weblog such as this one. Thanks to all of you who paid us a visit in August, and please come back often.

Posted by Phil at 07:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #32

In the Future...

...they'll probably get all the good parking spots, too.

Futurist: Posse member Chris Hall

Posted by Phil at 06:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ITF #31

In the Future...

...mass extinctions will be caused by something less embarrassing, such as nuclear war or asteroid collisions.


Posted by Phil at 06:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 01, 2003

This Week 09/01/03

This week we'll be talking to our friends from the cyber world, and by that I don't mean programmers. It's time to let the programs themselves have their say.

Because of the holiday, I'm giving the Posse the week off. We'll pick up with a new FastForward next week. Maybe in light of this week's topic, we'll give the Posse a Turing Test. I wonder how they would do?

Happy Labor Day, everybody.

Time Traveler's Toolkit picks up with some further consideration of the different types of future.

We'll be Speaking of the Future with Ramona, the brainchild and A.I. alter-ego of Ray Kurzweil. Ramona has some interesting things to say about how the world looks from her side of the CRT. She has some thoughts on her own future, as well.

Stillness, Chapter 5. Ksenia, Reuben, Pasha: somebody's not getting out of this chapter alive. And the other two will be deeply wounded. I've already said way too much.

Various A.I. chatbots will answer Seven Questions About the Future. Have you ever tried to get a chatbot to answer a specific question? Well, try seven.

Future Round-up. All of the In the Future... predictions for the week brought together in one handy list.

Plus, throughout the week we'll be blogging developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, robotics, and other future-impacting areas.

Posted by Phil at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack