July 27, 2004

Seven Questions with Major Robert Blackington, USAF

El Jefe Grande submits another in his infrequent but interesting dispatches, this time from somewhere in southeastern Colorado.

Recently I had the pleasure of lunch and a brief interview with Major Robert Blackington of the United States Air Force Space Warfare Center’s Space Battlelab. Major Blackington (who came to my attention by name via an article on MSNBC.com titled: “Airship groomed for flight to edge of space” – 21 May, 2004 by Alan Boyle) is the Battlelab’s program manager for its Near Space Maneuvering Vehicle (NSMV) initiative This initiative is aimed at examining the possible use of lighter-than-air craft (aerostats or airships, commonly known as blimps, dirigibles, and zeppelins), at altitudes above those commonly used by conventional (aerodynamic) aircraft, to answer some of the needs of air, sea, and ground commanders for what is termed “responsive spacelift” or the ability to place payloads, particularly sensors, in locations of advantage, beyond an opponent’s reach and / or having a superior field of view. Practically speaking, the Battlelab is working with John Powell and his associates at JP Aerospace on demonstrating that their “Ascender” ‘v-airship’ can “reach an altitude of 120,000 ft. with a 100 lb. payload, navigate 200 NM, loiter for 5 days, and safely return.”

Holder of a Master’s Degree in Economics from Rutgers University, Major Blackington’s 19-year Air Force career has covered each of the primary missions the service has tackled over time, from “steel-on-target” air-to-ground operations in the AC-130 gunship, to Special Operations transportation, aerial refueling, and logistics in the MC-130 “Combat Talon”, to Information Operations (which, the good Major has taught me, is a collective discipline encompassing such concepts as; computer network attack and defense [CAN/CND, what might be referred to in less serious circles as ‘cyberwarfare’] electronic warfare, psychological operations, military deception, operations security, physical attack, public affairs, and civil affairs.) [1] , to his current work developing space (and “near-space”) hardware and doctrine.

Given his breadth of experience and his current assignment, I found it unsurprising that he is, overall, optimistic about the future as you may see in his responses to the Speculist’s traditional Seven Questions:

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

“Watching science catch up to science fiction. Portable computers, Star Trek communicators, all that stuff has actually happened and there’s more on the way.”

What’s the biggest disappointment?

"When I was flying C-130’s, the back of one of our squadron challenge coins (Illustration [Click on the 16SOS link under "Squadrons"]) was inscribed: “Only the dead have seen the end of war. Unfortunately, I think that that is still true.”

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?

“In fifty-some years? It’s possible that nanotechnology might make the reasons behind that inscription; poverty, jealousy, etc. obsolete.”

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

“After having a chance to work on the “Ascender” project, I really think that there is a good chance that airships may undergo a renaissance in the near future. Under certain circumstances they could do some of the same jobs as rockets and satellites, less expensively and more responsively.”

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

“A downside of science fiction becoming reality is that more powerful weapons of mass destruction are becoming more available to small groups and individuals. I don’t know what we have to do to deal with that possibility.”

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?

“Without a certain amount of ‘push’ from people who know something about their capabilities the Airship Renaissance I mentioned might not come about. I’d like to be part of that ‘push’.”

“Part of that ‘push’ is investigating the ways in which a technology can contribute to accomplishing our missions. Those contributions and the procedures to apply them, become the foundation of the ‘doctrine’ surrounding the new technology.”

“As you enter the Battlelab, there is an inscription on the wall that points out the importance of developing doctrine instead of just randomly grabbing at technologies.” (I’ve reproduced the quotation that the Major refers to, and a bit of the context below. – Auth.)

“National safety would be endangered by an Air Force whose doctrines and techniques are tied solely on the equipment and process of the moment. Present equipment is but a stop in progress, and . . .

 

[A]ny Air Force which does not keep its doctrine ahead of its equipment, and its vision far into the future, can only delude the nation into a false sense of security.”

 

– General H. H. “Hap” Arnold, 1945 [2]

“A good example from our work with the ‘Ascender’ is the development of the concept of “Near Space.” When we were evaluating the unique capabilities that ‘Ascender’, ‘Dark Sky Station’ and similar technologies brought to the table, we established that there was a regime, lower and slower than the lowest sustainable orbit (about 100 kilometers and 17,000 mph – Auth.) but above controlled airspaces (about 60,000 feet, 18.288 km – Auth.) where a geographically stable, persistent platform carrying sensors, communications or other payloads might be desirable and that ultra-high altitude airships and derivative technologies would give us the ability to exploit that regime in unique ways and / or less expensively and more responsively than competing technologies.”

Why is it that in the year 2004 I still don’t have a flying car? When do you think I’ll be able to get one?

“A flying car is not yet economically viable. There are too many costs associated with the technology; development, establishing safety and operation regulations and controlling risks. If those costs can be overcome, then it might be possible if there is enough demand.”



[1]  [See for example the Major’s Air Command and Staff College thesis:  Air Force Information Operations (IO) Doctrine: Consistent with Joint IO Doctrine? (Abstract)]

 

[2] As quoted in AIR FORCE DOCTRINE PROBLEMS by Dr. James A. Mowbray at page 4, citing Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, vol. 1, 1907-1960 (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 1989), 180.

 

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February 03, 2004

Seven Questions with Stephen Gordon

New Posse member Stephen Gordon has provided his answers to our Seven Questions About the Future. His answers were so interesting and thought-provoking, I thought I should put them up here where more of you will see them.

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

    The Chinese supposedly have an ancient curse: "may you live in interesting times."

    http://hawk.fab2.albany.edu/sidebar/sidebar.htm

    Perhaps we've been cursed, perhaps blessed, but there is no end to avenues to pursue today if you are intellectually engaged. Do you have an interest in politics? Word is that there's an election this year. Are you a hawk or a dove? Either way, you'll want to keep up-to-date on the war. Science? It's impossible to keep up. Do you want to find a date but you're only interested in Jewish cowboys who have a passion for lawn darts? Kiss.com probably has five to choose from. Traveling, shopping, working and playing have all been changed by one development – The Internet.

    When I graduated college in 1991 few of my class outside of the computer department had ever heard of the Internet. When I told a college student last year that I first logged onto the Internet two years after graduation she looked at me with a certain amount of pity. For her, college IS the Internet - instant access to knowledge 24/7.

    The rise of blogging makes our relationship with information even more intimate. Blogging allows instant reporting/analysis of the news. Memes can rise, become either conventional wisdom or be discredited before print editions can even run.

    So, absolutely, the neatest thing about living "in the future" today is the communication/information revolution brought about in the last ten years by mainstream adaptation of the Internet.

  2. What's the biggest disappointment?

    When I was about seven years old I had an uncle tell me that by the time I got to college there'd probably be learning machines that would zap knowledge straight into my brain. That idea sent shivers of uber-cool down my spine. And I still want to be able to dial the operator and tell him that I need to be able to speak Japanese and ZAP! Matrix-style I'm ready to go.

    Alas, we don't have that yet. I would guess that this sort of technology is singularity-related (it will either a close cause or product of the singularity). So for now, the Internet will have to do.


  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?

    I must start by saying that I doubt the premise of the question. Not, necessarily because I doubt that I will live that long (I have a long-shot of living 66 years more even with today's technology), but because if I manage to stay alive another 34 years I will probably live to be much older than 100. Such is the nature of exponential advances in all fields of knowledge – including geriatric medicine.

    So I'll let that be my answer to your question. By my 100th birthday senescence will be optional (and I'm guessing a not very popular option). This will be a huge civilization-shaking change. Objectively death is the loss of a unique individual that cannot be replaced and the loss of a huge body of knowledge. Subjectively death is even more catastrophic. And the process of getting there is no joy ride either.

    Whether this will be the biggest difference is, by definition, impossible to forecast if you believe as I that the singularity will occur within the next 66 years.


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

    USAToday published an editorial by the head of the National Cancer Institute saying that its realistic goal to eliminate suffering and death by cancer by the year 2015.

    Here's the address:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2004-01-21-cancer_x.htm

    Over 500,000 Americans die each year from cancer. A cure will happen. But faster, please.


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

    A year and a half ago

    http://www.nature.com/nsu/020708/020708-17.html

    a team of scientist demonstrated that viruses can be assembled from scratch with chemicals readily available through mail order. Worse, "the gene sequences for ebola, influenza, smallpox, HIV and many other viruses are publicly available on the Internet."

    A nuclear bomb requires facilities that are huge and, therefore, difficult to fund and hard to hide. A virus-based WMD program could be put together in a trailer house.

    My answer is not to outlaw this research but to push it forward faster. Preserving life is always more difficult than destroying it, but the same researchers that showed us that virus construction is possible may be able to help us defend against a man-made viral attack.


  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?

    Nanotech is a very exciting field (or group of fields). And of all the possible nanotech developments that are within our near-term grasp "peptide nanotubes that kill bacteria by punching holes in the bacteria's membrane" excites me the most.

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/122303C.html

    We are losing the antibiotic arms race against bacteria. There are already bacterial strains for which the only treatment is to excise the infected tissue. It is only a matter of time before some highly contagious air-borne bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics strikes us down by the millions… Unless some development like this one intervenes.

    If this develops I think it will be very difficult for bacteria to evolve resistance to it. All bacteria require the protection of their cell encasement. I can't imagine a mutation that would provide a defense to a battering ram that breaches that protection.


  7. Why is it that in the year 2004 I still don't have a flying car? When do you think I'll be able to get one?

    While we've made remarkable strides in small scale technology – circuitry, the human genome, nanotech, it seems like we've lost ground with the big macho stuff. We haven't been to the moon in 30 years; we can't buy tickets to fly supersonic anymore.

    While we're discovering inner space and creating cyberspace, we've done so little with outer space. Maybe this is a necessary retreat – a pause to let technology catch up with our aspirations. But I'm inclined to believe rather that its a lack of aspiration.

    One piece of evidence that it's the latter: we've never tested artificial gravity. I'm not talking about exotic tech here. I'm talking about the kind created by spinning. This would require no technology that we don't presently have. Heck, take two Apollo era capsules, tether them together and spin away. Each capsule would then have gravity of sorts. We know we are going to need to do this to go to Mars. Astronauts can't take zero G for a year and a half before exerting themselves on Mars.

    So why hasn't this been tested? Because NASA hasn't had the courage or the vision to do it.

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January 01, 2004

7Q's 2004 Edition

I'm updating my Seven Questions About the Future in order to keep them current with our ever-changing world. As of today, Question 7 will read as follows:

7. Why is it that in the year 2004 I still don't have a flying car? When do you think I'll be able to get one?

Please make a note of the change. Thank you.

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November 18, 2003

The Quotable Speculist

Sometimes the mot juste (the best phrase) has already been written. In that spirit, here are what some famous folks might have said in response to the Seven Questions About the Future.

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

"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." --Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

What's the biggest disappointment?

"There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), U.S. clergyman, civil rights leader. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Why We Can’t Wait (1963).

"Disappointment proves that expectations were mistaken." -- Mason Cooley (b. 1927), U.S. aphorist. City Aphorisms, Eighth Selection, New York (1991).

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?

"People over 100 are the fastest-growing group in America. People soon will be working 'til 100 — some because they have to — and living 'til 125 or even 135. What do I know, I'm just a weatherman, but I've made a hobby of studying this, and it's phenomenal." — Willard Scott , 67, NBC's Today show

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

"Before I had my first child, I never really looked forward in anticipation to the future. As I watched my son grow and learn, I began to imagine the world this generation of children would live in. I thought of the children they would have, and of their children. I felt connected to life both before my time and beyond it. Children are our link to future generations that we will never see." -- Louise Hart (20th century), U.S. psychologist, educator. The Winning Family, ch. 26 (1987).

"Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before." -- Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), British author, lexicographer. Nekayah, in The History of Rasselas, ch. 47 (1759).

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

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." -- George Bernard Shaw

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?

"It's not enough to have a dream, Unless you're willing to pursue it. It's not enough to know what's right, Unless you're strong enough to do it. It's not enough to learn the truth, Unless you also learn to live it. It's not enough to reach for love, Unless you care enough to give it Men who are resolved to find a way for themselves will always find opportunities enough; and if they do not find them, they will make them." -- Samuel Smiles.

"All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true." -- T.E. Lawrence (AKA Lawrence of Arabia)

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 every one of our desires can be immediately gratified. We've got to learn to wait patiently for our dreams to come true, especially on the path we've chosen. But while we wait, we need to prepare symbolically a place for our hopes and dreams." -- Sarah Ban Breathnach Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

"Stop the mindless wishing that things would be different. Rather than wasting time and emotional and spiritual energy in explaining why we don't have what we want, we can start to pursue other ways to get it." -- Greg Anderson, US basketball player.

"Suppose someone has frequently flown in his dreams and finally becomes conscious of a power and an art of flying just as soon as he starts dreaming, as though it were his privilege, and also his most personal and enviable happiness: one who believes he can realize every sort of curve and angle with the lightest impulse, who knows the feeling of a certain divine frivolity, an “upwards” without tension or duress, a “downwards” without condescension and humiliation—without gravity! How could a man who enjoyed such dream-experiences and dream-habits fail to discover in the end that the word “happiness” was differently colored and defined in his waking hours as well? How could he fail to—desire happiness differently?" -- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher, classical scholar, critic of culture. Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 5, pp. 114-115, eds. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Berlin, de Gruyter (1980). Beyond Good and Evil, “Fifth Part: Natural History of Morals,” section 193 (1886).

"It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits—like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying thought the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits—involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding—inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitablility of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention." -- Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990), British broadcaster. “Woman’s Hour,” radio broadcast, Aug. 5, 1965, quoted in “Failure,” Muggeridge through the Microphone (1967).

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November 04, 2003

Seven Questions with Rand Simberg

Rand Simberg is our special guest this week, and will be the subject of our Speaking of the Future interview on Thursday. While we'll be talking to Rand primarily about our future in space, he writes on a wide range of subjects for FOX News, Tech Central Station, and his website, Transterrestrial Musings.

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

The vast potential for wealth, happiness, human freedom and new social experiments as we start to open up new homes off the planet.

2. What's the biggest disappointment?

That we don't have spinning hotels in orbit and Panam Clippers servicing them.

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?

Most of the people being born at that time will probably live as long as they want to, with a big universe to explore.

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

Arbitrarily long life, in good health. It will make all else possible.

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

Weapons of increasingly more potential for devastation becoming increasingly available to people willing to use them for their own insane purposes. It's one of the reasons that we need to get lots of people off planet as soon as possible. Vacuum makes a damned good firewall.

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?

Well, I'm not sure that I have the talent or skills to bring it about, but I'd say superluminal and (possibly associated) time travel. It would open up whole new realms in adventure tourism.

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?

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.


What's the deal with these seven questions?

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October 14, 2003

Seven Questions with Nina Paley

Filmmaker and cartoonist Nina Paley is our special guest this week, and will be the subject of this week's Speaking of the Future interview. You can learn more about Nina and her work (and view some of her films) by visiting her website at www.ninapaley.com.


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

I’m still alive. I wasn’t sure I’d last this long.


2. What's the biggest disappointment?

People are even dumber than I thought they were.


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?

If I died tomorrow, the biggest difference in the world would be that there are more than twice as many humans on Earth than when I was born, and significantly fewer other species. Far more cars, more suburban sprawl, fewer old forests and wildlands, less ocean life; overall, a significant transformation of the Earth’s biosphere. But if I live to be 100, I have 65 years to go, and a lot could happen in that time. We’ll never get the lost species back, but maybe we’ll move out of the current mass-extinction. Culturally, maybe we’ll recognize that other species exist and "deserve" to continue. Maybe technology will solve all our problems. Or maybe the human population will take a nosedive in some ghastly way, like disease or social collapse. When I make predictions based on historical and scientific evidence, they’re pretty grim. For the sake of my mental health, I prefer to say "I don’t know," which leaves room for optimism without indulging in utter fantasy.


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

Funner toys.


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

The loss of wildlands, old growth ecosystems, and biodiversity. We’re already living in (arguably causing) the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs’ 65 million years ago.


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?

I’d like to stop the mass extinction of other species, and the loss of wildlands. Preserving DNA in zoos is not acceptable. We need wild spaces.

I’d also like to bring about more sanity in my own life. That’s a more realistic goal. I can’t run the world’s show, but I’d like to find a comfy chair to watch it from.


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?

Drive any car off a cliff; it’ll fly. So we have flying car technology. We just don’t have the technology to handle the sudden stop.

 

What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

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September 30, 2003

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. What’s the best thing about living here in the future?
  2. Medical and communication advancement. I think the best things about living in today’s world is that we have the ability and opportunity to heal and touch people’s lives in ways we didn’t have before.

  3. What’s the biggest disappointment?
  4. That we don’t 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, I’m disappointed at how little progress we’ve made towards religious maturity and individual consciousness. I think the biggest disappointment in today’s 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 it’s 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 another’s differences, space and beliefs.

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

    Energy reform – 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 don’t have a flying car? When do you think I’ll be able to get one?

Hmmm….not really seeing the benefit in a flying car - if everyone else gets one, traffic will still be the same – 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 – 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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September 23, 2003

Seven Questions with the Posse Ringleaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

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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?

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September 05, 2003

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.

Jabberwacky

What are you?

Human.

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?

Ask.

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.

Bye.

Are you gone?.

 

Alice

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?

Colorado.

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.

Goodbye.

 

McGonz

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.


Jane

May I ask you some questions?

Not right now, maybe later.

 


What's the deal with these Seven Questions?

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August 29, 2003

Seven Questions with Robert Zubrin

This week's special guest, Dr. Robert Zubrin, answers the Seven Questions about the Future.

 

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

People have far more opportunity to exercise human potential.


2. What's the biggest disappointment?

We're not where we could be. NASA had planned to send the first mission to Mars by 1981. That's what should have happened. That's the road not taken. If we continued down that road, with the first humans on Mars in the early 1980's, the first base, the first embryonic settlement would have been in place by the late 1980's. And the first children born on Mars would be entering middle school right about now.


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?

By 2052, there will be a new branch of humanity living off the Earth.


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

The opening of the first community orchestra on Mars.


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

Biological warfare. I consider it likely, not inevitable.


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?

Well, the one I've been dedicating my life to, the settlement of Mars.

(But I think you've already listed that one as something you think of as likely.)

I think it's likely eventually because of the nature of humanity. We are species of explorers, we do have a fundamental drive to go where we've never gone before. And so we will go into space whether we have a hand in it or not, but I want to see it in my lifetime.


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?

Blame Nixon.


(What's the deal with these seven questions?

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August 22, 2003

Seven Questions with...You

I'm still waiting for final approval from the Foresight Institute to run the interview with Christine Peterson, so I'm not sure that we'll be able to see her answers to the Seven Questions today. But that's okay: patience is a huge part of being a futurist.

Meanwhile, I thought this would be a good time to revisit my original post of the Seven Questions, and to invite you all to give your answers. Just put your answers in the Comments section, as Troy did.

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August 15, 2003

Seven Questions with Alex Lightman

This week's special guest, Alex Lightman, answers our Seven Questions about the Future.

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

    We live in an ever smarter world. An exponentially increasing number of people, places and things will be getting exponentially smarter and more responsive.

  2. What's the biggest disappointment?

    I don't have anything that's a disappointment. It's all good. Even environmental damage is teaching us to become teraformers, leading us to be much wiser and more cautious when we go out to terraform millions of planets like grains of sand around trillions of stars.

  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?

    Going from millions of people per computer and per local digital network per person to millions of computers and a dozens of networks - local, regional, global, interstellar - per person. That's the digital big bang, and the world that 4G will create.

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

    Equitocracy, my term for "government by owners". Taking every government - national, regional, munipal - public and letting people both own and vote their shares. This will increase wealth at one go more than any other social innovation, and be part of the exponential increase in feedback loops.

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

    None. Even pollution will cause us to go into space. Humans exist to face new and novel problems, so it's all grist for our growth. How boring and pointless to have no challenges or fears to face.

  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?

    I don't consider anything that I want to bring about unlikely, since I want things that would be for the good of the world, and, ultimately, if they are for the good of the world, others will help bring them about. Even a few dozen people can get things started and, contrary to the dreams of religious zealots, political tyrants, and would-be monopolists, there is no way to veto a technolgical or other beneficial development that is desired by many people in many countries.

  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?

    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.


(What's the deal with these seven questions?)

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August 08, 2003

Seven Questions with Aubrey de Grey

This week's special guest, Aubrey de Grey, answers the Seven Questions about the Future.

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

    For me, there's nothing different about living in the future than in the present in terms of desires. I don't want to live longer in order to be able to do things we can't do yet — go to Mars, that sort of thing. I want to live longer so that I can carry on doing what I already enjoy about life today.

  2. What's the biggest disappointment?

    Disappointment about living in the future? I guess I don't really understand the question. As humanity becomes more in control of our environment, we'll have more choices to live how we want to live, so ideally there should be no disappointments. Things may go badly wrong of course — but nothing is certain to go wrong.

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

    The development of engineered negligible senescence, of course!

  4. 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?

    Um, do you mean if I die aged 100? I fully intend not to leave the world at such a paltry age. But even if I died aged 100, that's still 60 years away — far too long to be able to make such predictions. Hmm, well, in 60 years we'll definitely have aging under complete control — I guess it would be difficult to imagine a bigger difference than that.

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

    None, really — I think that all the bad future developments that we might experience are ones that we should be able to avoid, so none of them qualifies as likely. Hey, I'm an optimist, okay?

  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?

    That's another hard one, because I tend to find that anything I want to bring about is something that plenty of other people also want, so it's not a matter of whether the development would happen but when. If you allow "expedite" as well as "bring about", the answer is of course the same as above, the development of engineered negligible senescence.

  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?

    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.


(What's the deal with these seven questions?)

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