|'The Dawning Of The Third Age of Mankind’
Are we travelling down 'The Vortex' of Time itself?
In 1970, Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock" predicted a world in which
technology evolved so quickly that society was stunned, unable to adjust,
succumbing to "shattering stress and disorientation".
A decade later, John Naisbitt took a less cataclysmic look, and focused
on the next decade, with "Megatrends - Ten New Directions Transforming
Our Lives"; he updated that in 1990 with "Megatrends 2000".
Toffler proved to be both right and wrong. "Future Shock" did attack
millions of people, but primarily those in the newly freed nations of the
former Soviet Bloc, especially Russia itself. Hundreds of immigrants
pouring out of those nations to the United States in the 1990s apparently
returned back home, complaining about "too much choice".
Even a worldly ‘British author) and ‘high tech consultant’ who spent the
1990’s living and working in Southern California and Washington, DC, will
soon publish a book about his own American experience. One that
includes a chapter on how even ‘Western Europeans’ can be
overwhelmed by ‘American-style’ consumerism.
The working title? "A Cornucopia of Confusing Consumer Choices: Forty-
Five Types of Shredded Wheat?"
What Toffler failed to foresee, was the ease with which Americans,
Canadians and, within the dominion of their own societies, the rest of the
"developed" world would not only accept, but often demand faster
implementation of ‘new technologies’.
Generations raised on Star Trek and
Star Wars did not merely ‘anticipate’
desktop computers, instant global inform-
ation access, hand-held ‘global communi-
cators’ and robots, they built them.
Some of Naisbitt's predictions, such as a
rise in home-based ‘networking’, were
amazingly on target. Especially consider-
ing he never used the words ‘Internet’,
‘e-mail’, ‘global positioning system’ (GPS)
- none of which as ‘yet’ existed - nor
‘terrorism’, arguably four of the most
important factors driving late 20th and
early 21st Century society.
Perhaps the most astounding – (and controversial) - look at our
technology-based future came in 2001, when Ray Kurzweil, one of the
world's most honoured inventors, authors and futurists, published his ‘Law
of Accelerating Returns’.
”An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change
is ‘exponential’, contrary to the common-sense 'intuitive linear' view. So
we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st Century - it will be
more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate).
The 'returns', such as ‘chip speed’ and ‘cost-effectiveness’, also increase
exponentially. There's even ‘exponential growth’ in the rate of ‘exponential
Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human
intelligence, leading to ‘the Abnormal’- ‘technological change’ so rapid
and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The
implications include the merger of ‘biological’ and ‘non-biological’
intelligence. Immortal ‘software-based’ humans, and ultra-high levels of
‘intelligence’ that expands outward into the Universe at the speed of light”.
And that is only the opening paragraph! (The entire piece is available at
Kurzweil's ‘law’ helps explain what Toffler feared and Naisbitt sought to
analyze. As to whether Kurzweil is qualified to make such bold
statements, consider his remarkable biography at; http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil. Or simply Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' 2005
description of him as "the best at predicting the future of artificial
Given ‘Kurzweil's Law’, Naisbitt's ‘Megatrends’ and Toffler's ‘Future
Shock’ are already being dwarfed by the speed of technological advance.
Any new version of either book would have to be electronically published
to avoid being comically out-of-date before ever reaching a bookstore.
Consider a few examples of where we are
headed in the next 20 years or so:
Military doctors are already looking to field,
(within a decade), an early version of Star-
Trek's medical ‘tricorder’. - Not hoping, or
expecting, but planning.
The US Army's ‘Future Warrior’, the com-
bat infantry ensemble (circa 2020), has
been called everything from a;
‘futuristic medieval knight's suit of armour’
to a ‘Star Wars' Imperial Trooper’.
But ‘Future Warrior’ is an evolutionary
process, with the first elements now on their way to US troops in
Southwest Asia. For whom small robots that perform dangerous tasks,
such as checking for explosives at roadblocks, are already considered
‘honoured’ and ‘invaluable’ team mates.
Hydrogen fuel cells the size of soda cans have been powering TV field
cameras for the past two years; people all over the globe can flip open
their own ‘communicators’ and not only talk to anyone, anywhere. But take
and send photos and movies, listen to music, download information, send
and receive text messages, and obtain precise GPS locations. - Even Mr.
Spock would be likely to raise an eyebrow and mutter, "Fascinating".
Kurzweil's Singularity foresees a time - perhaps within the next two
decades - when it will be possible to download a human being's
‘memories’ and ‘personality’ into a computer. Add an advanced and
highly realistic ‘avatar’ based on that individual's actual appearance, (at
any age), and an equally accurate voice synthesizer, and it will be
possible to have a real-time, original conversation with a dead relative, or
teacher. Imagine Einstein or Mozart or da Vinci preserved for all time?
The religious implications, of course, are obvious, as are the legal and
Will AI Grandpa still own his house? Will flesh-and-blood Grandma be
able to remarry?
Is erasing an AI personality disk murder? And for writers and publishers, if
copyrights continue for 70 years after the author's death, is an AI author
dead - or immortal?
Nanotechnology – (microscopic machines) - and ‘microbiology’ are
expected to combine to enable the repair of almost anything that goes
wrong with any part of the Human body. No chemotherapy, no contact
lenses, no open heart surgery, just an injection of thousands of tiny robotic
surgeons programmed to deal with the problem.
(Don’t laugh, it’s almost here).
Experiments have already been performed
to enable two people to share sensory
perceptions. In others, robotic limbs have
been activated by subjects thinking about
moving their own arms or legs.
Such bio-electronic advances are
expected to enable quadriplegics to
walk away from their wheelchairs,
(possibly within a generation).
- In 1906 we had just witnessed the first flight of a ‘heavier-than-air’
manned aircraft. A flight that lasted less than the wingspan of a Boeing
Six decades later, we were walking on the Moon.
- In 1906, few people had access to a very cumbersome, expensive and
unreliable telephone system, and radio was still an experiment.
Today, you can watch television on your cellphone.
- In 1906, the average life expectancy in the US was 46.9 for men, 50.8 for
women. Today, it is 74.5 for men and 79.9 for women, according to US
government tables. But many ‘futurists’ say for those of us now living, the
trick will simply be to live long enough . . ‘to live forever’ - which they
believe the merger of ‘biology’ and ‘technology’ will make possible, (in
one form or another), within a generation.
"Future Shock" and "Megatrends" were products of the late 20th Century,
when Kurzweil's ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’ was just beginning to reach
the Tipping Point – (that dramatic moment when something unique
In contrast, the 21st Century will require entirely new legal, sociological,
philosophical, religious, political, moral and personal concepts.
Perhaps it is - 250 years earlier than claimed by the 1990s TV show
"Babylon 5" - truly …….‘The Dawn Of The Third Age of Mankind’.
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All work is World copyright protected. (P. Moring © 2006)
|'The Third Age Of Mankind'