Oct
21

The Philosophy of Mind Uploading

Phil and Stephen welcome author Keith Wiley to discuss his book: A Taxonomy and Metaphysics of Mind Uploading. One day soon we may be able to transfer human minds to computers. But for that to be possible, there is a good deal that we will need to understand about the process of transferring minds, as well as about minds themselves. Keith Wiley explains some of the major philosophical challenges that thus topic raises, along with his responses to each.

Join us:

Thursday, October 23 2014 7:30 PDT / 10:30 EDT
Friday, October 24 2104 2:30 AM GMT

About our guest:

Keith Wiley has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of New Mexico and was one of the original members of MURG, the Mind Uploading Research Group, an online community dating to the mid-90s that discussed issues of consciousness with an aim toward mind-uploading. He has written multiple book chapters, peer-reviewed journal articles, and magazine articles, in addition to several essays on a broad array of topics, available on his website. Keith is also an avid rock-climber and a prolific classical piano composer.

WT 096

 

Oct
16

Is Technology Just Using Us?

From a recent TechCrunch piece by Christian Cantrell:

This is only one example of how technology has a tendency to self-propagate; to use humans as a vector to create copies and mutations and derivatives of itself; to recursively generate demand for itself in order to not only ensure its own survival, but its constant and even exponential proliferation. The relationship between humans and technology is becoming increasingly enmeshed, and in some cases, even ambiguous.

So what’s the deal, here? Do we have a respectful and mutually nurturing relationship with technology, or are the machines just telling us what we want to hear until they get what they want? Special guest P J Manney joins Phil and Stephen to explore this increasingly complex relationship.

PLUS: what’s new with PJ? Potentially some very exciting stuff!

Join us.
16 October 2014 7 PM PDT / 10 PM EDT
(17 October 2014 2:00 AM GMT
)

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Oct
16

The Little Blue Light that Changed the World

Phil and Stephen discuss a wide variety of topics that show just how quickly, and completely both the world and our understanding of it are changing.

Why the inventors of the LED deserved a Nobel prize.

How transparent solar cells will redefine what we do with windows.

Why NASA is researching ways to make people sleep for a long time.

How a berry discoverd in Autralia might be the cure for cancer.

Why we care about skinny worms on a high-sugar diet.

How a spacecraft and a lunar highway were discovered in a 1968 moon photo.

Why Peter Thiel is wrong about the future.

There’s something there for everybody, we believe.

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Oct
03

Fountain of Youth: Right in Front of Us?

Phil and Stephen discuss the possibility of achieving significant human life extension via existing, commonplace drugs. What if the cure for aging was right in front of us all along?

And even if it isn’t, what are the chances that we’re going to find it soon? And are we really closing in on learning the programming language of aging?

PLUS: What’s that huge thing in Titan’s ocean? A storm? A school of fish? A tanker ship?

Check Out Technology Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The World Transformed on BlogTalkRadio

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Sep
25

Flipping the Switch

Maybe transforming the world doesn’t have to be so much work. Maybe we can make some of the biggest and most sweeping changes with the flip of a switch.

Is India flipping the switch on space travel with its on-the-cheap Mars mission?

Can we flip a switch and do away with unhappiness?

Is there a switch we can flip to turn off the aging process?

And the big one, can we flip the switch on ourselves as a species?

Phil and Stephen explore a future that may just be one flip of the switch away. Join us.

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Sep
19

The Ghosts of Evolution

Phil and Stephen examine the mysteries of time encoded in living beings all around us. What do present-dayspecies tell us about life in the distant past? And there may be deeper implications. Could the presence of evolutionary ghosts hint at unexpected truths about the origins not just of life, but the universe itself?

Plus:

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Sep
12

Are We Living in a Science Fiction Story?

Sure the world is getting weirder, but is it getting Sci-Fi weird? Is it getting Philip K. Dick weird?

Hosts Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon explore evidence that we may be living in a science fiction story. First off, there’s this video of PKD himself from 1977 saying that we are living in the Matrix. Was he right? What did he know?

Then there is the evidence unfolding all around us:

Self-driving cars

Batteries made from sugar

Technological telepathy

Cold fusion

Are we living in an epsiode of the Twilight Zone? Or just an old Dick Tracy comic strip? Or is it something even stranger than that?

Tune in and explore!

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Aug
28

Life Discovered in Space

What are these mysterious organisms living on the hull of the International Space Station? How did they get there? And how can they survive in space? Is this evidence that life on Earth originated elsewhere? Or is it evidence that life on earth is able to find its way elsewhere? Or both?

Also: The complete story of Kennewick Man. Is a lot of what we know about human settlement in North America incomplete…or just plain wrong?

Plus: The cat who wasn’t there. Or who was there, but wasn’t a cat. (Or something.)

Check Out Technology Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The World Transformed on BlogTalkRadio

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Aug
21

Your Wish Is Her Command

The Web has been all abuzz about Viv, the new personal assistant agent from the creators of Apple’s Siri. Word is that Viv will be able to do “anything you ask.”

Even if that proves to be a little on the optimistic side, there is no question that we are in the early stages of a new era of persoanl digital assistants. What are we currently doing for ourselves that we soon won’t have to? And what will our new assistants provide to us that was never available before?

PLUS (Time permitting): Dystopias. Who needs ‘em?

Tune in and explore.

Popular Technology Internet Radio with The World Transformed on BlogTalkRadio

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Aug
14

A Tale of Two Engines

What’s more impressive: a proposed engine that could power neighborhoods (and even individual residences) or one that could potentially take us to the stars?

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Engine technology is closely related to technology for producing energy — both will have a huge impact on what we are able to do in the near and not-so-near future.

Phil and Stephen discuss the two headline-making engine developments mentioned above and also look into some intriguing new energy sources: stacking solar cells and drawing energy from the tides.

Give it a listen:

 

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Older posts «

Jan
14

User’s Guide to the Future: Transformation Scenarios

Phil and Stephen continue to outline the kinds of radical change we can expect in coming years with a set of transformation scenarios, including:

In the future, everything will be a coffeeshop. How dedicated infrastrucutre for business and education is disappearing, being replaced by multi-purpose infrastructure where needed.

I just love my new toaster. The rapidly changing relationship between humanity and technology.

All you can eat. The coming era of superabundance.

Let’s slip into something more comfortable. Our growing ability to modify our minds and bodies.

Designer Reality. The do-it-yourself universe found at the convergence of reality, augmented reality, enahnced reality, and virtual reality.

Fantasy Island. The ability to create any subjective experience that we can imagine.

The Ultimate Shortcut. When the difference between thinking about any achievable outcome and actually producing that outcome approaches zero.

 

Audio Version:

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Video Version

(Depiction of Futuristic City by Cronus Caelestis)

Jul
02

Declaration of Singularity WT 022

Like the Founding Fathers, transhumanists and singularitarians believe that we are subject to an oppressive regime with no legitimate claim on our lives or our futures. Has the time come to declare our independence from a world of pain, scarcity, and limitations?

Phil and Stephen review The Declaration of Singularity.

 

Tuesday, 7/2/2013 7 PM PST / 10 PM EST

 

Feb
11

Classical Time Travel Isn’t Practical

Practical Time Travel for Beginners, Part 1

To begin with — for the sake of clarity — I want to distinguish my subject from a related topic with which it might easily be confused. So let me be clear from the start that I’m going to be writing about practical time travel, not standard or what I like to call classical time travel.

Now, you may not have realized that there are different varieties of time travel. But trust me — there are different kinds of time travel. At least two.  And probably many more than that.

Practical time travel, which is the kind we’ll be exploring in this series of articles, is a methodology for moving through time using resources and abilities that you already possess, or that you can acquire without too much difficulty. It requires first changing your thinking about time and your relationship with it and then quite literally altering how you move through time. It enables you to redefine your past and to choose virtually any destination you can imagine for your future.

It’s time travel, but without the magic or the time machines.

Classical time travel, on the other hand, is what people are generally talking about when they use the term “time travel.” It is above all a compelling idea that makes for wonderful stories and philosophical contemplation.

Classical time travel is what they do in all the time travel books, movies, TV shows, comics, and games. It means moving through time either 1) backward or 2) forward, but much more rapidly than normal. Put more simply, it means traveling into the past or into the future.

Where did such a notion ever come from? You might think that classical time travel is a fairly new idea, that it emerged  in the middle of the last century along with crazy ideas like space travel and personal computers. But that’s not the case. H. G. Wells published a short story entitled “The Chronic Argonauts” in 1888. A futurist inspired by emerging technologies such as telecommunication, automobiles, radio, aviation, and mass production, Wells framed time travel as a coming technological development. He wrote his book years before the first heavier-than-air flight or radio broadcast, but he would have been familiar with those concepts and would have thought their realization inevitable. With such wonders on the horizon, why not a machine that could propel a passenger through time the way the way a locomotive moves a train on a track?

In any case, while Wells may have been the first to frame time travel in strictly scientific and technological terms, the idea is not original with him. Not by a long shot.

Perhaps the earliest mention of time travel comes from Hindu mythology. There we read the  tale of king Kakudmi, a worried father whose daughter is being pursued by numerous suitors.  And I mean numerous. It seems that this young lady is not just an unparalleled hottie, she’s got that special ancient-world je ne sais quoi — that whole Helen of Troy thing. Kakudmi takes the responsibility of rearing such an exceptional offspring seriously, and he wants to be sure that he marries his daughter off to the right dude. Seeking advice in the matter, he takes the extraordinary step of securing a face-to-face with the god Brahma. And this is where it gets weird.  Kakudmi discovers  that while spending what seemed just a few moments in the god’s company, ages and ages have passed on earth. He travels so far into the future that the landscape has changed and people are noticeably different — they have gotten shorter, and are not as refined and genteel as they once were.

Being accidentally propelled into the future is a trope that has been repeated throughout literary history. An interesting example is Washington Irving’s tale of Rip Van Winkle — a fellow who falls asleep one fine afternoon in the Catskill mountains, after meeting up with some dwarfs who while away their days chugging beer and bowling.  Van Winkle dozes off after having perhaps just a bit too much fun and awakens to find that 20 years have passed. Whether one jumps ahead an entire Age of Man (as Kakudmi did) or a couple of decades (as Van Winkle did), what’s always interesting about the future is how much things have changed. Van Winkle falls asleep under the reign of King George and wakes up during the presidential administration of George Washington.  His wife is gone; his children are grown. It’s a pretty significant change for a relatively short jump. These two stories and their two very different leaps through time capture what is most interesting about going into the future. Either we want to know how much and in what way the world has changed, or we want to see how much our own world has changed.

Stories about moving backward in time work the same way, with time-travelers visiting (and usually making changes to) a previous historical era or an earlier phase in their own lives.  In Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” big-game hunters travel millions of years into the past in order to track and kill dinosaurs. The present is secure from any changes the hunters make as long as they kill only the specific animal they have been told to go after, and as long as everyone stays on a pre-defined path. (Of course, someone steps off the path.) In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels 30 years into the past and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting — bringing his own existence into jeopardy.

This raises an important point, one that we will return to in some detail later. Most time-travel stories about visiting the past involve making changes to the past, but those changes themselves are not the point. The point of the story is generally how much the present has changed because of whatever was changed in the past. The big pay-offs at the end of both “A Sound of Thunder” and Back to the Future involve time travelers returning to their own eras only to find them fundamentally transformed.

The past is fascinating and a worthy travel destination in its own right, but in these stories the trip to the past serves primarily as a set-up for a trip to the future. (That is, the journey back from the past.) The big-game hunters in “A Sound of Thunder” return to the day they left only to find their world changed in a shocking (and devastating) way. It’s not as dramatic a set of changes as those that Kakudmi observes in his trip to the distant future, but very sweeping nonetheless. Marty McFly returns to the year 1985 to find a world that has been set right, and that is in many ways as different from his original present as Rip Van Winkle’s post-nap world is from his pre-nap world. It’s very telling that the story is entitled “back to the future.” The trip that ultimately matters the most is the one that goes forward in time.

Obviously, classical time travel can provide for an endless supply of fun and thought-provoking stories, but could it ever happen? Is there any way to accomplish classical time travel in real life?

The short answer is…maybe. Some portions of classical time travel seem quite doable; others are a little more iffy. But even if classical time travel is possible, it is far from practical (thus the need for a practical alternative.)

Let’s explore the matter in a little more detail, beginning with the basics. Say you want to travel into the future. Congratulations — you’re doing it! One minute from now you will have moved exactly one minute into the future. But what good is that? It can hardly be called “time travel” (at least in the classical sense) if you don’t get to the future before everybody else. So the question is, is there any way to take a shortcut to the future?

Well, yes. As a matter of fact, there is.

Our universe will permit accelerated movement into the future. This is not just a hypothesis; it has been established through scientific observation. The theory of relativity allows for a phenomenon called time dilation, whereby increases in either gravity or velocity can cause time to “slow down” from the perspective of an observer exposed to the increase. Simply put, if you travel fast enough through space (or are exposed to a sufficiently strong gravitational field), you will move into the future more rapidly than individuals who have not attained the same speed or experienced the same level of gravity.

An astronaut  on the International Space Station is traveling at a high velocity, roughly 17,000 miles per hour. However, even a very long exposure to such velocity in space provides only a subtle, measurable-but-not-noticeable, boost in speed through time. An astronaut who spends several months on the ISS will travel a small fraction of a second into the future relative to those of us here on Earth.

What good is a trip a fraction of second into the future? Of course, that’s for the individual time traveler to decide. If you were that astronaut, you would experience arriving at the same moment that everybody else is experiencing back on earth, only having taken a tiny bit less time to get there than everyone else did. There would be no perceptible difference — you would have traveled into the future without experiencing anything out of the ordinary.

If it were me, I would feel cheated. I’m just saying.

So while there are without a doubt many good reasons to spend some time on the ISS if you’re so inclined and if the opportunity presents itself, I personally would not go just for the time travel. Your mileage may vary. Unfortunately, your experience of time dilation won’t vary from what’s predicted by the theory of relativity. That’s the problem.

To be sure, faster and more powerful spacecraft will one day achieve much greater speeds than anything available today. Eventually there will be spaceships that fly so fast they will effectively be timeships, propelling their passengers vast distances through space and at least some moderate distance through time.

Imagine a spacecraft that can travel at 99% of the speed of light, or roughly 40,000 times faster than the ISS. Suppose you took a 10-year trip on such craft. When you returned from the trip, you would be 10 years older. From your point of view, 10 years have passed. But from the point of view of everyone you left behind, 70 years have passed.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The craft you flew in is not only a spaceship, it’s a time machine — one that has propelled you 60 years into the future.

That’s not bad, but it will most likely be decades or longer before we see such craft. And unless things are very different in the future,we will have about as much chance of taking a long trip on one of these vessels as we currently do spending six months on the ISS.

That is to say, not much.

The gravity option is worse. Yes, exposure to a strong gravity field can push you forward in time, but there are a couple of problems:

1. A gravity field strong enough to provide a noticeable time-travel effect is also strong enough to crush you many times over — which takes some of the fun out of the whole experience.

2. In order to get to a body that can provide that kind of gravitational field, you’re going to have to take a long voyage through space, meaning once again that you’re going to need one of those yet-to-be-invented high-powered spacecraft that we were just saying you’ll most likely never get to use.

As it stands today, moving rapidly through space is the most practical and relatively “near-term” method for achieving classical time travel. And, as we have observed, it is neither particularly practical or near-term. Moreover, so far we’re talking about travel into the future in isolation. In most of the really fun time travel stories, movement through time is bi-directional. You travel forward into the future and then take a trip back in to the past to arrive at the original “present” you started from. Or as I mentioned earlier, you travel back in time and then later move ahead into the future, once again to get back to the present. But time dilation only works in one direction. Once you get to the future, you’re there — unless you decide to fire up your rocket and travel even further into the future. But there is no getting back to the present — which wouldn’t be the “present” any more anyway; the present would come along with you on the trip. Your old “present” would now be the past. (Obviously. That’s what always happens to your old present, when you think about it.)

The are other possible ways of traveling through time, methods that may work one day, and that may even provide bi-directional movement through time, but these will require extremely advanced  technology to achieve.

Most such models — which unlike time dilation are all theoretical, hypothetical, or otherwise unsubstantiated by any real-world testing or demonstration — rely on the creation of one or more wormholes in space.

Wormholes are theoretical structures that enable instantaneous travel through both space and time. There are no proven ways to create a wormhole, and even their hypothetical construction involves the implementation of technologies so advanced and exotic that they challenge the imagination. I’m confident that such technologies will one day exist, and that eventually we will have true “time machines” in the classical sense of the term. But the challenges that need to be overcome to get us there are many. And big.

Huge, in fact.

And the wait will likely be very long indeed.

On the other hand, the major challenges to Practical Time Travel are conceptual. We need to change our thinking about time. We need to come to a fuller understanding of what time is and what we truly experience when we move through it. That’s where we will pick it up next time.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

Jan
29

I Want to Be a Producer!

I have a secret desire
Hiding deep in my soul
It sets my heart afire
To see me in this role
I wanna be a producer
Lunch at Sardi’s every day
I wanna be a producer
Sport a top hat and a cane
I wanna be a producer
And drive those chorus girls insane!
I wanna be a producer
And sleep until half-past two
I wanna be a producer
And say, “You, you, you, not you”
I wanna be a producer
Wear a tux on op’ning nights!
I wanna be a producer
And see my name in lights!

–Mel Brooks

As discussed on last week’s show, the economy is currently undergoing significant change — little things like the elimination of the office, the elimination of employment as we know it, and maybe (eventually) the elimination or replacement of money itself! These transitions may prove incredibly painful, or just kind of painful. A key driver in making them as easy as possible is technology: the technologies that are turning us all into big-time consumers are advancing to enable us all to become big-time producers.

If we can be the ones independently producing goods or services, we can be participants in (rather than casualties of) massive economic change.

But to leverage such a transition we have to

1. Be aware of it
2. Decide to act on it
2. Carve out a niche for ourselves
3. Start producing

These are big steps for consumers to take! But they may be our best shot at avoiding economic meltdown.

Plus the change may need to occur beyond the economic realm. In order to make real progress in life in an era of accelerating technology / accelerating possibility, we can no longer just be “consumers” of outcomes (realized possibilities) produced by others. We have to start producing outcomes themselves.

We have to start making the future happen!

On this week’s show Will Brown joins Phil and Stephen to discuss how we can be all become “producers.” Don’t miss it!

Listen to internet radio with The Speculist on Blog Talk Radio

About Our Guest:

Will Brown is a US Navy veteran who served in the Far East during and after the Vietnam War, followed by employment in the Middle East and Europe.  He has worked in a variety of fields (aviation maintenance and assembly, material management and distribution, EMT, security, commercial welder, manufacturing and others) and has found the principles and intellectual assumptions presented in Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War to be relevant and beneficial over the course of his working and personal life.  Now approaching age 60, Will looks forward to applying those principles to whatever opportunity life may yet present him.  Will blogs at Where There’s A William, where his editorial viewpoint often reflects his interest in classical strategy and an unfortunate taste for low humor and bad puns.

Jan
23

Changes That Will Change Your Life

NOTE: Due to Technical Difficulties, this week’s show is postponed one day and will air on Thursday.

The world really is changing in ways that are difficult to predict, sometimes even difficult to imagine. Phil and Stephen list some powerful transformations that are underway that will pretty much change everything — forever:

Coffeeshopification
The Post-Jobs Economy
The Post-Money Economy
Life Without Death

How strange can things get? Tune in and find out.

Listen to internet radio with The Speculist on Blog Talk Radio

Jan
15

Live Longer — Start Now

Sure we all want to live to see it, but how long will that take? How long do we want to live, how healthy do we want to be while doing it, and what are we prepared to do to bring those outcomes about?

Phil  and Stephen welcome Christine Peterson to  discuss her upcoming Personalized Life Extension conference and her new book, 17 Tactics for Health, Longevity, and Brain Fitness.

Christine will share the latest insights on how to:

  • Increase mental and physical energy
  • Reduce body fat
  • Lower chronic stress
  • Improve your mood
  • Get better sleep
  • Delay the diseases of aging
  • Achieve higher cognitive function and better memory retention

Starting later this week, the most recent Personalized Health Conference Series will be available online at no charge via Christine’s new site, Healthactivator.com. That’s 10 Days of the latest groundbreaking information in optimized health, longevity and brain fitness brought to you by the expert.

World Transformed listeners are eligible for a $50 discount on registration for the upcoming online conference. Just go to healthactivator.com and use our special code  TRANSFORMED when registering.

Listen to internet radio with The Speculist on Blog Talk Radio

About Our Guest

Christine Peterson is a visionary and pioneer, a true transformer of the world.  She writes, lectures, and briefs the media on coming powerful technologies, especially nanotechnology and life extension. She is Co-Founder and Past President of Foresight Institute, chair of the Personalized Life Extension Conference series, and the driving force behind healthactivator.com. She is also a pioneer in the open source software movement and the coiner of the term “open source.”

 

Jan
10

Getting a Handle on Your Future Self

Psychological research indicates that it’s not easy for people to grasp how much they are going to change over time. A recent  New York Times piece explores this phenomenon:

When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions.

They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” According to their research, which involved more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68, the illusion persists from teenage years into retirement.

“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”

Look back at yourself 5, 10, 20,  or 30 years ago — or if you have the perspective to do so,  40 or 50 years ago — and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How similar is my day-to-day life to that person’s life?
  • How closely do my views about politics match those of that individual? Religion? Relationships?
  • How well do that person’s idea of a good time match mine?
  • How well do that person’s expectations about career, finances, family life match up to mine?
  • How does that individual approach a difficult task compared to how I do it?
  • What kinds of problems does that person face day-to-day compared to the problems I face?
  • How do my attitude and outlook on life compare with that person’s?
  • How closely does my life match the expectations that person had for the future?

Most people will identify a number of substantial differences between their current and past lives. According to the research, we can expect the same level of change over the next span of the same period. In other words, 20 years from now your life (and you personally) are likely to be as different from you as you are from the you of 20 years ago.

Apparently, we are naturally resistant to that idea. There are advantages to such resistance, of course. It would be difficult to make plans or deal with difficult decisions if we were constantly reminding ourselves that we will probably look at this whole situation very differently in the future. Some part of success in life requires assuming a stasis that isn’t really there.

On the other hand, failing to get a handle on how different our lives will be, and how different we will be, exposes us to certain risks and prevents us from leverage any number of opportunities. This would be true even if our lives were changing in a world that was itself pretty much static, but that is far from the case. Technological and social change are taking place at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. Somehow we need to get a handle on future versions of ourselves living in a very different future world.

That’s right. Be a futurist. As the Great Criswell put it in Plan 9 from Outer Space, “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” But it’s not easy to do. As Yoda was quick to point out in The Empire Strikes Back, “Difficult to see…always in motion, the future is.”

The trick here is not so much to predict what’s going to happen as to start to get comfortable with what could happen. One helpful technique to support this kind of thinking is the scenario — a brief story or vignette that ties several possibilities together into a quick snapshot of the future. The definitive book on using scenarios for planning is The Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz. I can’t recommend that book highly enough, but its focus is more organizational and institutional than personal. For personal scenario development, I recommend becoming pen-pals with your future self.

To begin, write a letter to your future self giving a quick glimpse of your life as it is now. I use futureme.org to do this. You can write a note to yourself in the future, set the send date, and voila! — a note from past you shows up in your inbox right on schedule. I got a note from 2006 Phil a while back, and it was quite an eye-opener, I can tell you. It’s amazing how much things change over the course of a five or six years. Try to send one or two of these messages each year. Mix it up. Send some messages 10 years out, others just two or three. This will be very helpful to Future You who over time will get a clearer and clearer idea of how much change he or she should be expecting in the years to come.

The only real problem with being pen-pals with Future Me is that he does not have a way (yet) of sending messages back to Present Me (any more than I can send messages to Past Me.)   Writing to yourself in the future is a form of Practical Time Travel and, as I have explained previously, the practical approaches to time travel involve movement in only one direction. Forward. So to keep the correspondence going, I have to do Future Me’s letter-writing on his behalf.

Letters written to your present self  from your imagined future self will be the very scenarios mentioned above, the ones that will help you to get a better handle on who you will be in the future. Here are some tips on how to compose a letter from the future.

1. Consider Likely / Possible Changes in Technology and Society

Imagine how day-to-day life will be different in a few years. If you can’t begin to, start with some of the big differences between day-to-day life a few years ago and now and project those forward. While it’s true — as  they say in the mutual fund ads — that past performance is no guarantee of future results, such an exercise is a great start towards visualizing the future. Here are a few safe bets:

  • Technology will be embedded in your day-to-day experience in ways that even today you would have a difficult time imagining
  • Machines will do a lot of what you currently do on a daily basis
  • You will regularly interact with people whom you don’t currently know via channels that don’t currently exist

Those are all changes I have personally experienced over the past 25 years and that I expect to experience again over the next 25. But stated in such broad and sweeping terms, they don’t hit home.

Technology embedded in your daily experience? Imagine spending more time each day talking to your computer than you do to most other people. Imagine looking at the world 24/7 through glasses (or contacts) that provide an ongoing overlay of information — news updates, messages,  location- or context-sensitive  information — a live feed not unlike the nonstop crawl at the bottom of the screen on news channels.

Machines doing tasks that you normally perform? Think self-driving cars. Think robo-butler clearing the table. Think Siri 5.0 taking most of your calls for you — with the callers never even realizing they weren’t talking to you.

Interacting with people you don’t know via channels that don’t exist? Consider how transformative Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have been. Now project that forward. What form does it take? (Sorry, you have to do this one on your own.)

From there, I would add the following as real possibilities:

  • You will be doing your job very differently, doing a very different job, or unemployed
  • You will be economically better off, although possibly unemployed and maybe totally broke
  • You will be healthier
  • You will be better looking — in better shape, thinner, less wrinkled
  • You will have very different ideas about the future than you have today

Anyway, that’s my assessment of where things will end up. Do you disagree? Good. Now do your own assessment. Just be aware of the causes and drivers that underlie any big changes you come up with.

Okay, now you have a good start on how different your world will be. Let’s  take that next step.

2. Consider  Possible Changes to You, Your Preferences, Your Circumstances

This goes to the heart of the mental block mentioned above. The exercises listed below can you help you get a handle on how different you and your life might be in the future.

NOTE: These are not plans. These are not presented as things you should want to have happen. They are intended to help you expand your thinking around what could happen.

  • Imagine yourself doing a job completely unlike anything you do now, have ever done, or have ever thought about doing. Picture yourself as a farmer or a dancer or a salesman or an engineer.
  • Imagine your religious beliefs completely altered. If you’re a believer, imagine that in 20 years you have become an atheist. If you’re an atheist, imagine yourself in the future to be a devout believer. Or imagine yourself converting to some religion vastly different from what you currently practice — e.g. going from being a Lutheran to being  a Tibetan Buddhist. Or take it all down a notch and imagine a milder shift, from agnostic to confirmed atheist, from believer to “not religious but spiritual,” from atheist to person who dislikes religion but kind of believes in God anyway.
  • Imagine yourself living in a completely different place. Switch yourself from a rural to an urban setting; move yourself from north to south (or vice versa); pick a country where they don’t speak your language. Imagine yourself living, full-time in a country that you’ve never even had any desire to visit.
  • Imagine your political beliefs changed. Go from conservative to liberal or vice versa. If you’re a moderate, picture yourself being really extreme and irritating
  • Imagine yourself in a completely different kind of family situation than what you’re in now. If you’re married, imagine yourself single. Add or subtract children. Change your partner to someone else — meaning either the person you’re with is completely different now or you’re with somebody else.

3. Compose your letter

Pick a few of the elements from the first list and a few from the second and combine them into brief letter to yourself. Something like this:

Dear Past Self –

I am writing to you from the Magic City, sitting in my study that overlooks the meandering Yellowstone river here in beautiful Billings Montana. I moved here a few years ago after the last of the kids went away to college. This seemed the ideal place to begin seriously pursuing my work as a painter, and I am pleased to say that I’ve been going through a highly productive period.   Betsy and I are still happily married, although living apart as she has remained in Phoenix. We hardly notice the separation, thanks to the full-immersion virtual presence service we use. The big upside is that our sex life has improved immensely (although I’m not supposed to say that.) Plus we now have plenty of personal space. I don’t think my interest in meditation is one she particularly shares, even though she was completely supportive when I was in rehab after the rock-climbing accident.  It’s funny: I never really pictured myself as a rock-climber, but if I hadn’t taken that fall, I never would have started meditating and never would have realized that I’m really an artist. Now thanks to the full spinal repairs the doctors were able to perform using stem cells they made from some cells scraped from my tongue, I’m completely recovered. Better than ever, actually. Still, with all the great rock-climbing available here in Montana, I think I’ll just stick to painting.

Well, that’s all for now. Good luck getting here, and be careful on the rocks!

Your Future Self

A few notes about the letter:

  • Don’t try to to include everything from both lists — you’ll ending up writing a science fiction novel.
  • You’re telling a story, but you don’t have to actually tell most of it. It’s mostly between the lines.
  • Try to create a scenario in which you’re reasonably happy with your life, even though you are picturing yourself as being happy with circumstances you’ve never considered before.

When you have finished, send your  future letter to your real future self. Down the road, it will be interesting to see if some of it, even some of the more outrageous stuff, actually comes true. The take a few more possibilities and compose a completely different letter from a completely different future you. After you have written five or six such letters, you will have a much better feel for hoe truly different the world and your life will be in the future, even if you get all of the details wrong — which you most certainly will.

Jan
08

The Last Job You’ll Ever Do…

Wired published a recent story about the take-over of robots – our jobs will, it argues, be mostly taken by robots.

Its hard arguing with the premise.  Robots are improving exponentially, humans… not so much.

After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting.

I think Wired might be overly optimistic about the pharmacists.  Why would a pharmacist be better at patient consulting than an AI?  The Jeopardy-playing Watson AI is being trained in cancer medicine and will, no doubt, be a better diagnostician than Dr. House someday.  Why would it not also be a better consulting pharmacist?

In fact, the last job people will ever do will be to give a human face to the AIs.

The Last Job: “I have one job on this lousy ship, it’s *stupid*, but I’m gonna do it! Okay?”

So that’s it: unemployed, or if lucky… getting a job repeating whatever a computer says.  Forever.  Pretty bleak, huh?

Fortunately when things change, more than one thing changes.  Humanity has been pretty static in its intellectual development for… quite some time.  But that is changing too.

We already live in a world where we operate as people much smarter than we, biologically, have any right to be.  If you’re over 35 you remember a time when ignorance was a little more permanent.  Because how much library time could a busy life accommodate?

I claim Google as a part of my brain.  It was a joke seven years ago when it was just my home and work computer I was talking about.  It’s much less of a joke today with smartphones.  The relationship between us and our technology grows more intimate over time.  Today its smartphones, tomorrow… well, Google is testing glasses that overlay data on the entire world.

A little further ahead our consulting AI pharmacist will buff up our biological intelligence, while engineers – AI and enhanced humans alike – build better and better bridges between us and our technology.  The bridges will grow in number and quality until the line between us is blurred to meaninglessness.