Reaching the Edges of the Knowledge Wilderness

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright October 2017


As I'm writing this, I'm facing a mystery: I can forecast what will be happening in the 2050's, but I'm having a real hard time forecasting what will be happening in the 2100's that is different from what is happening in the 2050's. Example: I don't foresee interplanetary space commerce as becoming a big item and interstellar travel will be just a hobby that a handful of robots engage in and they will be asleep while they are making the outward journey. Result: Humans will still be 99% on Earth, our same old Earth.

Why the difference? Why so little change between 2050 and 2100?

I've just had an "Ah-hah!" and come up with an answer:

We are close to reaching the edges of the physical knowledge frontier. We aren't going to know much more about physical processes in 2100 than we know in 2050. The result: our knowledge about our physical world isn't going to change much after the 2050's.

This is quite a change from the intellectual world we have been living in since the beginning of The Renaissance. For centuries we have been living in times in which our knowledge of our physical world has been steadily improving.

Note that I'm far from the first one to say this, like end of world predictions this assertion comes up periodically, but being last in the line (for now) I think I'm closer than my predecessors to saying this at the right moment. [grin]

Seeing the limits

The physical world has limits. What has changed since the beginning of The Renaissance is discovering what those limits are and understanding them better. Here are some examples:

o We now know what the lowest temperature we can reach is

o We now know all the elements that make up our chemistry

o We now know that energy, momentum and similar physical processes have smallest values they can obtain -- they are quantum, not analog

In sum, we are seeing that there are physical limits on what the universe can present us, and we are seeing what those limits are. This means there are limits on both what we can learn about the universe and how we can manipulate it.

We are seeing the edges of the physical knowledge wilderness, now we get to finish settling it.

Settling a Wilderness

Here is an example of settling a wilderness.

Way back in the 1770's and 80's when The American Revolution was in progress, the North American continent was mostly unexplored wilderness in the eyes of those settlers coming from Europe. What was out there to the west was largely unknown and what it could provide when it was exploited was equally unknown. What was known was there was a lot out there and great riches could be made exploiting it.

A hundred years later, in the 1870's and 80's, the geography was much better understood, but what exploiting it was going to provide to settlers was still filled with lots of unknowns, in part because available technologies were changing just as fast as geographic knowledge was being obtained. It took another hundred years for America to become the fully settled America we think of today.

This same kind of settling process is happening in our understanding of the physical world. We have come a long way in understanding the physical limits of our universe, and now we are moving along quickly in learning how to exploit what is inside those limits.

One big difference between settling North America and settling our physical universe is the rise of artificial intelligence. This is going to dramatically speed up the exploiting phase.

But it is AI that is going to be doing much of that exploiting, and that's why the forecasting remains a mystery to me: I'm not AI.


Big changes are coming in our quest for more knowledge of our universe.

One big change is that we are getting closer to discovering all the physical limits of our universe -- we are seeing the edges of the container.

Another big change is that AI is going to start doing a lot of the heavy lifting in discovering how to exploit what we are learning. This means we humans will gather the fruits of the lessons learned, but we won't be learning the lessons ourselves.

In sum, lots of changes coming in the World of the 2100's but of a dramatically different sort than we are experiencing in the 2010's. It's going to stay a hard world to forecast.



--The End--