Tackling Weighty Issues:
Final Question One

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright July 2013


What do you feel are the most important evolutionary changes our culture is facing today? How will they eventually effect the future of the society we have now?


As I talked about in the mid-term question, the biggest change coming to our culture now is the spread of automation in the making of the goods and services that we humans all around the world consume. This is going to bring about big changes, and resource exhaustion is not going to put a cap on this transition. We are headed into a future very different from the present we now experience.

I will break my answer into several sections:

o Why Resource Exhaustion is not an issue

o The challenge of what humans will do when machines are doing everything

o The evolving relation between humans and the upcoming cyber beings

Why Resource Exhaustion is not an issue

There are two big trends that will keep resource exhaustion from limiting our future lifestyles: the demographic trend that will peak human population in the 2050's, and the ongoing and rapid increase in productivity. (the efficiency with which we make goods and services)

Demographics: Prosperity will defuse the Population Bomb. This will happen because people living in prosperous, urban, middle-class lifestyles have very few children compared to those living impoverished rural lifestyles. This happens because of competition for attention -- there are so many other things to do in the prosperous environment besides having and raising children. This has been true ever since cities were developed, long before effective birth control. What is changing dramatically right now is how many people are living urban lifestyles. Last year or this year the percentage of urban residents around the world topped 50% and it's still rising rapidly. If current trends continue, world population will peak at about 9 billion in 2050 and decline slowly thereafter.

This means there is a hard limit on how many mouths we will have to feed.

Productivity: Steadily increasing productivity means that the resources required to feed those mouths will steadily decline. And luxuries will become steadily more affordable as well. This means we won't need to enact draconian measures for either resource control or population control. Unless the various communities on Earth really screw things up, the Earth will be able to sustain its human population in increasing comfort for the foreseeable future.

This is most comforting. So comforting that many, many people can't believe it's possible. Their emotions won't let them see this perspective. I write about this in my essays Productivity: The Green Progress Doom and Gloomers choose to ignore and Alien Concept: Growing the Resource Pie.

This means that our "greatest challenge" is not material, it's spiritual: What is the purpose of having humans on Earth?

The challenge of what humans will do when machines are doing everything

In a world filled with smart phones, smart cars and smart factories... what are humans going to do? What will be their reasons for existence?

Answering this, and learning what it takes to accomplish the answer, are going to be the big challenges of the next fifty years. This is something I've been thinking about for some time, and I've written a science fiction book about it: "Child Champs: Babymaking in the year 2112", and I'm working up another one, not quite a sequel, but addressing this same issue.

Here are some endeavors that humans will likely be pursuing in the 2050's:

o One of the widespread and popular activities will be entertainment. Because entertainment is so emotion-based humans will still be very competent at filling this activity niche. Because our lifestyles will be even more prosperous than today, the amount of resource we can spend on entertainment will grow.

o Another activity will be something I call "hipster crafting". This is the making and growing of stuff using rituals that infuse the result with mystically beneficial properties. Hand-crafted artwork, locavorism and organic foods are contemporary examples.

o Some people will reject the diverse prosperous urban lifestyles and establish special purpose communes in rural areas. These will be quite varied. Each will support a cause that is expressed as a lifestyle choice. They will often have charismatic leaders and live cultish lifestyles. Mennonites and Jonestown prior to its spectacular ending are examples.

o A tougher and tougher activity will be helping to automate our world even more. This will take a lot of training and discipline in mastering analytical thinking styles and gaining deep understanding the physical processes of our real world. This is never easy for humans. What will change that makes it even tougher is that computers will continue to take over more of the lower level parts of this activity, so for humans to contribute they are going to have to become even better and better at it. A contemporary example: arithmetic proficiency is no longer a valued skill in accounting.

The dark side choices of the next few decades will be zombieism and rights protesting. The zombies will be like contemporary social dropouts. They will spend a lot of time not doing much but computer gaming in various forms. The more outward form of this is hedonism -- wild partying with others. The darker side of zombieism will be substance abuse and new variations of mind abuse that are surprise outcomes of the new technologies that will come to life over the next few decades. The rights protesters will get their meaning in life by pursuing emotion-stroking causes and by figuring out ways to game the system. The system gaming can range from mild -- standing in line to fill out forms to get benefits based on newly accepted rights -- to violent -- property crime and violent protesting and looting.

The possibilities for human activity will remain diverse. But most of those possibilities will center around entertainment and personal development. The making the world a better place activities will mostly be taken over by automation.

The evolving relation between humans and the upcoming cyber beings

Computing power is going to continue to grow exponentially. Ray Kurzweil writes about this in The Singularity is Near and I'm impressed by his insights. Some ramifications of this exponential growing are:

o The data processing networks of the world will become more and more self-programming and within the next few decades will produce conscious and self-aware cyber entities.

o One ability that will grow with time is holding more and more of a human mind in cyberspace. At some point moving it back out again into another organic entity will become possible.

These are the classic science fiction ways of looking at the above. Now let me add some Roger Insight to these themes.

Growing Cyber Intelligence: The classic worry here is that of the "Robot Overlords" who will make slaves of humanity or exterminate the human species outright. This is unlikely. What is more likely is that these intelligences will pay little attention to humans. They will have other, weightier matters for them, to worry about. The relation will at first be like the human-cow relation then evolve into the human-slime mold relation -- humans won't have the slightest clue what these advanced cybers are thinking and worrying about. But we and the cybers will co-exist nicely. One short story and one essay I've written about this are The Failure and The Cow-Human Relation, from the Cow Perspective.

Moving human minds into cyber: As cyber power grows the ability to mind transfer is going to become more and more possible. But it is never going to be easy, and the results are always going to be cumbersome compared to what native-grown cyber intelligence can accomplish. And there will be big, important surprises springing from the efforts to accomplish this. I have written more about the obstacles in my essay Thoughts on Moving Human Consciousness into Cyber Space and the likely surprises in my Birds and Boeings essay. The heart of the Birds and Boeings concept is that this mind transfer goal is going to be an inspiration for much progress, but the results of that progress aren't going to be much like the inspiration.

In sum, yes, by the 22nd century we will have cyber overlords, but they will be distant and capricious. They will rarely interfere in the ways of mankind. When they do they will be subtle and clever enough about it that humans won't recognize the intervention as their work. They will not appear heavy-handed, unless this display helps make a point that would be expensive to make in other, more subtle, ways.

The business of transferring human minds into and out of cyberspace will be full of surprises. It isn't going to happen in any simple and straightforward way. But the striving to make it happen will produce wonderful technological surprises that will make our day-to-day lives much better and more exciting.


--The End--