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    • CommentTimeMar 26th 2012 edited
    Let's get into the weeds on something. We haven't done that in a while!

    Human space exploration is dead for a couple more generations, maybe longer. We are not going back to the moon. We are not going to Mars.

    A living personality is too complex and weird to model in code. We are never going to be able to make backups of ourselves. There will never be a matrix.

    The global industrial culture that is necessary to support machinery as complex and expensive as robotics will never be stable and deep enough to create an environment in which a truly independent AI driven population of artificial beings can grow. There will never be a technosingularity. The machines will never rise.

    The health of a human body is complex and confounding. Cancer happens, it is not something that can be exterminated. It is a process that is always happening, and sometimes it wins. A million other things go wrong. Health may be improvable, but lifespans will never get much longer than they are now. An extra decade, on the outside, maybe. But people will always get sick, eventually, and they will always die. There is no immortality coming.

    All of the futures people in our line of thinking have been yearning for are never going to happen. The more we learn, the more scientific prowess we accumulate, the more clear that is.

    And that is fantastic.

    People don't think it is yet. They are still crying over spilt rocketships (the first person that whines about their flying car or their jetpack is going to get the eel I had extracted from my arse a while ago and have been raising in an aquarium on a brutal diet of spinefish and drowned idealism). But I can't help but think of this criticism of the singularity I read once, I think on this board somewhere, that went something like:

    The Singularity? The turning point for justice, when all people bend toward an asymptotic embrace of humanism and love, the pernicious evils of impoverishment and exploitation are rejected, the ecology of the planet is restored to health, and a permaculture of compassionate realism emerges from the whole human race? ... What's that? Oh, you mean cooler toys and longer lives for the rich? Never mind then.

    The cooler toy futures are being revealed as too simpleminded and childishly unworkable. This is good. Santa is fun, but science is better. As illusions fall, a better reality can be imagined.

    It's long past time to bury the meathooks and talk about what can actually, really be built.

    What is the real path for optimism? What is the World's Fair future for grown-ups in the 21st Century?

    What do you think?
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    I think this depends on what scale of time we're looking at. Interstellar travel, prosthetic memory, self-aware computing, all of these things are, I agree, unfeasible in the extreme... within the current century. The 20th century started with the vast majority of the population still using animals as the primary means of transportation, and ended with us using cars, planes, and boats so much that it has actually affected the climate of the entire planet. I wouldn't count Star Trek out just yet. I'm not saying it's likely that that future will happen, but that it's too early to be sure that it's unlikely, either. Anything after about fifty years, I think, is way too far to predict with any kind of accuracy.

    Within those fifty years, though, I think the really interesting areas to watch for are going to be in the life sciences. Cybernetics, as we've been thinking of them from the 60's until about fifteen years ago, aren't going to happen, but the main thing standing in modern biotech's way is current legislation, and, in the end, technology always trumps legislation. Organs grown from the petri dish upward, computers with organic components, and the ability to predict diseases before they show up. No, we'll probably never have a real cure for cancer, but treatments will improve, and as we get better and knowing when and where that cancer might show up, those treatments will be that much more effective. Same for things like diabetes and Alzheimer's.

    I have a sister with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, which she was diagnosed with at a very early age. I've seen her go from sticking her finger and feeding the blood to a machine not much more advanced than a kitchen thermometer and having to inject herself with insulin from a needle, to having a tiny computer tied into her circulatory system which keeps a constant eye on her blood sugar levels and delivers insulin based on its findings. She used to have blood sugar crashes every three or four months. She hasn't had one, that I know of, in years. That sister, by the way, is currently interning with some of the best medical researchers in the USA. Gives me a bit of an inferiority complex. It also makes me stupidly proud of her. I just write about science. She lives science.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    @Anchorbeard with your sister, would that be the Animus pump? That thing does wonders.

    I'm on my way to work, but I will be posting later. Such an interesting topic already.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    @oldhat, I'm not sure about the brand, but I googled it and, yeah, that looks about right!
  1.  (10574.5)
    And that is fantastic.


    I don't want to predict but instead suggest: within 30 years, governments agree that there are currently too many humans on the planet and that - though no-one will be killed but instead given punitive measures if they have a child - we should just stop breeding for a while. Say 20 years - just 1 generation.

    [I love kids, really I do, I've worked with them a lot and my nieces and nephew are brilliant but it's really for our own good. ]

    Imagine if everyone in the world controlled themselves for a while - how much more time would people have to make themselves more optimistic?

    My entry into the 21st Century's World Fair is:

    Everyone on the internet comes to the consensus - we'll control ourselves for a generation.

    [ETA: I know what you're thinking, 'A generation without experience of children being around? That would be weird and detrimental.' I'd say the flipside: it would be interesting and a learning experience. Also, how many kids would be in adoption after 5 years?]
  2.  (10574.6)
    I think the future - as things stand right now without a sudden breakthrough in power generation - lies in the adaptation of the human body.
    Integrated human-machines, from implanted RFID chips to bionic eyes are where I think we are going. Mostly because that's where people will spend money. More people would spend some cash to upgrade themselves than fund an expedition they couldn't go on.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    Ben: As someone who really REALLY wants to have children some day, I disagree with punitive measures taken against those who choose to have children and from a somewhat realistic point of view, I can say that that one will never get past the legislative process. At least not in my lifetime and not as long as the religious family man stays in key positions in the running of a state/province/country. However for population control, I am however in favour of the government giving incentives and tax breaks to those who don't have children as a means of aiding an overpopulation problem. But I wouldn't call a generation where we CAN'T have kids "controlling ourselves" because we're not really.
  3.  (10574.8)
    Hm, not sure I agree that all the things in the big list are off the table quite yet. (At least, I personally am still planning on being immortal. There's too much future left to miss out on all of it.) But working within those constraints...

    Simple lifehacking takes off in third world countries. People start finding simple, innovative ways of making the tools they need to vastly improve the quality of life. The first world comes to see this as the best way of recycling: rather than breaking down materials, they find ways to modify them into lasting tools (like waterbottle skylights for huts, plastic can handwashing stations, and so on).
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    Agreed with Oldhat about the punitive measures regarding having babies. But one thing government can and should do is get contraception to those who can't afford it, and don't really want children. Better education about contraception and safe sex would be good as well. I hope that there will be a push from the current political climate in this direction. And I wouldn't mind some higher taxes after a certain number. Living in Utah, I know many people who have families that are bigger than they can afford as is.
  4.  (10574.10)
    Robin: You're right, I know - getting it through legislation would be nigh on impossible; tax breaks for people who don't have kids is a great idea, though - nice one! I think I was hoping that everyone who wants a kid would then be able to adopt so how about tax breaks for everyone who doesn't have kids and everyone who adopts?

    Keeper: I like.

    Fishelle: agreed, contraception should be free. It is here in the UK and the sex education in place was quite good when I was in school [in fact, my nieces now know more about sex than I did at 11...maybe that's the internet, either way] but unfortunately, we still have a good deal of teenage pregnancy. I'm with you and Robin - tax breaks for people who combat the overpopulation problem. [ETA: having realised I set my self up for this one, I'll say 'Official warning: this does not include serial killers.']

    What say you, Oddbill? Do we get in the fair?
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    I'd actually like to step back at the commonly accepted "world betterment" theme and would like to address an aspect of the future that not many people appreciate, but I happen to love and even enjoy seeing in Science Fiction.


    It's been pretty cool to see, in my lifetime, the newer and more innovative ways to sell us shit. Even with the little things, where I'm now seeing bus shelters with interactive video displays, entire vacant stores rented out just to showcase and sample a product (Went to a Nivea showcase recently where my skin was tested and I was given free samples based on my skin type), people walking around with wearable service showcases playing and even homeless people as 4G wifi hotspots.

    Hell, I still kind of have fond memories of the early days of smart phones and QR codes, which were originally just a way for Japanese warehouse workers to keep track of shit, just became bigger and bigger. I know everyone hates them now, but to me that was a Cool Thing and a really interesting way to get us to go to and check stuff out in a way that a billboard couldn't do.

    I'm really interested to see what the future will hold for advertising. Especially when we reach a point that certain technologies can be replicated to meet the demand for advertising at a cheap enough cost for the investment to be worth it.
    • CommentAuthorArgos
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    I agree that we need a massive decrease in population. Hell, imagine if everyone on earth coupled perfectly and had just one child, the population would be halved within a generation. But that's not going to happen, not with people like Santorum around who feel like they need to outbreed people from other cultures and religions, and not with uneducated people who don't care to use contraception. And with all the hubbub going around the U.S. recently over the extremes measures the extreme right is going through to prevent women from getting birth control, I can't see it being given out freely to everyone anytime soon (though I mean really soon, within 5 years). I'm hoping that within a couple decades, though, that will change, and bc can be given out freely to anyone who wants it. Going back to my "if every couple had just one child" thing, we've already seen with China that that method doesn't really work. It makes people unhappy and people start killing off their children if they didn't have a boy or whatnot. But this really is one of the biggest things we see change - an overall decrease in the human population.

    I'll post back later when I can better formulate my thoughts for other things. I know I want to see the earth's ecology restored, more sustainable type growth being implemented, and maybe something done with international security & borders so that we don't have these issues were people feel the need to flee countries where they feel their lives are endangered and rush or skip their immigration processes into safer countries, OR make it easier for people to move to different countries (this is a case where an overall population decrease would help. A country can only allow so many immigrants to enter before it becomes overcrowded from the influx of people). I want to see something done with immigration reform that eases the process of immigration (for example, in the U.S. a lot of the current undocumented immigrants DID try to immigrate legally, and while they were able to enter legally, weren't offered a way to become a permanent resident. In some cases work visas expired, in others, people were trying to get asylum but were denied it for whatever reasons), but I also want to see living standards improved in other countries so that people don't feel the need to leave their countries of birth to begin with. So basically, I want to see an overall decrease in the number of illegal & undocumented immigrants that doesn't involve "more boots on the ground" and electrified moats for borders, because having to live in the shadows as an immigrant without papers just isn't an ideal way for a human being to be living. I want everyone to be able to be a legal resident of a country in which they feel safe and where they feel they can pursue a healthy and happy life, whether it's because they born in a country where that is possible, or because they were able to legally move to a country where that it possible.

    Part of it is also that I have that "we're all citizens of the earth" mentality and I really dislike how much borders separate people and restricts us from living in other parts of the world. One of the things I kept wondering when I was playing Mass Effect was if there were still national borders on Earth in the same ways we have today, or if anyone from earth could live anywhere they wanted on earth since identities were no longer an issue of nationality, but of species (humans vs the other aliens). I think it would be really neat if people could move freely around the earth without having to worry about visas and immigration processes, though I don't think this will ever be possible because the logistics of governing the earth as a whole, as opposed to divided up into countries, just seems impossible to deal with. It's wishful thinking, so until that seems possible, I'd just like to see better/easier immigration processes so that people can go wherever the fuck they please, and improved standards of living in poorer countries so that people can feel safe wherever they are born.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    The combination of the government giving benefits, overpopulation and easier immigration laws got me thinking of the economic side of those things and I think one thing I would REALLY like to see more of is better programs that give incentives to companies who hire more people. At the stage where in right now, when a position goes vacant, the company rarely fills that position anymore and everyone makes do without. This is building up in big and small companies now and a growing population can only make the economic situation get worse. While I know both Canada and the US are making efforts to get factory jobs back in to their respective countries, I would like to see more of an active initiative to make the companies already existing within the countries to feel it's worth it to hire more people. I realize that's a long way off, but hey, it's a dream.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    One of my favorite Bruce Sterling lines:

    "Real futurists have kids."

    Not "more kids than you can support," or possibly your own kids, but the important thing is, kids.

    Futurism that is all about charismatic hardware, off-the-wall megaprojects, or sticking your brain in a jar isn't sustainable. You can't limit your engagement with the question of kids by simply saying there are to many of them.

    We need to make a world where what kids we do have are protected, nurtured,and cultivated. Quality, not quantity.

    Fighting poverty and disease are a total no-brainer first step toward that.

    * * *
    When I want to feel good about things, I read Maker movement web pages. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff there about artsy hipster stuff people are doing with fabricators, but there's also a lot of stuff about "bootstrapping," making tools and technologies for developing countries that fuel bottom-up empowerment.
  5.  (10574.15)
    "Imagine if everyone in the world controlled themselves for a while" is slightly less realistic thinking than putting a person on Mars in the next decade.

    There's a way to fight population growth which doesn't require draconian legislation or wishful thinking: education and security. In countries with good education systems, and where people don't fear for how they're going to survive into old age, they have fewer children. No coercion necessary.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    I'll have a better thought out response later today, but basically yes, listen to Mr. Quest.

    There is no "overpopulation" problem. I have no idea why people think there is.

    In any region with a stable government and wealth, population growth is small or actually declining. In regions without stable governments or wealth (I.e. no possible way to enforce any sort of facist population management law) population growth is strong.

    As wealth and education increase, population growth slows. This is well known.

    Telling Americans or Canadians or Europeans to have less kids, even if they agreed to, which they rightly never should, would do absolutely nothing to affect the global numbers, or the places where population soars beyond the ability for weak government or infrastructure to support.

    Plus, as StefanJ points out via Bruce Sterling, it's nihilistic in the extreme. As Bruce might say, your dead grandfather is better at not having kids. It's no use trying to build a future on things your dead grandfather is better at doing right now, being dead.

    We need to imagine a plausible better future for the living. That by necessity will include kids to grow up and live in it.
    • CommentAuthorArgos
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    Well, the thing with population is that people living in countries such as the U.S. where we have really high standards of living use a vast amount or resources. With 7 billion people on the earth, if everyone were living at those standards, there would be incredible strain on what resources we have, and that's where the over-population thing comes in. We might not be overpopulated right now, but only because there are people with low enough standards of living that those of us with high standards of living can continue to use resources the way we do. If we want to bring everyone up to high standards of living, then we need less people on earth to keep that those standards if living sustainable.

    This issue might also be a matter of perspective. In big cities in the U.S., they are very crowded but for the most part everyone is doing well. If you go to a city such as Mexico City, it's very densely populated and there is abundant poverty and crime. People flock to urban areas to find more living opportunities, and as a result, urban areas become crowded, and if the economy in those places can't support such dense populations, then you end up lots of impoverished people in those dense, urban environments. Some areas of the world simply don't have the resources to support large populations, and that is something that we are already seeing. When you don't have the resources to support the population, you have become over-populated.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012
    I have a feeling that rather than actual population control of any sort (incentivised or by threat of penalisation) what will happen is an explosion in research into and development of more compact and effective ways to produce food. Though I would love to see all meat eaters turn to "weekday vegetarianism" or full-on vegetarianism to help out with the food issues, I also doubt that we'll find a way to make that happen either.

    So I have a feeling the kind of stuff that will happen is that projects like the LED farm, Turd Burger, vertical farms (which are actually now being built not just conceptualised) and lab-grown meat will gain more traction. You can tell people that you're incentivising birth control by giving tax breaks, but (some) people will read it as a War On Families.

    One interesting idea for population control that I cannot remember where I read (It might have been Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson) is to give each person an allowance of half a child (until the population stabilises). This means one pairing can have one kid, or they can trade their allowance away in return for something else, most likely a cash amount that most likely will have a fluid value. If you are single but want a child, buy some other single person's allowance. It's like Cap And Trade for children! And me and wifeyface would probably not have had a mortgage right now if we had that opportunity.

    One problem we are already facing in some countries is that there are not enough young people in care professions to take care of the massive amounts of old people. Japan is leading the way already in terms of robotic help for the elderly, and I think this will continue expanding in more areas than care. Exoskeletons to improve human strength by orders of magnitude already exist, Boston Dynamics' PETMAN is starting to look like something out of a Neill Blomkamp short, and AlphaDog is looking mighty impressive as well. Robotics is an area that I believe will see massive expansion in the years to come. And hey, with Robonaut out there, maybe robotics could even help to make deeper space exploration cheaper and more feasible in our time.

    There's more, but I'm tired so can't think what it is right now, and I need to get up early.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    Edit: the below was in response to Argos, the great post above came in between ...

    Maybe, or maybe we need to step away from the really problematic stance of saying there should be less people and start dreaming up better ways to live with them with what we have.

    There are untapped resources in our reach, and our imaginations have been so small in this regard. Were big on fantasy disasters, but we've been negligent of imagining better ways of living in the context of our actual world.

    Your borders ideas are right in line with where I'm hoping we can find some good vision. People should be able to move around. The world is better when people can move around freely on it. I'd rather see us going that way, than trying to dictate to people whether or not it is desirable that they have a child.

    A society that rejects reproduction is sick. A society that embraces motion and hospitality is healthy.

    In a future i'd rather live in, there are lots of children, and people can move around the globe freely.

    I'll have better thoughts as to how to get there after work today.
    • CommentAuthorArgos
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2012 edited
    I totally get where your coming from, and I agree that JasonQuest's method of just educating everyone is the best way to slow growth. While I DO think the population needs to go down, I don't want to do it in a way that enforces limits on reproduction (which is not only inhumane, but as I mentioned, as we've seen with China, it just doesn't work), but rather see a culture where birth control is accepted and freely distributed for those who want it, rather than always being condemned as a sin or some product of the devil. I would like for people to feel safe in their home countries, so that they don't feel the need to have many many children just so that one or a few of them can survive. These are the ways in which I want to see population growth slow. Though that being said, there are people who do live in countries with higher standards of living and have, in my opinion, too many children. My sister's church choir director and his wife have 9 children and want more. A friend I had when I was younger had about 33 first cousins just on her mother's side because her grandmother had 12 kids. That's a bit absurd, imo.

    I would also like to see us approaching more sustainable methods of harvesting resources (which we're already doing, thankfully), for both the sake of the Earth and of humans. As much as I like futuristic SciFi and cyberpunk cities, I really don't see the loss of any more natural landscapes, and if we could slow the current rate of extinction (we are, no joke, experiencing a rate of extinction that is so high that many ecologists consider us to be experiencing the 6th mass exctinction). More sustainability not only means we can preserve the Earth, BUT, we will be able to support more human beings, as well. As Alan Moore says "...what befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If you spit on the earth, you spit on mankind."

    edit: I will expand more later when I have actual ideas and not just "I want to see sustainability, hooray!"