Thursday, August 26, 2010

Digital in the Headlights ... Why Worry?

I often blog (and worry) about the effects of technology on human development. This morning John W. Peterson, consulting futurist and strategist, sent me a couple of pdfs, one of which predicts likely developments in the timeframe spanning 2010 to 2040. Written by forecaster/futurist Marvin J. Cetron, president of Forecasting International, Technology Timeline 2010 blew me away (and shut me up).

If this stuff is even in the ballpark, there’s really no point in worrying about how technology will affect human society. As Cetron notes, “Ultimately, speculations may prove correct that we are approaching the ‘Singularity’s event horizon.’ At that time, our artifacts will be so intelligent that they will design themselves and we will not understand how they work. Humanity will be largely a passenger in its own evolution as a technological species.”

This thought already occurred to be during the BP oil spill, when I realized that – within the behemoth, 80,300-employee complex that is BP – no single person completely understood how the oil spill happened because no single person understands the BP beast. Sure, individuals know how to “fix” pieces of the system, but as a whole? BP – like all other global conglomerates -- has a life of its own, huge parts of which function via technology.

Nevertheless, some of what I read in Cetron’s predictions staggered me.

• Designer babies born outside the U.S. -- 2012
• Virtual reality used to teach science, art, history, etc. -- 2014
• Smart paint containing computer chips -- 2013
Earth-like planet discovered -- 2012

And that’s just within the next four years. Looking further out, we have fantasyland:

Robots for almost any job in homes or hospitals -- 2018
AI (artificial intelligence) technology imitates thinking processes of human brain -- 2018
• Effective prediction of most natural disasters -- 2020
• Antimatter production and storage becomes feasible -- 2020
• Computer-enhanced dreaming -- 2020
• Living, but genetically-engineered, electronic toy/pet developed -- 2025
• Infectious disease eliminated from developed world -- 2028
• Emotion-control chips used to control criminals -- 2025

And in the 2030 decade?

• Robots are physically and mentally superior to humans -- 2032
• Development of an artificial brain -- 2030
• Robots completely replace humans in workforce -- 2035

Even if Cetron is off by 50 years, our children will likely see all of this and more. Turning salt water into fresh water will become economical; we’ll “discover” alien civilizations that travel faster than light; zero-point energy will be engineered/commercialized to the point where all other energy sources will become obsolete. Where are you now, BP?

In the face of all this, how many hours per day a given child is “plugged in” seems immaterial. In fact, no matter what any individual does, technology appears to be "doing what technology does." With or without us.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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