Ming the Mechanic:
Predicting the future

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Predicting the future2004-08-20 23:59
picture by Flemming Funch

OK, it is a lot easier to criticise other people's predictions than to make one's own. But it might get one going on thinking of better ones. I was just reading an article, It’s 2014, and life is the same. Only better by Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. And, well, as his title honestly says, he's describing life the same, just a little better. And it struck me how much it sounded like essays I would write about the future when I was around 11. That's about 34 years ago. He writes better than I did, but then again my predictions were about the year 2000, which was considered "The Future" back then.

I thought that in the year 2000 we'd be able to work at home if we wanted, and we'd be able to shop in stores through video screens at home, and that we'd be able to get our own personalized newspaper printed out every morning, with exactly the kind of news we'd prefer. I'd be able to speak commands to machines around me, and robots in my kitchen could make me breakfast on their own, and clean the house. We'd have self-driving cars. Or flying cars if we were going into the country. We'd be able to easily travel up to a space station, or to the Moon or Mars.

The first part of my predictions were quite spot on. That's called the Internet. The rest is, shockingly, hardly any closer than in 1970. The space program was more active and vibrant back then. The test projects for self-driving cars look about the same as they did back then. You still can't buy a flying car.

Cars and houses look about the same. Oh, they have different styling, but nothing fundamentally different at all. Air bags? They could have made a balloon be blown up really quickly back then too, if anybody had asked for it.

The stuff that has changed unbelivably much is the virtual. The stuff we can do inside computers. Even though we're still strangely conservative about what we make them do. We manage to make computers 10,000 faster, and still word processing seems no faster than way back when. But the greater power leverages other things to happen. Like, the way we connect things together and how we network information - that suddenly puts us on a different plane.

Notice that the features of my old prediction that require AI didn't happen. Because, surprisingly to some, AI didn't really happen. I can buy a vacuum cleaner that will move around on the floor and clean by itself, fairly well, if you have certain types of flooer surfaces, and not too difficult things in its way. One could probably have made that mechanically in 1970 or 1950, if it were a priority, and not much worse. Today I can speak to a computer and it might type my words pretty well, if I've trained it, but it still doesn't understand what I say, even vaguely. No, it wasn't so much the AI that advanced. It was the ability to calculate much faster, and to connect lots of things together, and to make various kinds of virtual realities possible.

Interestingly, the material technologies that are most promising, and that really might give us a profoundly, drastically different future are all in the realm of the virtual. Making matter virtual. Nano-tech, quantum physics, genetics. Really small stuff that, if we find out how to program it, suddenly allows us to rebuild reality in a drastically different way.

Will we have done so by 2014? Will it really just be that your toilet analyzes your urine and tells you you've got a cold? And that your kitchen cooks a low-carb breakfast for you by itself? I hope not, although those might possibly be good things.

Predictions of daily life in the future easily end up sounding sort of sugar coated and problem free. So, if one 35 years ago predicted that I today could have a custom newspaper on a screen and shop in stores and talk with people in other countries on a video phone, it would be presented as if it somehow made life leisurely and problem-free. But life is no less stressful today, and my life isn't suddenly leisurely because I have those things. It is kind of like an architect's mock-up of a new building, with stylized people who stroll about between green trees and pathways, with conveniently located service facilities. But when it is actually built, it is just some mall, and it is filled with real people who're stressed and on their way somewhere. Usually never looks as leisurely and perfect as in the vision. At least not unless it stays as a virtual simulation of some kind.

But, again, in 10 years, will anything have managed to REALLY change how we live. The Internet changed it more in a couple of years than anything else I can think of in the past 100 years. It was a disruptive change. Most forecasters have a hard time guessing which disruptive changes will come along. Although we have a few very likely ones in our focus. Nano, genetics. And some people center it all around an expected major AI breakthrough. In part because that might potentially solve some of the huge dangers inherent in some of the other things.

It is entirely possible that somebody might invent cheap universal nano-tech within the next 10 years. I mean something that can construct whatever you imagine, or rather whatever you can program, or download the blueprint for, as long as the needed atoms are around. Like an inkjet printer that spits out atoms and print objects. Suddenly objects are virtual, and the game would totally change. How we live would change thoroughly and drastically within just a few months.

The future is so open now, with such a range of possibilies, that it becomes almost laughable to predict a world in 10 years that just has more, and a little cooler stuff, that is essentially the same. But many of the bold predictions from 35 years ago didn't happen at all, and we just got more of the same. So of course we might have just more of the same in 10 years. Maybe a better electronic voting system for choosing between your favorite Republican presidential candidate and your favorite Democratic candidate. Yawn, gasp! The FCC releases some more spectrum, and technology gets better, so you can have 100Mbits to your cellphone, and watch movies in 3D in the bus, which will be charged to your credit card, and which then self-destructs in 5 hours. All cars would have nagivation systems, and maybe collision detection systems. Just enough stuff every year to make you keep buying. The US army would have robotic bombers that more efficiently could kill more people in foreign places, without even having to send any people there. Microsoft would've come out with some updated version of the paperclip, which can make more wide-spanning stupid assumptions about everything you're trying to do, and correct even more things that didn't need to be corrected.

I'd be leaning towards hoping for some disruptive and more pervasive change. Something so disruptive that it kills most of those factors that would otherwise ensure that we'd just have more of the same. Something that destroys the current economic power structure. In a good way, in making it instantly obsolete and replaced with something better. I hope for such things because, despite increasingly rapid change in some areas, the future is at risk of being boring and stagnant.

I also expect disruptive change for the reason that progress in many areas is held back by backwards economics. The future that was expected from the year 2000 a few decades before was quite reasonable and logical. It would have happened if it weren't because there weren't any terribly profitable reason for investing capital in making it so. What was profitable was to give us apparently a little more of the same every year, in a new model, with new features, but nothing that really changed things. Weren't any profit in giving us space stations. Certainly weren't any in even attempting to feed us all, or even get us clean drinking water. Weren't any profit in taking good care of our environment.

Collectively I think we'll discover that we've been cheated, and that we're living in a falsely retarded world that doesn't have to be that way at all. Some forces are going to clash. Disruptive paradigm shifts sometimes come about because of pent-up problems that weren't solved, and pent-up solutions that existed, but weren't applied. At some point it breaks through, and things have to change rather quickly, because they failed to change gradually.

Our greatest leverage is in the areas that aren't artificially retarded, because nobody figured out yet how to do so, because they didn't start trying before it was too late. Our ability to network ourselves with each other and with information, electronically, and the likelihood we'll be free to do that faster and better. It is a way we can create something very different, which might at first be somewhat invisible. Not a different kind of car or microwave for me and my family. Not just something a few people are consuming. Something millions of people are doing together. A whole new collective organism. Which needs to start dealing better with meaning. And which, once it gets smarter, or we get smarter through it, needs to feed back to our material world and make it smarter and more fun and livable, on our own collective terms.

Being creatures who tend to live in certain mental grooves, when asked to predict the future, we usually extrapolate more of the same. Which might be right. But we usually forget to predict the changed behavior that comes about when certain things go through certain thresholds. For many years we had telephones. And for years one could very expensively get a portable one. We didn't expect the changed behavior patterns that would come about by a majority of people in the world having a cheap portable phone in their pocket at all times. One could have predicted that electronic networks would have allowed us to send electronic mail to each other, and it would be more efficient than paper mail. But the social aspects of what happened when enough of us were online would have been hard to predict. We can predict many things one could do if one had self-replicating nano-tech. But is hard to predict what will change and what will happen once those things are accepted and widespread, and we use that as a springboard for something else. We might see the next hilltop, but have a hard time seeing the valleys and bigger hills beyond it. There are event horizons beyond which we can't see, no matter the strength of our glasses, so we have to imagine.

I predict that within the next 10 years there will be at least one, but probably several disruptive changes that are so surprising and pervasive that life will be very different from how we know it or how we project it to be. There won't be a Ford Taurus 2014 or an NBC Nightline News or an aisle in the supermarket with fruit juice with 10% more real fruit. Other than in a retro simulation for people who like them for atmosphere. I don't know. There is no future, really. There's just right now, and there still will be just now in 10 years. Thinking about the future as separate from the now is just one of those mind games we play with ourselves, when we are bored or inspired, or fearful or hopeful. A mind game that sometimes helps us knowing which fork in the road to take right now, by examining which of the imagined journeys would suit us best.

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21 Aug 2004 @ 07:48 by Jon Husband @ : Life is one long moment ...
... and underneath all the "things" of which you speak are biology, instinct and such like. So many of the mazes and puzzles and games in which we live ared ue to some aspect or other of human consciousness laying down assumptions and then creating a way or ways of doing things. On teh social/soxiety plane,I think we are now in the late years of a long cumulative linear extrapolation of assumptions about behaviour, power and control (mainly through economics) that is no longer serving a critical mass very well. It serves about 1% of the world's population well - rich white people.

I like and agree with your statement "Collectively I think we'll discover that we've been cheated, and that we're living in a falsely retarded world that doesn't have to be that way at all. Some forces are going to clash. Disruptive paradigm shifts sometimes come about because of pent-up problems that weren't solved, and pent-up solutions that existed, but weren't applied. At some point it breaks through, and things have to change rather quickly, because they failed to change gradually."

The interconnectedness is shining brighter and brighter lights on the ways we have been and are being cheated and manipulated ... and I do think that this is what will change big-time.

Two of my favourite quotations:

It takes a long time for change to happen quickly

We tend to overestimate the effects of disruptive change in the short term, because we forget about all sorts of details, and we tend to underestimate the effects in the long term, because we ignore the compounding and non-linear aspects of that disruptive change.  

21 Aug 2004 @ 15:22 by jmarc : Here's one
by Gregory Mone. Is Science fiction about to go blind?, on the futility these days of prdicting the future.  

22 Aug 2004 @ 09:22 by vaxen : xxxx
The 'Alef' and the 'Garden of the Forking Paths.'

What are the barest conditions under which 'chaos' can arise?
Simply ontological...

Actions as ontological principles?

"Knowledge, expressed as a network of nodes and links, can be structured in a better way by 'bootstrapping' the distinctions between nodes, leading to the merging, differentiation or integration of ambiguously distinguished concepts." -- Principia Cybernetics Project




22 Aug 2004 @ 17:30 by QMAL @ : Write the future
This is an absolutlly briliant peice Ming , I have read it 5 , 10, I dont know how many times , I am still reading it now. I think your prediction of future past is remarkably clear and accurate perceptive assesment of the future and our inability to clearly see . Your future prediction also most simular to what I invision .The future is indeed fuzzy past what i call the almost guarenteed forseeable future, about four and half minites from now..sort of the other half of guarenteed mutual destruction... and as you say the number of possible event horizons that could yeild change have increased exponentialy along with the stride of the technolgy wave beyond a piont easily caculable by the brain. So I too believe all we realy have is the now, the past is there because we can remember it, and have some eveidence of it. the future there only because we have had an expirience with the past. I believe also that although many things affect the future that are out side our capable influence , that we realy write it, or our part/s and in the now .With each brain that exists know it or not,, the problem primarily is focus, were all trying to write divided futures that are abundantly far to overlaping in every way, and were trying to do it for/to each other, want it or not. No dynamic synchronicity. I agree that we do need to to do it together , focused and in the now,, so now is a great time to get our heads/machines together on how its going to go.
....I agree with you that the world is going to expirience some of those event horizons and the effects , realinments of perception and so forth, in near future. I 'll say definatly more than one though. The trick I believe now is use a little energy to affect the whole show. Pick the paradigm shift so to speak, the event horizon/s that services common intrests of all best. Figure out how to approach the event horizons in a way that we understand and flow through them, instead of crash through(survive them) . Yes, some current systems will have to become obsolete or at a minimum, obsolesent. I do believe we humans can make these things happen. Cyberspace may indeed be the medium of this meeting , but you made the piont your self the areas that change may occur might be small , even unseen, at this piont.... the small stuff . I would say some of these event horizon/paradigm shifts will yeild even newer/ and or hidden mediums that might be even more effective when mastered. Seeking the tools to mix machine, mind and matter.We do a new communication medium ever so frequently now, with a better than 70 percent half life till the next medium emergence, ( a fractal progression)... There may also be a few meduims we already have on board that have not been used or in a focused conscious way.
I have this prediction/vision too, quoting you ming...

"Something millions of people are doing together. A whole new collective organism."

Only its not been in cyberspace , It's a place a little closer to the atomic particle, but not far from the seperate electron and the living cell. a product of their interactive vibrations - in neurospace, The meduim that is manifested by the morphogenic psi energy fields we all/each(life) emminate. we already have the tools and capabiliy/or the tools to make the tools(the right brainware), But I also think cyber space is as good a place as any, as any uni- collective assembly with emergent solution directive could achive stated pupose regardless of meidium's employed. Trying to achieve a planned metanoia in a wake of pardigm shift .But toghether nuerospace+ cyberspace could culminate as a great toolbox, build better meduims yet and morphing them together. So then, also an intregal part of my vision now. Perhaps a part of my vision thats been missing- cyberspace. And now, has got to be the rite time, well, because it is the only time there realy is. Ai may indeed turn up manfested in ways we don't expect exactly looking from this particular point in the time line. In addition to this, by transcending this merge of bio-cybernetic mediums we may find that there is quite a variety of other thinkers here on this planet besides humans, that might also have a lot to add. I believe that thinking indeed goes on in variety of other life invisible to us because its differnt than our own expirience with thought and the brain. Some of these thinkers may not even have brains that are like the currently accepted perception of the brain.
Multiple mediums, brains, machines and species , one focus , colectivly assembled with colectivly determined directive parameters that manifest a particular progression into the future ,( gosh practically sounds like the freeway)

the age of earthism would begin and yeild

A guiding model that does indeed mix machine, mind and matter and makes way for the disruptive change, gradual change, all the way through change and the way those changes mould the future beyond past.

a participitory bio-cybernetic fusion. were one can think to/with others and machine at once. ( this sounds a little like the matrix only ai is the seized control there)

so for me now, its tune in, log on and psychosynthiesise it

I may have a few tools tools in my box to suggest for this.....

Now ,, which way to go now.. in the now

all we have is the Here and Now- said by many I think.
and also basicly said by Richard Bach in "Jonathan Livingston Seagul".
some others by him....

"An idea is never given to you without you being given the power to make it reality."

"Ask yourself the secret of YOUR success. Listen to your answer, and practice it."

"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours."

"You are always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past."

This a brilliant work you have done,doing,to do Ming,
and thanks for the interesting link to the Gregory Morre piece as well imark ,
I always have had an idea that great guidence could possibly be procured from sci-fi's future set, perhaps were we are and are going was even architeched by it in some ways.  

22 Aug 2004 @ 19:31 by Uncle $cam @ : Post Bush?
While wonderfully optimistic, how do we reconcile the Bush regime and their ilk?  

22 Aug 2004 @ 23:14 by Pascale Soleil @ : Your RSS Feed
Sorry for the off-topic comment, but you do mention that you don't read your email...

Your RSS feed seems to republish the same items over and over again, even though I'm not seeing any obvious changes.

Just a note.  

23 Aug 2004 @ 03:49 by FreedomBuilder @ : The Civilization of the Universe
See: [link]
Ming's statement: ""Collectively I think we'll discover that we've been cheated, and that we're living in a falsely retarded world that doesn't have to be that way at all.""

This statement, although perhaps unknowingly, references what Neo-Tech calls the "Anticivilization" wherein "Neocheaters" or "Parasitical Elites" usurp a living from the "Producers" conjuring up, or merely facilitating our current "Anticivilization".

Anyway, I dare you to read Pax Neo-Tech.....Perhaps it's a future prediction  

23 Aug 2004 @ 08:25 by vaxen : Dare?
Ha ha ha. Neo-Tech is such 'old hat.' Ever hear of the Renaissance Institute for biological Immortality? It's in Zurich, Shweitz. My clone awaits me there... ;)

'Ming Chan' is quite the aware one and I'm sure he is aware of 'Neo-Tech.' Interesting how it evolved out of a card game is'nt it?  

24 Aug 2004 @ 07:20 by gunter @ : second opinion
I guess 'second opinion' could be one
of these disruptions - hey - why not!

30 Sep 2007 @ 22:57 by kimchheng @ : question
I don't have any comment.  

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