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Jun 1, 2012

Response to the Global Futures 2045 Video

Posted by in categories: futurism, human trajectories, nanotechnology, robotics/AI, scientific freedom, singularity, space

I have just watched this video by Global Futures 2045.

This is my list of things I disagree with:

It starts with scary words about how every crisis comes faster and faster. However this is untrue. Many countries have been running deficits for decades. The financial crisis is no surprise. The reason the US has such high energy costs goes back to government decisions made in the 1970s. And many things that used to be crises no longer happen, like the Black Plague. We have big problems, but we’ve also got many resources we’ve built up over the centuries to help. Much of the challenges we face are political and social, not technical.

We will never fall into a new Dark Ages. The biggest problem is that we aren’t advancing as fast as we could and many are still starving, sick, etc. However, it has always been this way. The 20th century was very brutal! But we are advancing and it is mostly known threats like WMDs which could cause a disaster. In the main, the world is getting safer every day as we better understand it.

We aren’t going to build a new human. It is more like a Renaissance. Those who lost limbs will get increasingly better robotic ones, but they will still be humans. The best reason to build a robotic arm is to attach it to a human.

The video had a collectivist and authoritarian perspective when it said:

“The world’s community and leaders should encourage mankind instead of wasting resources on solving momentary problems.”

This sentence needs to be deconstructed:

1. Government acts via force. Government’s job is to maintain civil order, so having it also out there “encouraging” everyone to never waste resources is creepy. Do you want your policeman to also be your nanny? Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

2. It is wrong to think government is the solution to our problems. Most of the problems that exist today like the Greek Debt Crisis, and the US housing crisis were caused by governments trying to do too much.

3. There is no such thing as the world’s leaders. There is the UN, which doesn’t act in a humanitarian crisis until after everyone is dead. In any case, we don’t need the governments to act. We built Wikipedia.

4. “Managing resources” is codeword for socialism. If their goal is to help with the development of new technologies, then the task of managing existing resources is totally unrelated. If your job is to build robots, then your job is not also to worry about whether the water and air are dirty. Any scientist who talks about managing resources is actually a politician. Here is a quote from Frederic Hayek:

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. Before the obvious economic failure of Eastern European socialism, it was widely thought that a centrally planned economy would deliver not only “social justice” but also a more efficient use of economic resources. This notion appears eminently sensible at first glance. But it proves to overlook the fact that the totality of resources that one could employ in such a plan is simply not knowable to anybody, and therefore can hardly be centrally controlled.”

5. We should let individuals decide what to spend their resources on. People don’t only invest in momentary things. People build houses. In fact, if you are looking for an excuse to drink, being poor because you live in a country with 70% taxes is a good one.

The idea of tasking government to finding the solutions and to do all futuristic research and new products to shove down our throats is wrong and dangerous. We want individuals, and collections of them (corporations) to do it because they will best put it to use in ways that actually improve our lives. Everything is voluntary which encourages good customer relationships. The money will be funded towards the products people actually care about, instead of what some mastermind bureaucrat thinks we should spend money on. There are many historical examples of how government doesn’t innovate as well as the private sector: the French telephone system, Cuba, expensive corn-based ethanol, the International Space Station, healthcare. The free market is imperfect but it leads to fastest technological and social progress for the reasons Frederic Hayek has explained. A lot of government research today is wasted because it never gets put to use commercially. There are many things that can be done to make the private sector more vibrant. There are many ways government can do a better job, and all that evidence should be a warning to not use governments to endorse programs with the goal of social justice. NASA has done great things, but it was only because it existed in a modern society that it was possible.

They come up with a nice list of things that humanity can do, but they haven’t listed that the one of the most important first steps is more Linux. We aren’t going to get cool and smart robots, etc. without a lot of good free software first.

The video says:

“What we need is not just another technological revolution, but a new civilization paradigm, we need philosophy and ideology, new ethics, new culture, new psychology.”

It minimizes the technology aspect when this is the hard work by disparate scientists that will bring us the most benefits.

It is true that we need to refine our understandings of many things, but we are not starting over, just evolving. Anyone who thinks we need to start over doesn’t realize what we’ve already built and all the smart people who’ve come before. The basis of good morals from thousands of years ago still apply. It will just be extended to deal with new situations, like cloning. The general rules of math, science, and biology will remain. In many cases, we are going back to the past. The Linux and free software movement is simply returning computer software to the hundreds of years-old tradition of science. Sometimes the idea has already been discovered, but it isn’t widely used yet. It is a social problem, not a technical one.

The repeated use of the word “new”, etc. makes this video like propaganda. Cults try to get people to reset their perspective into a new world, and convince them that only they have the answers. This video comes off as a sales pitch with them as the solution to our problems, ignoring that it will take millions. Their lists of technologies are random. Some of these problems we could have solved years ago, and some we can’t solve for decades, and they mix both examples. It seems they do no know what is coming next given how disorganized they are. They also pick multiple words that are related and so are repeating themselves. Repetition is used to create an emotional impact, another trait of propaganda.

The thing about innovation and the future is that it is surprising. Many futurists get things wrong. If these guys really had the answers, they’d have invented it and made money on it. And compared to some of the tasks, we are like cavemen.

Technology evolves in a stepwise fashion, and so looking at it as some clear end results on some day in the future is wrong.

For another example: the video makes it sound like going beyond Earth and then beyond the Solar System is a two-step process when in fact it is many steps, and the journey is the reward. If they were that smart, they’d endorse the space elevator which is the only cheap way to get out there, and we can do it in 10 years.

The video suggests that humanity doesn’t have a masterplan, when I just explained that you couldn’t make one.

It also suggests that individuals are afraid of change, when in fact, that is a trait characteristic of governments as well. The government class has known for decades that Social Security is going bankrupt, but they’d rather criticize anyone who wants to reform it rather than fix the underlying problem. This video is again trying to urge collectivism with its criticism of the “mistakes” people make. The video is very arrogant at how it looks down at “the masses.” This is another common characteristic of collectivism.

Here is the first description of their contribution:

“We integrate the latest discoveries and developments from the sciences: physics, energetics, aeronautics, bio-engineering, nanotechnology, neurology, cybernetics, cognitive science.”

That sentence is laughable because it is an impossible task. To understand all of the latest advances would involve talking with millions of scientists. If they are doing all this integration work, what have they produced? They want everyone to join up today, work to be specified later.

The challenge for nuclear power is not the science, it is the lawyers who outlawed new ones in 1970s, and basically have halted all advancements in building safer and better ones. Some of these challenges are mostly political, not scientific. We need to get engineers in corporations like GE, supervised by governments, building safer and cleaner nuclear power.

If you wanted to create all of what they offer, you’d have to hire a million different people. If you were building the pyramids, you could get by with most of your workers having one skill, the ability to move heavy things around. However, the topics they list are so big and complicated, I don’t think you could build an organization that could understand it all, let alone build it.

They mention freedom and speak in egalitarian terms, but this is contradicted by their earlier words. In their world, we will all be happy worker bees, working “optimally” for their collective. Beware of masterminds offering to efficiently manage your resources.

I support discussion and debate. I am all for think-tanks and other institutions that hire scientists. However, those that lobby government to act on their behalf are scary. I don’t want every scientist lobbying the government to institute their pet plan, no matter how good it sounds. They will get so overwhelmed that they won’t be able to do their actual job. The rules of the US Federal government are very limited and generally revolve around an army and a currency. Social welfare is supposed to be handled by the states.

Some of their ideas cannot be turned into laws by the US Congress because they don’t have this authority — the States do. Obamacare is likely to be ruled unconstitutional, and their ideas are potentially much more intrusive towards individual liberty. It would require a Constitutional Amendment, which would never pass and we don’t need.

They offer a social network where scientists can plug in and figure out what they need to do. This could also be considered an actual concrete example of something they are working on. However, there are already social networks where people are advancing the future. SourceForge.net is the biggest community of programmers. There is also Github.com with 1,000,000 projects. Sage has a community advancing the state of mathematics.

If they want to create their own new community solving some aspect, that is great, especially if they have money. But the idea that they are going to make it all happen is impossible. And it will never replace all the other great communities that already exist. Even science happens on Facebook, when people chat about their work.

If they want to add value, they need to specialize. Perhaps they come up with millions of dollars and they can do research in specific areas. However, their fundamental research would very likely get used in ways they never imagined by other people. The more fundamental, the more no one team can possibly take advantage of all aspects of the discovery.

They say there is some research lab they’ve got working on cybernetics. However they don’t demonstrate any results. I don’t imagine they can be that much ahead of the rest of the world who provides them the technology they use to do their work. Imagine a competitor to Henry Ford. Could he really build a car much better given the available technology at the time? My response to anyone who has claims of some advancements is: turn it into a demo or useful product and sell it. All this video offer as evidence here is CGI, which any artist can make.

I support the idea of flying cars. First we need driverless cars and cheaper energy. Unless they are a car or airplane company, I don’t see what this organization will have to do with that task. I have nothing against futuristic videos, but they don’t make clear what is their involvement and instances of ambiguity should be noted.

They are wrong when they say we won’t understand consciousness till 2030 because we already understand it at some level today. Neural networks have been around for decades. IBM’s Jeopardy-playing Watson was a good recent example. However, it is proprietary so not much will come of that particular example. Fortunately, Watson was built on lots of free software, and the community will get there. Google is very proprietary with their AI work. Wolfram Alpha is also proprietary. Etc. We’ve got enough the technical people for an amazing world if we can just get them to work together in free software and Python.

The video’s last sentence suggests that spiritual self-development is the new possibility. But people can work on that today. And again, enlightenment is not a destination but a journey.

We are a generation away from immortality unless things greatly change. I think about LibreOffice, cars that drive themselves and the space elevator, but faster progress in biology is also possible as well if people will follow the free software model. The Microsoft-style proprietary development model has infected many fields.

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Comments — comments are now closed.

  • Ben on June 5, 2012 12:12 pm

    Great video, however I don’t think that people are switching fast enough to Green Energy, I hope we will switch because we want to save our planet and we don’t wait until we have to do it, lets take it as a choice and not a must!

  • KeithCu on June 6, 2012 8:06 pm

    Green energy is too vague a term. Some “green energy” is cost-effective, and some is not. I support cost-effective energy. Unfortunately, most people who care about green energy don’t focus on costs, and are against nuclear power, so I choose not to associate myself with that term.

  • Desii on August 3, 2012 5:06 pm

    1st of all ‚I like this piece and think more like it should be wrtietn by other leaders,and what I’m about to share is only my opion .One of the things that caught my eye when I saw your status on Facebook was that you researched for your denomination about this topic,I think that is the primary concern that causes confusion in the Body of Christ,denominations presents groups,that form their own views ‚that causes controversies,that brings about confrontation ‚that creates division,that eliminates any opportunity of unification that could bring any resemblance of a body that’s working cohesively to build hope for people in dire straights.As long as the the enemy causes these issues in the church ‚there can never be real productivity to command change and restore hope ‚that gives sinners a chance for salvation,NOTHING PERSONAL ‚JUST MY OPION