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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

Name:

The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More Feedback on... The Creeping Revolution or... Meet the New Boss, and Scrap the Old Boss --

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Noah Johnson replied to my following comment...

Well, my reason for sharing this information is so that more people have a chance to educate themselves and become a part of the debate... before that debate is already over. There's a great deal going on in the world right now, both in terms of technology that can enhance humans and technology that can make most "ordinary humans" irrelevant -- and I think most people would like to know what's going on while they still have some say in their lives.

...with this statement:

Dry, you even more than most people need to read this book. Seriously. Take a chance on it, spend the money, if you don't like it, write me and I will _______ send you however much you spent on it. It's that good, if you're planning on thinking about the future in a real way.
Thanks for the recommendation, Noah. I believe Wired did a piece on The Clock of the Long Now and The Long Now Foundation (or whatever they were called at the time). I think a long term perspective is a valuable thing. But I also think the argument "Let's look at the long view" can miss the fact that decisions are being made right now that effect what will be happening a thousand years from now.

Will we preserve the environment or destroy it? That's not really a question to be settled in fifty years -- what we do now -- and every Now for the next twenty years -- will in large part decide the question... long before we have nanotech or engineered microbes or other ultratech to clean up all our messes. That doesn't mean we don't need a long-term perspective. But it might help us to realize just how immediate many of our concerns actually are.

The same thing can be said about investing, career planning, health issues, dealing with foreign competition, etc. You can talk about making plans and taking the long view, but if you don't act in the Now, you aren't going to get very far in the future.

Probably Brand's best point is that many modern people lack an attention span. He has a point, but do you need another "perspective changing" tourist attraction to change that? Do you need a "Ten Thousand Year Library," or do you simply need to pick up an intelligent, insightful book and read it? And not just one book written from one perspective on one subject, but one after another after another?

Heck, how many people shied away from reading the above article, especially without having any simple categories to break it down into (Liberal idea, Conservative idea, Green idea, Techie idea, Capitalist idea, Communist idea)?

A terrible flaw in many modern minds appears to be our tendency to know many things at a very shallow level, yet lacking appreciation for a well-crafted, extended argument. If your mind can't handle taking in a deep and complex discussion, can you really make an informed judgement on an important issue?

Too many people are making decisions all the time based upon a very limited view of the world.

The truth is that many of the "shockwaves" happening now were not impossible to predict. I remember sitting in Israel in the mid-90s, explaining to an engineer friend from Bangalore how Y2K was going to open up a revolution in outsourcing for his country and especially his city. And how that was, in turn going to combine with Chinese manufacturing to revolutionize the world.

Brilliant? Or did I simply read The Far Eastern Economic Review in the early 90s, and thus have all the pieces save one laid out at my feet? With only the simplest extrapolation being required to see the rest?

(The answer to the latter two questions is "yes," incidentally.)

I'll be blunt. When I get around to addressing this question, I'm not going to build a monument to "my Vision." I'm going to encourage large numbers of people, especially kids, to read. Probably by distributing large numbers of kid-oriented comic books among them. (And other visually based reading materials, but particularly comics.)

Yes, that most trivial and Now-oriented of entertainments. And also a form that American librarians have apparently found encourages literacy and good reading habits. And also a form in which characters are happy to excell and are sadly bereft of a postmodern cynicism about striving for excellence or the value of doing good deeds.

Why comics? To give them timeless classics to peruse?

No.

To encourage positive momentum in lives just when it would make all the difference, and in a way that happens to be incredibly cheap?

Yes. =)

I've done this before, and I've found the Now always matters far more than polishing my credentials as a far-sighted visionary.

A pity, that. =)


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By the way, Noah, thanks for recommending a book, and engaging with the ideas at that level. The fact that you've read at least one book that applies to this question is a great example of how some very basic actions can expand someone's mind and their ability to deal with complicated issues.

I'm just more inclined to taking immediate actions while working from a longer perspective, rather than putting considerable resources into an elegant, millennial project meant to "inspire people." The changes that are taking place in the world today are being driven by people with very immediate desires and needs. Something we often forget in the West is that so many of these educated Asians we're now dealing with haven't had two or three generations of undreamt of prosperity to grow complacent in. They haven't come to assume that jobs or benefits are simply going to be given to them for the simple virtue of existing.

Instead, they have reason to believe they can, in fact, escape the prison of terrible poverty, and bring up their families and friends and communities and nations as well -- if they just work hard enough at it. Telling them to sit back and be content with their life as it is isn't going to work -- too many starving children and grandparents. Too many, young and old, dying of disease or malnutrition. Or simply too many, young and old, who are still threatened by such levels of poverty, which are far too close at hand to be ignored.

The problem, you see, isn't that their desires are too petty. The problem is that behind any frivolous impulses they may have are very real issues of opportunity, inspiration and enlightenment versus loss and hopeless ignorance. And ultimately, matters of life and death. For themselves, and for everyone they know.

They're a little too close to the truth to ignore it, as we might in more prosperous nations.

(The Truth is pesky like that. =) )

So if the needs and issues are that immediate, do they render Stewart Brand's ideas meaningless? Not necessarily. As I've said, the point about many people having terribly limited attention spans is well taken.

But if we really want to serve the interests of the distant future, of generations living decades if not centuries from now, then we have a great deal to do in the Now that's in front of us.

I think one reason people often want to pull back from society is the feeling that nothing they do can possibly make a difference. Personally, I believe a moderately intelligent, open-minded Westerner can make a tremendous difference -- so long as she or he is willing to keep learning and to keep acting to change the world for the better.

AI, Soc, $$$
Future Imperative

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