December 21st, 2013 by Edward Miller

I haven’t made a post in a long time, and I apologize for that. This one will be more personal than usual, and subject to future revisions.

I think of myself as someone who likes to provide clarity. To show people ways of transcending false dichotomies, limitations, and zero sum games. I try to give reality checks whenever the need arises, to whomever is in need of one. I believe ideas must be discussed without regard to their ideological origin, cultural prejudices, or the status of the position. Most importantly, I want to achieve the most possible good in the world, and alleviate the most amount of suffering, and this requires large changes to the way our civilization behaves.

This puts me in a very small minority of the population, given that normal, healthy, and well-adjusted individuals don’t typically spend their time thinking of how to fundamentally alter human civilization, nor are they likely to actually care about methodically constructing a consistent view of the world.

Indeed, it is said that it is rational to be ignorant, given that the amount of time and effort that must be spent to make even the most minor alterations in society is daunting, and quite uncertain.

This leads us to a very unhappy conclusion. That I am not a very rational person. I implicitly assume that there must be an escape route. There must be some sort of Hail Mary pass that can be made. And, a further necessary supporting assumption behind that, is that the effects of that change won’t be so nonlinear as to be totally unpredictable. That I can use some sort of dead reckoning to navigate the murky waters, despite having no real picture of the geography.

Nevertheless, I find it especially important to be humble about the extent of our knowledge, the limitations of our perceptions, and the fallibility of our biology. We are loaded with layers of overlapping biases, emotions, intuitions, revulsions, instincts, sexual drives, and overactive pattern recognition systems. Indeed, these things define us.

“Picture all experts as if they were mammals.” – Christopher Hitchens

Given this, I find it very difficult to assess my own competence on almost anything, and I am skeptical of others who think they are competent. It seems like a miracle that anything functions at all, given a sober recognition of these facts. Yet, high level selection effects allow systems like the market or the scientific method to produce adequate outcomes that improve over time, even if most individual efforts are failures.

I mention these two systems, the market and science, because they function in the way described, not because I wish to ignore all the other rich aspects of human experience. In looking to achieve the wide ambitions I stated, I can place hope in certain systems which can be depended on to weed out failures. Ideally, the systems would do so without any need for top-down corrections. Experimentation is something that is done in the scientific community, and in a sense it is done in markets. Both depend on an overarching political system to provide the stability necessary for these experiments.

Yet, the political systems themselves conduct very little experimentation. There’s hardly a square inch of land which is not claimed by some flag, and revolution is very infrequent. The revolutions that do happen seem universally to result in very unoriginal constitutions which look very much like the messy compromises that all the other countries have… and usually modeled directly off one another. Some people have called this process Globalization or The End of History.

My goal, consistent with my need for transcending limitations, is to find ways to open up experimentation, and direct the creation of new systems which seem likely to be of significant improvement. Political and economic systems are prior to scientific advancement and wealth production. They are meta-level institutions which determine the boundaries on the rate of change, and its trajectory.

I think of constitutions as replicators, like genes or memes. Not only do they have different phenotypes, but they have differing rates of fecundity and fidelity. If we can begin to re-conceive of them in this way, we can construct new ones in a self-conscious manner. Just as the GNU Public License was specifically crafted to achieve rapid replication, and automatically enforce the values that it wished to express.

Yet, political experiments are extremely dangerous. No such enterprise should be taken lightly, and as we know from studying natural selection, virtually all mutations are maladaptive. It is only those rare few that are beneficial. We don’t want to be cannon fodder for natural selection. Thus, we must make an in-depth study of politico-economic simulations, and help to advance that science. I think that by using modern techniques of software development, major progress could be made. It is crucial to create a DSL and an API for such simulations.

Flattr this!

February 3rd, 2009 by Edward Miller

Decentralization is the key to the survival of humanity. This should be common sense. We all know that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are many examples one could point to. With industrial farming we are now beginning to realize that monocultures are especially susceptible to disease or changes in the environment. Fitness is a fluid concept because environmental conditions are not static. This is true on a civilizational level as well.

Fractal Blues | Fábio Pinheiro
Fractal Blues | Fábio Pinheiro
Perhaps just as important as the objective structure of our communities is our subjective experience. As Descartes proved, the existence of subjective experience is the one philosophical certainty. Cogito Ergo Sum, “I think therefore I am.” This is the rational basis for the scientific method and epistemology, and is thus the integral feature of the human condition. When we begin to take control of subjective experience, we will shake the very core of our world(s), and we will experience virtually unlimited types of consciousness. As we enter into a post-scarcity era, increasingly the universe will be at the mercy of our aesthetic preferences.

By “taking control of our subjective experience,” I mean implementing a wide variety of enhancements to our minds and bodies. On the simplest of levels, we will gain manual control of the senses we already have. We will be able to play back, turn off, or magnify our senses as we see fit. We will also gain new senses: Infrared, Heat vision, Echolocation, Magnetic, you name it. Furthermore, we will be able to induce synaesthesia between both our original senses and these new senses. We are already able to induce autistic states, giving us similar capabilities to autistic savants, but on demand.  We will likely gain control over our perception of time, and as our intelligence and working memories are upgraded, new possibilities open up.

We could gain new aesthetic intuitions. Imagine if in addition to a supercharged working memory, we were able to grok computer programming syntax and parse millions of lines with ease. This could allow computer code to be judged by its aesthetic quality, much like a poem is. It has been said Ruby programming is much like haiku. What if all the programming rules of thumb regarding such things as top-down design, parallelism, and avoiding premature optimization became as instinctive as our appreciation of rhyming or symmetrical artwork? Of course those who prefer prematurely optimized, bottom-up, serial programming can go the Jack Kerouac route if they so choose.

There are enormous ethical implications of customized realities. As discussed in an earlier post, the functions of our tools can deductively impact our value systems in ways we may have difficulty predicting beforehand.  When the mechanical clock was invented by Benedictine monks, they thought it would be a tool to help them regulate their prayer schedules, but they ended up enabling modern capitalism with its regular production cycles, hourly wages, and meticulous concern with efficiency. Perhaps people with an overabundance of appreciation for vibrations will end up enabling some sort of social structure which creates injustices that could not possibly be forseen. Nevertheless, humanity has always trudged onward to new uncertain horizons. We couldn’t ban new technology even if we wanted to, but we can take our time to critically reflect on potential consequences.

Also as discussed earlier, as our level of customization of reality grows, so does our ability to filter the information we see. When we begin to radically alter our subjective experience, we risk cyberbalkanization on a more fundamental level than ever before. With our current mental architectures we already have great difficulty communicating with one another, and often come to the conclusion that those we are debating with must be from another planet. In the famous debate between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, Dershowitz proclaimed that Noam must be from “Planet Chomsky.” Now, imagine what the disagreements may be like when we don’t even share the same perception of time, or if one person is harmonizing with cosmic vibrations while another is transfixed with stability. What will the outcome of such a situation look like? I believe I have a rough idea.

The forces of natural selection will work upon the different modes of consciousness, just as they do now with ideas in the form of memes. Those modes of consciousness which are good at crowding out others will become the dominant ones. Surely some of the most effective at replicating would be like the Borg, and demand assimilation. Yet, like our current world, the dominant type might not be totalitarian in nature, but merely demanding a standardized framework of communication. Tolerant empire-systems tend to fare better. The Roman Empire realized the futility of getting everyone to accept their one religion, and thus many religions thrived during most centuries of their reign. Even Ghengis Khan was noted for his tolerance of religious freedom. The modern capitalist world-system is exceedingly tolerant, and even the theocratic Saudi Arabia is now a member of the World Trade Organization. As long as one plays by the rules of the game of the dominant system, that system has no qualm, no matter what your beliefs.

In the case of Ghengis Khan, as long as you pay your taxes to the empire, you will be fine. In the case of the modern world-system, as long as your markets are open to foreign capital, you are fine. As Frederic Bastiat once remarked, “When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.” In the case of the consciousnesses of the future, I am assuming that the dominant mode of consciousness will just demand some minimal framework by which to interact with others. I am not saying that it is good that any particular consciousness framework will likely dominate, I’m just extrapolating what will likely be the case considering the law of natural selection.

Now, I would argue that in the interests of civilizational resiliency it is actually much better to allow a good deal of freedom in the modes of consciousness. This will keep us from becoming a homogeneous and vulnerable culture. While it makes the prospect for a universal utopia improbable, it also makes a universal dystopia improbable. What we will likely end up with is a multitude of weirdtopias. I look forward to the infinite variety of consciousnesses which await our species. It is the key to our long term survival, and these issues are likely more urgent than you think.

Flattr this!

December 28th, 2008 by Edward Miller

Virtual Reality (VR) has advanced to incredible heights. For those who haven’t kept up with the gaming scene, the newest game renowned for impressive graphics is Fallout 3. Of course, graphics aren’t all that matters to gamers, which is why another one of the hottest games on the block right now is Spore, which looks very cartoonish.

Nevertheless, consistent advances in both graphics software and hardware have been propelling ever more realistic graphics into our homes. Movies and gaming were the vanguard for realistic graphics. In only a couple decades we went from Pong to Fallout 3. Yet, we still haven’t ditched the joystick, mouse, and keyboard.

Speech recognition was supposed to make keyboards obsolete, but it isn’t as practical as once thought and the technology has been surprisingly stagnant. Yet, more elegant interfaces have been creeping their way into the consumer marketplace; unfortunately, I think infrastructural inertia will prevent movies and gaming from becoming the vanguard for advancement of these technologies.

Porn will be the vanguard, and from there it will make its way into other markets. If you read Wired, you may have come across one of the weirder technological developments of the 21st century: Teledildonics. These machines are basically interactive sex toys which can be activated remotely by a partner over the Internet. Clearly, it is the porn industry which is the most creative and enthusiastic in embracing such new sensory technologies.

When it comes to immersion, the keyboard, mouse, and joystick simply do not cut it. Yet, why would the developers of Spore think it is worth the effort to, say, make an electronic glove that can allow users to feel virtual textures? There is only one industry which is enthusiastic enough to accomplish such a feat.

Before we talk about what’s possible, let’s take a look at some of the interfaces which are already on the market.

What is already here?

Head-mounted Displays

When people think of VR, the first thing they think about is head-mounted displays. These things are really cool. They encompass your entire field of vision and can provide you with the experience of a screen that is hundreds of inches tall for a fraction of the price. Furthermore, they can provide stereoscopic 3D. Remember those 3D goggles you could wear to watch old 3D movies? Well if you have a game and/or a graphics card that is set up for stereoscopic rendering, with today’s graphics, a head-mounted display can give you an experience that will completely knock your socks off.

It is just tricky to find games, software, and/or hardware which support stereoscopic vision. OpenGL has great stereoscopic support, and if you use linux you can get this plugin which will automatically convert all games for you. For Windows users, you just have to hope your game supports it, or if you are lucky find less efficient and badly supported hardware-based stereoscopic drivers.

The best head-mounted display on the market today is eMagin’s Z800. It provides a gyroscope to detect head movement and a stereoscopic OLED display. OLED is a new technology which is superior to LCD in every way. It is thinner, lower power, flexible, brighter, and more responsive. The only limiting feature is the price. Since these things are new, they are still pretty pricey even though they are produced using very conventional means. This visor is a bit old, created back in 2005. Expect the next generation of OLED head-mounted displays to be arriving shortly, and they will likely be half the price and twice the resolution. Though, currently you can pick one up new for $1,200.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

Now this is the future of gaming. There are currently a couple different devices on the market now which can record your brainwaves using electrodes and use them for gaming purposes. Yet, what everyone is looking forward to is Emotiv‘s EPOC headset, which will have much greater functionality. It’s current release date is summer of 2009. It’s target price is only $299 and contains 16 electrodes. Using this data it can detect your facial expressions, emotions, and certain thought processes. It can track your excitement level during a game and can allow you to manipulate objects on the screen using only your mind. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

We can only speculate about what will be capable in the future with this technology, but clearly we should expect more electrodes and a greater refinement of the whole experience. As we learn more about the brain, we can apply these concepts towards more creating more realistic virtual experiences.

Right now, this technology requires a certain amount of training in order to tailor the device to an individual user’s quirks, much like how speech recognition technology works. I expect this process to be refined over time, and expect more emotions to be detectable. Currently, one can levitate virtual objects purely by thinking of the act of lifting, and the same can be done with rotating, pushing, pulling, and vanishing. It is also possible to change the virtual weather just by thinking about it. I expect more actions to be possible as time goes by.

Eventually, there may come a time when this technology improves the productivity of mainstream computer users. At that point, we may be manipulating data by pure thought. Also, I am confident it is also possible to compose music this way, lowering the barriers to entry into the world of music, and allowing even those with the most modest of musical talent to compose beautiful symphonies. The same could be true of painting, though in a virtual environment it could be much more fun. Imagine painting with clouds or fireworks.

VR Gloves

Those Nintendo Wiis have been selling like hotcakes. Sure they are small and cheap, but the main reason is the Wiimote. It is a small cylindrical handheld controller with a built-in accelerometer that tracks movement. It also uses optical tracking. This allows for the player to swing virtual lightsabers, bowl virtual bowling balls, and so forth.

In the VR world there have been devices like this for awhile, and one of them is the P5. This device is similar to the wii-mote but allows even more precise control since it is a glove and can track the movement of all the fingers. Unfortunately, it uses a clunky optical tracking system rather than a webcam. Nevertheless, it allows for a surprising degree of control. If you wanted, you could even play a virtual piano on a laptop or netbook during a plane trip.

Speech Recognition

Speech Recognition is mostly here, it has just been underwhelming as far as productivity is concerned. Our friend Ray Kurzweil was one of the pioneers of this field. It has been great for the blind, and other disabled users, but it hasn’t added much benefit for the rest of us.

Yet, there is huge untapped potential for speech recognition in gaming and VR environments. Imagine casting spells with your voice (“abracadabra”) or engaging in spoken dialogue with NPCs. Of course a simple voice chat setup could potentially be used effectively in multiplayer games with serious role players, but more often it completely ruins the immersion. (“Where’s the Cheetos?!”)

3D Sound

3D sound is already a reality. In fact, speakers are so good these days that even modestly priced ones produce sound indistinguishable from the real thing. Those who have surround sound speakers already know how much better movies can be with sound coming from many directions. In 3D environments, this is even cooler since the sound changes direction as your character does. The computer’s 3D sound software, like OpenAL, does most of the work and is implemented in most games. You don’t need an expensive 7 speaker setup to experience this. Just get a good pair of surround sound headphones and you’re set.

What needs work?

First and foremost, all of this technology must (and will) become cheaper in order for mainstream adoption to occur. This is the only way for these technologies to mature. Yet, even if all of the above technologies were perfectly implemented right now we would still have a few sensory inputs left out to dry. Our senses simply send electrical signals to our brain, and we have always been able to find ways to trick them one way or another.

Taste and Smell Emulation

There has been some development in this area, but as far as I know nothing will be hitting the market soon. This is one area that I expect pornography to pioneer the new technologies. Pheromones, tastes, and smells are a big part of the sexual experience for many. However, I think almost anyone would be interested in tasting virtual cake or smelling virtual roses. We just wouldn’t be willing to pay the big bucks to do so. The users of porn, on the other hand, have reliably shown interest in shelling out the big bucks. Unfortunately, I think there wont be much demand for this until the other senses have been thoroughly emulated and this is the only one remaining.

Touch Emulation

Feeling surfaces and textures in virtual reality is a long-held dream, but only the most basic of systems can currently be bought, and they are ridiculously expensive. It is over $4000 for a deluxe VR haptics glove. That glove combines all the features of the P5 above, but also has the ability to feel pressure when virtual objects are touched.

There is nothing on the market currently that lets you feel textures, but work is under development. For full immersion, such a haptics system would have to be expanded to a full bodysuit, not just a glove. Remember the movie AI? This will be the hardest of all to implement, but I have faith in the determination of the virtual sex industry.

Final Thoughts.

This technology is rapidly approaching a point where the boundaries between the virtual and the real will be demolished forever, and this will present tough ethical challenges to society. It will also produce a whole lot of fun, and may even boost productivity. All of this must be considered. There is a lot to be hopeful about, but it is imperative that we critically examine the the social consequences.

Would this sort of VR positively or negatively impact people’s conception of reality? What effects will it have on children? Will this change the nature of classrooms?

Will this make telecommuting more common? Could this actually reduce the need for transportation, lowering the cost of living and our ecological footprint?

When these sorts of technologies become integrated into something like Second Life, will we ever leave? Will this stifle progress or enhance creativity? I have already given examples of the wealth of new avenues for creativity.

Lawrence Lessig makes the point that John Phillip Sousa bemoaned the 20th century’s abandonment of streetcorner singing and individual creativity, yet Lessig argues the 21st century is lowering the barriers to entry into music and other creative fields. With Creative Commons, online music streaming, file sharing, and open source music software more and more music is being freely produced, shared, and remixed. The 21st century is shaping up to be filled with amateur creativity.

What effects will this have on our social lives and political institutions? There has already been quite a bit of virtual activism, and a whole lot of virtual tyranny.(DRM) Is virtual deviancy acceptable? Only a few quixotic anti-videogame crusaders want to ban virtual violence, but what about virtual pedophilia?

All our values will be challenged, but some may be strengthened. I have already argued that these technologies will actually enhance the viability of monogamy in the short term, though the definition of monogamy itself will likely change given the new customizable nature of our personal reality.

There is great potential for this to actually improve social relationships. The clunkiness of our 2D social networks will become painfully apparent once Augmented Reality and fully immersive VR is commonplace. We will be able to interact with others in a more natural way.

The anonymity inherent in virtual worlds will present new avenues for freedom of expression, but also new avenues for destructive behavior. Trolls are already a problem on the Internet, but imagine 3D trolls. Those of you who play MMORPGs don’t have to imagine this, but as the immersion grows so does the potential for annoying and hurtful behavior. Granted, we will be able to block trolls and customize whatever else we wish, but I think the downsides are already becoming obvious. What sort of spam and scams will these environments make possible? What about virtual rape?

Furthermore, what sort of psychological effects will this unlimited power of customization create? We are already experiencing a trend of cyberbalkanization. We tend to view information that already agrees with our viewpoints, and as our choice of media sources grows, intellectually isolated groups of people spring up who from birth have only been exposed to one ideological viewpoint. VR might take this to a whole new and disturbing level. Of course the “good ol days” when there were only a few papers and three news networks to choose from weren’t so great either. Perhaps VR will instead foster a more connected global community based on shared values, and allow all the diverse groups of people to peacefully live out their individual fantasies virtually. Be it religious fundamentalists or pedophiles.

In Neil Postman’s book Technopoly, he convincingly argued that technology changes our values in ways that extend deductively from the function of these tools. It is worthwhile to consider how to keep what is good about our current values as best we can as we move forward.

Flattr this!

March 11th, 2008 by Edward Miller

The institution of marriage in Western society is both a result of human nature and rather at odds with it. Humans tend to be very possessive with regard to lovers and deeply concerned about cheating on a primal level, and, as a result, monogamy and marriage were instituted. Unfortunately, we have other desires like sexual variety that are in direct conflict with monogamy. Also, marriage functions as a way to ensure financial security, yet when it ceases to do so, marriage can seem more like a cage.

Marriage in the future, if we play our cards right, could be a much less problematic issue. Once we have sufficiently eliminated material scarcity, our financial security will no longer be tied to a spouse, and procuring the necessities of life could very well become a trivial matter. Our desire for sexual variety will be satisfied once perfectly simulated virtual reality is developed, since the experience of sex could take whatever form both partners find most appealing.

All is Full of Love | Chris Cunningham
All is Full of Love | Chris Cunningham
As we gain more control over our bodies via technology, and virtual reality becomes more sophisticated, gender will become purely superficial. Our bodies will be more like Second Life avatars than something fixed and immutable. Some call this post-genderism, and it will transform our notion of sexuality, yet it won’t significantly affect monogamy. There will no longer be any reason to base our relationships upon sexual attractiveness, but it wont affect how many people we wish to connect with on an intimate emotional and physical level.

Some argue that it will become common for humans to have emotional and physical relationships with robots and artificial intelligences. Yet, even this will likely occur in the context of monogamy, and indeed the conversation usually turns to marriage with robots.

Although marriage and monogamy has already been stripped of most of its spiritual significance, most still treasure it. There is something beautiful and comfortable about monogamy, and I have a feeling many people will continue to seek it for the foreseeable future, even as it becomes less financially necessary. Monogamous cohabitation is an increasingly common living arrangement, and it is evidence of the resilience of monogamy in the modern world. We tend to use technology in accordance with our values, which, in the West, currently includes monogamy. Any social changes that affect monogamy will likely come from our human nature asserting itself differently on a macro level as circumstances change, and it will be a slow process.

It could be argued that an ultimate realization of the will to embrace unity would be to not just feel connected to every other conscious being on an abstract level, but to actually be intimately connected. Watching as the world becomes more networked and interconnected, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to extrapolate this tendency and envision a sci-fi-esque scenario where all minds are linked together. Yet, baring the possibility of an imminent Singularity, I do not see this happening this century. I’m not precocious enough to make longer range predictions.

Flattr this!

December 16th, 2007 by Edward Miller

Journalist John Horgan has made an intriguing argument that humanity is nearing the End of Science which is marked by diminishing returns and higher expenses with regard to finding out new deep mysteries of the universe. He claims applied science will still continue, but we will mostly be filling in gaps rather than solving big mysteries.

While he is simply mistaken about the idea, it does raise interesting questions. The fact that Horgan responded to most of the counter-arguments that I am aware of from a well-researched and humanistic perspective is what impressed me about him. Yet, there is much to be optimistic with regarding science’s continuing capacity for discovering the mysteries of the universe, and especially science’s capacity for using applied technologies to colonize space, conquer aging, and create smarter-than-human intelligence.

One thing he didn’t discuss in depth was just how powerful the "knowledge begets knowledge" idea is. Anyone who reads the news should be startled virtually daily by new breakthroughs in information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and so forth.

Communications technology has allowed for the free flow of scientific information beyond anyone’s wildest dreams (save William Gibson), and now we have the Internet which gives scientists access to virtually all scientific knowledge, preventing the duplication work.

This also makes possible new modes of scientific research. Though this mode of research has yet to be fully explored, futurist Kevin Kelly predicts that it will soon be common for hundreds of scientists to collaborate on one project through open source software such as MediaWiki, the software that powers Wikipedia, allowing for transparency and peer review along the entire process. This is just one of the many sweeping changes that he predicts will radically reshape science in the near future.

Of course with the rapidly accelerating improvements in computing power this will give scientists more power to more quickly analyze mountains of genetic or cosmological data. Moore’s Law is not only remaining true, but is actually being outpaced! The possibilities for computer simulation seem endless.

As seen before with the Internet, new technologies in one area can speed up developments in other areas. Whenever a new nanomaterial is developed, it could have applications for all sorts of things, including computer technology, solar technology, medical technology, or space technology.

Now because of nanomaterials, NASA has put up prize money for the creation of "space elevator" technology which could allow for transportation into space at a tiny fraction of the current cost.

Of course even with the current costs, there is a race between a handful of companies, such as Virgin Galactic, for space tourism as we speak. The first flights will happen in 2008.

It makes sense why these developments are happening so rapidly. It has been said that there are more scientists alive today than there was in the entire history of science combined. Couple this with improvements in communications and computer science, and the potential becomes all the more startling.

I have a feeling that before you know it, we will be on the moon harvesting that helium 3 that Horgan was talking about, if not mining asteroids made of solid platinum. Furthermore, if we really do begin to conquer the process of aging itself (as opposed to its symptoms like cancer), then this would allow everyone, including scientists, to live much longer. Imagine how much would have been accomplished if Einstein were still alive today.

But I think this is a far too narrow look into the future. What happens when we create smarter-than-human intelligence is where it gets really exciting. After all, even Einstein only possessed human intellect. Smarter-than-human intelligence could be accomplished by modifying human beings through genetic engineering, psychopharmacology, and brain-computer interfacing. It could also be accomplished through the creation of an artificial intelligence capable of broad pattern recognition and learning ability.

While humans have far better abilities with regard to pattern recognition and creativity, computers have certain superior aspects such as processing speed, memory, and inability to become bored doing repetitive tasks. What happens when either the human gains the positive traits of a computer or a computer gains the creativity traits of a human? The resulting intelligence would be far better at producing even smarter intelligences. What would the smarter intelligences do? Create even smarter intelligences, and so on. This could happen at lightning speed given the characteristics of the new intelligences, creating what futurists call a a technological singularity.

We can already create freakin Black Holes in particle accelerators with our mere human intellect.

Considering this, what sorts of things would be possible from smarter-than-human intelligence? This is where all we currently think about the future is thrown out the window. There is really no way to predict. Of course we can make feeble attempts at guesses.

* Upload Consciousness – Gradually replace our neurons with artificial neurons until we are completely artificial, and then become digital beings capable of being simulated at a very fast speed. According to computational neuroscience, it is possible, knowing current laws of physics, to run a simulation of the human brain at a rate of billions of years per minute in a processor weighing one gram.

* Dyson Spheres – A megastructure that would encase an entire star and harvest all of its incomprehensibly vast energy, and use that to power a computer and/or space colony that is so vast and so powerful that it would be able to sustain quadrillions lifeforms, both virtual and physical. (or one lifeform quadrillions of times smarter than us)

* Molecular Manufacturing – Using self-replicating nano-robots to rearrange matter in any way desired.

* Femtotechnology – Like nanotechnology, but an order of magnitude smaller than nanotechnology

* Ontotechnology – The speculated capabilities of things like femtotechnology. Being able to reshape the laws of nature and redefine the kinds of things that are possible. This could include creating new universes.

* Von Neumann Probes – Create self-replicating space probes to survey the universe.

* Discover the Multiverse – There could be an infinite number of both parallel and nested dimensions, or we could discover that our entire universe or multiverse is itself simply a computer simulation by some other advanced civilization.

This type of stuff is a mere glimpse at what the future could hold, though it is inherently impossible for a human to predict what something smarter than a human could accomplish. If even 1/1000th of what I said is true, the idea that we are at the End of Science is so ridiculously wrong that there are no words for it.

Alas, even if I am completely wrong and we really are nearing the End of Science, then it isn’t even all that big of a problem. What is really important is the elimination of suffering, as Horgan implied by suggesting we pool our knowledge to study how best to end war and sustain perpetual peace. Yet, hand in hand with the elimination of suffering is the maximization of happiness. Working towards vastly increasing the level of happiness that is currently possible with our physiology seems to be an achievable goal. Indeed, the most noble goal of all.

Furthermore, even if we can merely create fully immersive virtual reality, then we will be able to do whatever we like, including experience a kind of future where such things I mentioned are actually possible. This is highly likely in the near future considering the rapid progress with regard to photorealistic video games.

What is real to us is what we see, hear, and sense. With virtual reality we could create our own realities to be however we’d like. These realities dont even have to follow the laws of physics and could be epic stories complete with magic and so forth. However, maybe we ought to refine our definition of technology and magic. As Arthur C Clarke once said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Flattr this!