Part 1- The prophets of the future
… and it is entirely up to us, whether we will be able to enjoy it in all our strength – I am now speaking for myself and our “post-war” generation. The future of Jules Verne is already the past. Our future is written by microprocessors.
If you would claim at any dinner party that in twenty years a mobile phone will be reduced to the size of a blood cell and that nano-robots will circulate in our body, no one will take you seriously unless your name is Raymond Kurzweil. In that case, Bill Gates will invite you twice for dinner, you have invented the flatbed scanner, the first electric piano (your friend is Stevie Wonder) and the first program for recognizing human voices; you received 12 doctorates, many honorary degrees and high state awards, etc.
Today, Raymond Kurzweil is considered a pioneer of a movement called ”Singularity”, which argues that the next stage of human existence is only a matter of artificial intelligence. Over the past 50 years, the results of computer technology and biology have exponentially accelerated. According to Kurzweil, there are two turning points in the near future that will impact our civilization. First will be the year 2029, when the computer will win the test “Turing”, where after three hours of a written dialogue with scientists the examiner will not be able to determine which of the five examinees is a computer and which is human, and therefore making the test successful (for the computer). In 1999, a group of experts talked of 100 years before any artificial intelligence would be capable of passing such a test successfully. In 2006 this prediction was reduced by 50 years. Today we talk about it happening in 20 years.
Another milestone is meant to be the year 2045, ”the point of no return” when artificial intelligence on the planet will be a trillion times higher than the biological intelligence of humanity, and it will keep improving itself exponentially. At that point we will enter the era of ”Singularity”, the stage where you can no longer make reasonable predictions by the use of the biological brain. Or so it is now assumed. Does this sound like a catastrophic scenario of Space Odyssey? No, in fact it is quite a near reality. Today, man still has the power and the ability to control the computer and to switch it off, but tomorrow? Kurzweil sees this concern as misplaced, as apparently the progress of computerization can no longer be stopped; we are unable to operate without telecommunications, automated services, manufacturing, etc. Your iPhone is now 100 times smaller than a computer was in 1980, yet a thousand times more powerful and a million times cheaper. Technological development is meant to solve poverty and hunger. Soon we will be able to produce anything we could think of in 3D: food, clothes, furniture … not to mention science and medicine.
Robots are already helping to carry out dangerous tasks in industry, military and everyday life, particularly in Japan. Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro has succeeded in developing Geminoid, the first robot with a human face, the author´s own double, which is able to change facial expressions. Ishiguro has created dozens of robots; the new always represent an improvement on the previous one. Their skin already possesses pores and is covered with the finest hair, though it will take Ishiguro years before he creates an electronic smile on the robot´s face. Robots do not always resemble humans. In 2008, Brit Kevin Warwick became the first cyborg (cybernetic organism). On his own arm, he has tested an electronic implant, which in conjunction with a computer can transfer the movement of his hand to the arm of a robot, even if it situated on the other side of the globe.
A million-billion operations per second. The written code is rather illegible. This is the capacity of the most powerful computer in Europe and there are 500 similar ones worldwide. Leviathan Tera-100 is installed near Arpajon and is the image of companies CEA and Bull. The computer fits into 280 cabinets on a 750 square-meter area. Tera-100 implements a billion operations per second in “petaFlop” units, a performance comparable to 7 billion people simultaneously conducting one operation per second, on a calculator, for the duration of 52 hours. In November last year, the Japanese and Russian giants have already reached 10 petaFlops per second, and a new one, 100 times faster is currently under development…
Research in medicine is progressing at a similar pace. Fifteen years from today, our average life expectancy will keep increasing, thanks to nanotechnology, by one year or more. It will be possible to inject our great grandchildren´s bodies with nano-robots programmed to identify and destroy all the malignant tumours and diseases of all kinds. Already today, we are capable of treating Parkinson’s disease by introducing nano-chips into the brain, which then send impulses to body muscles to replace damaged neurons. Soon, it will be within our reach to scan the entire brain, save our own memory to an external ”hard disk” and install it back anytime….
The ideas of Aubrey de Grey, a renowned, self-taught biogerontologist of British origin, and his SENS theory (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) are taken seriously by the international scientific community, who has so far failed to prove him wrong. In Grey´s theory, the task of medicine is to identify and repair damaged cells in the body before they become pathogenic. Rather than keeping the body in a state of an advanced age, however, the purpose is to not reach that stage at all. Grey divides the reasons for aging into several categories, and the therapy of replacing body stem cells forms the basis of stopping the aging process. The several clinical trials on patients that are taking place in Britain and the USA are showing encouraging results. At the moment we have managed to identify, for example, an enzyme that can take away harmful molecules that the body accumulates and that cause heart attacks, we will be able to erase cardiovascular disease, etc.
In Montpellier, France, Jean-Marc Lemaitre and his team advanced the path to eternal youth. Aging is no longer an inevitable process. “The point of no return” does not hold true for the aging cells of the human body anymore. Scientists have succeeded in creating “renewed” cells from the “old” ones in a case of a 74 year old individual. These cells are then capable of producing new, functional cells of any kind that can be found in the human body. Simultaneous to this research, a similar study of the recovery of stem cells has been undertaken for the past 8 years by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka in Japan and James Thomson in Wisconsin. Although it is not yet a promise of immortality, it is nevertheless an amazing leap of science that will enable us to repeatedly repair organs and tissues without the need of surgery.
We live four times longer than people in the Gothic times, and are exponentially approaching the eternity of life, and we may already know how to reach it. It is no longer science fiction. There is a good chance that by 2030 human aging will slow down significantly. In the final stage, when the first person lives up to 150 years, it may become possible to live a thousand years 200 years later. Does it reminiscence of The Markopoulos Case? Are we looking forward to these developments, or do we fear the unknown? Is it a dangerous curiosity of proving how far we are able to go? At what moment does a good idea turn into an uncontrollable weapon?
In this potentially inversed world, societies will not function like they do now. There is a talk of new models of sociality. The creation of numerous types of micro societies in international seas with isolated governments and leadership is no longer an absurd idea. There are several hints of this kind of organisation, such as the Blueseed Project, which was created as a solution to the immigration bureaucracy of the United States, the aim of which is to create a neutral, floating Silicon Valley off the coast of the US with approximately 300 to 500 residents. There will be more micro planets being created, each with different activities and economic or strategic goals. Finance is one of the considerations for these projects, as well as the schemes´ psychological impact, the issue of migration of population, and an individual attitude to the meaning of life.
The current world powers and other state structures, no matter how democratic or associated with financiers and thriving industry they are, are not interested to leave the lucrative type of politics and defend the values they proclaimed and dusted so many times in their election slogans. There is still the reluctance to give up excess for the creation of balance on earth, and to act on the basis of real values that are beneficial for human coexistence. It is relevant to attempt to answer the questions posed by Tao, Buddha, Jesus and the others a thousand years ago. Do we know of any better, long term solution for a better and long life for which we so eagerly strive? How will we personally reconcile with the surrounding life and the universe? Will it be a computer that will do this for us, and will it programme what is good and what is bad for us? Who will control this computer and how? Intellectual happiness and external and internal satisfaction cannot yet be bought or programmed. Health is still under the control of industry, marketing and profit. It is only our personal will and individual effort that can reverse this situation, and we should start with ourselves. Curiously, the challenge of how not to get bored if we live up to 1000 years has still not yet been addressed. We will probably need more than two sets of golf clubs and a few more pairs of shoes.
To be continued.
Photos: Author´s own archive
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