Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Future That Works

By the end of this century there will not be a war anywhere on the planet, mass numbers of people will no longer go hungry or starve, violent crime will be virtually eliminated, racism and bigotry will be virtually eliminated, and every person on the planet will be living as if they are millionaires. Like smoking in public places, all of the current social injustices and breakdowns will become things of the past.

Sure, something could go wrong in the mean time. We could get hit by a bus tomorrow but we still make plans for the future and have a pretty good idea of the natural progression of life. That's the case for civilization on the planet. Something could go wrong but, barring an unfortunate accident, civilization is progressing at such a pace that, by the end of the century, we will have solved most of the problems of civilization that face us today.

At the current pace of development we will achieve the status of a Level I civilization by the end of this century. This will happen in two stages. By the middle of the century technology will have developed to the point that a single system of interconnected computers (acting as if they are one) will have the combined knowledge and processing power of every person on the planet. This will enable us to track and accomodate the intelligence and needs of every individual on the planet.

By the end of the century we, along with our technological allies, will be able to work out the complexities of rapid, equitable delivery of food, medical care, emergency relief, housing and economic needs for every person on the planet. We will be able to produce and distribute worldwide all the food needed and manage unpredictable events like earthquakes and tornadoes. Accidents will still happen, people will die, hearts will be broken, and individuals will still have physical and psychological breakdowns but none of this will be systemic or widespread. People will typically live healthily for well over a century in peace and prosperity.

This won't happen automatically, of course. We still need all the researchers working in areas like quantum physics, genetics, complexity science, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, etc. to continue working at the growing level of competence to maintain the exponential growth we have been experiencing over the past 50 years. At this current pace, in the next 50 years we will reach what Ray Kurzweil calls the Singularity when human and machine intelligence reach parity. The 50 years after that will be sufficient, at the current pace of development, for us to reach what Nikolai Kardashev refers to as a Type I civilization which will have all the features I describe above and more.

There should be no fear of complacency because there will be new challenges requiring continued hard work and ingenuity. We will, after all, have only reached the status of a Type I Civilization and have much greater challenges facing us to reach Types II and III.

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