Tag Archives: future

The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

Leave a comment

Filed under futurism, psychology, technology

When (And Why) NOT To Be An Optimist

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I have an overall positive outlook on life and the future. I’d even go so far as to say I’m excited about what the future will bring. My posts about sex robots should be proof enough of that.

However, I wasn’t always optimistic. In fact, anyone who knew me in high school or middle school probably saw me as the antithesis of optimism. I was always so dire and bleak with my outlook. I rarely had anything good or positive to say. I put myself down all the time and tried to bring the rest of the world with it.

It was not a healthy mindset, to say the least. I’m very glad I got out of it.

At the same time, it has given me some perspective. Having been on both extremes, I know what fuels that kind of thinking. I know and understand, to some extent, what leads someone to have that mindset.

Overall, I feel like having a positive outlook is more beneficial. That’s to be expected. When you’re more hopeful and optimistic, it tends to bleed into other aspects of your life. Optimism tends to attract optimistic people and those people are generally good for you. I certainly wouldn’t have the friends I have now if I’d remained so negative.

At the same time, there is a limit to optimism. There does come a point where being optimistic can be damaging, in the long run. I’m not talking about the kind of optimism that’s outright delusional, either. I’m more referring to the kind of mindset that makes someone too oblivious to the world.

I think that’s something people do struggle with. That might be a hard thing to say in wake of a global pandemic, but even before that dampened everyone’s spirits, it was easy to get caught up in that mindset. It often goes like this.

If everything seems to be going well, then why bother changing anything?

If things stop going well, then you try to get back to that particular mentality.

If what you do doesn’t work, then you double down and try even harder.

What made you happy and hopeful worked before. Why wouldn’t it work again?

This is a mindset I can attest to. When I was in college, my overall outlook improved. I got a lot less negative about the world. I got better at making friends. I even dared to be hopeful about the future.

Then, I faced some challenges. It was often small or minor. A girl I liked didn’t like me back. A class I took didn’t go well. My favorite team starts losing or I get into a fight with my roommate. It was very stressful, but I thought just maintaining a positive outlook would help work things out.

It didn’t. I won’t say it didn’t help at all. It just didn’t help as much as I’d hoped.

The same thing happened when I got anxious about my health and body image. As I’ve noted before, I did not have good health habits in my youth. I didn’t start regularly going to the gym until I was almost 30. Before then, I thought I just needed to rebuild my confidence and remain hopeful. I now know that was incredibly short-sighted.

Just having the right mindset is barely the first step. At some point, I had to make a more concerted effort. I had to work, grind, and struggle to get to where I wanted to go. If I had just stayed entirely within this positive mindset, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now, health wise. In that sense, being too positive worked against me.

This is the trap of overly positive thinking. Sometimes, if you’re too positive, you’re less inclined to put in the extra effort and make a meaningful change. Whether it’s about your health, your social life, or your politics, too much positive thinking can become an excuse to not change or do anything different.

That’s rarely healthy. That’s also why a little regular introspection can be a good thing. It’s something that’s encouraged by professionals who are far smarter than me on matters of psychology. If you need further details, check out this piece I found from Psychology Today.

Psychology Today: Positive Thinking Isn’t Always the Best Way to Go

When we suffer pain, rejection, disappointment, loss, disease, or another catastrophe, happy talk, whistling in the dark, or putting on a happy face do not work. Every cloud does not have a silver lining nor is there a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Because the world is filled with all sorts of unhappy events, from not getting that dream job to losing a best friend to cancer, thinking only positive thoughts is delusional. Trying to maintain a happy face while tragedy engulfs us is unnatural, akin to trying to laugh when our hearts are breaking. Like Pagliacci, the clown who was intent upon making others laugh while tears streamed down his cheeks, we shortchange ourselves when we fail to deal with negative events and emotions.

I’ll sum this up by offering one last bit of insight.

Life isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Things do generally get better and assuming the worst tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, just being positive is never enough. At some point, you have to make the effort. It’s often strenuous and frustrating, but it’s wroth doing.

Leave a comment

Filed under health, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

Why We Should Embrace Synthetic Meat (As Soon As Possible)

awd4jrrsg8n0c1uzjgmi

If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.

Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.

These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.

I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.

Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.

It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.

It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.

Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.

It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.

We should embrace synthetic meat.

In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.

I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.

Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.

In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.

Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.

At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.

Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.

Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.

Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.

Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.

Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.

It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.

If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.

Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.

The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.

I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.

The planet will benefit.

The people will benefit.

The animals will benefit.

Our society, as a whole, will benefit.

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, Environment, futurism, health, technology

Buying My First Bitcoin: My Reason And Experience

I talk about the future a lot on this site. That’s because, in general, the future excites me. I genuinely want to see some of the emerging technologies under development manifest. From advanced artificial intelligence to hacking our own biology to sex robots, I think these developments will lead to some major upheavals in society and I want to be around to see them.

I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see all of them, but I want to make the effort. I want to experience the future and not just speculate about it.

This brings me to Bitcoin. Now, before I go any further, let me disclose that I am not one of those hardcore, uber-libertarian Bitcoin fans who see Bitcoin as the technology that will bring down corrupt governments and banking cartels. I’m also not among those who think Bitcoin is a total scam. For this technology, I try to keep my perspective balanced.

I see Bitcoin the same way I see email. It’s basically a digital form of a tangible thing/service that we’re familiar with. Email was a supplement to regular mail. Bitcoin is simply a supplement for money. Email didn’t end all forms of regular mail. As such, I don’t see Bitcoin ending all other forms of money.

As for the technology behind it, I’m no expert, but I definitely see the value. Bitcoin, unlike other currencies, has no boarders. It has no middlemen or central authorities. It doesn’t require a big bank or some other financial institution to authorize it. All it requires is an internet connection and a smart device with an app.

Beyond the money, the technology behind it, most notably the blockchain, has some exciting applications. It promises to change the way we process, manage, and scale big data. It has the potential to create secure, decentralized operations that can’t be run from the top-down by the future Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.

Even if you think Bitcoin has no inherent value, I hope you see the value in that.

Now, I have been following news about Bitcoin since 2013. I remember the first time it became a major source of headlines. It was primarily associated with black market economies on the dark web, namely the Silk Road. That was not necessarily a good association, but that didn’t stop Bitcoin from growing considerably in both value and use.

However, I didn’t invest in it or seek to buy any Bitcoins. Some of that was mostly because it was still so new. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and I didn’t necessarily trust the early Bitcoin wallets. It also didn’t help that some of the early Bitcoin exchanges went completely bust.

I understand this era still created plenty of Bitcoin millionaires. Those people are the lucky ones. Even after 2013, I don’t think we’ll see Bitcoin create any more millionaires like that. I still watched Bitcoin with a skeptical eye. I didn’t want to buy in until I could be sure it was able to weather these upheavals.

In hindsight, I think I waited too long. At this point, I think Bitcoin has proven its worth and its utility. It’s been around for more than a decade now. If it were a bubble or a scam, it would’ve failed long ago. Even if I’m late to the party, I can safely say that I have finally joined in.

Granted, I didn’t put my whole life savings into Bitcoin. I decided to start off small and honestly, it was a lot easier than I thought.

Here’s what I did to get my first batch of Bitcoin money.

Step 1: I downloaded a basic Bitcoin wallet, namely BRD. It’s the simplest, least cumbersome wallet I could find.

Step 2: I compiled about $100 in cash. These were just a bunch of $20 bills I had in my drawer. They were actually bills I got from Christmas cards. Since I buy most of my stuff with credit cards and my phone, I really didn’t have much use for them.

Step 3: I went to a gas station up the road from my house, which had a Bitcoin ATM. I used that ATM to purchase $100 in Bitcoin. It took less than four minutes.

That’s it. That’s all I did. I didn’t have to give my bank account number to anyone. I didn’t have to give my credit card number to anyone. I just took some bills that I probably wasn’t going to spend anyways and turned it into digital currency. I have every intention of purchasing more down the line.

In terms of loose change or extra bills, I believe Bitcoin is actually better than just letting that paper money gather dust. Unlike bills, Bitcoin’s value actually has the potential to go up. That’s something paper money rarely does.

It’s a key part of Bitcoin’s legendary volatility. That sort of thing turns a lot of people off and I understand that. They don’t want to wake up one mourning and find out their money lost half its value.

However, I would counter that paper money would lose that same value, but just over a longer period of time. It’s like owning fruit. It’ll only ever rot. It’s never going to get fresher. Bitcoin is a bit more like a game of cards, but with the odds in your favor.

Sometimes the value goes up.

Sometimes the value goes down.

Overall, due to the scarce nature of Bitcoin, its value is inclined to go up.

That $100 was only going to get less valuable sitting in my drawer. At least with Bitcoin, there’s at least a possibility that $100 could be worth a lot more later this year. Compared to what inflation does to money, I’ll take those odds.

For now, I just wanted to share my experience. I genuinely believe that Bitcoin and the technology behind it is going to be a big part of our future. It may not completely replace money, but it will improve on what we’ve got.

I’ll share more stories as the year unfolds. In the meantime, I’ll leave everyone with this little anecdote.

The first known Bitcoin purchase was on May 22, 2010 when a man named Laszlo Hanyecz bought a pizza for 10,000 Bitcoins. As of this post, one Bitcoin is valued at $32,711. That means someone payed $327,110,000 for a pizza.

That must have been a damn good pizza.

2 Comments

Filed under Bitcoin, Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights, real stories

Big Tech, AI Research, And Ethics Concerns: Why We Should All Worry

In general, I root for technology and technological progress. Overall, I believe it has been a net benefit for humanity. It’s one of the major reasons why we’ve made so much progress as a global society in the past 100 years.

I’ve sung the praises of technology in the past, speculated on its potential, and highlighted individuals who have used it to save millions of lives. For the most part, I focus on the positives and encourage other people to have a less pessimistic view of technology and the change it invites.

That said, there is another side to that coin and I try not to ignore it. Like anything, technology has a dark side. It can be used to harm just as much as it can be used to hurt, if not more so. You could argue that we couldn’t have killed each other at such a staggering rate in World War II without technology.

It’s not hyperbole to say that certain technology could be the death of us all. In fact, we’ve come distressingly close to destroying ourselves before, namely with nuclear weapons. There’s no question that kind of technology is dangerous.

However, artificial intelligence could be far more dangerous than any nuclear bomb. I’ve talked about it before and I’ll likely bring it up again. This technology just has too much potential, for better and for worse.

That’s why when people who are actually researching it have concerns, we should take notice. One such individual spoke out recently, specifically someone who worked for Google, an organization with deep pockets and a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.

According to a report from the Associated Press, a scholar named Timnit Gebru expressed serious concerns about Google’s AI research, specifically in how their operating ethics. For a company as big and powerful as Google, that’s not a trivial comment. This is what she had to say.

AP News: Google AI researcher’s exit sparks ethics, bias concerns

Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.

But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.

Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident “unprecedented research censorship” and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.

The furor over Gebru’s abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original “Don’t Be Evil” motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.

And it’s exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.

I bolded that last sentence because I think it’s the most relevant. It’s also the greatest cause for concern. I suspect Ms. Gebru is more concerned than most because the implications are clear.

When a tool as powerful as advanced AI is developed, who gets to determine how it’s used? Who gets to program the ethical framework by which it operates? Who gets to decide how the benefits are conferred and the harms are reduced?

Moreover, how do you even go about programming an AI with the right kind of ethics?

That’s a very relative question and one we can’t avoid if we’re going to keep developing this technology. I’ve tried to answer it, but I’m hardly an expert. Ms. Gebru was definitely in a better position than me or most other people with a passing interest in this field.

Then, she gets fired and starts expressing concerns publicly. The fact that she can and Google isn’t facing much in terms of repercussions should be concerning. It may also be a sign of the larger challenges we’re facing.

Google, like many other organizations researching advanced AI, is a profit-seeking tech company. They’re not some utopian technocrats. They’re a business who is obligated to make their investors happy. Advanced AI will help them do that, but what kind of consequences will that invite?

If profit is the primary motivation of an advanced AI, then what happens when it encounters a situation where profit comes at the cost of lives? There are already human-run companies that make those decision and people die because of them. An advanced AI will only make it many times worse.

Once an artificial intelligence system is as smart as a human, it’s going to be capable in ways we don’t expect and can’t control. If it’s ethics and goals aren’t aligned with us, then what’s to stop it from wiping humanity out in the name of profit?

It’s a distressing thought. It’s probably a thought that has crossed Ms. Gebru’s mind more than once. She may know how close or far we are to that point, but the fact that this is already a conflict should worry us all.

We’ve already become so numb to the greed and excesses of big business. Tech companies may conduct themselves as this team of future-building visionaries intent on making the world a better place, but the profit motive is still there. Like it or not, profit is still a hell of a motive.

Eventually, artificial intelligence will get to a point where it will either adopt our ethics or choose to formulate its own, which may or may not align with ours. When that happens, no amount of profit may be worth the risk.

Now, we’re still a ways off from an artificial intelligence system on that level, but it’s still quite possible that there are people alive today who will grow up to see it. When that time comes, we need to be damn sure these systems have solid ethical frameworks in place.

If they don’t, we really don’t stand a chance. We’re a society that still kills each other over what we think happens when we die without seeing the irony. Even a marginally advanced AI will have no issues wiping us out if we make doing so profitable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, technology

How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, technology, Thought Experiment

Killer Robots, Drone Warfare, And How Artificial Intelligence Might Impact Both

920x515_charlene

On November 5, 2001, the history of warfare changed forever. On that date, an unmanned Predator drone armed with hellfire missiles killed Mohammed Atef, a known Al-Qaida military chief and the son-in-law to Osama Bin Laden. From a purely strategic standpoint, this was significant in that it proved the utility of a new kind of weapon system. In terms of the bigger picture, it marked the start of a new kind of warfare.

If the whole of human history has taught us anything, it’s that the course of that history changes when societies find new and devastating ways to wage war. In ancient times, to wage war, you needed to invest time and resources to train skilled warriors. That limited the scope and scale of war, although some did make the most of it.

Then, firearms came along and suddenly, you didn’t need a special warrior class. You just needed to give someone a gun, teach them how to use it, and organize them so that they could shoot in a unit. That raised both the killing power and the devastating scale of war. The rise of aircraft and bombers only compounded that.

In the 20th century, warfare became so advanced and so destructive that the large-scale wars of the past just aren’t feasible anymore. With the advent of nuclear weapons, the potential dangers of such a war are so great that no spoils are worth it anymore. In the past, I’ve even noted that the devastating power of nuclear weapons have had a positive impact on the world, albeit for distressing reasons.

Now, drone warfare has added a new complication. Today, drone strikes are such a common tactic that it barely makes the news. The only time they are noteworthy is when one of those strikes incurs heavy civilian casualties. It has also sparked serious legal questions when the targets of these strikes are American citizens. While these events are both tragic and distressing, there’s no going back.

Like gunpowder before it, the genie is out of the bottle. Warfare has evolved and will never be the same. If anything, the rise of combat drones will only accelerate the pace of change with respect to warfare. Like any weapon before it, some of that change will be negative, as civilian casualties often prove. However, there also potential benefits that could change more than just warfare.

Those benefits aren’t limited to keeping keep soldiers out of combat zones. From a cost standpoint, drones are significantly cheaper. A single manned F-22 Raptor costs approximately $150 million while a single combat drone costs about $16 million. That makes drones 15 times cheaper and you don’t need to be a combat ace to fly one.

However, those are just logistical benefits. It’s the potential that drones have in conjunction with advanced artificial intelligence that could make them every bit as influential as nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. There’s plenty of danger in that potential. There always is with advanced AI. I’ve even talked about some of those risks. Anyone who has seen a single “Terminator” movie understands those risks.

When it comes to warfare, though, risk tolerance tends to be more complicated than anything you see in the movies. The risks of AI and combat drones have already sparked concerns about killer robots in the military. As real as those risks are, there’s another side to that coin that rarely gets discussed.

Think back to any story involving a drone strike that killed civilians. There are plenty of incidents to reference. Those drones didn’t act on orders from Skynet. They were ordered by human military personnel, attempting to make tactical decision on whatever intelligence they had available at the time. The drones may have done the killing, but a human being gave the order.

To the credit of these highly trained men and women in the military, they’re still flawed humans at the end of the day. No matter how ethically they conduct themselves, they’re ability to assess, process, and judge a situation is limited. When those judgments have lives on the line, both the stakes and the burdens are immense.

Once more advanced artificial intelligence enters the picture, the dynamics for drone warfare changes considerably. This isn’t pure speculation. The United States Military has gone on record saying they’re looking for ways to integrate advanced AI into combat drones. While they stopped short of confirming they’re working on their own version of Skynet, the effort to merge AI and combat drones is underway.

In an overly-simplistic way, they basically confirmed they’re working on killer robots. They may not look like the Terminator or Ultron, but their function is similar. They’re programmed with a task and that task may or may not involve killing an enemy combatant. At some point, a combat drone is going to kill another human being purely based on AI.

That assumes it hasn’t already happened. It’s no secret that the United States Military maintains shadowy weapons programs that are often decades ahead of their time. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s only a matter of time. Once an autonomous drone kills another human being, we’ll have officially entered another new era of warfare.

In this era, there are no human pilots directing combat drones from afar. There’s no human being pulling the trigger whenever a drone launches its lethal payload into a combat situation. The drones act on their own accord. They assess all the intel they have on hand, process it at speeds far beyond that of any human, and render decisions in an instant.

It sounds scary and it certainly is. Plenty of popular media, as well as respected public figures, paint a terrifying picture of killer robots killing without remorse or concern. However, those worst-case-scenarios overlook both the strategic and practical aspect of this technology.

In theory, a combat drone with sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence will be more effective than any human pilot could ever be in a military aircraft. It could fly better, carrying out maneuvers that would strain or outright kill even the most durable pilots. It could react better under stressful circumstances. It could even render better judgments that save more lives.

Imagine, for a moment, a combat drone with systems and abilities so refined that no human pilot or officer could hope to match it. This drone could fly into a war zone, analyze a situation, zero in on a target, and attack with such precision that there’s little to no collateral damage.

If it wanted to take a single person out, it could simply fire a high-powered laser that hits them right in the brain stem.

If it wants to take out someone hiding in a bunker, it could utilize a smart bullet or a rail gun that penetrates every level of shielding and impacts only a limited area.

If it wants to take out something bigger, it could coordinate with other drones to hit with traditional missiles in such a way that it had no hope of defending itself.

Granted, drones this advanced probably won’t be available on the outset. Every bit of new technology goes through a learning curve. Just look at the first firearms and combat planes for proof of that. It takes time, refinement, and incentive to make a weapons system work. Even before it’s perfected, it’ll still have an impact.

At the moment, the incentives are definitely there. Today, the general public has a very low tolerance for casualties on both sides of a conflict. The total casualties of the second Iraq War currently sit at 4,809 coalition forces and 150,000 Iraqis. While that’s only a fraction of the casualties suffered in the Vietnam War, most people still deem those losses unacceptable.

It’s no longer feasible, strategically or ethically, to just blow up an enemy and lay waste to the land around them. Neither politics nor logistics will allow it. In an era where terrorism and renegade militias pose the greatest threat, intelligence and precision matter. Human brains and muscle just won’t cut it in that environment. Combat drones, if properly refined, can do the job.

Please note that’s a big and critical if. Like nuclear weapons, this a technology that nobody in any country can afford to misuse. In the event that a combat drone AI develops into something akin to Skynet or Ultron, then the amount of death and destruction it could bring is incalculable. These systems are already designed to kill. Advanced AI will just make them better at killing than any human will ever be.

It’s a worst-case scenario, but one we’ve managed to avoid with nuclear weapons. With advanced combat drones, the benefits might be even greater than no large-scale wars on the level of Word War II. In a world where advanced combat drones keep terrorists and militias from ever becoming too big a threat, the potential benefits could be unprecedented.

Human beings have been waging bloody, brutal wars for their entire history. Nuclear weapons may have made the cost of large wars too high, but combat drones powered by AI may finally make it obsolete.

5 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, technology

Neuralink Event: Updates, Insights, And (Big) Implications

finalmente-sapremo-neuralink-progetto-segreto-elon-musk-v3-388343

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Neuralink. There’s a good reason for that. Even though Elon Musk announced the formation of the company back in 2017, there hasn’t been much news, aside from a few cryptic teases. That didn’t stop me from proclaiming it be one of the most important venture of all time and I still stand by that proclamation.

Finally, on July 16, 2019, we got some news from Neuralink that attracted major press coverage. Musk, in an event that was live-streamed, offered some tantalizing details on the state of the company’s research into advanced brain implants. He didn’t announce that they’d perfected it. However, he did make clear that this is not some crazy idea he just scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

The presentation was lengthy and I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m nowhere near as smart, articulate, or successful as Elon Musk. Very few individuals on this planet are. If for no other reason, watch this event to affirm that he’s serious about merging human brains and machines.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here a few key points:

  • The first use of this technology will be to treat brain disorders
  • The company has over $150 million and almost 100 employees
  • It has made significant strides in crafting advanced electrodes that can be implanted in a human brain
  • The current prototype utilizes chips that can process brain signals
  • The prototypes have proven functional with rats and monkeys

These insights are intriguing, but they’re not going to change the world overnight. It’s not like we’ll be able to order our own brain implants from Amazon by the end of the year. This technology is still in its infancy. We’ve only recently developed computer hardware that can communicate with brain cells. We’re a long way off from functioning on the level of the Borg.

What Musk laid out wasn’t just a vision. He offered specifics, citing where we are with the technology and who will initially benefit. It makes sense for those with brain disorders to act as the first beneficiaries. Aside from the difficulty of convincing most people to have something put into their brains, these implants could be invaluable at helping quadriplegics improve their lives.

It’s not an impossible feat, having brains interact directly with machines. It has been successfully done with monkeys. It’s just a matter of testing, refinement, and improvement. Like cell phones and Lasik surgery, which I’ve had done, the technology will improve once it has a foundation to build on.

Now, we got a glimpse of that foundation and there’s plenty of reasons for excitement. While nobody can predict the future, especially not as well as someone like Elon Musk, there are some major implications for the near and distant future.

Just controlling a computer with your brain is not the endgame of this technology. Musk stated clearly in the event that the ultimate goal is to create an intimate, symbiotic relationship between humans and advanced artificial intelligence. He sees it as a necessary relationship if we’re to minimize the existential threat posed by AI.

Before we get to that goal, though, it’s almost a given that this technology will find other uses and markets. One market that wasn’t mentioned in the presentation, but could prove very lucrative, is gaming.

As much as video game technology has advanced since the early days of Nintendo, the controls haven’t evolved much. We still need a keyboard or a controller to interact with the system. As someone whose reflexes were rarely fast enough while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, I can appreciate those limitations more than most.

Imagine an interface where moving a character or a cursor required only your thoughts. Suddenly, you’re no longer restricted to button sequences and analog sticks. The controls only limited by your brain’s ability to give the necessary commands. Whether you’re playing an old Mario game or Grand Theft Auto V, you guide everything along with your thoughts.

Considering the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, the incentives for innovation are strong. If a brain interface offers novelty or advantages for gaming, then Neuralink is in a position to reap the benefits.

Those same benefits extend beyond the gaming industry. While it may take a while for an implant to process the complex controls of a video game, it might not take as long to create one with the ability to give wielders more direct control of their smartphone. Some may recoil at the thought of being that connected with their smartphone, but the benefits may be too good to pass up.

I can easily imagine an interface that not only helps people type messages faster, but provides better security than passwords, fingerprints, or facial recognition. Hackers might be able to crack a password, but brain signals would pose a far more daunting challenge.

This kind of interface also opens the door to a more intimate forms of communication. It’s one thing to just send texts and emails with our phones. What if we could send codes through brain implants that actually convey feelings and emotions? Instead of emojis, we could just send a coded message from one implant to another that conveys anything from happiness to shock to sarcasm.

That level of communication wouldn’t just be groundbreaking. It would change the way human beings interact. Again, it would be somewhat rudimentary at first, but with refinement, it could open entirely new channels for those who take advantage of this technology.

These are just some of the possibilities. The implications for the distant future are big, but the possibilities for the near future are just as tantalizing. Right now, the near-term goal revolves around helping brains interact with computers. At the moment, those computers are not advanced AIs. When that time comes, though, we’ll at least have a channel for that interaction.

These are exciting times, indeed. This is not just some eccentric billionaire’s crazy vision. This is really happening. There have been many technological advances that have changed our lives, but this technology may ultimately change much more than that.

7 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Neuralink, Sexy Future

How Humanity Will Cure Death

immortality

When it comes to pushing the limits of technology, every goal once started as a fantasy. In the 19th century, the smartest minds of the time thought heavier-than-air flying machines were infeasible at best and impossible at worst. In the early 20th century, other people with legitimate scientific credentials said the same thing about a manned mission to the moon.

While it seems absurd today, at the time it made sense. The people of that era just couldn’t imagine technology advancing to a point where humanity regularly achieved feats that had once been relegated to science fiction. It’s easy it mock them with the benefit of hindsight, but there are plenty of smart people today who have made claims that will be mocked 50 years from now.

One claim that most individuals, including those who work at the forefront of science and research, is that we will never cure death. Science is certainly capable of doing a great deal, but death is one of those immutable barriers that it can never overcome.

We may be able to cure all infectious disease through biotechnology and genetic engineering. We may one day have technology that allows our bodies to become so durable that from the perspective of people alive today, they’ll be superhuman. They may even live for centuries, but never age past 30. Nothing other than a freak accident could kill them. I’ve already noted the potential issues with that.

However, even these highly-enhanced humans will eventually die at some point. That seems like a given. Efforts to avoid it are often subject to heavy criticism, especially approaches like cryonics or uploading your mind into a computer. While some of those criticisms are valid, they’re also short-sighted. They work under the same assumption as those who claimed humans would never walk on the moon.

Technology has limits, but humans have a bad track record with respect to understanding those limits. With respect to curing death, even the most advanced fields of emerging technology seem limited in their ability to help people escape such a fate. That doesn’t mean the concept is flawed. It doesn’t even mean that the technology is beyond the laws of physics.

Personally, I believe death can be cured, but not with approaches like cryonics or bodily enhancements. While those technologies may ultimately extend our lives, being able to transcend death requires another approach. Specifically, it requires a mechanism for preserving, transforming, and transferring the contents of our brains.

Medically speaking, the official definition of death is the irreparable cessation of all brain activity. Your body can be damaged. Every other organ could fail. Your brain is the last link in that chain. It contains your memories, your emotions, your personality, and your capacity to experience the world. To cure death, we simply need to preserve the brain and all its functions.

That’s much harder than it sounds, but it’s not physically impossible. The human brain is not made up of some mythical, exotic material. It’s made up of specialized cells and tissues, like any other organ. While we don’t entirely understand the workings of the brain, it operates using physical matter that is bound by the laws of physics and biology.

Those limits are the key and the mechanism for preserving that complex clump of biomatter already exists, both as a concept and in a very unrefined form. That technology involves nanobots and if there’s one technology that has the potential to make humans truly immortal, it’s this.

The concept of nanobots is already a common staple of science fiction, but it’s primarily used as the technological equivalent of a wizard’s spell. If you need something or someone to do the impossible without resorting to magic, just throw nanobots or nanites, as they’re often called, into the story and let the impossible seem mundane.

While it’s doubtful that nanobots can do everything that science fiction claims, there’s a good chance that they’ll come pretty close. It’s impossible to overstate the potential of nanorobotics. From mass-producing any kind of good to curing humans of all infectious disease, nanobots have the potential to literally and figuratively change our lives, our bodies, and our world.

At the moment, we only have crude prototypes. In time, though, nanobots could become something akin to programmable matter and, by default, programmable flesh. Technically speaking, a nanobot could be programmed to do whatever a typical brain cell does, but more efficiently.

In the late 90s, scientists like Robert Freitas Jr. envisioned nanobots called respirocytes, which functioned like artificial blood cells. In theory, these would be far more effective at getting air and nutrients to the rest of your body, so much so that you could hold your breath for hours or sprint indefinitely.

That’s all well and good for deep sea diving and Olympic sprinters, but for curing death, the concept needs to go even further. That means creating nanobots that mimic the same function as a neuron, but with more efficiency and durability. Create enough of those and you’ve got the exact same hardware and functionality as the brain, but with the utility of a machine.

Once we have that technology refined and perfected, we have everything we need to effectively cure death. Doing so means gradually replacing every neuron in our skulls with a more efficient, more durable nanobot that does everything that neuron did, and then some. The most important additional feature these nanobots would have is a measure of intelligence that could be programmed.

By being programmable, the nanobots in our skulls would be more plastic. It would be less an organ and more a synthetic substrate, of sorts. It could be drained into a container, implanted into a robot specifically designed to contain it, or just preserved indefinitely in the event that there are no bodies available, not unlike the systems used in, “Altered Carbon.”

To some, this still doesn’t count because it requires that every cell in our brains be replaced with something. Technically, that brain wouldn’t be yours and you might not even be use, as a result. I respectfully disagree with this criticism, primarily because it ignores the whole Ship of Theseus argument.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s pretty simple, but the implications are profound. It starts with a real, actual ship used by the mythical hero, Theseus. If, at one point, you replace a piece of wood in that ship, it’s still the same ship. However, the more pieces you replace, the less of the original ship you have. Eventually, if you replace all pieces, is it the same ship?

The human brain, or any organ in your body, is an extreme version of that thought experiment. The brain cells can replicate, but it’s a slower process compared to most cells and the configurations are always changing. The way your brain is wired now is changing as you read this sentence. A cluster of nanobots doing the same thing won’t be any different.

Like the Ship of Theseus, it wouldn’t happen all at once. In principle, the brain cell doesn’t even get destroyed. It just gets subsumed by the mechanizations of the nanobot. How it goes about this is hard to determine, but there’s nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit it. At the molecular level, it’s just one set of atoms replacing another.

Once in place, though, the limits of biology go out the window. With programmable nanobots, a person doesn’t just have the same functionality as a biological brain. It’s has other functions that allow for easier programming. We could, in theory, supplement the nanobots with additional material, sort of like cloud computing. It could even create a neurobiological backup of your brain that could be kept in stasis.

At that point, death is effectively cured. Once your brain becomes a substrate of nanobots, you can just transfer it into a body, a robot, or some other containment vessel that allows it to experience the world in any way desired. If, by chance, that body and the substrate are destroyed or damaged, then the backup kicks in and it’ll be like you just jumped from one place to another.

Some of this relies on an improved understanding of how consciousness works and assumes that it could be somehow transferred, expanded, or transmitted in some way. That may very well be flawed. It may turn out to be the case that, even if you turn your brain into a glob of nanobots, you can’t transmit your consciousness beyond it. If it gets destroyed, you die.

There’s a lot we currently don’t understand about the mechanisms of consciousness, let alone our ability to manipulate those mechanisms. However, a lack of understanding doesn’t negate the possibilities. Our previous inability to understand disease didn’t prevent our ancestors’ ability to treat it to some extent.

If it is the case that we cannot transmit consciousness from our brains, then we can still craft a functional cure for death. It just requires that we put our brains in protective vats from which carry out our existence in a simulated world. Those vats could be protected in a massive artificial planet that’s powered by a black hole or neutron star. In theory, our brains would be preserved until the heat death of the universe.

Whatever the limitations, the technology and the concepts are already in place, if only on paper. It’s difficult to know whether anyone alive today will live long enough to see an advancement like this. Then again, the children alive in 1900 probably didn’t think they would live to see a man walk on the moon.

3 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Sexy Future, technology

What Will The Currency Of The Future Be?

1000x667

Most people don’t think about what gives their money value. There’s just a general understanding that it’s vital for basic economic activity. Whether it involves simple bartering or complex cryptocurrencies, the assumptions are the same. Money is a measure of value and exchanging it is how we ascribe value to basic goods and services.

There are all sorts of economic and financial complexities that determine how money works. Rather than bemoan the issue, knowing I am not the least bit qualified to do so, I’d like to focus on the nature of money in the future. Having already given plenty of thought to advanced artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and intimacy, I think it makes sense to contemplate how it all affects our ideas about money.

By that, I’m not referring to current trends in digital currency and older trends within modern banking systems. I’m talking about what money will be in a future where people, resources, and our entire understanding of economics has rendered the existing system obsolete. If you don’t think that’ll ever happen, then I only request that you give some added scrutiny to the concept of money.

I often find myself scrutinizing it whenever I watch a bit too much sci-fi. Some of my favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows of all time don’t give much thought to money. In “Back To The Future II,” a world of flying cars and cheap fusion power still had money. Things were just exceedingly expensive due to inflation. A Pepsi cost around $50.

While inflation is a real force that was certainly present in the non-movie version 2015, it’s somewhat strange that it would get that excessive in a world where fusion power plants could fit into cars made in the mid-1980s. In the real world, advanced technology tends to counter inflation. Logistically, better technology means more efficiency. More efficiency means cheaper goods. Cheaper goods mean lower prices.

We can certainly forgive movies like “Back To The Future II” for failing to understand the economics of money. In addition, the technology of that world wasn’t so advanced that it undercut the foundations of society. However, the money systems in galaxy-spanning space operas can’t make those excuses.

Star Wars” still used some form of currency. It was necessary for Han Solo to pay his debts and for Luke to enlist his services to Alderaan. Other space-faring epics like “Mass Effect” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have a form of currency that allows characters to be greedy and ruthless. Whether they’re called credits or units, the principles are the same.

There’s this vague concept of money. Everyone agrees that it has value, but there’s little information about why it has value. That’s not entirely flawed. It’s just no different than traditional fiat money, which nearly every modern society utilizes to some extent in the real world. The money isn’t backed by anything. People just collectively agree it’s worth what it says its worth.

Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who claim this form of money is part of a global conspiracy theory run by lizard people who may or may not have murdered John F. Kennedy. I don’t know enough about economics or finance to make sense of our current monetary system. All I know is that we have a system of money that works within the constraints of our current society.

Whatever you think of that system, there’s still a larger question worth asking. What will money look like in the future when some of those constraints disappear? To some extent, our current system requires that people be frail, products be flawed, and resources be scarce. Through certain advances, some of which may occur in the next 50 years, those limits may disappear.

What happens to money when we perfect advanced energy generation that makes electricity cheap, abundant, and clean?

What happens to money when people begin upgrading their bodies with advanced biotechnology and cybernetic implants?

What happens to money when nanotechnology advances to a point where the production and assembly of every conceivable good is dirt cheap?

What happens to money when advanced artificial intelligence gets to a point where it gets so intelligent that it can solve every conceivable problem and manage every conceivable issue perfectly?

What happens to money when our civilization gets to a point where we can just upload our minds into a perfect simulation where all our wants and needs are met on a whim? Regardless of whether you think we’re already in a simulation, the question surrounding money and what form it takes remains.

While it’s impossible to predict the cumulative impact of technology, especially the kind that subverts modern economic forces, I believe there will be some sort of currency in the future. Even if we perfect nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and teleportation, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ll need some system for exchanging goods, services, and overall value.

I also don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that our current fiat money would work. Just putting images on paper and using it as a token may not be practical in a society of advanced AI and immortal humans. These days, most of our money exists only as code in a computer and not as piles of paper or gold. I think for any form of money to work in a society of such technology, it needs to be backed by something.

Some sci-fi stories explore that concept. The movie, “In Time,” wasn’t that good, but the idea was intriguing. In that world, everybody is immortal and never ages past 25, but the system is such that the currency is measured in time. In a sense, a dollar is backed by a year of life as a healthy 25-year-old. For most people, that has plenty of value.

The rest of the movie is awful and I don’t recommend it, but it presents a novel, albeit dystopian concept. For that economic system to work, there has to be some sort of tyrannical power structure that has the ability to snuff someone’s life out the second they can’t pay. Even corrupt insurance companies aren’t that bad.

Then, there’s the Netflix series, “Altered Carbon,” which I highly recommend. That world also has a problem with massive wealth disparity, but not in the sense that rich people horde money in giant vaults. In this world, technology has advanced to the point where people can transfer their consciousness to different bodies the same way most people transfer files between computers.

In that world, the most precious assets are the best bodies. Being able to live in the body of Brad Pitt is inherently more valuable than living in the body of Danny DeVito. Much of society, from prisoners to billionaires, is divided by who has access to those bodies. In the story, the super-rich Bancroft family have that access and that’s what makes them so rich.

That kind of wealth may not show up as numbers on a balance sheet, but the value is there. Being able to produce, inhabit, and live within strong, beautiful bodies provides a powerful basis for any currency. Talk to anyone who has dealt with the effects of aging, which is pretty much everyone over the age of 25. Most would gladly pay a premium to live in a stronger, fitter body.

While “Altered Carbon” doesn’t get into the specifics of that system, the principle holds true. In a future where people aren’t bound by the limitations of biology or the human body, the greatest asset they can possess is a medium with which to experience life. A better medium means better experiences. Some companies today are already seeking to provide those experiences. Technology will simply change the methods.

Whether we end up in a simulated utopia or not, the experiences a currency affords us is what will give it value. Even though worlds like that of “Star Trek” present a world where money doesn’t exist, there is still plenty of value ascribed to life experiences. You may not be able to print that on a piece of paper or send that in a wire transfer, but that is still recognized as valuable.

I could still be wrong. Remember, I’m not an expert in money, nor can I predict the trends that future advances in technology will incur. Whatever form it takes, though, I expect that the overall goal will still be the same. We use money to pursue better, more rewarding life experiences. However we go about pursuing is, and always has been to some extent, the only true universal currency.

Leave a comment

Filed under futurism, Sexy Future, technology