Our prefrontal lobes compel us to anticipate, and new tools for anticipation are arriving in a flood, from Big Data to vision and behavior analytics, from social modeling systems to face recognition and even artificial intelligence. Setting aside (for now) the implications for freedom, the biggest concern is how uneven these tools will be, how fraught with error. No matter how effective, they will fail, sooner or later! And when anticipation fails, there is just one trait that can save the day. For ten thousand years it has been the partner of anticipation. That trait is resilience.
Each of us hopes to prepare for what's coming, to improve our fate in the years ahead. This may be humanity's most distinctive trait, explaining our mastery over the world. But the task is muddied by life's essential competitiveness. We need knowledge to hold others accountable, yet each of us worries that others know too much about us...Is it so hard to envisage that tomorrow's citizens -- our children -- may rise to fresh challenges, as we have done?
What will tomorrow be like? Human beings are fascinated by the future. We project our thoughts into unknown territory, using the brain's talented prefrontal lobes to explore and envision, sometimes even noticing a few errors in time to evade them. Progress doesn't always go the way we expect it to. It is sometimes wiser than we are.
The four marvels of our age: science, democracy, the justice system, and fair markets. Success in each of these arenas depends upon participants competing on level playing fields. I think the internet has potential for creating a fifth great arena, equal to the others. Many of the traits it would need are already there, online. Vast troves of information. The freedom to make, break and reform associations.
If you want to pick a single cliché that is nearly universally held, across all our surface boundaries of ideology and belief — e.g. left-versus-right, or even religious-vs-secular — the most common of all would probably be: “Isn’t it a shame that our wisdom has not kept pace with technology?” While this cliché is clearly true at the level of solitary human beings, and even mass-entities like corporations, agencies or political parties, I could argue that things aren’t anywhere near as clear at the higher level of human civilization. Elsewhere I have suggested that “wisdom” needs to be defined according to outcomes and processes, not the perception or sagacity of any particular individual guru or sage.
The newer type of transcendentalist preachers seem to have the same basic personality and need to promise a better world, only with one crucial difference. Tech-educated and tech-confident, they veer away from belief in incantations toward faith in the unlimited transformative power of Moore's Law.
What does the figure 2001 mean to you? Why of course, it's a movie! One that, remarkably despite its age, still shines some amazing sparkles of perspective on our time....It is our attitudes that have undergone a transformation unlike any in history. All kinds of unjust assumptions that used to be considered inherent -- from racial, sexual and class stereotypes to ideological oversimplifications -- have been tossed onto the trash heap where they long deserved to go, in favor of a generalized notion of tolerance, pragmatism and eccentricity that seems to grow more vibrant with each passing year.
One of the most powerful novels of all time, George Orwell's 1984 foresaw a dark future that never came to pass. That we escaped this may be owed in part to the chilling tale -- which served as a 'self-prevening prophecy'. Our civilization's success depends at least as much on the mistakes we avoid as successes we plan, but sadly no one compiles lists of these narrow escapes. They somehow seem less interesting than each week's crisis.
Will our descendants conquer the last barriers standing between humanity and Olympian glory? Or may we encounter hurdles too daunting even for our brilliant, arrogant, ingenious and ever-persevering species? There can be no better topic for this contemplation -- the last in a series commissioned for iPlanet -- about our future in the coming millennium. Essay number one cast perspective on our accomplishments during the Twentieth Century and the second dealt with near-term dilemmas we may face in the twenty-first. Now let's take a long-view, exploring the possibility that our great grandchildren will be "great" in every sense of the word... and have problems to match.
Tired of the insipid "left-right" political metaphor? Interested in exploring which dogmas or reflexes you might have adopted out of reflex? Take a simple questionnaire in which I poke at the deeper assumptions that under-lie many ideologies we take for granted. Like: do you believe there ever was - or will-be - a human "golden age"? Do you see progress being made through incremental problem solving or dedication to an ideal? The aim is to help folks step back and ponder why they cling to certain types of ideology. Try it. Only be warned. You may gain flexibility... at cost of some comfy certainties!
Most efforts at prophecy seem to shrivel under close and skeptical scrutiny. It happens so consistently that one has to wonder humans keep on trying. Yet we do keep attempting to look ahead. We spend a lot of time and money trying to make educated guesses about future events, with much of our economy dedicated to variants on the same theme. But now we have the means to track predictive successes and failures --- to determine what really works. Transparency in action.
Fifty years from now, will we have destroyed the world? Or saved it? It's not too soon to ask. Little more than 100 years ago, the mundane acts of our 21st Century daily life were strictly the purview of the gods: To take flight and traverse a continent in just hours...To splash daylight across a massive arena on a moonless night with the touch of one finger..
"The more god-like we've become, the more our humility is affected." And if we don't give serious thought to our trajectory as a global society, if we spend too much time looking backward nostalgically rather than ahead thoughtfully, we will succumb to ourselves. Because, "the default human society is flawed", and it is up to us to fight against that default.
Today, both Left and Right sides of the political spectrum seem bent on crushing any remnant of hte old, optimistic can-do spirit that build the nation and an amazing civilization. The solution?.To keep on plugging away! To persevere. Continue fighting to make our kids and their kids better than us, the way our parents and grandparents tried to do that -- and succeeded -- with us.
By proudly endeavoring to make the next generation both more ethical and vastly more scientifically/technological powerful – because only that combination can save the world.
What technologies could make the most difference? We must have new ways for citizens to self-organize, both in normal life and (especially) during crises, when normal channels may collapse, or else get taken over by the authorities for their own use. All this might require is a slight change -- or set of additions -- in the programming of the sophisticated little radio communications devices that we all carry in our pockets, nowadays.
So, is the Google era empowering us to be better, smarter, more agile thinkers? Or devolving us into distracted, manic scatterbrains? Is technology-improved discourse going to turn us all into avid, participatory problem solvers? Or will the Web’s centrifugal effects spin us all into little islands of shared conviction — midget Nuremberg rallies — where facts become irrelevant and any opinion can be a memic god? The truth lies somewhere between "Google is making us stupid" and "the Internet will liberate humanity....
It is fifty years since the great philosopher C.P. Snow gave his famous address lamenting how the academic world had divided into 'two cultures' -- one scientific and the other consisting of the arts, the humanities and so on.
Oligarchy -- reflects the same old pyramid that failed the test of governance in nearly 100% of previous civilizations, always and invariably stifling creativity while guiding societies to delusion and ruin. It also means a return to zero-sum logic, zero-sum economics, zero-sum leadership thinking, a quashing of nonlinear synergies... the death of the Enlightenment.
Is the world improvable by means of human intervention? The question can be debated endlessly on a philosophical level. But there is little argument over this basic premise within the community of those engaged in philanthropic activity. We share a common belief that vigorous investment and intervention in humanity can help humanity as a whole -- and countless individual human beings -- to achieve goals starting with basic necessities but extending to the limits of ambition.
A crystal moment when we did something right -- when we unleashed the internet to the world. We must continue to create new agile systems to adapt to an ever-changing future -- an adaptability that will be enabled by a growing age of amateurs. Amateurs will be able band their expertise together to form agile and flexible 'smart mobs.' This will help us achieve a future civilization where individuals matter and are empowered. David also discusses how light increases tolerance.
In each of the last six centuries, the West was shaken by new technologies that transformed three things: - vision, memory and attention - - providing human beings with greatly augmented powers, that thereupon triggered - crises of confidence.
For example, printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive.Moreover the cycle of cascading revolutions and crises continues!
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns... none of which availed us at all on September 11, 2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
What we see are big institutions, small institutions, and individuals, all paying their connection charges, phone bills or whatever, maintaining the computers and the nodes... and nobody controls the whole. Yet a whole exists, a whole which is vastly more competent than the sum of its parts. A lot of companies and educational institutions willingly take a bearable financial loss in order to support this new commons which is expanding inventively everywhere, allowing chat-lines, special interest groups, even anarchists and net-parasites, to join the flow. Why? Because the fruit of this commons -- enhanced creativity -- is worth whatever it costs.
The glass may be half-empty. But is it not half-full, as well? A vibrant underground exists, involving millions of irascibly independent-minded people, and with the complicity of many -- though certainly not all -- persons at the highest echelons of business, education, and government. The warnings we have just heard are valid, indeed. There are dire threats to this commons. But it should be noted that the commons exists, a unique and faith-restoring reversal of long-proclaimed historical trends. The commons is not yet dead. We should put high and urgent priority to its nurturance and protection.
For we already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment -- with "light" both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 4,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas -- markets, science and democracy -- flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.
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