25 December 2015

Some Optimistic Thoughts for Christmas

Krugman has a column about the disappointed expectations of technology over the last 40 years or so, and hopes for the future. 

I've been re-reading utopian Space Operatist Iain M. Banks (who died young a couple of years ago) (Player of Games is his best book, IMO). He's not strictly speaking writing about our future, but he is writing about a society that has emerged from our stage of technology to a much higher stage. I set aside his facile assumption that there will be hyperspace, faster than light, etc., because I believe those things probably really are impossible (if they weren't, and civilizations were even a little bit probable to arise now and then in the universe, I think it's pretty obvious that space travelers would have been to Earth many times before in the 14 billion year life of the universe, and we would know about them. There are a helluva lot of planets in any given galaxy, but a society that set about systematically exploring them, if it was capable of surviving at an advanced level of technology, and even without "Warp Drive" or whatever, could plausibly visit every single one of them in just a few million years (out of 14,000 million years to work with). 

But he does make some assumptions I think are likely TRUE. Such as that the Problem of Medicine will eventually yield to knowledge completely; medicine will become perfect, like a game whose rules are completely understood and the outcomes are completely predictable. And the temptation to enhance the evolutionary contingencies that make our bodies less than ideal and that cause us to age and die rather quickly will be irresistible. Future humans will not be immortal, but they will live a LONG, LONG time, free of disease and most forms of physical suffering. 

Such as that ultimately economies of scarcity and elites just don't make any sense. The universe is essentially full of matter and energy; there is no reason why future development of human civilization should be in any way limited by resource availability. This is admittedly a REALLY long term view, but if you think about it, unless you want to talk about the survival of life into the tens of billions of years, there will be plenty of everything, including starshine and any quantity of all the elements in any form desired, essentially forever. This also implies that if we meet up with beings comparable to ourselves, there is no need for competition; there is abundance for all. 

Such as that some sort of moral convergence on freedom of action and freedom from want is essentially inevitable. 

We live in ancient history, from the point of view of most "people" who will ever live, of this I'm reasonably sure. And we have only the barest glimpse of what the future will bring. 

The only thing that can prevent it from happening, apart from the (relatively) unlikely contingency of something like an asteroid destroying our planet before we have a chance to develop some backup sites (a contingecy people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking take quite seriously), is STUPIDITY. Sure, we could blow it. We could wreck our planet and become extinct before we even really get going. But boy oh boy would that ever be DUMB. 
♦ David Studhalter

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