If you've been reading DOTE for some time now, you no doubt understand that humans prefer Fantasy to Reality in the general case. When Science Daily ran a special issue on the future of computing, which was covered in the New York Times, the optimistic techno-geeks were out in force.
Holographic displays. Robotic restaurants. Computers that replace doctors, translators and drivers. If it’s proximate science fiction you want, you’ll have it, it seems, at the end of the decade.
Looking at 2020 and beyond, readers imagined a future with cures for intractable diseases, direct links between brain and computer, automated everything, contact with alien life forms, sentient machines and no language barriers.
Readers were invited to make predictions and collaboratively edit this timeline, which was divided into three sections: a sampling of past advances in computing, predictions that readers could push forward or pull backward in time with the click of a button (but not, of course, into the past), and a form for making and voting on predictions. Tens of thousands of edits were made.
Look at the timeline to get a taste of what miraculously developments will happen when. Those making the predictions kept changing the future dates—like it matters!
Human love for technology is second only to our love of money. If humans can replace thousands of fellow humans with some machinery which does the same thing those inferior humans were doing, they'll make that "positive" choice in a heartbeat. More money and machines too? You can't beat that!
Let's face it, technology is the only thing Homo sapiens is good at. The historical records makes it entirely clear that humans can't govern themselves, don't understand themselves, and can't change their own behavior. For example, they can't just say No when given the opportunity to apply some technology and destroy the lives of all those fellow (albeit inferior) humans just mentioned. Technology is the solution to all problems, even when a problem does not exist, or the technology itself creates far more problems than it solves. Technology Über Alles.
I thought these statements from the New York Times story summarized the situation very nicely. (My comments on the text are highlighted.)
Optimistic predictions far outpaced negative ones — a wishful view, perhaps, of technology as panacea. The most popular reader-submitted prediction came from Roy in Italy, who wrote that by 2020, “Google will provide everyone with the ability to communicate with everyone else, regardless of the specific language they speak, via their smartphone, with real-time language translation.”
A wishful view, perhaps?
Not all predictions were rosy. In David Gibson’s dystopian view, “humans will become so integrated with electronics that more people will die from computer viruses in a year than from biological viruses.” Readers suggested this would happen about 2170.
We will become so integrated with electronics ... that's the dystopian view?
Many of the negative forecasts were bullish on technological growth, just skeptical about our ability to control it...
Bullish on future technological progress, of course.
Techno-optimism reflects our Great Faith in our future ability to do "wonderful" things we can not do now, and don't have the faintest clue about implementing. I used to work in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the early 1980s. These were the early days, and various university professors hyped expectations for AI beyond all reason. It was real pie-in-the-sky stuff, just like now. These academics were thus successful at attracting large sums of money for research grants or companies they had started. Needless to say, the whole thing was an Epic Fail by the early 1990s. I'm sure some progress has been made in AI since then. I'm equally sure it doesn't matter.
Take, for example, the grand meeting of mind and machine which is due to happen ... sometime in the far-flung future. I offer you Cohen's Conjectures, #1 and #2.
#1 Wetware (your brain) and Hardware/Software (computers) will not be integrated, not now, not in 10 years, not in 100 years, not in 1000 years, not ever.
#2 Machines will never achieve self-awareness, let alone true consciousness, not as an epiphenomenon or any other way. (And don't assume we will understand the mind/brain problem. We don't and we very likely won't ever understand it.)
My conjectures and hundreds of others I could come up with are based on a simple but profound fallacy about "smart" computing which goes like this: The techno-optimists literally can not tell the difference between algorithmic problem solving and actual creative human intelligence, let alone the potential of human consciousness. They want to believe that a computer beating a human expert at chess, which is just the kind of thing a computer is good at, is somehow akin to Beethoven composing the 9th Symphony, Einstein thinking up special relativity, or Shakespeare writing Hamlet.
As I said, the problem is that the geeks themselves can't perceive the difference between computing complex functions and actual intelligence. They think the two are one and the same. And it doesn't change the situation much if you implement some rudimentary machine learning. (I've done that.) Don't confuse what computers do with actual intelligence.
And let's not forget those cars that will drive themselves. Somebody alert me when that happens because I won't be leaving the house much. You won't be safe on the sidewalks, let alone on the roads. Hell, you're not safe on the roads now, not just because humans are flawed and accidents happen, but also because these same flawed humans are trying to browse the internet or text their friends or talk on the phone while they're driving. I'm sure automated automobiles will make all the difference
Reality is utterly destroyed near the end of the New York Times story.
Predictions about the far future — 2100 and beyond — took a broader view of changes that might affect all of humanity. Will we speak telepathically? Maybe by 2484, readers said.
Will we be governed by an all-knowing artificial intelligence? In 2267, perhaps.
Live forever? That could happen as soon as 2100, according to Jay Snipes of Pickerington, Ohio, who predicted, “Medical and computer sciences will learn to map the human brain, preserving the memories, knowledge, and wisdom of selected individuals before they die.”
But finally, in the last paragraph, there was a brief glimpse of Reality among these flights of Fancy.
When, if ever, will these flights of fantasy become fact? Perhaps the most accurate prediction of all belongs to R. Campos of Brazil, who wrote that in the year 2025, “we’ll be laughing at these predictions.”
In so far as I may not be alive in 2025, and for a host of other reasons—the Earth may not be habitable for humans in 2100, can you say Mass Extinction?—I'm laughing at these predictions now.
Bonus Video — An old favorite from my post The Astounding World Of The Future