IMAGINING THE FUTURE
Technology, which is basically the application of science and knowledge, has developed along with us throughout the history. Since the beginning of our existence, we are applying our intellect to solve problems and inventing easier, efficient and effective means of accomplishing tasks and thus developing technology. Technology to us is like feathers are to bird. Without technological development, it would not be possible for us to survive. Intrinsic curious nature of human mind and the inevitable need to progress upward has driven the technological growth throughout the time. Even though our needs to solve problems drive technological development, it is also universally true that technological progress reshapes our needs and values and also makes us more and more dependant on it. But as technology grows and continues to strongly influence our society by making us exceedingly dependent on it, will technological development reach a stage, where it will become uncontrollable by human? In this paper, I will try to address this question by analyzing the issue with technological dependency, growth of technology and its future.
Throughout the last century, our societal structure and mode of interaction have drastically changed due to rapid technological development. We have now become a society of people who are completely dependent on technology. We use technology for almost anything starting with filtering water, flushing toilet to energy production, space exploration . I use my computer for school, work, and entertainment. I use Internet to pay bills, communicate with friends and family. Technology is everywhere. It started out as aids to our existence with technologies such as wheels, hammers and now it has become vital part of our daily life. In our current society, we simply can't imagine life without technologies. It has apparently merged with our existence. Technology can be seen as a remarkable mind altering drug that creates such great addition and dependency .
But the question is whether such dependency on technology is evitable or not? And the answer is simply no. All technologies come to existence because of our need, which can be solving a social problem such as curing diseases or it may be just a need to progress as a society by making life more efficient and easier. Most technologies that currently exist today such as television, Internet do not solve major social problems but merely symbolize our progress as a human race. As human, we always inevitably want to advance ourselves, which is essentially the force that drives technological development. And due to this inevitable nature of our need to advance or evolve, technological development is also something that is inevitable as long as resource permits. So it is apparent that along with biological evolution we are also going through a technological evolution, which is evidently much faster than the biological one.
It should be very obvious to anyone why technological evolution turns out to be much faster than biological one. If you consider the last 50 years, it can be observed that we have not changed much biologically but our technological structure has changed drastically. Moreover, if we consider small period of time such as hundred years, we will be able to even neglect biological evolution. But the interesting part is that the rate at which technology develops is exponential and in order to explore why lets look at an important branch of technology called computing. The exponential growth of computing technology is considered to be governed by Moore's law which basically states we are able to double the amount of transistors per square inch and hence doubling the power of computing every 18 months till we hit the physical limits. (Note that this is not a natural law instead semiconductor manufacturers push themselves to keep up with this law). Since almost all other branch of technology such as nanoengineering, biomedical engineering, communication, depends on computing, similar or even more explosive exponential growth pattern is also seen for these branches .
Now what happens when the physical limit of Moore's law reaches? Do technological growth just stops? The answer is we don't know exactly what will happen but we can definitely predict by looking at the history of technology. If we look back in time, we will be able to see Moore's law, which is associated with integrated circuits, is not the first one that gave exponential growth to technology. Before integrated circuits there were transistors, vacuum tube, relay and electromechanical signals (in decreasing chronological order) each of which gave exponential growth to the technology of its time. So Moore's law is simply representing the fifth paradigm that carries on the exponential growth pattern of technology. And according to Ray Kurzweil throughout the history whenever one paradigm ran out of steam, the next one picked up the pace. Similar pattern can be predicted for the future that as Moore's law will reach its limitation a paradigm shift will occur such as moving from silicon chip to optic or molecular chip.
If we go back to the discussion of exponential growth, we will see that if such growth continues, then we will be able to experience some amazing futuristic technologies in matter of decades. Some of these forward looking technologies include nano-robotics, Artificial Intelligence (equal or beyond human level), high level manipulation of genetic information, neural interface systems and etc, which are being researched by many scientists throughout the world. The initiative to develop these technologies is again driven by human need to solve problems such as disease, aging and also the need to become more efficient and more improved society. Even though these technologies still look far away, some of the research associated with these technologies has started to show results. For example, the BrainGate Neural interface system allowed a completely paralyzed man, named Matt Nagle, to control a computer, a television and a robot using only his thoughts.
We know how our current technology such as Internet has been so successful in reshaping our societal structure and interaction. And if we compare Internet with those futuristic technologies, which will be much more powerful then any existing technologies, we will be able to predict how strong the social force induced by these technologies will be and how strongly our society will be reshaped. In a Quantum to Cosmos (Q2C) festival video about Growth of Technology, Peter Diamandis (CEO of X Prize Foundation) mentions that Exponential growth of fundamental technology such as nanotech, robotics, AI in higher level, are going to change every aspect of life and society will change in a way that we can't even fathom.
Regarding the impact of artifice intelligence, in another Q2C video, Eliezer Yudkowsky (Singularity Institute, Artificial Intelligence Theorist) mentioned, “There was a sharp break when human came to existence because we have different and more improved brains than creatures before us and we are looking for a sharp upward break in next century or so because we are going to beyond the upper bound of human intelligence” . It is an important point to be noted that Eliezer compared the development of these technologies with the development of human, emphasizing on the power of such intelligent technologies. In the same video Eliezer also says that “the way our future will be reshaped will be driven by these artificial intelligent being. So far it has been the human being but it won't last out the next century.” This may sound frightening, but if such technologies with intelligence being equal or greater than human are developed then there is a great possibility that human era will end.
But the question remains whether such technologies will be even possible to develop. And there is more than one alternative possibility as listed below:
- If we take the assumption that technological development will continue to grow exponentially through paradigm shifts, then developing technologies with greater intelligence or importance than human will be just a matter of time . And if such intelligent beings are around us then it is most likely that we will be the inferior one and our existence will be at danger.
- Another possibility can be that there will be no more possible paradigm shifts and developing highly intelligent technologies will never be possible.  But in that case technological saturation will be reached and there will be no more technological progress, which will eliminate the purpose of a society, which in my point of view is highly improbable.
- Another possibility is that we will transform ourselves into more intelligent beings by changing our biological organization or by introducing non-biological parts to our body
The main point is that, the way technology is growing right now, with its profound impact on our past and present, will continue to influence and reshape our society throughout the future. And due to this continuous reshaping, the way we and our society exist today will be completely different in near future. Regarding this, Vernor Vinge, a former professor of mathematics at the San Diego State University proposes that “mankind is heading toward an irrevocable destiny in which we will evolve beyond our understanding through the use of technology”  and hence it is very important for scientists and engineers to think about where are we going in terms of technological growth and what will be the consequences?
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