I recently participated in an AMA – Ask Me Anything on the Reddit Futurology subgroup. Here’s a selection of questions and answers from this session.
The trend toward transparency being crucial to our survival and freedom has been in my fiction and nonfiction for decades and it is coming true. Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. Of course there will be tussles over the details for years. I’ll talk later about how we must also watch the watchers of the watchers.
What, if anything, have you changed your mind about in the last 12 months?
In politics — I reluctantly concluded that reason will not prevail and the U.S. is doomed to a new phase of its 200 year Civil War. In science — I learned that we can look beyond the “curtain” of light that raised 325,000 years after the Big Bang! In literature, I learned that a new novelist in China – Liu Cixin – has leaped ahead by a couple of generations and will stun western readers, in the fall. Hey, I am surprised a whole lot!
What do you believe (if anything) is necessary for our society and culture to change, in order to prevent a collapse/new dark age/extinction of our race? Or – if nothing – why?
I’ve pushed for 30 years what I think is the secret of the Western Enlightenment Experiment — The Positive Sum Game. Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed shows what will happen if Earth is run by the Zero Sum thinking that dominated in 99% of human societies.
We get positive sum outcomes out of science, democracy, markets etc because they are competitive! But it is REGULATED competition that minimizes blood and cheating and maximizes folks leveraging against each others creativity.
The mistake of the left is to badmouth competition, when Adam Smith was the first liberal!
The mistake of the right is to imagine we can get these benefits without very meticulous regulation to prevent cheating, which ruined 99% of human societies and made them zero (or negative) sum. And it is winners and the strong who inevitably try to cheat. Look at how regulated sports is! It would collapse otherwise.
Right now oligarchs are trying to turn our society zero sum and feudal again. The attempt happens every generation. If we can prevent it and restore a pragmatic, can-do society, maximizing the flat-open-transparent arena of joyful-fair competition, then we may reach Star Trek.
Which self-preventing prophecy do you think would have the largest positive impact the on future if published today?
In my essay, The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Tame Tomorrow’s Perils, I talk about how the highest form of Science Fiction is a predictive novel that scares millions into fighting against the portrayed future. e.g. Soylent Green or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The greatest Self-Preventing Prophecy was Orwell’s 1984, which I discuss here.
A related topic is why so many recent films and novels wallow in dystopias that are NOT “self-preventing” because their scenarios are lazy and stupid, as I discuss in The Idiot Plot.
Today? I’d warn about collapse of confidence in our creative-pragmatic can-do civilization. The worst problem we have is so many of our neighbors turning stylishly cynical. Too many of YOU think you invented “brave cynicism” when it is a drug-addict cop-out.
==On the Singularity==
What’s your opinion on the possibility of humanity forming a collective consciousness through the internet?
I portray this happening in Earth and in Foundation’s Triumph. The latter was in Isaac Asimov’s universe so it portrayed a Gaia/Galaxia uber mind that essentially takes over. Nicer than the Borg because folks don’t clank and whirr but instead float and go ‘om’ and commune…
I do think that to be a simplistic type of Overmind (see Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, too.) That is not how complexity actually layers, in complex systems lilt nature. In Earth I portray individual humans retaining all of their individuality, with the higher shared consciousness riding lightly above, benefiting from human individuality and eccentricity, absorbing and digesting their input the way you ponder the countless fleeting thoughts in your own head. It is a more complex and subtle kind of “over mind.” It might be a positive-sum win-win.
I deem it pretty unlikely. I am a bit of a grouch-curmugeon in the transhumanist-life-extension community. Humans are already the Methuselahs of mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as mice and elephants. We have probably plucked the low-hanging longevity fruit and the next steps will be very hard.
What I do expect to see is methods of brain/skull preservation that are far cheaper and more convenient than cryonics. Plasticization etc. No revival, of course and most intra-cellular info would be lost. But the location of a trillion synapses might be preserved and serve as boundary conditions for a fairly good emulation program that could upload a version of you, someday. Is that good enough? Depends.
See my larger essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?
Where do you differ with Ray Kurtzweil on the singularity?
Ray and I get along, but I am a contrarian. Among those who do not believe in change – alas many of our fellow citizens – I speak about how rapidly human destiny is being challenged with new powers. Around Ray? I am cautionary.
For example, Kurzweil believes Moore’s Law, all by itself, will make him immortal by creating Soulful machines who will gladly incorporate us and human values in the adventure of super-life. I portray this happening! In Earth and in Existence! But at Ray’s conferences, I splash cold water.
He calculates Moore’s Law by crossing the rate of transistor growth in machines with number of synapses in a human brain… about a trillion. But synapses may just be the tip of the iceberg, especially if there’s intracellular computing! If so, Moore’s Law will need maybe TEN more doublings!
Which do you think we’ll reach first? Relatively cheap spaceflight, or full body ‘virtual reality’ simulations? The latter can, of course, include MMI equivalents instead of external bodysuits.
Sure VR will be the main thing for most of us. If we could make cheap “deputies” we could send them to Mars and bring back the heads and “live” the experience! Say, I offer that in Kiln People!
==On Books…and Aliens==
Indeed I am currently working to get Creideiki and Orley off that planet, at last! The Brightness Reef trilogy settles the fate/destiny of the ship Streaker, and a lot else. Till then, see the story “Temptation” downloadable from my website. Some will argue that Existence is uplift!
What do you make of Cliford D. Simak’s dog and animal society in City? I allways found his ideas on animal and foreign intelligence interesting, if somewhat anchored to his time.
Yes, Simak influenced me. Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate! 😉
Have you looked into the topic of UFOs and if so, do you have a stance on the UFO phenomenon?
Sorry but this “phenomenon” is taking care of itself. Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law (yes it’s called that) is that CAMERAS get faster, cheaper, more numerous and mobile at a rate much faster than Moore’s Law.
This means that the excuses for blurry UFO images get slimmer and slimmer. Have you done the math? All of the places where a UFO was dimly blurry in the distance 20 years ago… would have dozens of folks with cell cams right below it today! Please do the math. If images remain blurry, it is because they are teasing us and staying just out of range, even taking Brin’s Corollary and the lens quality of iPhones into account!
In that case, they are bastards. Snub em.
Please… you know I am interested in aliens! I spend my life on the topic, in SETI and in fiction. I’ll even admit a very slim chance there might be UFOs! But I find the creatures described in these stories to be illogical, immoral, unimaginative, ridiculous and WAY down on my list of priorities.
What is your idea on a transparent society, and how does that affect personal privacy? Or should we start getting used to having no privacy?
The most common assumption of people who have not read my articles or The Transparent Society is that – as “Mr. Transparency” I oppose privacy or think it is doomed.
No way! A free people will want and demand some privacy! In Chapter 4 of The Transparent Society I discuss how essential some core privacy will be… though it will be closer and narrower.
But the irony is that we will only have that core if we live in a world that is mostly open, in which most people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only then will voyeurs and spies and sneaks be deterred, because they’ll get caught!
There is so much to this. See more articles about transparency, freedom and technology.