Oct 10, 2005

Return of the Renaissance Man?

After reading the Wired News story: The Future Needs Futursts, my responce was: Finally!. Companies, politicians, think tanks, NGOs - all have been making various trend analysis and prognosis for many decades now - but with the incresing speed of changes, limiting oneself to only one or few areas is a sure recipe for being wrong, especially on any time scale larger then few months. It is high time futurists got the respect (and paychecks) they deserve.

But not everybody can be a good futurist. Imagination is not enough. Even being a sci-fi fan is not enough (although it is important - I doubt you can make a good futurist without reading it). Extensive knowledge in ALL fields is essential, and when we need to look at the future not as specialists, but as generalists, it means that a good futurist has to be know a lot of stuff - from physics to economics, from history to geography... In other words, we need polymath aka 'renaissance man' again. Extensive editing on Wikipedia is definetly a good way to expand your horizons, when I come to think of it :)

Btw, I was fairly suprised having read in the WN article that "The University of Houston Clear Lake and the University of Hawaii at Manoa run two of the better-known programs offering master's degrees in futures studies and alternative futures, respectively." That's a good sign - I'd love to see their syllabuses.

But honestly, I wonder if anybody can be a perfect polymath now. While there are some good ones, like Alvin Toffler or Ray Kurzweil, I would think that the best results would be created by a think tank of several futurists. I wonder if there are any? That's definetly worth doing some research.

In any case, I am looking forward to the future - I think it will be bright.

Expect more predictions soon.


martin the great said...

I prefer the term Synthesist, as seen here (scroll about 7 screens down, read the quotes from "Sucker Bait" and "The Skylark of Valeron" and the text directly above them)

In any case, I am looking forward to the future - I think it will be just the same as the present, except more shiny.

Expect more predictions soon.

Algeroth said...

Piotr: Could you answer me something? What is so special about the Singularity? And no links to Wikipedia.I know what it should be. I already read about it.
I'm curios about the opinion of someone who....is more singularity-optimistic then me.

Piotr Konieczny said...

Well, Algeroth, I guess the simple answer is that I am an optimist. I think that we - humanity - had the opportunity to kill ourselves for over half a century (from nukes to bioengeneered diseases) but so far, we didn't do it. Thus I belive that 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger' and that singularity will be beneficial to us. Instead of worrying about possible negative consequences, I prefer to think about the nano-replicators, space elevators and longetivity vaccines. That said, I strongly support Kurzweil arguments that we need more checks and balances on some areas of research: I certainly don't want some greedy corporation to ditch safty regulations and accidentaly release the grey goo. The greater the potential reward, the greater the possible risk. Singularity will definelty 'make or break' us. Since we cannot avoid it, we may as well look forward to it. Worth thing, it will be the end with the real bang :)

martin the great said...

Do you think that the increasing rate of technological advance could be somehow related to the evolution of the Homo sapiens sapiens? Ie. whether all of this is a memetic sort of thing, a continuation of natural selection and evolution?

For example, if you took new-born babies from (pulling numbers out of a hat here) 1800AD, 1600AD, 400AD and 4000BC and raised them in present, would they be able to understand the world and fit in the society?

Just a thought.

BTW: A final argument against Intelligent Design theory: there's no way someone intelligent would've designed Pi in such a random way.

Piotr Konieczny said...

I doubt tere would be much difference between those babies.

Technological evolution is replacing the sociological evolution. Soon we will be able to change our genome, and this will be the end of 'trial and error' natural evolution.

Algeroth said...

Piotr: Well, no-one (including me) can deny the bright sides of technological progress, and you want to admire this, not to worry about it's consequence...But, you also think that the research should be put under tighter control. If I leave aside my confusion of your not worring/worring, You realy ignore the not-so-pleasant phenomena. The longetivity vaccines will be fine, but there will be some problems mit retirements, especially in Europe and Japan. Apart from pressure to make this stuff state-distribued.
Nano-replicators seems good but:
A)Due to their inability to work outside from inert, artifical, no-gravity enviromet they will be able to produce a small amount of goods. There will be some aplication in on-the-edge-technology, but there will be a small amout of possible clients.
B)In spite of their inability to work outside from inert, artifical, no-gravity enviromet they will be able to produce a very large amount of goods. There will be a drastic drop in price of goods, but there will be a signafition growht in unemployment level. In fact we could only send massive forgeind aid, grans, and restructialization support to developing countries or turn them into radioactive dust.
C)They will be able to work on the Earth and will be drasticly widespread among the people. In this case, I'll be moving intosome less technoligicly advanced solar system. There is a very large list of things i do not want to be created by my fellow-citizents....

This is the problem of the progress: It gives disproportionatet amounts of power to the people, regradless of their skills, merits, inteligence or morality.

Mtg:These babies would be Imho nearly same, except for not-so-ideal pre-natal development.

This is very good theological qeston:

martin the great said...

As for the argument 'we haven't killed ourselves off yet', I say we're about due to run out of luck. It might not be tomorrow, mind you. Hell, let's say everyone will instantly become completely pacifistic (odds of which aren't very high, BTW).

But do you take any possible screw-ups that might happen along the way into account?

An 'oops' with fire is not that much of a problem. You can put it out just fine.

An 'oops' with a nuke is a bit worse. Still, you lose a city at most.

An 'oops' with grey goo, bioengineered virii or whatever is far worse; you'll lose a whole continent, or perhaps the whole planet.

An 'oops' with a big enough annie plant (that's annihilation power plant) is the same thing, just much faster.

And there's the whole subject of all that falling into wrong hands, of course.

And aliens. Can't forget those.

Al: I'm not touching that subject with a ten-foot pole =P

Piotr Konieczny said...

Algeroth, I do agree that there are many inherent dangers, as you point out. Still, simple analysis of history shows that up till now technology progress has been more benefitial then not. Life expectancy all over the world (with the exception of some Africa) has almost tripled over the past millenia (and half of it is the progress from the last 100 years). While income gap is still high, it is not spreading (was relatively the same all over history) but relative wealth of even poor people has been increasong steadily (again, with Africa being the exception and mostly staying in place). Literacy is up. Free time is up (if slightly). Choice in material goods you can buy even for a minium wage is up (Toffler estimated the number of choices available in shops doubles every 20 years). We can travel faster, communicate more easily and faster... well, we are simply better off then our ancestors.

Thus I believe then when we get nanotechnology, AIs, brain implants, etc. we will still be better off. I don't see why it technology should suddenly change and bite us. Fate? Sorry, I am not religious. Statistics? Bah, I have my own and we both know they are all just different facets of guessing :)

And as mtg points out, if we mess up, most likely we will not be around to worry about that. So I don't.

The only logial choice to me is to be optimistic (versus going mad, hiding in a hole, killing yourself or just living expecting every day to be the last) and actively working to increase your chances to see the 'better age'. And by then I mean something like working on Wiki or other open source initatives, petitioning government to pay attention to (benefits and dangers) of nanotech and anything that increaes (if ever so slightly) the chance the optimistic vision will become reality.

I hope this answers your questions somewhat.

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