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Predictions are difficult, especially about the future. But what futurist ideas seem to be on the right track and more likely to happen than not?
wall-e and eva

This blog is often said to take a rather harsh stance on the technologies envisioned by many transhumanists, futurists, and Sigularitarians, and not without reason. Not only do I argue against the concept of uploading a human mind to a machine, but I’ve torn into Ray Kurzweil’s vague chart of exponential progress, went after his techno-utopianism, thoroughly criticized his transhumanist business ventures, and hosted several debates with Singularitarians. But really, despite all the criticism, my take on transhumanists is born out of a fascination with their ideas and applying the physical, financial, and technical constraints of the real world just to see what it would take to make at least some of the a reality. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do in today’s post, which will focus not so much on where futurists are wrong, but on what potentially promising and viable high tech projects seem poised to make a huge impact on our lives sometime in the foreseeable future.

This may seem like a rather conservative list by the standard of most futurists, but let’s keep in mind that we’re dealing with new technology which has either barely been tested, or just starting to really catch on, and that all tools have their limitations and caveats. So with this disclaimer out of the way, here are the three broad areas of current technical advancement I think could be poised to make a big impact in the next several decades…

3. Nanobots and nanoparticles. Since the human body has trillions of cells which would need tens of billions of nanobots to maintain up to transhumanists’ lofty standards, it’s very unlikely that we’ll actually be able to get our own private army of smart, cell-repairing robots in our bloodstream. It would simply take too much money and resources. However, very simple nano-machinery capable of targeting specific cells to combat infections, or even suppressing the spread of cancerous tumors, are a very real possibility. They wouldn’t need to have any supervision or programming to do their job and very quick and easy to manufacture in industrial quantities for clinical trials and widespread treatments. Within just a few decades, your doctors may be using them for a painless, yet aggressive treatment against life threatening conditions, and perhaps even primitive attempts at genetic engineering for embryos, though we should make sure this kind of power is used wisely. Of course, the big challenge will be making sure that all those actions on a nano scale really do have a positive impact in the macro world and refining the technology to get more and more return on our investment.

2. Cyborgs. Once the stuff of science fiction, cyborgs are now an everyday reality. Not only are we creating high tech replacements for lost limbs, were also retuning speech to the mute, and offering the promise of mobility via mind-controlled computers. Even artificial organs are starting to appear on the horizon to meet a growing need for organ donors, and while today’s artificial hearts are being created to give patients more time to get a real one, it may be worthy goal to create a highly durable artificial heart that could eliminate transplant waiting lists, saving countless lives in the process. As we start replacing our joints, limbs an organs with their robotic equivalents, we may even feel temped to upgrade them to give us superhuman abilities. Now, there is a very strict limit to how strong and fast cyborgs could get, but there is definitely room for improvement. And more interestingly, enough technical modifications could even make travel to other worlds much easier, though this too comes with its ethical and scientific caveats. Nevertheless, there is a very real and legitimate need for more and more sophisticated cyborg technology, and more and more of it is constantly being built and tested to help more and more patients survive dire medical predicaments.

1. Intelligent computer agents. Very general and high level artificial intelligence might be aiming rather high for anyone other than the most devoted computer theorists, but software that can learn and spot very complex patterns in the world around us has a very promising and much more immediate future. These machines can be used tease out a complex medical condition from a string of bizarre patient symptoms, or to control robotic fighters and bombers during complex military operations, or even to spot manufacturing defects humans may miss on an assembly line, and they’re already in huge demand even as primitive prototypes. They may not be our friends or pets with personalities and feelings, but then again, that’s not for what they’re built. Their goal is much more relevant to our everyday lives: to make all the machines around us more efficient and more helpful so we have to deal with fewer technical problems on a daily basis. Although one could argue that computers built to be smart might pose a while new range of technical problems of their own…

# tech // computer science / cyborg / future / futurism


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