The future we've been dealt

the future.jpeg

It’s undeniable that we are stumbling towards a future which we have very little knowledge about, and that practically none of us can comprehend or realistically be prepared for.

To embrace this fact and to thrive off of the impending technological and economical fluctuations will be a trait that splits the individuals of the future from those that reside in the past.

Realistically no matter how much one person tries to keep all progress within their vision, we are never going to have the capacity to keep up.

From various conversations that I have subjected both willing and unwilling participants to, I’ve noticed a consistent theme that flows through: When adjusting one element of the world quite radically, they often leave all that surrounds it be. As if all will sit back and watch a single area evolve out of recognition. I feel this clearly displays our inability to process the magnitude of what is coming.

A classic attempt to make this a digestible fact is Moores Law. The idea that computer chips double in capability every 12/18/24 months. In fact, the rate was never specified in Gordon Moore’s article, but the concept itself has solidified itself in our world’s culture and we continue to make the prediction a reality.

When trying to illustrate what this means for our future, I turn to a deck of cards as my trusted companion.

Every card you add to a shuffle increases the possible outcomes by a further multiple. For example, if you had five cards, the possible number of outcomes is 120 (5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1).

What’s truly impressive is how quickly this becomes a number that you lose control of. If you add just another two cards to the deck, the possible outcomes increase by 4920 to 5040.

If we work under the assumption that Moores Law achieves its progression on a twelve monthly cycle, then we can begin to look at these cards as years.

An episode of QI on the BBC was what brought my attention to this being so interesting:

“If every star in our galaxy had a trillion planets, each with a trillion people living on them, and each of these people has a trillion packs of cards and somehow they manage to make unique shuffles 1,000 times per second, and they’d been doing that since the Big Bang, they’d only just now be starting to repeat shuffles.”

That number looks like this: 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,
975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

Take our current level of technological capability, and multiply it by the above number. Theoretically that is where we will be in 52 years. Personally, I believe it will be far further as there will be a point that a faster intelligence takes over the legwork.

If you look at the past one hundred years and consider our progression to have been significant, the next fifty are going to be blindingly dazzling.

Until now we’ve had the chance to adapt whilst society develops, but this is about to change. Very soon we’ll have to adapt daily in order to keep up.

Or at least, I hope so.

Personally, I find it very frustrating how much progression is throttled by the organisations that hold the power to push us into the future — because they don’t want to scare off their customers. Of course, I entirely understand why this is imperative to their survival, but it continues to make me wonder what could be done to remove the barrier.

The year of singularity — where artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent than a human — sits somewhere among those years that lie ahead. I’d argue it sits closer than one would imagine possible without a slight prod in the jugular (and hopefully the maths above will help us on the way).

Once computers can do a better job of running an economy, produce more efficient methods of generating resources, run our companies better and serve customers more consistently, the human race may fall into an age of retirement.

In theory, this sounds like a lovely stage for us to reach. The financial system will adapt so income is no longer influenced by your contributions to society and everyone will be able to sit back whilst computers do all of the work for them.

Holidays all year round.

However, if you think that the rate we are progressing at is scary, imagine this progression multiplied a thousand times over.

Machines process calculations at a rate exponentially quicker than humans and there will be an event horizon, beyond which there won’t be any turning back.

It’ll be the moment a computer thinks more effectively than us.

Which means, when our future is handed over to them, we will have no chance in keeping up with what is coming next.

With their capacity to expand their processing power, one year to us could be a thousand to them. Suddenly Moore’s Law will be evidenced once every couple of days.

Within eighteen months of retiring we may no longer recognise the world we are living in, and it is imperative that this uncontrollable future be embraced before it is too late — so that we can at least point the ship in the right direction before we hand over the controls.