There have been some who have complained about the seeming lack of acceleration or slower than some have expected development of societal technology.
Richard Jones talks about lack of specific progress to diamondoid molecular nanotechnology or the appearance that we might not be on track to a technological singularity.
Addressing this criticism of rate of technological progress. There is a need to understand the s-curve concepts in innovation and barriers to exploration of technology. There is a need to review history when technology was held back and how breakthroughs did occur.
The 2016 talk with Richard Jones disparages lack of technological progress and the idea of Transhumanism. In regards to Transhumanism. There is CRISPR genetic engineering. It was just used to genetically alter two human embyros to make them immune to HIV and smallpox. Those two children were born.
There has been progress towards advanced neural interfaces to connect human brains to computers in a far higher bandwidth.
Elon Musk said in the Joe Rogan interview that Neuralink would have something interesting to announce in a few months that’s at least an order of magnitude better than anything else, probably better than anyone thinks is possible.
Neuralink is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
Open Water and Inventor Mary Lou Jepsen have shown how we can use red light to see and potentially stimulate what’s inside our bodies and brains. Taking us to the edge of optical physics, Jepsen unveils new technologies that utilize light and sound to track tumors, measure neural activity and could possibly replace the MRI machine with a cheaper, more efficient and wearable system.
Red light passes through flesh and bone but it scatters. A hologram can reform the scattered light into an image to see inside the body at high resolution. Sound is used to focus the system. It changes the red light to orange and enables an orange light under a sensor to create a hologram. The sonic points are moved and rapidly scanned to form images.
Open Water can focus infrared light down very finely, to sub-mm or even a few microns depending on the depth. Already 10 cm of depth can be shown with about 100 micron resolution or focusing power; this enables stimulation of certain areas using light itself. Benign near-infrared light. No probes, no needles, no cutting open a skull, no injections. While these numbers are more than enough for a variety of products, we are working on improving both the depth and focusing resolution and making rapid progress.
This light-based system will not only be vastly smaller and cheaper than existing magnetic MRI, it will also have vastly higher resolution.
Open Water can enable micron level resolution interfacing and interaction with the human brain.
Breaking Through – Involves Different Difficulties and Varying Resources With Different Gains
I believe that there is a useful analogy to exploring the world and continents to discovering, exploring and exploiting technology. Major new and existing technological areas are like the exploration of continents, worlds or oceans. There is a vastness an unknown levels to the technologies.
There can be barriers or innovations needed to enable successful development of technologies.
I recently looked at the Shackelton Expeditions to explore Antartica. We can also look at the discovery and exploration of North America and the invasion of continental Europe in WW2.
Initial, Antarctica exploration took many decades and 17 expeditions. The barriers were extreme cold weather, ice crushing ships, geographic barriers like mountains and scurvy that had to be overcome. The expedition sizes were a couple of dozen men and resources were about $10 million in todays dollars per trip. Figuring out that eating seal meat was key to preventing scurvy prevented expeditions from dying. There was also the learning about how to handle dog teams. Later modern travel and radio communication made Antarctic exploration relatively safe. However, there was little utility for the large continent so it remains unpopulated.
North America exploration took over two hundred years and required crews of hundreds. This was followed up with millions journeying in many successive waves of colonization over hundreds of years. The barriers were the oceans, geographic barriers, scurvy, disease and sometimes hostile native americans. The continent is very useful and rich and has over 500 million people on it now.
The invasion of Europe in WW2 required tens of thousands of men for the D-Day invasion. This was followed by millions of personnel.
What Held Back AI and Space?
Artificial Intelligence has had a few booms and busts. Ray Kurzweil discussed how neural networks were invented in the 1960s.
AI failed to deliver on its promise for decades.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a mathematic proof by Minski in the Symbolic school proved that neural nets could not handle particular basic problems. This limitation only applied to single layer neural nets.
A decade later 3-4 layer neural nets could be made but a mathematic limitation prevented them from going beyond 3-4 layers.
Another mathematical solution was needed to get beyond this limitation. This has enabled the current age of deep learning with hundreds and thousands layer neural networks. Neural nets with 15 layers are able to distinguish between dogs and cats.
A description of the history of deep learning is at this link.
There is now an AI industry worth many billions of dollars. AI is back on track and is enabling self-driving cars and other massive societal change.
Far better AI is also critical to delivering the ultimate promise of the Technological Singularity. There is still many breakthroughs needed to make Artificial General Intelligence or more adaptable versions of useful but narrow AI.
The advantage now is that AI is highly profitable there will tens of billions of dollars every year and tens of thousands of researchers working on problems and needed breakthroughs. In the AI Winter, teams were reduced to dozens of researchers with only few funded at the Shackelton level.
Space and Speed Were Held Back by not Having Reusable Rockets
The Space Shuttle was an attempt in the 1970s and 1980s to develop reusable space systems. Each reuse ended up costing $1 billion. SpaceX cracked the reusable rocket problem. SpaceX has first stage reuse for a few million dollars. The non-entrepreneurial approach of the government space agencies and cost plus contracts to industry produced almost no driving force to innovation or improvement of technology.
Transistors and Integrated Circuits
Computer chips have had Moore’s law and exponential improvement. This is the basis of the Information Technology industry worth almost $5 trillion. Intel and others were able to develop computer chips and gather the resources where Intel alone had a $10 billion R&D budget. Tens of thousands of engineers could attack challenging problems and barriers that emerged every year. They could shift and create new S-curves of technology. Entirely new materials could be used when silicon technology had limitations. It looks like one continent of technology but it is actually multiple continents and required multiple D-day invasions. But it was a rich world that justified and paid off the effort.
Nanotechnology and the Promise of Other Technology
There has long been the promise of molecular nanotechnology. Molecular Nanotechnology is multiple rich continents of technology. But there are barriers between some of the precursor nanotechnology which does not lower the barriers to reaching molecular nanotechnology.
Once key hurdles are overcome and key processes learned, then it will become profitable and possible for these technologies to be explored and developed. Just like the Antarctic explorers needed to learn key tricks to survive or AI needed to figure out deep neural networks, nanotechnology businesses will need to reach key learnings.
There is now a lot of capital for breakthrough technology. There is the $100 billion Softbank Vision Fund. China is willing to spend many billions on breakthrough quantum technology. There are many other private and public funds that need to get huge breakthroughs.
The only loosely related DNA nanotechnology, graphene, carbon nanotubes, atomic force microscopes are developing tools and computer simulations which are putting improved enabling technology in place.
There are parts of the vision of molecular nanotechnology which are getting ready to breakout.
Nanomedicine is in Stealth Mode with Pfizer
There is the Ido Bachelet work on DNA nanobuckets which can be used for DNA nanosurgery. This is enabling a pathway to cellular and molecularly precise nanomedicine.
Bachelet came to Bar-Ilan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) several years ago. They first create a selected DNA sequence, and then fold it using a process called DNA origami. With this method, a person can give a command to a computer, which folds the DNA molecule as needed.
A DNA sequence can be made in the form of a clam which can contain a drug. The DNA molecule contains a code activated upon encountering certain materials in the body.The clam can be designed to change its shape and release the drug only when it meets a cancer cell or the right tissue.
In the future, it will be possible to combine each such molecule with a miniature antenna. When the antenna receives an external signal, it will make a small change in the molecule that will make it open or close, and dissipate or connect itself to another molecule.
In 2015, they successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and wrote two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.
If this treatment works this will be a medical breakthrough and can be used for many other diseases by delivering drugs more effectively without causing side effects.
2012 Video with answers from George Church, Ido Bachelet and Shawn Douglas on the medical DNA double helix clamshell nanobucket nanobot
George Church indicates the smart DNA nanobot has applications beyond nanomedicine. Applications where there is any need for programmable and targeted release or interaction at the cellular or near molecular scale.
Carbon nanotube bundles have reached 80 GPA macroscale strength.
Finally ultralong (several centimeter) carbon nanotube fibers have been made into stronger bundles. The tensile strength of CNTBs (Carbon nanotube bundles) is at least 9–45 times that of other materials. If a more rigorous engineering definition is used, the tensile strength of macroscale CNTBs is still 5–24 times that of any other types of engineering fiber, indicating the extraordinary advantages of ultralong Carbon nanotubes in fabricating superstrong fibers. The work was done at Tsinghua University and other facilities in Beijing.
A synchronous tightening and relaxing (STR) strategy further improves the alignment of the carbon nanotubes to increase the strength.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
27 thoughts on “Breaking Through to Next Levels of Technology”
I agree. The first such “ecologies” might cover several acres, or more.
What I would hope to see at some point, and probably not the final point, would be a nano-machine factory about the size of a roach motel, build by several different types of nano-machines that it, in turn, can manufacture. You would want at least three processors in it and ensure it can’t do anything except order its own destruction/recycling if those three processors are not in agreement. Likewise, the nanobots would be designed to require periodic recycling. Additionally, the relatively large size of the manufactories, coupled with some built-in vulnerabilities, would make it difficult for them to avoid destruction in the event of some unforeseen need to do so.
At that point, things really take off, you could plant one in an old building, bridge, section of roadway, or even a vehicle or other machine, and it could reproduce until there were enough manufactories and nano-machines to renovate the entire structure, eventually even replacing rusting beams with diamond lattice, and linoleum floors with synthetic marble, or whatever. All in addition to keeping the entire place in state of near perfect cleanliness and repair. This would actually be not too dissimilar, in effect, from the strategy by which the eternal city of Diaspar in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars is maintained.
as well as practical experience of what reactionaries do when they come to power (those who remembered what happened about 80 years ago almost all died), and our own, progressive and, what is important, comprehensive visions of the future as a vaccine against “conservative” propaganda.
That’s why what we do is very important to minimize this negative effect, and safely transition into a new future.
We still don’t see mass unemployment of classical workers, but already see what way of life is going to replace theirs. It is a life-long-learning world, which is one of key factor to grow demand for life extension. In the new world, you don’t have a predictable career, neither a predictable retirement. What you need is to stay young as long as possible. There are going to be too many chronologically old people to make the old life cycle paradigm obsolete. That drives more serious interest to the longevity science with each year.
Some forces of the old world are so much afraid of these changes that they brought back the almost-forgotten demons of reactionary politics back to the global scale, which was thoroughly cleaned from it after 1945. There are thugs who intentionally want to push their society back into middle ages, and believes it is possible. They abuse new media by blowing there, in particular, conservative panic in response to the demographic transition, globalization, migration trends, emansipation of women and minorities, and eventually to pure scientific facts. In the past such reactionary elements burned each other in wars. Today we should learn to pursuade them, or most of their “passive” audience, that the whole their agenda is obsolete and absolute BS, and why it is so. After that we’ll get a new wave of global optimism we need. That is going to happen by learning critical thinking, improving standards of science education,
3) just motivate much more people, and create a more healthy-minded, rational, pro-science society embracing radical transhumanist ideas etc?
Well, I doubt this is the only way to develop, but what is important here is to search for Big Levers — radical changes with global (or, in case of space, extraglobal) influence. That’s what any so called “unicorn startup” should seek, to have a chance in the future. It is not only about business — the internet initially came from military, and the social revolution of the 1960s had similar disruptive effect on how people live, learn, communicate, work and so on. Once we have a new lever, everything changes.
For today such levers are: mobile communications, solar energy, electric and self-driving cars, e-learning, gene sequencing, CRISPRs. And, of course, robotics. The “Tesla” revolution brought back the idea of future energy abundance to the mainstream (since 1970s we lived under the oil crisis shadow), and robots which (who?) eclipse the past trend of outsourcing manufacturing to underdeveloped countries (which a bit slowed down the social/economic progress in the West but accelerated it elsewhere), are reminding us the old dreams of reducing working hours and turning into a leisure-learning-loving society. (Well, that was the area where socialist visionaries were always ahead.)
sensors at the micro scale, etc. Using these “primitive” tools, we’ll build more precise and functional ones, eventually to be able to manipulate/rejuvenate single cells, then to explore the nature of consciousness and upload/transfer it. Just as Intel bas been doing with every generation of its processors, there’s lots of fundamental science requiring expensive hardware labs but lots of computations/simulations too, that’s why Moore’s law is more than just business (although the economy matters here too).
What kind of Big Fundamental Science does this require? Are we building enough particle colliders, extra-large telescopes etc. etc. to keep the pace of discoveries required to accelerate our next steps?
Well, at least in the space/transportation/energy (“Tesla” future) area we finally see the Good Old Classical Hardware Progress in Speed and Power and Distance and Other Serious Physical Characteristics, well-known for people until about 1970s, once again. At the same time, we see not so serious improvements in single-core computing power available as during the Mega-/GigaHertz Race (“Matrix” future) of 1990s/2000s. Althought the use of this power multiplied more than proportionally, e. g. with cloud services and networks at all.
What if the next step needs us to explore Mars, and 1) do radical genetic engineering (“He Jiankui-style”) far away from Earth’s bureaucracy, and/or 2) build some large telescopes/colliders/etc to make important fundamental discoveries, and/or
As for particular technologies, finally a thorough explanation how the Global Acceleration is working and why it doesn’t depend on any particular local accelerations but the general effect of all technologies.
At this time, what bothers people most is IT beyond Moore’s Law. We are definitely going into the Quantum era — with its own rules, but first of all with its particular ability to accelerate “real, physical” calculations e. g. modelling chemical reactions, which has special value for nano & biotechnology. Besides, there’s way to improve classical computations & storage using biotechnology as well. We are turning DNA into a versatile “transistor” or “microprocessor” of today.
There are 2 categories of problems we face today: hardware & software. The software category is getting seriously improved thanks to deep learning & AI in its current form. For example, we analyze big data from biology & medicine, find patterns, invent new therapies e. g. immunotherapy of cancer by gene editing, and get closer to solving the mystery of aging (as well as regeneration & other fundamentals).
Hardware problems are harder, if we talk about implementing the results of software discoveries, as well as getting new data from deeper levels of precision (molecular cell-level diagnostics, real-time sequencing etc.). For this we do need nanorobots, or, to begin with, any less versatile but more precise tools that today’s, e. g. CRISPR(s), 3D printers for cell tissues, drug delivery DNA robots,
Transhumanism is the process, not the result. It’s an open progressive worldview when you see “human” as “self-improving sentient being” rather that “a biological species” or any religious definition. Its “arrival” may mean, though, that more and more people will look at themselves this way and abandon the old prejudices. It doesn’t mean that there will be any moment in the future when we decide that “this technology is making us non-human”. By that time, speciesism should go the way of racism, sexism etc.
Other, elitist pseudo-transhumanisms do not deserve that way, and we should fight the attempts to hijack this term from its initial ultra-progressive sense to any “dark enlightenment” or other BS. That is not transhumanism, that is moronism.
The “asymptote” you’re seeing is just the tail end of the normal S curve of the current batch of technologies. We need some breakthroughs to start a new S curve. Those are difficult to achieve and predict, but they’ll happen sooner or later.
As for singularities, I think it’s better to talk about the associated event horizon instead. Even today, there’s a point in the future beyond which we can’t see. In other words, can’t reliably predict what the future beyond that point will look like. The idea of a singularity just says that at some not-too-distant future, certain technology breakthroughs will come together to unleash such rapid progress (read: steep S curve), that the event horizon will be right on our noses.
At least the pharma guys should be happy to sell age therapy treatments. It’s the largest market of any medical treatment. And they’ll make sure the price is such that the market*profit is maximized.
The real estate and others may not even realize the implications in time to fight back, since aging is normally a rather slow process.
It’s not just transhumanism and Transhumanism. There are about as many flavors and interpretations of it as there are transhumanists.
First to patent is the old, original method.
First to invent was a weirdo method that only applied in the USA, and has now reverted to normal.
So there’s transhumanism and Transhumanism, ok.
Just recalled H+ was a thing, with a whole manifesto etc.
Extended lifespan, and functional immortality are goals of trans-humanism, but not requirements. Any enhancement of functionality, or replacement of lost functionality qualify.
You needn’t be superhuman to qualify as a cyborg, you just need to have artificial components that are not purely cosmetic. Even if that was true, it would be easy to design a hearing aid that allowed one to “hear” infrasound, and ultrasonic frequencies.
You left out artificial teeth, of which I have three. Titanium bone pins and ceramic teeth.
> One of the biggest possible breakthroughs I almost never see mentioned is the construction of a general purpose manufacturing device that can create a duplicate of itself.
Self-replication is a special case of self-improving systems. We have had those since the stone age, but to date they have included humans as part of the system. What you need to avoid is the idea that a single device can do everything. Most systems are made of many parts with different materials and different manufacturing processes. So think in terms of an ecology of machines which can produce a variety of parts, and eventually robots to assemble them into new machines.
Posting a link seems to break this forum, so search wikibooks seed factories for my unfinished book on the subject
There is not going to be a technological singularity – the asymptote of progress as a % compared to the total achieved the year before is decreasing. The low hanging fruit is picked. However the progress is still geometric – even a 4% increase a year gets you double in roughly every 18 years.
I guess you can call this opinion the “technological asymptote”
Brian is (was?) in the opposite camp but the predictions made in March 2006 just didn’t pan out:
<<Those without access to it will inevitably be left behind. >>
It’s hard to imagine exactly how two (there might be more) of the major factors will sort out.
On the one hand you have a general population of humans that will vote for whatever makes their life less of a chore: viz the variety of government handouts. The sheer democratic power of that, would push govt adoption of age therapy as it has any other essential, basic human right; it’s by definition the furtherance of public service.
More so considering the competitive consequences for countries without an aging handicap.
On the other hand you have entrenched corporate self-serving, e.g. Big Pharma which would effectively own its customers by virtue of their “artificial” healthspan. And more so considering the tendency of governments to be corrupt and profit from the governance market being a seller’s market. As well as all the other establishments which were made on the “eternal” status quo of humans aging – meaning education, real estate, basically almost everything.
Those won’t simply give up their cash cows.
There may be others, but one unmoving criteria is aging escape velocity.
There’ll be grey areas, but having the internet accessible, not via typing and waiting for results on a mobile or bulky interface, but commanded by thought and at effectively instantaneous speed, would be one milestone that’s pretty surely past the old school human realm.
But yeah culture is definitely a nature and nurture dynamic in defining transhumanism.
A Mr Fusion and a Drexler are basically the two items you need to build your spaceship and head off to claim your BEO parcel of land. Energy, matter; which leaves time. And you could ostensibly “print” that once the blueprint is available.
Then the only constraint would be the speed of light, and whatever STL travel method. This would put us many steps further towards the universe really being our canvas.
I think human divergence is inevitable.
Viz body mod subculture and genetic edits, already. I would include the whole sexual identity umbrella, as another manifestation of a whole iceberg of yet unmanifested divergences, of further dimensions of human identity. Regardless anyone’s opinion: people are doing it and so it’s a thing, by definition.
Imagine if/when they have DIY tools to take it orders of magnitude further.
IMHO it points to the fundamental flaws in “what is human”, what could humans be beyond the “old” definition of human, and generally how to make sense of such astronomically wide potential.
I would *argue* that the lack of humaneness (not humanity) to the whole range of future humanity is not something to be feared as a consequence or a multiplication of an inherent side effect of humans engineering themselves. Humaneness is a matter of character, of conscious decision.
I would *suggest* this will merely be a growing pain for humans. In time it will become much less crude in execution, and in becoming more routine the familiarity of it will allow it to become just another medium for expressing human … spirit I guess could be the word.
Just like art is. Art used to be so much less wide and deep a field, because of taboos, often religious/superstitious. With the receding of that obscurantism, iteration un-chilled. Ultimately that’s all it is.
The danger’s inherent to free will; hopefully inversely proportional with 100yr+ maturity.
Unless you can use that prosthetic limb to pick up a mini cooper and toss it into someone’s glass house, you are not a cyborg.
Transhumanism is a moving target, sort of like artificial intelligence. Once it becomes doable, it no longer counts. If you think about it, a person who wears eyeglasses, has a prosthetic limb, an insulin pump, a pacemaker, an artificial hip, or knee joint, or an organ transplant are transhuman, or in most of these cases, cyborgs.
Based on the graphic showing “innovation” windows, I would rename these areas “new product required for continued profit windows”. Based on these graphs, large legacy corporations, for instance Boeing, and Intel are responsible for the “slow” translation of scientific advancement into products.
The consumer is always ready to adopt new products that somehow improve his condition. Nothing sells faster than something that pays for itself. Look at the rate of PV adoption in Hawaii, as compared to somewhere with cheap electricity, and not much sunlight.
It’s entrenched market interests that do not want technological disruption, and do not innovate, until a product is “mature” and they have meaningful competition. This demonstrates that patents as they are now used actually impede technological progress by constraining competition, rather than advance it by putting money in the pockets of innovators.
To address the problem of patents, I recommend that awards to back to the first to invent, rather than the new first to patent principle, and that patents be awarded only to real people, not corporations, that they be nontransferable, contracts impeding licensing be made unenforceable, and that licensing be allowed only 18 months into the future.
This. We can perfectly tackle the growing complexity of the world and the growing amount of information in it, if we have more time to learn, experience and do.
No need of neural laces or transhuman modifications. Just make humans longer lived, so we can learn and do before we have to retire (or die).
Changing the definition of human is a dangerous route too, given the ease of humans to consider their kin as less than human and dispensable. We really need to grok the implications of every such enhancement and modifications, before we irreversibly create clades that see each other as alien, making considering the abandonment, seclusion or extermination of the other much easier.
Transhumanism is a given. Timeframe is debatable but there is a “perfect storm” of technologies arising. The main questions revolve around how soon it will be and how accessible to the masses it will be. Those without access to it will inevitably be left behind. Those whose cultural values preclude acceptance of it will eventually find themselves in the same boat as a Christian Scientist with appendicitis (to borrow from Tom Lehrer).
Scarcity will like always remain at some level (unless maybe you emigrate to your own star system), but it will only come into play at what today would seem impossibly high levels of wealth (the average American family is 180 time wealthier than they were before the industrial revolution).
One of the biggest possible breakthroughs I almost never see mentioned is the construction of a general purpose manufacturing device that can create a duplicate of itself. You only ever have to make one. Improvements in speed, size, and efficiency would follow. RepRap might eventually get there, but this could and should be initially accomplished much faster, with far fewer restraints on size and resources.
Technology basically tackles scarcity. Scarcity of matter, space, time, information. Only one of these enables the others: time. If time is on our side, effectively anything is possible.
It’s just less sexy and obvious than the others because it’s so much less instantaneous in reward.
Hopefully De Grey & co are correct that it’s a less-than-long term eventuality.
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