The Director of The Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow predicts the emergence of a new reality- Reality 2.0, based on a combination of advanced Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and the creativity of the emerging human Superorganism by 2040, as an essential step in helping avoid the potential destruction of human civilisation.
A schism is emerging in the fabric of reality from a human perspective.
This is not a rending of the spacetime continuum, but a radical shift in the reality of human perception and existence.
On the one hand is our existing notion of reality- Reality mark 1.0, governed by the four forces of nature- gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism, that have shaped our world since its birth four and a half billion years ago and in which we as the modern human species have evolved.
Since our civilisation took off around 15,000 ya we have harnessed many forms of energy – water, wind, steam, electricity and nuclear. At the same time we have reaped the riches of the electromagnetic spectrum, using probes of all wavelengths for communication and the exploration of our universe. This has eventually enabled us to conceive a richer reality, to expand the old limits limits and begin to throw off the shackles of Reality 1.0.
And then about fifty years ago something changed – something profound; the arrival of computers that enabled humanity to digitise, process, store and disseminate the information substrate of our world – both natural and man-made, eventually guiding it through networks to a multiplicity of destinations.
Eventually this networked information infrastructure morphed into the global Internet and its acolyte the Web, enabling the emergence of the current ubiquitous information world and a new reality- Reality 2.0.
Within this new reality things have been moving at lightning speed. Basically our civilisation is rapidly taking a new form- becoming increasingly digital. All human processes and procedures encoded as algorithms and knowledge have been systematically digitised and at the same time have become largely dependent on the Internet- the primary driver of our digital revolution.
We are in fact, through our social networks, smartphones, tablets and future glasses, watches and wearable electronics, being rapidly linked in a giant multidimensional network as one living system, co-dependent - sharing a common computing/communication resource as one organism – a Superorganism.
And now the new Superorganism is starting to flex its muscles, to create its own world, shaping it to its own needs. And our reality will never be the same again.
The major enablers of Reality 2.0 include all forms of digital and virtual reality including-- Augmented reality, Simulated and Artificial reality as well as Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence – all based on the power of The Intelligent Web Mark 4.0.
We may now have the genesis of a radically different Reality, but it is still immutably coupled to our original Reality 1.0, because both are governed by the same laws of physics embedded in the wider Universe.
If Reality 1.0 fails – so does Reality 2.0 and any future realities, like a set of dominos – because the laws of nature such as Thermodynamics- governing entropy and the conservation of energy and information demand it. Our realities are small beer in the overall cosmic enterprise, centred around one small rocky planet of which there are probably millions in our galaxy, rotating around an average sized main sequence sun along with 10 billion similar others in one of 100 billion spiral galaxies in our universe, which in turn may be just one of a trillion others capable of supporting life.
So it’s early days in our evolutionary trajectory, but already an extremely significant shift has begun for every human being.
This might suggest we are heading towards Ray Kurzweil’s fabled Singularity- an unlimited technological nirvana in which our control over the universe and its unlimited power will be itself unlimited. But reality is never that simple.
Along the way there’s been a complication- Global Warming. And global warming is about to put a giant spanner in human hubris.
Two thousand years ago there were less than 100 million homo sapiens on planet earth. One thousand years ago still less than 300 million; a hundred years ago a billion inhabitants and now the world’s population has exploded to 7 billion, heading towards 9 billion by 2050.
Our use of fossil fuels has also increased, over 50 fold in the last 200 years since the industrial revolution; but particularly over the last fifty years-and that’s when things started to really get out of control. The level of carbon in our atmosphere has now reached the apocryphal 400 parts per million, most of which has been generated by use of fossil fuels, the highest since early humans walked the earth. And still our appetite for oil and gas and coal continues to soar.
Global warming or more euphemistically Climate Change continues unabated, despite all the good works relating to renewable energy, sustainable and conservation technologies. In addition according to the latest expert analysis, we are depleting our planet’s resources such as food varieties, productive soil, fresh water, clean air, animal and plant biodiversity and many minerals, at a rate equivalent to 150% of its sustainable capacity.
There’s not much you can seriously plan for without factoring the impact of global warming into the equations and models of the future- whether it’s war or peace, food and water security, human migration, education and health, engineered infrastructure, social institutions and democracy. But many Governments and fossil fuel producers still blandly play out scenarios which largely ignore or downplay its impact.
As a result Reality 1.0 is rapidly becoming unsustainable for human survival with the inevitable collapse of our civilisation likely to be getting very imminent by 2030; just in time for the next generation, when the cycle of growth in the major economies of the world will likely come to a grinding halt and then go backwards.
In addition, climate change together with hyperfast environmental and technological change is at risk of being amplified at the social level by The Darwin Factor or Evolutionary Thrashing
Evolutionary thrashing is the sting in the tail of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
Evolution only works when the system that is evolving, has adequate time to adapt to its changing environment; by mutating its DNA in the case of biological systems or by changing its planning and production models in the case of manmade systems such as cars, in response to its customer’s needs. Either way if the system doesn’t adapt quickly it usually dies or goes out of business- which it regularly does.In other words, evolutionary thrashing occurs when evolution doesn’t have time to do its coping thing before the next wave of change occurs. And if this keeps happening in accelerating mode then the system will never be able to reach an accommodation with its environment; which generally means it’s doomed.
In the meantime on the technological front there’s no shortage of fixes for rapid fire climate variation, including new types of renewable energy and more efficient methods of utilising existing energy sources- even fossil ones.
All these fixes are largely now dependent on the ubiquitous power of the Internet/Web and here’s the problem. This jewel in the crown of our civilisation is now under heavy fire not only from trashing due to the violent tantrums of global weather, but from criminal gangs and autocratic regimes seeking to hack its vital knowledge. Without access to this massive global computational/knowledge powerhouse, increasingly globally distributed through Clouds and mobile technology, most of the R&D and production technology driving today’s applications and services- from engineering to manufacturing, to construction and agriculture and communication, will falter and eventually implode.
Previous analysis in this blog has predicted the potential risks if the imbalance between the needs of society and available computational capacity widens. If global warming continues on its upward trajectory and the cost of repairing the damaged infrastructure, both physical and social, continues to escalate, eventually most of the earth’s remaining resources will be depleted just in the struggle to survive and we will be left without the means to overcome the basic problem.
It’s a vicious circle. Humans need to get global warming and cyber sabotage under control in order to avoid its capacity to trash our ecosystems and infrastructure, or else we lose the capacity to maintain the core services of our fragile civilisation. But to get the impacts of runaway warming under control and maintain our standard of living, we need to utilise every advance in technology and creative computational power at our disposal, which is primarily dependent on the Internet and World Wide Web.
So if Reality 1.0 is rapidly becoming unsustainable, how do break out of this catch 22 and transition to a better life in Reality 2.0. How do we prevent the quagmire of Reality Mark 1 from sucking the life out of our planet and us.
The answer is very carefully, using the most advanced technology and human innovation we can muster, from a meta vantage perspective.
Roman generals did the same thing. When they needed to get a true picture of the progress of battle they stood on the nearest hill not down in the chaos of the fighting.
Which brings us to the centrepiece of the Reality problem and perhaps its solution.
Firstly we have no choice in this transition as a society. Our current reality has been irredeemably damaged and is provably unsustainable. This is not our planet’s problem- it’s our mindless stewardship of it.
So our attitude has to change. There is no alternative. If we don’t reduce fossil fuel consumption a Venusian sauna climate will make life a living hell for future generations. Our economic mindset also has to change. It is locked into a perpetual growth/profit cycle which is demonstrably suicidal. So our transition to Reality 2.0 needs to be radically but delicately managed through a new meta medium and a new mindset.
This new medium or layer of social and technological change needs to act as a buffer, allowing us to remediate Reality 1.0 without being swept up in its carnage, while at the same time transitioning to a new level of cognition.
That extra layer will be a combination of advanced forms of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence combined with human ingenuity and compassion.
Artificial Intelligence- AI, is already embedded in thousands of processes and algorithms including – the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases, the optimisation of the design and production of artefacts - whether electronic, biological, mechanical or chemical, with the capability to become automatically more flexible through self-adaptation. AI technology is increasingly based on many processes that are innate in nature including- evolutionary algorithms, rule based cellular automata, neural networks, the human immune system and insect search and foraging techniques.
At the same time a quantum leap in the range of the Internet is about to explode through the Internet of Things in which any object equipped with an intelligent interface such as a sensor or actuator and even a brain/computer interface can be connected to the Web and managed as easily as a Personal Computer or phone.
This will be a major step in connecting the world- our original reality, with the emerging one.
Virtual Reality is also making great strides in creating simulations of natural organisms and events from viruses to dinosaurs as well as increasingly life-like gaming, providing a potential escape hatch in the form of parallel worlds. It means we can already visit and explore the wonders of this world without impacting its sanctity. It can enhance our ability to apply intelligent solutions to simulate and manage the weather, harness the sun’s incredible power, design exotic materials based on super-strong grapheme and invisibility optics, perform remote surgery and space station repairs, manufacture organs using 3D layering techniques, use virtual money and understand mass human behaviour through analysis of social network data. We have also started to create virtual life through the medium of cyber-agents, robotics and synthetic cells.
In other words we are beginning to create a simulated reality of our world and life based on the power of the Web and human creativity.
By 2040 the power of Reality 2.0 will be hugely amplified by the mind power of the emerging Superorganism – the connected brain power of 8 billion cooperating humans linked to the computational capacity of a quantum Internet as well as an Internet of trillions of intelligent objects.
This may just provide the breathing space and intelligence we need to remediate the damage we have caused to our pristine planet.
But it’s very easy to forget that all this promise is contingent on the successful and ongoing reclamation of Reality 1.0 – the avoidance of a hollowed out planet. It’s not a one-off. This will remain a monumental challenge for future generations.
All our technological and social progress will be lost in the blink of an eye if destruction from an out of control planet, short term greed or ongoing conflict continues to dominate out future.
These are not sci-fi fantasies. Humans are quite capable of destroying their future and have come perilously close to it many times in their short history. It’s basically just luck that we’re still here.
But if we can finally extract ourselves from the day to day confusion and focus on regaining the long term potential benefits of a sustainable and peaceful world, eventually our two realities will seamlessly merge and our future descendants will thank us.