jump to navigation

Yesterday’s Tomorrow is Today March 13, 2014

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics, Politiocal Philosophy.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Science fiction has predicted many of today’s realities from cell phones to tablets.  Many things that are today part of History like walking on the moon, organ transplants, and space stations were once flights of fancy.

Futurists build current events on a foundation of History to provide a launching pad for visions of what is to come.  One of the most widely recognized Futurists is Alvin Toffler whose seminal works include Future Shock and The Third Wave.  He is also the one who told us, “Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.”

Here is my question for today “Is Ray Kurzweil a futurist?”

The Wall Street Journal has described Kurzweil as “the restless genius.”  Forbes calls him “the ultimate thinking machine.”  He has been ranked by Inc. Magazine as #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States  He has also been called “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” while according to PBS he is one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America.”

His inventions are breathtaking and they impact our lives on a daily basis.  These inventions include the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.

Today, many websites attribute Mr. Kurzweil with accurate predictions about where the world will be tomorrow.  In his latest book, The Singularity is Near he describes the singularity as, a reference to the theoretical limitlessness of exponential expansion) that will see the merging of our biology with the staggering achievements of “GNR” (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) to create a species of unrecognizably high intelligence, durability, comprehension, memory and so on.  This is a bold prediction; however, bold predictions do not a Futurist make.

There is a fundamental difference between someone who is a professional writer and observer of humanity such as Toffler and someone who is a technological genius with almost unlimited resources who is actively working to make his predictions reality.  Toffler reads studies and interviews on his way to predictions of where society and technologies will go next.  Kurzweil traded in his massive private business built upon his inventions to become Google’s Director of Engineering whose sole job is to make the company’s computers smarter than humans.  He is working every day to improve artificial intelligence and then wed that to cutting edge robotics and human interface to produce the very singularity he is predicting.

Reaching back to the science fiction genre which I referenced earlier we are looking at the rise of the machines, the coming of the cylons, skynet, and the matrix.  These of course are all fiction; however, the reality we face brings this question to my mind, “Once we design and build machines that are smarter than we are and they design and build machines that are smarter than they are what do they need us for?”

The projected development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) foresees a time when machines not only rival but surpass human capabilities.  Once this happens will we know when these super intelligent machines cross the threshold from hyper abilities to self-awareness?  These scenarios are troubling, even terrifying yet most people would dismiss them as the science fiction they mirror.  There is another aspect of this technological revolution that is not quite as far-fetched and not quite as unbelievable: automation.

We have lived with automation all of our lives.  People have been displaced by innovation since the Sumerian water wheel took the place of people with buckets bringing water from rivers into their fields.  I can remember people telling me in the 1970s, “I’m a keypunch operator, I’ll always have a job.”  Today machinists, tool and dye makers, auto workers, and many people have been replaced by machines.  Tomorrow white collar workers will face the same fate as so many of their blue collar brethren.  Why do we need accountants when machines can fill in the same programs they use today to figure taxes and current accounts?  Who needs teachers when lectures can be delivered by speech technology, questions answered by Watson type question answers, and tests grade themselves?

Look to Futurists like Toffler who are predicting where we are headed and look to inventors like Kurzweil who are telegraphing where they are headed and a collage of futures points to the tomorrow today will become.

It is my contention that we as a people, as a society, and as a civilization need to address this soon approaching brave new world.  When I speak to people about these coming changes the almost universal reaction is, “Not in my lifetime.”  I believe this is a combination of wishful thinking, hiding our heads in the sand, and having no idea what is going on around us.

This is a social dislocation approaching at speeds unforeseen.  I don’t believe these changes are decades away.  I believe within a decade they will be upon us.  Large percentages of blue and white collar workers will be displaced.  Machines will take the place of humans in many areas and humans will not be able to compete with them.  If we allow this to come upon us with no preparation we will be swamped by the rising tide of change and drowned in the tsunami of innovation.

Change is accelerating as the interconnectedness of communication accelerates the cross-polarization of ideas.  After tens of thousands of years the use of the wheel had not spread all the way around the world.  Today something is invented in America this morning, improved in India this afternoon, and spawning new ideas tomorrow in China.  We cannot contain the explosion of technology because someone somewhere will always seek to move beyond the known to the unknown.   No matter what glories we have beheld yesterday tomorrow is coming whether today is ready or not.

Long ago Toffler told us, “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”  He also predicted and predated Kurzweil’s Singularity when he said, “The next major explosion is going to be when genetics and computers come together. I’m talking about an organic computer – about biological substances that can function like a semiconductor.”

How long will it before our cars drive themselves, 3-D printers create human organs, and the government has the ability to monitor everyone at once?  How long will it be before you cannot tell the difference between speaking to a computer on the phone and speaking to a human?

Failure to plan is planning to fail.  If we as a society do not stop living in yesterday and face up to the challenges of today we will sacrifice our future.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2014 Contact Dr. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

Your Need Limits to be Free March 6, 2014

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politiocal Philosophy.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The problem with anarchy is that it must become organized to accomplish anything.  Then like militant apathy it declares war against the machine never realizing that it is merely another cog in the wheel that grinds itself to dust.

The Law of Liberty defines that space where an individual is secure and free to live their life as they choose.

The life of humanity with society is only possible because the vast majority of people act within the framework of certain rules.  As society becomes more complex these rules evolve from the basic instinct of what is right and wrong to evermore explicit guidelines that are both general and abstract.

The fact that we are the products of thousands of years and hundreds of generations of institutional law makes us as blind to the intricate and all-encompassing nature of this skeleton upon which our society lives and moves.  Just as a fish does not notice the water within which it moves and we are not constantly aware of the air in which we move our social self is not aware of the framework of laws which daily provide the context within which we find our meaning.

If we were to have one flash of insight which revealed to us the web of law, tradition, and ceremony within which we move we would realize that it is no more the invention of design of one person or group than the ubiquitous personal computer upon which I am writing this essay and upon which you are reading it.  We realize that this wonder of technology that in so many ways defines our lives has evolved by fits and starts.  One person or group developed this and some other individual or group added that.  From hardware to software we have advanced from the Commodore to the Mac from the mainframe to the tablet.  To trace the development of the life changing wonder now takes volumes yet we wake up every morning, turn it on, go to work, and never give a thought as to how it got here.  Such is the scaffold which delineates both our limits and our freedom.

In the simplest of societies, when two individuals meet a basic level of order is inherently understood thus establishing a sphere of action that is recognized as belonging to each one separately.  In personal relations this is usually through the unconscious acceptance of rules inbred by that society not by formal law.  These are habits of thought and action not expressed as legally proscribed but instead as universally accepted.

This is the basis for the abstract nature of human society wherein individuals respond in a similar manner to circumstances which share some but not all things in common.  People will obey and follow such abstract rules long before it becomes necessary to write them down.  People knew it was wrong to murder or steal long before it became necessary to have formal laws saying these actions were illegal.

The most important aspect of laws in relation to freedom is that they need to be general and they need to apply to everyone equally as opposed to directives which are specific and focused.  It is vitally important to keep these two aspects of society’s structure clearly understood and delineated.

Laws should be applicable to all people at all times in all places.  In this way they do not encumber our freedom and are more as a natural part of the environment with which all must contend equally.  As laws are applied in varying situations they become more specific and directed morphing from law into directive.  Directives proscribe the actions of individuals and laws define the actions of all.

For example in a large enterprise most of the time individuals will go about their tasks without singular guidance.  They will follow standing orders adapting them to unique situations as they arise only on rare occasions receiving specific direction.  In other words within the sphere of general subordination most of the time is spent as an autonomous actor accomplishing individual tasks.

In this large enterprise we envision all activity is directed ultimately by the highest authority.  In order to provide for the appearance of unforeseen and unforeseeable events a certain amount of latitude is always allowed to the individual.  This is the sphere of freedom even within a tightly controlled environment.  Of course this also means that the means to any end must be presupposed to be allocated to any particular individual presented with any particular circumstance.  Such an allocation of resources might be the assignment of particular things or times that can be applied by the individual to their own design.

These general guidelines for individuals can only be altered by new laws from the highest authority that are announced for longer periods of time and for more unforeseen events.  These new laws may serve to change the shape or complexion of the sphere of freedom however they will apply to everyone and therefore become an impediment to personal freedom akin to a natural barrier affecting all the same.  Everyone must climb the same mountain to reach the same valley.

Thus within even a tightly controlled enterprise each individual comes to know what their sphere of liberty is, where it ends, and another’s begins.  This is how, even within societies that mandated the communal ownership of the means of production and the state ownership of everything else such as the former USSR, people still spoke of “My” house, “My” clothes, and “My” children.

Some measure of liberty will always exist as long as humans are humans.  Even as our current government seeks to exert control over the totality of life our sphere of liberty still exists.

The greatest safeguard for the preservation and restoration of liberty is the limitation of the power of government to move beyond the general into the specific.  As long as laws apply to everyone the individual is secure.  As long as the laws our representatives pass apply to them as well as us we are all secure.  However when we find ourselves dominated by a perpetually re-elected ruling class aided, abetted, and encouraged by a unionized civil-service-protected nomenclature intent on ignoring constitutionally mandated limits we approach a time when the directives of the few will trump the laws of the many.

We need limits to be free.  In a complex society we need laws to have limits.  The Constitution was written to limit the laws to certain areas for certain reasons making them general and universally applied.  The progression of the advocates of control past the written certainty of the Constitution to the fog of the Living Document seeks to issue directives that are specific and individually applied.

Anarchy does not bring freedom but neither does totalitarian control.  Somewhere in between is the sweet spot.  Somewhere in between lies a dynamic relationship where each person does not do whatever is right in their own eyes and no one attempts to make every decision for everyone everywhere.  Somewhere in between is a place that declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been endowed upon everyone equally by our creator.  Somewhere in between lays a more perfect union of limited government, personal liberty, and economic opportunity.  We were there once.  Let’s find our way home.

Keep the faith, keep the peace, we shall overcome.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2014 Contact Dr. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 474 other followers

%d bloggers like this: