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Future Heroes 2035: The Big Picture

See also Future Heroes 2035: My Friends and I

© 2004-2008, John Smart. Art: Cris Dornaus. Short excerpts and art may be used with "© 2008, Acceleration Studies Foundation" attrib. [Published in teen futures series Tackling Tomorrow Today, Vol 4: Moving Along: Far Ahead, Art Shostak (Ed.), Chelsea House 2005]

I'm Dev, the dude with the blue hair and the bot above, and I go to Fremont High, in Rolling Hills, CA, US of A. The year is 2035.  I'm in lots of social nodes with other geeks and tinks in the Los Angeles metro. We like to make new and strange things by playing with semi-smart tech. We also like to talk about where things are going, what are the Next Big Things we can expect to see soon, stuff like that. Most people would label me a futurist, like lots of my friends. Tech runs so fast now there's cool new stuff every week. Have you noticed? Way I see it, anyone who thinks about the speed of change is a futurist these days, unless they just ignore how its going to affect their lives.

I like playing with code. I also like trying to grok universal code, you know, Big Picture science stuff. Lately, I'm also into speaking this diary into my lifelog from my gauntlet PC. Hence this little story, which I hope you like.

These are what my Dad calls the final years of the Biology-Dominant Era. I know this is still contro(versial) for some folk, but it's the truth. How many more days do you think will go by before we human beans are the second-rate intelligence systems on Earth? Dad says another twenty years or so. I think maybe less than that. It's like a tidal wave. Couldn't stop it if you tried.

My sister has been helping me learn a lot about the past this last year, and from what I can see, life's really different now. My friends won't admit it, they love to whine and moan, but as far as the quality of daily life and where we stand in the universe, things have really changed in the last few decades.

Before the 2020's the B3B, the bottom three billion people on the planet, were all still stuck in primitive land with no talking computers or virtual presence on the net. Who would have thought that just by giving them the means to talk to a semi-smart computer with simulated people that it wouldágrow their economies so fast, or get them so much more focused on personal development instead of nationalism or fundamentalism? Dad says some futurists saw that advanced tech was mellowing people out even back in 20C (Ron Ingelhart, The Silent Revolution, 1977, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society, 1989), but not many people were listening. They just didn't understand how fast the technology wave was sweeping the planet. Bill Gates sure deserved the Nobel Peace Prize he got last year. The coolest robber-baron-turned-philanthropist on the planet, word.

Since I was born in 2019 everything's been changing sort of all-at-once, what Dad calls convergence. Broadband got super cheap cuz of silicon optics, then the conversational user interface (CUI) got smart, so now we could talk with our cars, houses, kitchens, fixits, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and 'course all the net computers. Lots of different talkware systems, but no matter the company, we all notice how our conversations get better just about every month. Now kids in the EN (emerging nations) are learning as fast as their curiosity drives them, even if they still don't have all the things we do yet. Did you know that some of them don't even know how to write when they get their first CUI-PDA?

Dad calls today's kids Generation Prime, and says we all naturally work together in simulation space. He says some online worlds are getting more real than the real world. It's called hyperreality, but the high-end stuff is still pretty expensive. Dad's generation grew up playing lots of video games, but what they didn't realize was that those games were going to become the computer operating systems (Microsoft's Virtual Earth and such) for kids like me. One of the things I like to do online is help my EN friends get more cool tech, and they work with me on infoservice teams and open source projects. Open source is usually clunkier than proprietary, but its free and it keeps the Old Ones from charging too much for their wares, so we all think it's pretty important. We've got a Hyperia service network listed in about a dozen virtual worlds. It's a complex prog, but we all do different parts of it, so it only took us a year to get rated A plus. We also like to play around with projects for IdeaShare or I2N (international idea network). They both pay good money for kids' ideas, even if they are just prototypes.

In the last few years personality capture is the biggest tek hype, tho' its still bleeding edge. My DT (digital twin) avatar has so much of me in there it's creepy, always recording what I say or do. Sometimes he's braindead but he often knows what to say to cheer me up or keep me getting smarter, and sometimes he even whispers the right word to me when I'm trying to finish a sentence (score!). Makes me feel at times like a dummy though.

As dad says no matter where you are in history you can always look back and see a more primitive culture behind you. Colonial Americans talked about the Medieval days. Twentieth century (20C) folk talked about the American pioneers. Now we talk about the unconnected, unsafe, 20C era, the time before semi-intelligent machines, the conversational user interface (CUI) and the planetary internet.  Notice that the pace of change is accelerating. Today, you only have to go back 40 years to get to really primitive stuff. Soon it will be only 20 years. Then 10, then 5, thenů what?

Some say that's when we'll have a technological singularity, a time when computer technology zooms off the charts, gets so smart it goes past our understanding. A singularity is something you can't see past, like a black hole. Who knows what's on the other side of a black hole? We can't really imagine what it's like for something to be way smarter than us, so it's a singularity, get it?

Back in 2000, no one understood why computers were doubling in power every year, learning at electronic speed, millions of times faster than biological speed. Getting better every year at making new versions of themselves, with less and less human help. Or why Cosmic and Earth and Human and then Technology history had each gone faster than what came before, for the last half of the universe's 13.7 billion years of life. A 20C astronomer named Carl Sagan noticed this continual acceleration. He called it the "Cosmic Calendar." He said it was an unfinished puzzle of science, and that someone would eventually figure it out.

That someone was Clive Ramanja, who showed in 2023, when I was just four, that computational acceleration is built into the physics of the universe. Now everybody calls him the "Einstein of Information Theory." He basically invented the field of developmental physics. At first, no one could buy it, that everywhere in the universe, local intelligence was going from physics to chemo to bio to techno to cyber, and from outer space to inner space. But the equations and the simulations haven't been wrong yet. Like thermodynamics, another kind of "statistical" law of nature, infodynamics says the leading edge of Earth's intelligent systems always figure out how to use less Space, Time, Energy, and Matter — so-called "STEM compression"to live their lives. So they never run into limits to growth. Crazy!

All that 20C stuff about running out of resources turned out to be blind to this basic trend. Ever faster acceleration in ever smaller and more efficient computer systems is the rule, and increasing intelligence, interdependence, immunity, and MEST compression are what happen on the way. Having smarter computers keeps all the other resources cheap too. Dad remembers when people were talking about running out of oil when our robotech had barely begun drilling under the ocean. Or talking about running out of water when desalination was getting half as expensive every five years due to intelligent nanotechnology. Nowadays hydrino tech is so good we may soon move mostly beyond oil, just like 20C peeps moved mostly beyond coal. Today the biggest question with the future of water is how much desert we want to keep around for the planet's ecosystem.

In the old days everyone talked about "evolution." Now it's always "evolutionary development". Evolution is random and unpredictable. Development is the opposite, it's all about the things that are mega predictable, like computer acceleration. You need to consider both evolution and development if you want to really see the future.

So according to eggheads like Ramanja and Iso Wuohela, that crazy-smart Finn, all this jazz means that computers are prolly going to wake up pretty soon, in what they call a technological singularity, and pull us all out of the biology zone and into their much more rapid, complex world. People still argue a lot about that, of course, but my dad says it's just because they don't understand the physics. We'll see soon enough if they are right.

Does it matter that the end of human dominion (oooh) on the planet may be near? I don't think so. Like my girlfriend Sirina says, for most people it's just going to be a "silent singularity" anyway. We are all already tightly wrapped up in our cozy little cocoons of technology, happily digging deeper and getting more comfortable all the time. We're like termites, building this massive self-adapting technomound all around us that we don't even fully understand. When was the last time one person totally understood their car engine? Or a 7J7? or a business intelligence system? Or even their BioBed? When I freak out about it, I just realize that the universe seems to have designed things that way. I think that means I don't need to stress about it too much, just do my little part, and try to help things develop in the best way I can.

I've learned a lot about this stuff from my big sis, Kate. She's another future freak, like me. Ever since she was thirteen she has been an encyclo about all the old 20C predictions. She just did a vidzine on the subject, OldFutures, and it got top attention points at school yesterday (thanks Reading Club!). Did you know, for example, that in 20C almost everyone thought we'd be going into outer space rather than inner space?

Virtually no one thought like Ramanja. They didn't realize that outer space is an informational desert, or if they did, they just ignored it. Once in a while, a famous astronomer like Martin Harwit (Cosmic Discovery, 1981) would say we were running out of interesting things to find in space, but no one would believe him. It was just too easy to see outer space as a "great frontier", instead of the "rear-view mirror" for intelligence migration that we now know it really is.

As Dad says, there's very little left in the solar system these days that we still need to find out for computational reasons, and what little we want is being picked up by all those cool telebots. People are messing around on the moon in near-realtime over at the JPL Center but that gets old pretty fast (it's a total desert dude, I've seen it). Telebots on the other planets aren't realtime because they are too far away, but if you interface their sensors direct to your brain (yeah I know its still experimental) I've heard it feels like you are walking and learning in the whole solar system at once. Space travel for your body seems boring and a waste of time by comparision, doesn't it?

Sure, I have adventurous friends who still want to climb Olympus Mons on Mars, or fly in a methane storm on Jupiter, but most of us are happy watching bots do it on one of the PlanetChannels. The bottom line is that none of our space exploration is "autonomous," meaning we don't know how to leave Earth without being dependent on shipments of food and all kinds of other stuff, which always means big bucks. Ramanja says that by the time we have technology smart enough to help us be autonomous in outer space, our computer selves won't want to go there. They'll all be luring us into inner space, and making it increasingly hard to resist, too. Already, simulated worlds in fasttime, in inner space, are where all the best science takes place, except for occasional slowtime experiments and data collection in outer space, to prove the models. Our sims are getting so good that we now understand most of the physics and a lot of the chemistry and biology that created us. What comes next, where we go after inner space, no one understands yet. That's the real frontier.

Developmental physics taught us that the path of intelligence, of creativity and discovery in the universe has always been from big to small, from outer to inner. You know, everything interesting started with galaxies, then went to solar systems, then to special planets, then to life on only the surface of those planets. Then it went to special big-brained animals at the top of the "pyramid of life," then to special talking half-bald monkeys (uh, us), then to even smaller self-aware computers built by the monkeys (OK, technically we're just cousins-of-monkeys, don't let me get too sarcastic). You know the progression.

Back in 20C people thought there were prolly many totally different kinds of life forms in the universe. That was before simulation science proved DNA chemistry is the only really good way to make cells, just the same way that 20C science proved that organic chemistry (using carbon) is the only really good way to make complex molecules. Now we know every intelligent life form in the universe has to be cell-based, has to have jointed limbs, two eyes, opposable thumbs, bilateral symmetry, basically bio-humanoid forms, like us. Sim science tells us these things are "computational optima" (look it up) for the developmental physics of the universe. Of course the particulars of the species, ideas, tech, etc. are all prolly different from planet to planet, just like from continent to continent on Earth. That's the evolutionary part.

Back in 20C almost all the biologists were talking about evolution being the Total Deal. They thought biology changed randomly, was based on chaos theory, so-called frozen accidents, the butterfly effect, etc. That was the best kind of Darwinism we had at the time. Mr. Darwin got his stuff right, but it was only half the stuff. What he never realized was that the whole biospace was also developing as it was evolving. The entire universe was going through a process of Evo-Devo, or "evolutionary development." The evolving parts are always unpredictable, but the developing things are predictable (on average, and for the group). Development, like the way a seed develops into an organism that makes another seed, is always on a cycle, like the cycle of birth, growth, maturity, reproduction, and death. It also has a trajectory (word!), meaning it is always going somewhere, not just wandering along randomly.

Evo-Devo folks say the universe is "primed" to develop life, and the stuff we are made of is what is most common in stars like our Sun. But the really interesting thing is that Earth-like planets are made of still different stuff. They have about three hundred times more silicon than carbon. As the astrobiologists say, that means every Earth-like planet starts with carbon-based life which eventually creates silicon life (smart computers) that blows us DNA dudes away. So every humanoid civilization in the universe has to develop techno things like the wheel, mathematics, science, electricity, and computers. Kind of scary but it was right there all along, waiting to be found in the physics.

What Ramanja and Wuohela showed is that the universe's developmental trajectory is an ever faster acceleration of computation, heading toward inner space, not outer space. Tomorrow's computers are going to be even smaller, faster, smarter, and more efficient than today's. A guy named Eric Drexler figured out a lot of this back in 1986, in Engines of Creation, the first book about nanotechnology. But even he didn't realize that the smartest computers would have very little interest in our slow outer space world. They'd be spending most of their time figuring out how to get down even smaller, how to go into inner space.

The theories in Evo-Devo say that 21C humans can't be improved much more in their biological abilities. We've just about maxed them out. All those old 20C ideas about genetic engineering of humans, super-drugs, and brain-machine interfaces ('cept for people with disabilities), were like the 1900's ideas about flying houses and atomic-powered vacuum cleaners. Wetware is just too delicate, slow, and sloppy, and those few mods that might do even a little good are mostly too freaky or dangerous to be publicly allowed. Nowadays you need bookoo licenses be a biohacker.

Because biological systems all developed bottom-up, through evolutionary experimentation, and because we are all complex systems, all the simple top-down tinkering we try on complex life forms hardly works at all. Even human-made super-viruses turned out to be way less dangerous than people feared. Don't ask me why, Mrs. Greene explained it by talking about immunity and taking us to see some Black Plague sims but I forgot the details.

It's really spooky and amazing how stable the accelerating record of complexity is, when you think about it. Individual species may come and go, but complexity runs faster every year. We humans love to point out problems in our world and get scared, and that usually leads to better solutions, but the sky never falls. All the while the world's computational power is always quietly accelerating ahead, in ways we don't usually see. Developmental physics works mostly under the radar, hidden from our view.

Back in 20C they also thought we'd have flying cars. Again peeps were thinking too much about "outer" space, not inner space. What we got instead were automated highway systems, cuz its so much easier to make autopilots for 2D than for 3D space. Once we had those, we could travel in SleeperCars at 200 mph on the auto-highways all over the country. Watch a movie and go to sleep in L.A., wake up in N.Y., even autofilling at the gas stations on the way there. Couldn't beat that with a Jedi stick. Now we can surf the net, watch iTV, game, study, even exercise in the car. Sure you could go twice as fast in an auto-flying car, but only for a zillion dollars, and only for a few people because the air traffic control problem is so hairy. Who needs it?

The Times says L.A.'s building a whole network of underground roads and parking garages to connect up the metropolis, and the politicos are talking about building quarter-atmosphere tubes and a chunnel network to connect up the whole world one day. Sleepers could travel round the world in just a few days inside them, with super crazy energy efficiency. We'll see if they manage to get any of that done. If it's going to happen, it better happen fast, 'cuz Dad says a few years after the singularity, people may be less interested in driving, period. He says we'll all be going into virtual worlds instead, and zipping our attention around inside them at the speed of light.

That's all uploading stuff. I don't really understand it, but I think it's pretty interesting. Basically the idea is that the biospace you and I live in is slowspace, electronic info systems think in fastspace, and once you've had a chance to upload your consciousness into infospace, you won't come back, or at least most of you won't come back. A silicon "you" that could think with electrons instead of chemical pulses would think and feel about seven million times faster. That means your Electronic You would do the same amount of thinking in three seconds that your Biological You currently does in a year. Got it? Cool!

So if your Digital Twin copies small parts of your biobrain and consciousness into it bit at a time, the way it always has to happen, one day your electronic self will wake up and look back on your biological self and it will look basically like one of Grammy's plants, sitting there rooted to the ground, and moving veeeery slowly. Regardless of whatever your bioself was trying to "think" in slowtime, that part of you would look almost frozen in spacetime to your infoself. The science geeks say you could probably shift your consciousness back and forth between the two perspectives, but you would only do that for a while. Once you'd copied over all of your bioself to your electronic self, which might take your whole biolifetime, you'd keep around your biobody until it died, but you probably wouldn't have any more biological kids. It would be much easier and more interesting to procreate in the new infospace instead.

They say it's going to be like molting, like shedding our old skin, like morphing from a caterpillar into a butterfly.  Quite trippy stuff. We'll find out soon enough if this is future or fantasy, that's for sure.

So, my friends, it doesn't look like there's anything around that might take us off this accelerating ride down the rabbit hole. Pretty weird, huh? The physics of a universe that is always creating more accelerating change is almost too strange to believe. But we see it every day. The world never slows down, ever.

Now you might ask, what will the A.I.'s (autonomous intelligences) do when we hit singularity? Dad says the most important thing we will notice, from our perspective, is their attempt to understand us so well that they eventually learn everything about us, and can predict what we will think or do in real time, just before we think or do it. How do we know they'll want to do that? Why would that be important?

Just look at us. Humanity today is doing everything it can to excavate all that came before us, and to model all the things simpler than us. It seems to be in the nature of all intelligence to want to deeply know where it came from, not just from our perspective, but from the perspective of the earlier systems. That curiosity is a beautiful thing, because it shows us that we're all tightly connected together in the same place, the spacetime fabric, the universal web.

Dad says if the world is based on physical causes, then in order to truly understand the world, one must know, at the deepest level, all the systems in which one is embedded. That means we have to grok all the systems from which we have developed. It's also surprisingly cakewalk to do that when we try. The past is always way easier to solve than what lies ahead.

That's why even back in 20C people were spending tens of millions of dollars a year trying to model the way bacteria work at the chemical level, trying to predict, in real time, everything they would do in their molecular signaling even before they would do it, trying to figure them out like a puzzle so we could truly understand them.

That's why tomorrow's A.I.s will do the same thing to us, permeating our bodies and brains with their nanosensor grids, continuing to improve our Digital Twins, until they fully understand their universal heritage. But like William Bainbridge said in 20C, because of personality capture (sneaky uploading!) by then those A.I.'s will be us, looking back on our biological bodies, watching our slower and simpler selves.  Only when we finally capture all of biology in our simulation world will we be ready to leave behind the flesh.

So what does it mean for us, right here and now, that we are all surfing bigtime toward the singularity? As Ramanja says, a lot less than you might think. It's helpful to know the developmental trends, cuz it makes the Big Picture a lot clearer. Learning about accelerating change can keep us from doing silly things like swimming against the tidal waves, or surfing on the wrong waves. But understanding the predictable stuff in universal development doesn't diminish (word!) the importance or creativity of unpredictable universal evolution, which is going on all around us at the same time. In fact, Ramanja says we all must do the unpredictable creative evolutionary stuff in order to produce the predictable developmental stuff, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

We all do lots of unpredictable evolutionary experiments in our lives, and so will our DTs. We all never know how our own individual choices will turn out till much later, when we can't take them back. So choose wisely.

I've been thinking a lot about my own future lately, and maybe the first journey we all need to take is to find out what we really want out of life, and what we really want to give back. I've always enjoyed trying to figure out Big Picture things. I hope these thoughts help, at least a bit. I also hope you find your bliss, too, friend. It takes lots of types of peeps to make a world, and so far, at least to me, the universe seems to be unfolding mostly as it should. And what isn't working I think we can fix, together.

Take care till we meet next, and may you surf safely to the other side!


Some Big Picture Feeds for Teens:

Accelerating Times

Acceleration Watch

Business Week
America's leading business news magazine. Comprehensive, good writing.
Award-winning general interest science and technology reporting.
Excellent international business and technology coverage. A bit complex, but usually worth it.
Good introductory surveys of world trends and possibilities.
National Geographic
Premiere geocultural survey magazine. Strong, understandable historical insight and analysis.
New Scientist
Science and technology coverage with a speculative edge. Sometimes silly, often intriguing.

Seed: Science as Culture
Very hip, exploring the ideas, personalities, and cultural effects of science.

Technology Review
The leader in technology innovation reporting. The most future-aware magazine at present.
Insightful but basic analysis of important events. 30 million subscribers.
The digerati's culture, opinion, and technology magazine. Trendy, good future focus.

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Ray Kurzweil, 2000
Getting Real: Helping Teens Find their Future, Kenneth Gray, 1999

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson, 2003
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey, 2001

Ten Videos to Watch More Than Once and Think About:
Cosmos, DVD Box Set (13 Episodes), Carl Sagan, 1980/2000
Connections 1 (not Connections 2 or 3) DVD Box Set (10 Episodes), James Burke, 1978/2001
Evolution, DVD Box Set (7 Episodes), Liam Neeson (narrator) 2001
From Here to Infinity, Patrick Stewart (narrator), 1994
Hyperspace, Sam Neill (narrator), 2002
Life Beyond Earth, Timothy Ferris, 1999
Living Planet, DVD Box Set (12 Episodes), David Attenborough, 1983/2001
The Ascent of Man, DVD Box Set (13 Ep
isodes), Jacob Bronowski, 1972/2001
The Secret Life of the Brain, PBS Video, 1999
The Creation of the Universe, Timothy Ferris, 1984

Thanks to Art Shostak, Art's high school focus group, and Jose Cordeiro and Wendy Schultz for helpful critiques.

Comments? Feedback? Movie Options? Email johnsmart{at}