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I D Pearson BSc DSc(hc) FWAAS CITP FBCS FWIF
I’m an all-round futurist/futurologist with a sound engineering foundation and over 1800 inventions. I spend most of my time writing futures material for white papers or to accompany PR campaigns, but I’ve also delivered well over 1000 conference presentations and appeared over 700 times on TV and Radio, often following writing I’ve done for PR campaigns. I’ve written hundreds of commissioned reports, press articles and seven books, most recently Society Tomorrow, Space Anchor, Total Sustainability and You Tomorrow (2nd Edn). I sometimes undertake phone or face-to-face consultancy on any aspect of the future, usually from a technology perspective, using over 30 years experience as a futurologist and engineer. I have demonstrated about 85% accuracy when looking 10-15 years ahead.
I am a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society and a Fellow of the World Academy for Arts and Science and the World innovation Foundation.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Category Archives: Futurology
This article is autobiographical drivel and nothing to do with the future. Read on only if you are bored enough.
I sometimes wanted to be a doctor when I was young, but when I was 17, I looked about 12, and realised that I would probably look about 16 by the time I graduated, and that, believe it or not, is one of the two main reasons I chose to study Physics and Maths at university rather than medicine. (I was proved right – I was last asked what age I was getting on a bus when I was 22, the child discount ending only when you hit 16, and I was last turned away from a night club for being under 18 when I was 25). The 2nd main reason was that although I was reasonably bright, my memory was rubbish, and while Physics and Maths rewards intellect, medicine rewards memory.
I do like to read medical articles occasionally, even if the microbiology and chemistry side of it often leaves me bored. However, I’ve also invented quite a few things in the medical space, so I do find it fun sometimes too.
A few days ago I was very pleased with myself after reading an article on the wondrous properties of Marmite, suspected to increase GABA levels in the brain, and since it mentioned poor memory, anxiety and overactive neurons, some quick Googling then linked that to both epilepsy and childhood febrile seizure.
Suddenly a lot of my family history fell neatly into place. I had such a seizure followed by a coma apparently when my parents cruelly abandoned me screaming at a Scottish petrol station because they counted their kids wrongly. The last thing I recall is their car disappearing into the distance. They did eventually come back for me, but the damage was done. According to google, or rather one of the articles it showed me, these seizures damage the hippocampus, causing lasting problems with memory, and I’ve always had problems memorising stuff. So my first major conclusion from my Googling is that my poor memory was likely caused by my parents abandoning me at the petrol station, and that then caused me to choose Physics and Maths degree, end up as a systems engineer and then a futurologist. So, I am a futurist and not a doctor, because I was abandoned as a child. Hmmm!
Low GABA levels that make kids susceptible to that also cause hyperactive neurons that don’t stop firing properly and cause anxiety, which I and many others in my clan suffer from. I suffer a lot of neural noise, making it hard to play musical instruments because of unwanted signals, hard to settle and relax, hard to ever feel calm, very often feeling unsettled and anxious for no reason. It also links to epilepsy and to transient ischemic attacks and strokes, more family history and again to myself – I had a suspected TIA 3 years ago. On the upside, I do wonder whether that hyperactive neural firing isn’t one of the main reasons why my brain often works well at making cross-links between concepts and imagination-related tasks generally. Or that could be one of the other effects of low GABA, the inefficient neural pruning in teen years that normally should channel the brain into narrowed but more stable thinking processes. That would even explain why I am still waiting to group up, at 56!
As a result of that article, I have eaten a dose of Marmite religiously every single day since I managed to get some, for two days now! It is probably too early to tell if there are any major benefits, though I can already confirm that it doesn’t taste as nice if you eat a teaspoonful straight off the teaspoon rather than on toast.
Google isn’t perfect by a long way, but its search engine makes up for a multitude of sins. My conclusions above might be rubbish, but it was fun coming up with them anyway.
Time moves on. I was just having my daily look at phys.org, a great website that has links to many interesting recent articles across science, and it mentioned that celiac disease (coeliac disease in UK) may be caused by a virus. I know a few people with that, but I don’t. However, a long time ago, in 1989 I did have cancer, a rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma, and I am grateful to be one of the 65% survivors. Because it was rare, with just a few cases a year in the UK, not much was known about it at the time, but it had already been suspected that it might be triggered by a severe trauma or a virus. So, having had my memory triggered by the phys.org article, I checked up to see if there had ever been much progress on that, and yes, it is now known that it is caused by the HTLV-1 virus. (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304341/)
So, I wondered, how did I get it, since Google says it is apparently almost unheard of in native Europeans. That connects to the other suspected cause, trauma. When I was a young man, I was badly injured in a motorbike accident, and my GP later suggested that might possibly have caused the cancer, but he was wrong. The connection wasn’t the trauma itself, but the virus, the infection route being that during my treatment for that trauma, I received several pints of blood, the only mechanism possible for me personally getting the virus. I could not have been infected via the other mechanisms.
So now I know that I must have received contaminated blood and that is what later caused my cancer, though in fairness to the Belfast City Hospital, they could not have known about that at the time so I won’t sue. (I’ll also generously overlook the fact that the Staff Nurse (let’s just call her Elizabeth) tied my traction so wrongly that it was prevented from applying tension to my leg, and it was only corrected weeks later when I was sentient again and complained and finally got someone to fix it, resulting in my left leg being permanently 4cm shorter than my right leg.)
Reading still further, it turns out that HTLV-1 was almost unheard of in native Europeans, therefore it must have been blood from a donor of foreign origin. 1983 Belfast had very few people from the regions most likely to carry the virus – sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Caribbean and a few parts of Japan – so few in fact, that it would very likely be possible to check the blood donor records from that period and infer exactly whose blood it would have been. It is possible they are still alive, still a blood donor, still infecting people with HTLV-1 and up to 1 in 25 of the recipients developing a T-cell lymphoma. On the other hand, since I had cancer, I have been banned from being a blood or bone marrow donor, which I now know actually does make perfect sense.
But hang on, I had my motorbike accident while travelling to work, as an engineer. If I had done a medicine degree, I wouldn’t have been on that road, I’d have been in medical school. So I wouldn’t have needed the blood, wouldn’t have been infected with the virus, and wouldn’t have later got cancer.
So, a fascinating week for me. Several personal and family medical mysteries that our GPs don’t have time or inclination to look into have been solved by two random press articles and the google searches they triggered.
Thanks to two ordinary press articles I now know that something as everyday and trivial as my mother not checking her toddler was in the car before they drove away caused me to be a futurist, via becoming an engineer and having a crash that left me permanently disfigured and later led to cancer. On the fun side, I can solve some everyday issues by eating Marmite, but doing so might adversely affect my thinking process and make me less creative. What a week!
I am cheating with this post, since I did a newspaper interview that writes up some of my ideas and will save time rewriting it all. Here’s a link:
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.
This offer is now over. Sorry if you missed it.
As an early Christmas present, I have made all of my books free just for today on Amazon. The links here are for amazon.co.uk, but the book reference is the same on other branches so just edit the .co.uk to .com or whatever.
You Tomorrow and Society Tomorrow were almost entirely made by adding some of my blogs, tidying up and filling a few gaps.
Total Sustainability takes a system level view of sustainability and contradicts a lot of environmentalist dogma.
Space Anchor is my only Sci-fi novel to date, and features the first ever furry space ship in sci-fi, a gender-fluid AI, and its heroes Carbon Girl and Carbon Man have an almost entirely carbon-based itinerary.
Enjoy reading. Next year I hope to finish my book on future fashion.
I’ve done patches of work on this topic frequently over the last 20 years. It usually features in my books at some point too, but it’s always good to look afresh at anything. Sometimes you see something you didn’t see last time.
Some of the potential future is pretty obvious. I use the word potential, because there are usually choices to be made, regulations that may or may not get in the way, or many other reasons we could divert from the main road or even get blocked completely.
We’ve been learning genetics now for a long time, with a few key breakthroughs. It is certain that our understanding will increase, less certain how far people will be permitted to exploit the potential here in any given time frame. But let’s take a good example to learn a key message first. In IVF, we can filter out embryos that have the ‘wrong’ genes, and use their sibling embryos instead. Few people have a problem with that. At the same time, pregnant women may choose an abortion if they don’t want a child when they discover it is the wrong gender, but in the UK at least, that is illegal. The moral and ethical values of our society are on a random walk though, changing direction frequently. The social assignment of right and wrong can reverse completely in just 30 years. In this example, we saw a complete reversal of attitudes to abortion itself within 30 years, so who is to say we won’t see reversal on the attitude to abortion due to gender? It is unwise to expect that future generations will have the same value sets. In fact, it is highly unlikely that they will.
That lesson likely applies to many technology developments and quite a lot of social ones – such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, both already well into their attitude reversal. At some point, even if something is distasteful to current attitudes, it is pretty likely to be legalized eventually, and hard to ban once the door is opened. There will always be another special case that opens the door a little further. So we should assume that we may eventually use genetics to its full capability, even if it is temporarily blocked for a few decades along the way. The same goes for other biotech, nanotech, IT, AI and any other transhuman enhancements that might come down the road.
So, where can we go in the future? What sorts of splits can we expect in the future human evolution path? It certainly won’t remain as just plain old homo sapiens.
I drew this evolution path a long time ago in the mid 1990s:
It was clear even then that we could connect external IT to the nervous system, eventually the brain, and this would lead to IT-enhanced senses, memory, processing, higher intelligence, hence homo cyberneticus. (No point in having had to suffer Latin at school if you aren’t allowed to get your own back on it later). Meanwhile, genetic enhancement and optimization of selected features would lead to homo optimus. Converging these two – why should you have to choose, why not have a perfect body and an enhanced mind? – you get homo hybridus. Meanwhile, in the robots and AI world, machine intelligence is increasing and we eventually we get the first self-aware AI/robot (it makes little sense to separate the two since networked AI can easily be connected to a machine such as a robot) and this has its own evolution path towards a rich diversity of different kinds of AI and robots, robotus multitudinus. Since both the AI world and the human world could be networked to the same network, it is then easy to see how they could converge, to give homo machinus. This future transhuman would have any of the abilities of humans and machines at its disposal. and eventually the ability to network minds into a shared consciousness. A lot of ordinary conventional humans would remain, but with safe upgrades available, I called them homo sapiens ludditus. As they watch their neighbors getting all the best jobs, winning at all the sports, buying everything, and getting the hottest dates too, many would be tempted to accept the upgrades and homo sapiens might gradually fizzle out.
My future evolution timeline stayed like that for several years. Then in the early 2000s I updated it to include later ideas:
I realized that we could still add AI into computer games long after it becomes comparable with human intelligence, so games like EA’s The Sims might evolve to allow entire civilizations living within a computer game, each aware of their existence, each running just as real a life as you and I. It is perhaps unlikely that we would allow children any time soon to control fully sentient people within a computer game, acting as some sort of a god to them, but who knows, future people will argue that they’re not really real people so it’s OK. Anyway, you could employ them in the game to do real knowledge work, and make money, like slaves. But since you’re nice, you might do an incentive program for them that lets them buy their freedom if they do well, letting them migrate into an android. They could even carry on living in their Sims home and still wander round in our world too.
Emigration from computer games into our world could be high, but the reverse is also possible. If the mind is connected well enough, and enhanced so far by external IT that almost all of it runs on the IT instead of in the brain, then when your body dies, your mind would carry on living. It could live in any world, real or fantasy, or move freely between them. (As I explained in my last blog, it would also be able to travel in time, subject to certain very expensive infrastructural requirements.) As well as migrants coming via electronic immortality route, it would be likely that some people that are unhappy in the real world might prefer to end it all and migrate their minds into a virtual world where they might be happy. As an alternative to suicide, I can imagine that would be a popular route. If they feel better later, they could even come back, using an android. So we’d have an interesting future with lots of variants of people, AI and computer game and fantasy characters migrating among various real and imaginary worlds.
But it doesn’t stop there. Meanwhile, back in the biotech labs, progress is continuing to harness bacteria to make components of electronic circuits (after which the bacteria are dissolved to leave the electronics). Bacteria can also have genes added to emit light or electrical signals. They could later be enhanced so that as well as being able to fabricate electronic components, they could power them too. We might add various other features too, but eventually, we’re likely to end up with bacteria that contain electronics and can connect to other bacteria nearby that contain other electronics to make sophisticated circuits. We could obviously harness self-assembly and self-organisation, which are also progressing nicely. The result is that we will get smart bacteria, collectively making sophisticated, intelligent, conscious entities of a wide variety, with lots of sensory capability distributed over a wide range. Bacteria Sapiens.
I often talk about smart yogurt using such an approach as a key future computing solution. If it were to stay in a yogurt pot, it would be easy to control. But it won’t. A collective bacterial intelligence such as this could gain a global presence, and could exist in land, sea and air, maybe even in space. Allowing lots of different biological properties could allow colonization of every niche. In fact, the first few generations of bacteria sapiens might be smart enough to design their own offspring. They could probably buy or gain access to equipment to fabricate them and release them to multiply. It might be impossible for humans to stop this once it gets to a certain point. Accidents happen, as do rogue regimes, terrorism and general mad-scientist type mischief.
And meanwhile, we’ll also be modifying nature. We’ll be genetically enhancing a wide range of organisms, bringing some back from extinction, creating new ones, adding new features, changing even some of the basic mechanism by which nature works in some cases. We might even create new kinds of DNA or develop substitutes with enhanced capability. We may change nature’s evolution hugely. With a mix of old and new and modified, nature evolves nicely into Gaia Sapiens.
We’re not finished with the evolution chart though. Here is the next one:
Just one thing is added. Homo zombius. I realized eventually that the sci-fi ideas of zombies being created by viruses could be entirely feasible. A few viruses, bacteria and other parasites can affect the brains of the victims and change their behaviour to harness them for their own life cycle.
See http://io9.com/12-real-parasites-that-control-the-lives-of-their-hosts-461313366 for fun.
Bacteria sapiens could be highly versatile. It could make virus variants if need be. It could evolve itself to be able to live in our bodies, maybe penetrate our brains. Bacteria sapiens could make tiny components that connect to brain cells and intercept signals within our brains, or put signals back in. It could read our thoughts, and then control our thoughts. It could essentially convert people into remote controlled robots, or zombies as we usually call them. They could even control muscles directly to a point, so even if the zombie is decapitated, it could carry on for a short while. I used that as part of my storyline in Space Anchor. If future humans have widespread availability of cordless electricity, as they might, then it is far fetched but possible that headless zombies could wander around for ages, using the bacterial sensors to navigate. Homo zombius would be mankind enslaved by bacteria. Hopefully just a few people, but it could be everyone if we lose the battle. Think how difficult a war against bacteria would be, especially if they can penetrate anyone’s brain and intercept thoughts. The Terminator films looks a lot less scary when you compare the Terminator with the real potential of smart yogurt.
Bacteria sapiens might also need to be consulted when humans plan any transhuman upgrades. If they don’t consent, we might not be able to do other transhuman stuff. Transhumans might only be possible if transbacteria allow it.
Not done yet. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about fairies. I suggested fairies are entirely feasible future variants that would be ideally suited to space travel.
They’d also have lots of environmental advantages as well as most other things from the transhuman library. So I think they’re inevitable. So we should add fairies to the future timeline. We need a revised timeline and they certainly deserve their own branch. But I haven’t drawn it yet, hence this blog as an excuse. Before I do and finish this, what else needs to go on it?
Well, time travel in cyberspace is feasible and attractive beyond 2075. It’s not the proper real world time travel that isn’t permitted by physics, but it could feel just like that to those involved, and it could go further than you might think. It certainly will have some effects in the real world, because some of the active members of the society beyond 2075 might be involved in it. It certainly changes the future evolution timeline if people can essentially migrate from one era to another (there are some very strong caveats applicable here that I tried to explain in the blog, so please don’t misquote me as a nutter – I haven’t forgotten basic physics and logic, I’m just suggesting a feasible implementation of cyberspace that would allow time travel within it. It is really a cyberspace bubble that intersects with the real world at the real time front so doesn’t cause any physics problems, but at that intersection, its users can interact fully with the real world and their cultural experiences of time travel are therefore significant to others outside it.)
What else? OK, well there is a very significant community (many millions of people) that engages in all sorts of fantasy in shared on-line worlds, chat rooms and other forums. Fairies, elves, assorted spirits, assorted gods, dwarves, vampires, werewolves, assorted furry animals, assorted aliens, dolls, living statues, mannequins, remote controlled people, assorted inanimate but living objects, plants and of course assorted robot/android variants are just some of those that already exist in principle; I’m sure I’ve forgotten some here and anyway, many more are invented every year so an exhaustive list would quickly become out of date. In most cases, many people already role play these with a great deal of conviction and imagination, not just in standalone games, but in communities, with rich cultures, back-stories and story-lines. So we know there is a strong demand, so we’re only waiting for their implementation once technology catches up, and it certainly will.
Biotech can do a lot, and nanotech and IT can add greatly to that. If you can design any kind of body with almost any kind of properties and constraints and abilities, and add any kind of IT and sensing and networking and sharing and external links for control and access and duplication, we will have an extremely rich diversity of future forms with an infinite variety of subcultures, cross-fertilization, migration and transformation. In fact, I can’t add just a few branches to my timeline. I need millions. So instead I will just lump all these extras into a huge collected category that allows almost anything, called Homo Whateverus.
So, here is the future of human (and associates) evolution, for the next 150 years. A few possible cross-links are omitted for clarity
I won’t be around to watch it all happen. But a lot of you will.
It is very risky naming the final frontier. A frontier is just the far edge of where we’ve got to.
Technology has a habit of opening new doors to new frontiers so it is a fast way of losing face. When Star Trek named space as the final frontier, it was thought to be so. We’d go off into space and keep discovering new worlds, new civilizations, long after we’ve mapped the ocean floor. Space will keep us busy for a while. In thousands of years we may have gone beyond even our own galaxy if we’ve developed faster than light travel somehow, but that just takes us to more space. It’s big, and maybe we’ll never ever get to explore all of it, but it is just a physical space with physical things in it. We can imagine more than just physical things. That means there is stuff to explore beyond space, so space isn’t the final frontier.
So… not space. Not black holes or other galaxies.
Certainly not the ocean floor, however fashionable that might be to claim. We’ll have mapped that in details long before the rest of space. Not the centre of the Earth, for the same reason.
How about cyberspace? Cyberspace physically includes all the memory in all our computers, but also the imaginary spaces that are represented in it. The entire physical universe could be simulated as just a tiny bit of cyberspace, since it only needs to be rendered when someone looks at it. All the computer game environments and virtual shops are part of it too. The cyberspace tree doesn’t have to make a sound unless someone is there to hear it, but it could. The memory in computers is limited, but the cyberspace limits come from imagination of those building or exploring it. It is sort of infinite, but really its outer limits are just a function of our minds.
Games? Dreams? Human Imagination? Love? All very new agey and sickly sweet, but no. Just like cyberspace, these are also all just different products of the human mind, so all of these can be replaced by ‘the human mind’ as a frontier. I’m still not convinced that is the final one though. Even if we extend that to greatly AI-enhanced future human mind, it still won’t be the final frontier. When we AI-enhance ourselves, and connect to the smart AIs too, we have a sort of global consciousness, linking everyone’s minds together as far as each allows. That’s a bigger frontier, since the individual minds and AIs add up to more cooperative capability than they can achieve individually. The frontier is getting bigger and more interesting. You could explore other people directly, share and meld with them. Fun, but still not the final frontier.
Time adds another dimension. We can’t do physical time travel, and even if we can do so in physics labs with tiny particles for tiny time periods, that won’t necessarily translate into a practical time machine to travel in the physical world. We can time travel in cyberspace though, as I explained in
and when our minds are fully networked and everything is recorded, you’ll be able to travel back in time and genuinely interact with people in the past, back to the point where the recording started. You would also be able to travel forwards in time as far as the recording stops and future laws allow (I didn’t fully realise that when I wrote my time travel blog, so I ought to update it, soon). You’d be able to inhabit other peoples’ bodies, share their minds, share consciousness and feelings and emotions and thoughts. The frontier suddenly jumps out a lot once we start that recording, because you can go into the future as far as is continuously permitted. Going into that future allows you to get hold of all the future technologies and bring them back home, short circuiting the future, as long as time police don’t stop you. No, I’m not nuts – if you record everyone’s minds continuously, you can time travel into the future using cyberspace, and the effects extend beyond cyberspace into the real world you inhabit, so although it is certainly a cheat, it is effectively real time travel, backwards and forwards. It needs some security sorted out on warfare, banking and investments, procreation, gambling and so on, as well as lot of other causality issues, but to quote from Back to the Future: ‘What the hell?’ [IMPORTANT EDIT: in my following blog, I revise this a bit and conclude that although time travel to the future in this system lets you do pretty much what you want outside the system, time travel to the past only lets you interact with people and other things supported within the system platform, not the physical universe outside it. This does limit the scope for mischief.]
So, time travel in fully networked fully AI-enhanced cosmically-connected cyberspace/dream-space/imagination/love/games would be a bigger and later frontier. It lets you travel far into the future and so it notionally includes any frontiers invented and included by then. Is it the final one though? Well, there could be some frontiers discovered after the time travel windows are closed. They’d be even finaller, so I won’t bet on it.