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We need to reset society by bursting the bubbles

Looking at the state of democracy across the whole of The West right now, we are in deep poo.

I’ve written often about my concern that tribalism is increasing, that the live-and-let-live attitudes that used to prevail have been evaporation, that people are too quick and too willing to be aggressive against those with whom they disagree,  that common civility and manners are vanishing from politics, and that if we continue, we will end up with the Great Western War, essentially a civil war between an increasingly polarized Left and Right. Although I’ve never been sure about how fast the speed of change would get there, I’ve usually estimated mid-century or soon after.

Recent trends do not encourage optimism. In many cases, people are actually proud of their intolerance of the other side, proud to wear it as a badge. Even more ridiculously many of them call holding such a set of attitudes ‘love’, accusing the other side of being ‘haters’ even as they go out rioting against their existence and vowing never to live peacefully side by side with them because they stand for ‘hate’. It doesn’t bode well for peace, or for language. The love on display in the #lovetrumpshate demos is a doubleplusgood love, 1984 doublespeak for hatred and despising of ‘the other’, not the sort we used to understand. This new ‘love’ is love for those with who you share allegiance, and a deep hatred for everyone else. The very dangerous sort of love that wars are made from. The love I was brought up to understand is a love for others that doesn’t depend on who they are or what they believe. The sort that hates sin but loves the sinner. That’s actually a hard thing to understand and a tough principle to live by but many generations managed to do that. You may disagree with what someone says or does, but you can still love them as a person. That is love, not ‘intolerance of intolerance’, or ‘hating haters’. When you hate others for who they are, even if you rationalize that as being because they are evil, war is a short step away. In rare occasions, such as when it’s Hitler, doing what he did, then war is justified and we actually do take up arms.

If I only had friends I agreed with, I’d have none at all. I disagree often with many of the people who I follow or who follow me, but I am very happy to share the planet with them and to get on as best we can. Thankfully, almost all share that same view and accept me with all my differences. I hardly ever get trolled or called names. I sometimes tease, and sometimes get teased, sometimes I point out a few home truths and sometimes people point out a few of my faults too. And that’s about the limit for what should happen in civil society.

If you really do want a war and you’re prepared to kill others and die yourself for it, then fine, but have a good think about that first. If you’ve never lived through violent conflict first hand, and the nearest you’ve ever got is using a hashtag, waving a banner, emoting or virtue signalling, then grow up, get out of your playpen or safe space, and start behaving like a civilized adult. That involves discussion of tough ideas, it often involves looking at hard and unpleasant facts and it involves reaching very difficult compromises with other people, not just calling them names or sulking in a corner because you didn’t get your way. It’s the difference between being a kidult and an adult, the difference between a luvvie and a leader.

I don’t really need to labor that point, we all see this new intolerance and hatred every day now, whether it’s far right marches or far left ones, #lockherup or #lovetrumpshate, Brexiteers or Remainers, #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter. I’ve said this stuff many times before. We need to learnt to get along. Sure, by all means gently tease the other lot, but accept that while you may not agree with them, they have just as much right to their views as you do to yours.

We may reasonably ask how we got to this state. When Thatcher was the most disliked PM the UK has ever elected, or when Reagan was elected, those who voted the other way accepted the result peacefully. They grieved and moaned a bit for sure, and argued against policies all the time of course, as they indeed should, but democracy carried on peacefully. When Tony Blair was elected, or Bill Clinton, or even George W Bush, it was still peaceful. Even when Obama was voted in just 8 years ago, it was still peaceful. The people who didn’t like it accepted that the pendulum would eventually swing back and they’d get their way again.

Some time during the last decade, the foundations of civilized society have badly eroded and collapse of the walls has started. If we don’t do some much-needed repair, then the Great Western War will go from an idea in a blog to reality.

There are several contributing factors. Replacement of religion by political correctness harnesses the religious zeal of a new convert to PC causes. The energy-intense fuel of sanctimony powers new-found hatred of their own community, as we see manifested in the white protesters whining about #whiteprivilege, cultural appropriation or joining the increasingly anti-white racist #blacklivesmatter movement. This is similar to the rejection of background, friends and family so often seen in new religious converts over the ages. Religion has declined quickly in recent years so this force is an important contributing factor, becoming a secular Spanish Inquisition.

But while secular religion substitution is a powerful force lying behind some of this new divide, it is not the strongest force. For that we need to look at the self-reinforcing social , information and cultural bubbles caused by social networking, and these are what really lie behind this divide growing over the last decade.

Social media such as Facebook provide a strongly insulated protected world where nobody ever needs to see views that differ from what they find comfortable. They are a safe space, a play pen, full of friends and same-thinking celebrities, full of being stroked, and safe from being attacked. Mostly anyway. They are therefore very dangerous places where group think is seeded, germinates and quickly matures, and where alternative views are kept away. Outside social media, the real media is populated and run by those who have become more polarized by these bubbles themselves, so the real media has also become far more polarized. People then watch channels they feel comfortable with and read papers that share the same spin preferences. So the social media and real media become aligned and a superbubble arises that accounts for the entirety of information input.

When people spend so much of their time in these bubbles and when they even get their news from them, filtered and spun to reinforce their existing groupthink, they can build an extremely distorted view of the world that bears little resemblance to reality. They may be wholly unaware of some events because their news source completely filters them out, or they might be aware of some other events, but via such spun reporting and presentation of the facts that they have no real understanding of hat actually happened. On the other side, another group is seeing different sets of events, or very different interpretations of the same ones. I read several newspapers every day, from different parts of the political spectrum, and I am often shocked by just how much difference there is in how they are interpreted and presented to readers. It really is no surprise that each side thinks of the other so badly, when although they are probably actually not very different people, they are seeing extremely different information. Even from the same set of events, people will come to very different conclusion if they only see some of what’s going on, and only though very distorted lenses and filters.

I’d therefore suggest that the biggest problem we face is not that half of the population are nasty horrible people who we should rightly refuse to peacefully co-exist with. The problem is that although the other side is really only slightly different from us, and probably share most of the same desires and values, and really only differ a bit on how best to achieve pretty much the same fair and free society we want, where the poor and unfortunate are protected as much as possible, and people can get on with living free and happy lives as they see fit, but are seeing extremely different information about what is going on because they are locked into different media and social media bubbles.

The problem therefore is the bubbles, not the people. Republicans and Brexiteers are actually not all uneducated misogynist omniphobic bigots. Democrats and Remainers are not all antisemitic antiwhite snowflake commies. A few on either side actually are, but most aren’t. Actually, almost everyone is quite a nice person who just wants to get on with life and will cheerfully help anyone else they can along the way. The problem is that each half thinks the other half are a bunch of idiots and nasties hellbent on wiping them out and destroying the world.

Social media was never meant to be the cause of division. We all imagined that networking would make the world a nicer place. We would all get to know each other better, learn that we’re really not that different, and peace would result. Actually, it has become a force for the amplification of tribalism.

I could speculate further that the deeper problem is advertising. Maybe the polarization has arisen because of self-reinforcement caused by tapping into small differences in personal preferences and pandering to them via advertising for commercial gain, thereby feeding them and making hem bigger. I could, but I need to develop that line of argument and leave it for another blog.

 

 

Estimating potential UK Islamist terrorism: IRA x 13

I wrote last June about the potential level for Islamist terrorism in the UK, where I used a comparison with the Northern Ireland troubles. It is a useful comparison because thanks to various polls and surveys, we know the ratio of actual active terrorist numbers there to the size of the supporter community.

The majority of people there didn’t support the violence, but quite a lot did, about 30% of the community. From the nationalist 245,000, the 30% (75,000) who supported violence resulted in only around 300 front line IRA ‘terrorists’ and another 450 in ‘support roles’ at any one time. The terrorist population churned, with people leaving and joining the IRA throughout, but around 1% of 30% of that 245,000 were IRA members at any one time.

We’ve recently had another survey on UK Muslims conducted for the BBC that included attitudes to violence. You can read the figures from the survey here:

http://comres.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/BBC-Today-Programme_British-Muslims-Poll_FINAL-Tables_Feb2015.pdf

The figures they found are a little worse than the estimates I used last year, and we have slightly higher population estimates too, so it is time to do an update. The 30% support for violence attributed to the Northern Ireland nationalist community is very similar to the 32% found for the UK Muslim community. Perhaps 30% violence support is human nature rather than peculiar to a particular community. Perhaps all that is needed is a common grievance.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, 68% of UK Muslims claimed that they didn’t think violence was justified if someone ‘publishes images of the Prophet Mohammed’. The survey didn’t specify what kind of images of the Prophet were to be hypothetically published, or even that they were insulting, it just said ‘images’. That 68% gives us a first actual figure for what is often referred to as ‘the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims in Britain’. 32% either said they supported violence or wouldn’t say.

(The survey also did not ask the non-Muslim population whether they would support violence in particular circumstances, and I haven’t personally found the people I know in Great Britain to be more civilized than those I knew in Northern Ireland. If the same 30% applies when a common grievance exists, then at least we can take some comfort that we are all the same when we are angry over something.)

Some other surveys around the world in the last few years have confirmed that only around 30% of Muslims support violence against those who offend Islam. Just like in Northern Ireland, almost all of those supporters would not get directly involved in violence themselves, but would simply approve of it when it happens.

Let’s translate that into an estimate of potential Islamist terrorism. There are no accurate figures for the UK Muslim population, but it is likely now to be around 3 million. Around 32% of that is around a million; there is no point aiming for higher precision than that since the data just doesn’t exist. So around a million UK Muslims would state some support for violence. From that million, only a tiny number would be potential terrorists. The IRA drew its 750 members from a violence supporter base of 75,000, so about one percent of supporters of violence were prepared to be IRA members and only 40% of those joined the equivalent of ‘active service units’, i.e. the ones that plant bombs or shoot people.

Another similarity to Northern Ireland is that the survey found that 45% of UK Muslims felt that prejudice against them made it difficult to live here, and in Northern Ireland, 45% of nationalists supported the political motives of the IRA even if only 30% condoned its violence, so the level of grievance against the rest of the population seems similar. Given that similarity and that the 32% violence support level is also similar, it is only a small leap of logic to apply the same 1% to terrorist group recruitment might also apply. Taking 1% of 1 million suggests that if Islamist violence were to achieve critical mass, a steady 10,000 UK Muslims might eventually belong to Islamist terrorist groups and 0.4% or 4000 of those in front line roles. By comparison, the IRA at its peak had 750, with 300 on the front line.

So based on this latest BBC survey, if Islamists are allowed to get a grip, the number of Islamist terrorists in the UK could be about 13 times as numerous as the IRA at the height of ‘The Troubles’. There is a further comparison to be had of an ISIS-style terrorist v an IRA-style terrorist but that is too subjective to quantify, except to note that the IRA at least used to give warnings of most of their bombs.

That is only one side of the potential conflict of course, and the figures for far right opposition groups suggest an anti-Islamist terrorist response that might not be much smaller. Around 1.25 million support far right groups, and I would guess that more than 30% of those would support violence and more would be willing to get directly involved, so with a little hand-waving the problem looks symmetrical, just as it was in Northern Ireland.

If the potential level of violence is 13 times worse than the height of the Troubles, it is clearly very important that Islamists are not allowed to get sufficient traction or we will have a large problem. We should also be conscious that violence in one region might spread to others and this could extend to a European problem. On a positive note, if our leaders and security forces do their jobs well, we may see no significant problem at all.

Corporate morality

I wrote about many forms of exploitation in my book Total Sustainability and many of the things we dislike about business come down to that. There exists a stereotypical business executive for whom getting to the top is all that matters, and it doesn’t matter how many people they walk over on the way. Their mantra: “business is business.” Some executives are proud of being ruthless and scornful of factoring any morality into their deals, taking maximum advantage of any weakness in their opposition wherever they can. Thankfully, those in that stereotype are the minority. Most business people are decent people trying to make an honest living by providing good products and services to their customers while treating their employees as well as they can. The proof of that is that business scandals still make the news. Most people exercise the same sort of moral behavior in their companies that they do in everyday life and some studies have shown that around 90% of people are good and honest.

Anthony Howard wrote a blog on the issue of corporate moral obligation too, at: http://anthonyphoward.com/do-boards-have-any-moral-obligation/

Unsurprisingly, our views overlap. Most people agree that amoral and immoral corporates will have to behave better, and if they don’t they will face consequences thanks to the transparency and immediacy of the net and the speed at which consequences can appear. The ethical wolf is at the door.

In the age of corporate social responsibility and instantaneous network shaming, most companies already understand that they must appear to be doing the right thing so they have CSR departments. In most but not all cases, the CSR Department’s job is actually to figure out how to do better rather than replicating the marketing department job of spinning reality to achieve the best message. The few that pick the latter approach face regular social media embarrassment. Sunlight is a good disinfectant.

A few companies seem to aim for the minimum legal standards. As Anthony observed, their view is that they can do anything legal and that if people want them to behave better than the law should be changed to force them to. Some try to spin being greedy and irresponsible as fulfilling their corporate duties to their owners as well as possible. Voluntary codes simply don’t work to ensure good behavior when some companies take the line that anything goes if it’s legal. These companies believe that nice guys finish last, and spoil the markets for everyone. Forcing nasty people and nasty companies to do what nice people and nice companies do voluntarily adds very expensive rule-making, administration, checks and policing that everyone then has to pay for. Until then, there is temptation for the nice guys to behave worse to keep up with the bad guys.

That the law is badly written with lots of loopholes and with major differences still between nations reflects very badly on governments and the international governance that they have negotiated. Companies can still avoid paying fair taxes just by moving money among their offices in different countries, or duck environmental rules by moving operations or exploit employees by picking the right host country. These are legal but not moral. Bad laws do not justify bad behavior, even if they do accidentally permit it. Behaving ruthlessly and searching for loopholes to use does not make you a business genius, it just means you are a nasty exploitative person who happens to be in business.

Social networks and effective media are good at exposing bad practices and rewarding better ones and as the networks continue to mature, transparency may improve further.

One issue though that may tip the balance over the coming years is machine intelligence. People on company boards know they should act responsibly, that their company is a part of the wider economy, and most board members’ humanity would make them inclined to try to be responsible and to give something, not just be a parasite. If they choose to be parasitic, though it may be legal, they will face frequent conflict and shaming and ultimately their market suffers. Human nature includes emotions a strong moral enforcement mechanism. Nasty people can choose to ignore it, but most people are not nasty.

A machine-AI-based company might not care about being disliked but would still face social backlash and market decline if it behaves badly. The trouble is, although most machine-run companies would presumably be initially set up to behave well, others may be deliberately tuned to be as exploitative as they can get away with. Some such AI companies could be inherently agile, mobile, and even capable of evolving, just evolutionary algorithms wandering the clouds, immediately exploiting any weaknesses in any niches they find for a fast buck, rather like the malware we’re already used to but more effective. This is the next generation of the same sort of AI already embedded in City trading. Bankers may be disliked but they will seem like angels compared to the gutter level of next generation AI companies.

In the human system, backlash against bankers eventually led to a politically motivated crackdown on practices and rewards, and even though they have lobbied and fought to delay real punishment there can be little doubt that it is a battle they will eventually lose. More recently, backlash against global corporate tax avoidance has also resulted in new regulations and taxes.

With AI companies psychologically immune to emotional or political pressures, there is only one approach that can work and that is to fix the global corporate taxation treaties and other regulation, fixing the loopholes and bringing it all into line with what people consider reasonable behavior rather than the minimum acceptable. That is quite a task. Shabby lawmaking has been with us  far too long and there are lots of things to fix. But if political pressures haven’t been strong enough yet to get the task well under way, it won’t be much longer before they are. It will be difficult and expensive, but there will be no choice.

When that’s done, companies can still behave very well if they wish and reap deserved market benefits, but amoral and immoral companies will have no choice but to behave at the levels deemed reasonable.

However…

This solution requires that it is possible to police activity online and to block or eliminate rogue AI companies. Those that stick to the law would not be a problem, but some won’t if it possible to evade detection. With our national security services already moaning about the latest encryption systems, it may well be possible and even easy to evade detection long enough to make a quick profit, evolve,  and move on with a fresh instance to another target. Not all industries are susceptible of course. If manufacturing or distribution of physical products is required, then policing can move back into the physical world. If it is just electronic business such as mediating or advising or providing data, then companies could arise, exploit, cash in and move on within very short times, theoretically fractions of a second. Heavily encrypted organisations that only exists short times and are distributed among many servers may be impossible to police. Without policing, temptation is strong, and AIs could be set up to set up other AIs to set up other AIs to exploit whatever they can however they can and deposit the rewards in complex chains of accounts, also managed by AIs to provide fund extraction on demand.

This scenario is technologically feasible and could become a foundation of the future online criminal industry. It is limited to certain niches though, so it isn’t much of a nightmare. Most of industry and commerce still has to function within the law to do business effectively. The companies in those very dominant sectors will behave reasonably or better.

So… the future has a similar pattern to today – most companies behaving well or OK, and a few rogues, but the balance will be better. The minimum standards are likely to be higher, more of the holes in the rules will be sealed, and there will be a better relationship between companies and the communities in which they do business. Not perfect, but still better. I’ll settle for that.

 

Railgun water pistols

August is meant to be the silly season so here’s my contribution.

There is something about railguns that generates ‘I want one of those’ thoughts.

bae railgun

BAE Systems Railgun

 

See: http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/navy-wants-fire-its-ridiculously-strong-railgun-ocean

about the US Navy 5000mph projectile. Or:

http://www.guns.com/2014/04/08/u-s-navys-32-megajoule-rail-gun-one-step-closer-blue-water-video/

Most people have no idea how fast normal missiles go so it’s hard to visualise it, but many missiles travel below the speed of sound and only a few go faster than Mach 2. So 5000mph is pretty fast. Few bullets go faster than 1000mph.

Rail guns are not the old-fashioned big guns that used to be transported by rail. They are electromagnetic guns that send enormous currents down two rails and use a projectile or sled to electrically join the two rails. Magnetic forces propel the sled at high speed.

Anyway, I wondered whether you could make a better water pistol for domestic use using rail gun technology. If you attempt to get rid of a cat from your garden by squirting it with water from a water pistol such as the wonderful Super Soaker, it runs away as soon as it hears the hiss from the escaping water, or so I’ve heard. Please don’t do this – cats are probably nice gentle creatures at heart that have the utmost respect for bird life, always poo in the bushes and away from the flower beds and are probably innocent victims of specist slurs.

Rail guns use either the projectile itself or a sled as part of the conducting circuit. Salty water conducts, so a water jet might work a bit, but probably not enough. Nor milk, for much the same reason. I suspect that far too much of the electricity would be converted to heat and you’d risk scalding the cat, which would be cruel. However, using a sled within the water pistol to push the water out would probably work a lot better.

The Navy railgun uses 25MW of electricity to fire its projectile at 5000mph, with 32MJ of energy. That is  probably a bit over the top for a water pistol and it is also illegal in some countries to make one that could be used as a serious weapon unless you have a license. It would also make rather a mess of the cat. 55mph or 25m/s is probably adequate (according to http://www.tomsguide.com/us/water-gun-tests,review-1313-9.html, a Super Soaker only has a muzzle velocity of around 50 ft per second or 15m/s, so 25m/s is a LOT better, but still less than half the speed of a BB gun), and by the time the cat takes a soaking it would be much slower so wouldn’t hurt it. Even for the same mass, E=0.5MV^2 rule says that 55mph needs about 10,000 times less energy, but we also don’t need as much mass. Even 10ml (two teaspoonfuls) of water is enough to wet a cat enough that it won’t come back for a while and small enough volume to fit in compartment to fire as a package rather than as long feeble squirt. 0.5 x 0.01kg  x 25^2 = 3.125J, roughly one ten millionth as much as the navy gun. (Or you could discourage 10 million cats using the navy version).

The water has to reach that 25m/s in the 75cm that a reasonable water pistol sniper rifle could be so it has to accelerate at 33m/s^2, only about 3.5g. That all sounds very feasible to me. 0.75=-.5 x 33 t^2 gives the time t as 0.2s, which gives a power requirement of 15W. Easy.

A quick googling shows that you can easily get 18v, 3.0 amp hr lithium ion batteries for reasonable price (below $75) that produce over 50W for up to an hour. A superior water pistol could use rapid fire to issue three such water packets per second, 60% faster than a Super Soaker, and emptying a 300ml water tank in 10 seconds. So our superior rapid-fire water rail gun sniper rifle sounds entirely feasible. Far better than a Super Soaker, and still far safer than a BB gun.

I want one of those.

I guess in principle, it doesn’t really have to be a rail gun. It could just use some sort of chain to push out compartments of water at the same speed, with the same power limits. But that would just be boring. Sometimes style is as important as substance.

 

Future human evolution

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:

human evolution 1

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:

human evolution 2

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:

human evolution 3

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.

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/fairies-will-dominate-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

evolution

I won’t be around to watch it all happen. But a lot of you will.

 

Future reproduction for same-sex couples

My writing on the future of gender and same sex reproduction now forms a section of my new book You Tomorrow, Second Edition, on the future of humanity, gender, lifestyle and our surroundings. Available from Amazon as paper and ebook.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-Ian-Pearson-ebook/dp/B00G8DLB24/

or

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-humanity-belongings-surroundings/dp/1491278269

Revised comments policy

Now that my blog is getting more grown up, I should make a more sensible comments policy. I don’t provide a platform for every attention-seeking nutter out there. I welcome general comments, praise, criticisms, requests for clarifications and anything generally useful or reasonable. Most will still get published. I won’t publish some comments:

The comments are really thinly disguised ads;

a) The commenter obviously hasn’t shown me the courtesy of actually reading the entry they are supposedly commenting about’

b) The comments contain anything abusive, offensive, or illegal, such as  racist comments, incitement to violence etc

c) Comments whose main line of argument is ‘I would do it that way and that would be stupid, therefore you are stupid’;

d) The proposal that is clearly stated as being designed for x won’t work well in y, therefore is rubbish (irate New York bicycle riders please take note, some of you fall foul of a, c and d)

e) Comments that insist on citations for every point of my argument. I can use Google, so can you. Ditto comments demanding massive research projects. Give me a lab with generous staff and funding and we can chat.

Please note that while I have time to reply sometimes, I can’t always respond. Also, my blog articles are not intended to be of professional journal quality (I write those directly for the professional journals). Often they are just to introduce an idea at a superficial level, so I don’t aim for completeness or list citations.

Police commissioners. I just don’t see the point.

Rant warning: No futurology ahead, just rant.

What a fiasco! Who was the twit who decided we all must have police commissioners and worse still must all decide who they are, as if we haven’t enough to think about already? This isn’t Batman, I don’t live in Gotham City, except occasionally on my Xbox! We already have a well paid home secretary who is meant to get the well paid police to do what they are paid for. Why should we have a different kind of police in Suffolk to what they have in Essex. Surely nobody wants crime in their area, and nobody wants their police to spend all their time chasing twitter users rather than proper villains just because they are easier to catch. And I certainly don’t want the behaviour of police in my area decided by other people with some local axe to grind, I’d much rather have exactly the same as everywhere else in the country please. I just don’t get it, and neither do the 85% of the population who also didn’t bother to vote, and it is a safe bet many who did were only doing so out of some sense of democratic duty. I just hope that the people that voted aren’t just all the busybodies who want police interfering in everything. I don’t want a police commissioner and I feel sure we’d be better off without them.

What’s next? Do we vote on head of regional rail authority,  the head of the local post office, the head of cleaning staff at the local hospital, someone to decide on the decor on the bin lorries? I don’t see why policing is any different. If chief constables need to be told what they should be doing, they should be replaced by someone more competent.

Any local special priorities ought to be obvious to chief constables. They presumably live in the area and know how it differs from other regions, if at all. If the chief constable is showing a bias or a bias towards a particular political affiliation, gender, sexuality or ethnic group then they should be replaced. We shouldn’t need a commissioner to do that. The police on the telly always know what they are meant to be doing. Significant numbers of complaints to a local MP, escalated through the channels to home secretary if need be would work just fine. When government is meant to be struggling to decide over spending cut targets, we shouldn’t be creating yet more unnecessary but expensive public sector jobs.

Argh! Rant over.

How much choice should you have?

Like most people I can’t get through an hour without using Google. They are taking a lot of flak at the moment over privacy concerns, as are Apple, Facebook and other big IT companies. There are two sides to this though.

On one side, you need to know what is being done and want the option to opt out of personal information sharing, tracing and other big brothery types of things.

On the other, and we keep forgetting this, most people have no idea what they want. Ford noted that if you asked the customer what they wanted, they would say a faster horse. Sony’s Akio Morita observed that there was little point in doing customer surveys because customers have no idea what is possible. He went ahead and made the Walkman, knowing that people would buy it, even though no-one had asked for it. Great visions often live far ahead of customer desires. Sometimes it is best just to do it and then ask.

I think to a large extent, these big IT companies are in that same boat.

If your collective IT knows what you do all day (and by that I mean all your gadgets, and all the apps and web services and cloud stuff you use), and it knows a hell of a lot, then it is possible to make your life a lot easier by providing you with a very talented and benign almost telepathic personal assistant. Pretty much for free, at point of delivery anyway.

If we hold companies back with  too many legal barriers because of quite legitimate privacy concerns, this won’t happen properly. We will get a system with too much internal friction that fails frequently and never quite works.

But can we trust them? Apple, Google and Facebook all have far too much arrogance at the moment, so perhaps they do need to be put in their place. But they aren’t evil dictators. They don’t want to harm us at all, they just want to find new ways to help us because it’s on the back of those services that they can get even richer and more powerful. Is that good or bad?

I deleted and paused my web history on Google and keep my privacy settings tight on everything else. Maybe you do the same. But I actually can’t wait till they develop all the fantastic new services they are working on. As a technology futurologist I have a pretty good idea how it will be, I’ve been lecturing about Google’s new augmented reality headset since 3 years before Google existed. Once everyone else has taken all the risks and it’s all safely up and running, I’ll let them have it all. Trouble is, if we all do that it won’t happen.

Avatar 0.0

There has been some activity in recent weeks on the development of avatars, as in the film, or at least some agreement on feasibility and intention to develop, with real actual funding.

The concept is that you could inhabit another body and feel it is yours. I have written many times about direct brain links, superhuman AIs, shared consciousness and so on, since 1992, and considered a variety of ways of connecting. It has been fun exploring the possibilities and some of the obvious applications and dangers. For a few years it seemed to be just Kurzweil and me, but gradually a number of people joined in, often labelling themselves transhumanists. Now that it is more obvious how the technology might spin out, the ideas are becoming quite mainstream and no longer considered the realm of cranks. Many quite respectable scientists are now involved.

Google DARPA and avatar and you’ll see a lot of recent commentary on the DARPA project to create surrogate soldiers, just like we see them in the film. Not tomorrow, but by around 2045. Why then? Well, 2045 is the date when some of us expect to be able to do a full direct brain link, at least in prototype. I think with a lot of funding and the right brains involved, it is entirely achievable then.

But DARPA won’t have it all to themselves. The Russians are also looking at it, and hosted a recent conference. Dmitry Itskov, founder of Russia 2045, has been given permission to develop his own avatar program. Check this out:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44938297/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/does-future-hold-avatar-like-bodies-us/#.T0YoIPFmKom

From their conference press release:

The first Global Future Congress 2045 (GF2045) was held on Feb.17-20 in Moscow, where 56 world leading physicists, biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers met to discuss breakthroughs in life extension technologies and draft a resolution to the United Nations setting the radical lengthening of human lifespan and the creation of Avatars as a priority for preservation of humankind.

About 500 people attended the three-day event featuring presentations by over 50 scientists including inventor Ray Kurzweil, Microsoft Research Director Rane Johnson-Stempson, and Astronaut Sergey Krichevskiy. The event was focused on breakthrough technologies that could create a synthetic body-vessel for the mind, offering humans unlimited prolongation of life to the point of immortality…..

Among the featured life-extension projects is “2045” a Russia-based Avatar project consisting of three phases. First, to create a humanoid robot named “Avatar”, and a state-of-the-art brain-computer interface system. Next, to create a life support system between the “Avatar” and the human brain. The final step is creating an artificial brain in which to transfer the original individual consciousness.

Development of a cybernetic body. This is about as advanced as it gets currently. You can link to nerves, and transmit signals to and from them to capture and relay sensations. But this will progress quickly over coming years as we start seeing strong positive feedback among the nano-bio-info-cogno disciplines. I’m just annoyed that I am not just starting my career about now, it would be an excellent time to do so. But at least I’ll get pleasure from saying ‘I told you so’ a few times.

I won’t repeat all the exciting possibilities for the military, sex and games industries, or electronic immortality, I’ve blogged enough on these. For now, it’s just great to see the field moving another important step further from sci-fi into the realms of reality