The Evolution of Civilization

Since our current growth rate in some areas of technology is accelerating toward a singularity threshold, it is difficult to predict what our civilization will be like in only a few hundred years. To describe civilization a thousand years from now is nearly impossible to accomplish with any confidence of accuracy.

It might be reasonable to postulate that some of the growth curves we see in our civilization will slow down or some unexpected event will change things. But it’s also possible that the rate of change will speed up or an unexpected breakthrough will create an entirely new level of technology that nobody anticipates.

The elements of our technology that have seemed to drive the historical expansion of the ability of human civilization include: energy, tools, transportation, communications and most recently, computing.

BIOLOGY – our understanding of biology seems fairly primitive, but it may not remain that way for long. Besides offering insights into how nature works, the main impact of biology has been to extend human life expectancy. It is easy to suggest that within the next 25-50 years, our life expectancy will be approaching “unlimited”. Genetic engineering will soon be making it possible to create new lifeforms designed for specific purposes. This will probably solve a lot of old problems (agriculture, environment), but it has the potential to create as many new hazards. How all of this will effect our civilization as a whole, over a long span of time is unclear.

ETHICS – the consideration of what is best is not usually included in any accounting of technological growth, but it should. Technology and tools always amplify human effort, with no regard to whether that effort is well considered or not. Unethical or misaligned efforts are magnified to great negative effect. As the level of technology increases, the amplification reaches the point where it is capable of destroying the entire civilization. Our ethical growth needs to at least match our growth in knowledge of science and technology or we are doomed to make fatal mistakes. It probably needs to grow faster than the other trends to assure our survival.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE – at the moment, a “general” or “strong” AI that rivals human intelligence and can be considered conscious is a theory. But like human life expectancy, it’s easy to suggest that this will happen within the next 10-20 years. Just like all other forms of technology, this one will amplify, but unlike other forms, this one is a universal amplifier, not restricted to energy or transportation or communications. An advanced AI is our best hope to leapfrog our understanding of ethics forward and might be considered a survival necessity.

NANOTECHNOLOGY – the rapid advancement of nanotechnology, like AI, has the potential to become a nearly universal amplifier. Creating new tools, that are smaller and more precise, and can operate at a level never before considered seriously, will revolutionize most conventional fields of science. Creating new materials for the new tools to operate on, pushes our ability toward a real breakthrough level of new technology.

ROBOTICS – is also an amplifier and is a self-amplifier. Robots can build other robots and repair robots. Paired with AI, it becomes a huge amplifier and combined with good ethics, becomes a huge amplifier for the positive. Robotics, like computer programming, allows us to put into motion unattended processes that continue to work, amplifying time.

COMPUTING – continues to be driven by Moore’s Law, doubling in the number of transistors on an integrated circuit every two years. For over fifty years, this trend line has continued and while it makes sense that there has to be some limit, by the time it is reached, integrated circuits may have been replaced by new technology. In the meantime, nanotechnology promises to push us to ever smaller and more precise tooling capability. As software races to catch up with the expansions in hardware, AI follows.

Let’s take a look at some of the projections we might make about our own civilization only one hundred years from now:

  • Humans will be virtually immortal, at least with some theoretical ability to live forever, failing accidental death
  • A new level of expertise in ethics will be driven by AI which in turn is driven by computing advances. Better ethics means fewer mistakes, fewer wars, less social strife, more focused advancement, etc.
  • Robotics automates most production and sustaining efforts, freeing humans from “working” and allowing a concentration on enhancement.
  • Nano-scale tools create fundamental changes in the way everything is done.
  • Energy, transportation and communications related technologies fade in importance as game changing factors.

Our civilization is only about ten thousand years old, but in the next one hundred years, we will easily eclipse all the previous expansion in science, technology and knowledge. The advancements described in this article are coming in less than one hundred years, perhaps in only a few decades. It strains the limits of our imagination to create a vision of only one hundred years from now. Anything beyond that is well past the singularity horizon event that obscures the future from our viewpoint.

Singularity Theory May Explain Fermi Paradox
Dunning Singularity Horizon
Ethical Cascade Singularity

Comments are closed.