Why I'm Not Worried About Climate Change

In Norway, where I live, there's a lot of focus on climate change in the media, and it seems many people have a negative view of the future because of this, and I fear this situation might not be unique to Norway.

According to the media, there's a scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming and climate change, and if we don't reduce our CO2 emissions drastically, there will be enormous negative consequences.

It is true that human CO2 emissions are causing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to rise, and with CO2 being a greenhouse gas, I'd say it's very likely that this is causing the average global temperature to be higher than it otherwise would be. Most of us can probably agree on that.

Then there's the question of whether the measured increase in temperature over the last century is caused mainly by human activity or not. I wouldn't be surprised if the answer to this is that yes, human activity is the main cause. However, scientists aren't as convinced about this as the media is telling us. You may think there's a consensus among climate scientists that humans are the main cause of global warming. There probably isn't.

One oft-cited paper that supposedly shows that almost all climate scientists think humans are the main cause of global warming is Cook et al. (2013), titled "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature." Cook et al. have gone through the abstracts of thousands of climate science articles and for each abstract noted what view, if any, is expressed about the role of humans in regards to global warming. The paper itself does not claim that 97% of climate scientist believe humans are the main cause of global warming, but that's how it's been interpreted, and Cook, the lead author, was co-author of another paper (Bedford and Cook (2013)) which claimed that

Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 % endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

David Friedman, an economist who checked the numbers and wrote a blog post about it, notes that "John Cook surely knows the contents of his own paper. Hence the sentence in question is a deliberate lie."

What Cook et al. actually found, based on their own data, was merely that "Of the approximately one third of climate scientists writing on global warming who stated a position on the role of humans, 97% thought humans contribute [at least] somewhat to global warming." And it found that the number of climate scientists who believe humans are the main cause of global warming is 1.6%.

These numbers were calculated based on opinions expressed in paper abstracts, and not interviews with the scientists, so the real number might be higher than 1.6%, but that could not be shown based on the data included in the Cook et al. paper.

Whether humans are the main cause of global warming or not is not that important, though. Whether mainly caused by humans or not, the consequences of global warming will be the same.

An important question to ask at this point is whether a higher average global temperature is mostly good or mostly bad. People who worry about climate change tend to focus on the negative effects, while the other side may tend to focus too much on the positive effects. Naturally, there are both positive and negative effects, but quantifying them is hard, so determining whether global warming will be good or bad on net is not feasible.

According to Matt Ridley, the most important positive effects of global warming include "fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity." More CO2 in the atmosphere also leads to a greener planet since more CO2 makes plants grow faster. If we also include very low probability events, there's a theoretical chance that more CO2 in the atmosphere can prevent another ice age.

Another question to ask is whether the measured temperature increase over the last century is correct. Measuring global temperature is harder than you might think, and although we have gotten better at it, the uncertainties in the average global temperature are still quite large, at least ±0.46°C, according to this 2010 paper. According to the paper's abstract, this means that the rate and magnitude of 20th century warming are unknowable. There probably has been an increase in temperatures, but we cannot know exactly how fast temperatures are rising.

But let's assume the official numbers are correct and that humans are indeed the main cause of global warming. Should you be worried? I actually don't think so.

Take a look at this graph from The Economist:

The graph shows that, since 1900, the number of deaths from natural disasters has plummeted. This is extremely good news, and if we take into account that the population has risen by about a factor of 5 over the same time period, this means that your chances of dying from natural disasters has decreased five times more than the graph shows.

What might at first glance seem worrying, though, when you look at the graph is the steep rise in the number of natural disasters. However, what's important to realize is that this is the number of reported natural disasters, not the actual number of disasters. I don't think there are many people who actually believe that the annual number of natural disasters was almost zero in 1900, while today it's several hundred. A higher percentage of the actually occurring natural disasters are obviously being reported today than previously, so the graph isn't really telling us anything meaningful about the trend in the number of natural disasters.

What it does hint at, though, is that the number of reported deaths from natural disasters - like the number of disasters - may have been underreported in the past. If that's the case, today's number of deaths from natural disasters are even lower compared with a century ago.

The reason for this huge increase in safety from natural disasters is that we are richer and more resourceful than in 1900 - our technology is better, so we can more easily protect ourselves from nature.

Technological progress is exponential, and so improves faster every year. This means that if there are no one-off huge disasters like volcanic eruptions, we should expect the number of deaths from natural disasters to continue to decrease in the foreseeable future.

What this also means is that it will be easier - and thus less expensive - to influence the global climate in the future than it is today, since we'll have more capable technologies in the future.

Reversing global warming could thus be possible and feasible in the future. However, at the present time, doing something about it on a global scale is extremely expensive. So, another important question to ask is whether the potential problem of global warming should be solved globally; or locally by adapting to the changes. According to the 50 to 1 project, the global solution is about 50 times more expensive than adapting to a changing climate. They (claim that they) made the calculations based on data that's accepted by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Also, bear in mind that global warming will have positive as well as negative effects. If we allow global warming to continue, we will definitely reap some benefits from it. In addition, by adapting instead of trying to stop or reverse global warming, we save trillions of dollars that can be used for other (hopefully better) things: To cure disease and aging, alleviate poverty, clean up the world's oceans, educate the uneducated, et cetera.

But wouldn't it be good if renewable energy sources could take over for fossil fuels? And don't we need politicians to regulate our behavior for that to happen? Actually, we don't. This is going to happen regardless of politics. Ray Kurzweil, the famous futurist who works on artificial intelligence as a lead engineer at Google, recently gave a speech 1) at a technology conference in Norway. When asked about climate change, he replied:

Well, I mentioned that renewables - solar in particular, but also wind and geothermal - are growing exponentially. If you add them all together, it's only 5 or 6 doublings from 100% at about 2 years per doubling. So we're not far from [them] really being able to provide all of our energy needs, and they'll be subject to this very significant deflation rate, so it'll be relatively inexpensive, and the sunlight is free. As I mentioned, we have 10,000 times more [sunlight] than we need to meet all of our energy needs. So that is happening. I've talked to people responsible for the, for example, Saudi Arabian fund. Their view is that they have 20 years. I think that's actually optimistic, but they do realize that that business model of exploiting fossil fuels is not going to last forever.

That renewables are going to take over for fossil fuels may be hard to believe for many people, but take a look at how the price of solar energy, and the amount of energy we get from solar, have evolved over the past decades:

As the price has come down, the amount of energy we get from solar has gone up. Today, in sunny parts of the world, unsubsidized solar is actually the very cheapest form of energy, cheaper than any fossil fuel, including natural gas and coal. And now that we don't even have to subsidize solar for it to be competitive, the market forces have taken over and the rise of solar just cannot be stopped!

Although CO2 is taken up by plants and oceans, most of the CO2 we produce will linger in the atmosphere for a very long time, so even if we stop emitting it, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere might almost not go down. My very unscientific opinion is that that's probably not a big problem. But let's assume that it is a problem, as K. Eric Drexler, author of Engines Of Creation - The Coming Era Of Nanotechnology (1986), thinks.

If it does turn out to be a big problem, it will be much cheaper to fix it a few decades into the future than to fix it now, even though the amount of CO2 we have to remove is larger in the future. The reason is, again, that technology advances exponentially. We'll have much more capable technologies, and so the price of accomplishing these things will also be much lower. Here's Drexler:

[T]o have the the 21st century have a planet that resembles what we've had in the previous human history will require taking the CO2 levels down, and that is an enormous project. One can calculate the energy required - it's huge, the area of photovoltaics required to generate that energy is enormous, the costs are out of range of what can be handled by the world today.

But the prospects with a better means of making things, more efficient, more capable, are to be able to do a project of that scale, at low cost, taking molecular devices, removing molecules from the atmosphere. Photovoltaics produced at low cost to power those machines can draw down CO2 and fix the greenhouse gas problem in a moderate length of time once we pass the threshold of having those technologies [...] We now have in hand tools for beginning to build with atomic precision, and we can see pathways from [here] to a truly transformative technology.

Drexler is a nanotechnology pioneer, and what he's saying is that we'll be able to use nanotechnology to build machines at the molecular level - with atomic precision. These can be mass produced at extremely low cost, and some of those machines can be designed to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Capturing enough CO2 to matter from the atmosphere today would be prohibitively expensive, but by using the molecular machines Drexler envisions, it could be done much more cheaply, especially if we have enough almost free solar energy to power the process.

Conclusion

  • Climate change may not be as big a problem as the media is telling us
  • Humans may or may not be the main cause of global warming
  • We cannot know whether the net effect of global warming will be good or bad
  • The number of deaths from natural disasters has plummeted
  • Adapting to climate change is probably a lot less expensive than trying to "fix it" on a global level
  • Renewables are going to take over for fossil fuels during the next two decades

And if climate change turns out to be mostly bad, it will be possible and relatively cheap to remove CO2 from the atmosphere with nanotechnology in the future. Also, the more pressing a problem is, the more resources will be spent on trying to solve it, so, in my opinion, climate change (or global warming) is not a threat to human civilization, and I don't think you should worry about it.


1) Unfortunately it's behind a paywall.

In A Hundred Years, There May Be No Politicians

pants on fire saying cartoon

Although the current way of organizing society may seem like the only natural way, democracy and the nation state are relatively recent phenomena, and we shouldn't take for granted that they will stay with us forever. Most people would probably agree with that, but 100 years isn't exactly forever... Could it really change that fast?

Society has already changed enormously over the past couple of centuries, and technological progress has been a very important factor in bringing about this change. The rate of technological change has been speeding up until the present day and is expected to continue to accelerate in the foreseeable future.

It's hard to predict how society will change in the future. It's probably a lot easier to predict some of the ways in which technology is going to improve. A somewhat correct understanding of the future of technology will at least make it easier to predict societal change than if you don't have this knowledge.

So let's start with the future of technology.

Many science fiction movies depict a future in which one specific technology has advanced well beyond today's capabilities while every other technology has seemingly stagnated at current levels. An example is the movie Passengers, where they've had interstellar travel for at least a century, yet they still age and die exactly like people do today... Naturally, it's extremely unlikely that the future will unfold in this way.

Scientists and engineers all over the world are working hard to make progress in countless areas, all at the same time, and progress in one field may hugely benefit other fields, so sort of the only likely future is one where a wide range of technologies have advanced far beyond current levels. And when we know how fast technology is advancing today, and that it's actually accelerating, and we also know that the acceleration is expected to continue in the future, then 100 years suddenly seems like a very long time.

In this article I will assume that Ray Kurzweil is essentially correct in his predictions about the future. Kurzweil is one of the most optimistic futurists in terms of time scales. But he also has a very good track record for his predictions. If you disagree with Kurzweil's vision of the future you may also disagree with this article's conclusion that there may be no politicians in 100 years.

Kurzweil's main prediction is about how fast computer technology is advancing, an aspect of the future he says is amazingly predictable. If computer technology isn't advancing as fast as he predicts, the other specific technologies he predicts will likely also be similarly delayed.

Kurzweil started making predictions around 1980, and now, in 2017, computers are almost exactly as capable as he predicted back then. That's good reason not to dismiss his future predictions out of hand although some might almost seem a little too incredible.

Some of Kurzweil's predictions:

  • Within 10 years, most diseases will be conquered. During the following 10 years, the remaining ones will be conquered as well.
    So, what does that mean? It doesn't mean that every human on Earth will be cured of their diseases by 2037, but that we at least have available treatments for almost all diseases (at least 75% of currently untreatable diseases), although some may still be expensive or not approved in every country. Prices should go down rather quickly, though, since medicine is becoming an information technology (a technology that utilizes computers and computing to a large degree).
  • Around 2030 human life expectancy will increase by more than one year per year due to new medical technologies making use of nanotechnology. That's not just infant life expectancy - that's your life expectancy. Which means that - barring accidents or armageddon - you may live essentially forever.
    An organization that does really good work in the area of rejuvenation technology is SENS Research Foundation (you can donate here).
  • The nonbiological (artificial) intelligence created in the year 2045 will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today. Many people are fearful of artificial intelligence outpacing human intelligence. However, it won't be an us versus them scenario. Instead we'll merge with the "machines":
  • By around 2035 we'll have the technology to connect our brains directly to the Internet. This will allow you to get answers to your questions merely by thinking. Several companies, including Elon Musk's NeuralLink, are already working on brain-computer interfaces, though the technology used to implement the brain-computer interface will be quite different and more advanced in the 2030s than now. In the 2030s we'll probably have tiny robots - nanobots - in our brains (and bloodstream). These nanobots should be able to communicate with our neurons and each other, transferring data to and from the brain. It might become possible to download knowledge and skills to the brain in this way. 1)
  • In the 2040s people will spend most of their time in virtual reality. Virtual reality is another technology that will make use of nanobots in the brain. The nanobots could control what signals reach our neurons, so by filtering out data from our real senses and instead providing fake sensory data, the potential is no less than 100% realistic virtual reality. We will also be able to interact with real human beings in virtual reality. This will likely lead to many business meetings taking place in virtual reality and fewer people traveling long distances in the real world.
  • By the 2030s, we'll have real nano-technology in the form of atomically precise manufacturing. Or maybe even before 2030. This year Kurzweil said that "We know exactly how to create the medical nano-robots if we have the enabling factor of being able to do atomically precise manufacturing. That's coming. We'll have that by... Well, I've been saying the early 2030s. That's increasingly looking conservative. We may have it in the 2020s."
    Atomically precise manufacturing means we'll be able to build physical objects with atomic precision. 3D-printers will be created that can make objects where every single atom is positioned according to a predetermined plan (a computer file).

When Ray Kurzweil says we'll have some technology by a certain year, he does not mean that the technology will be mature at that time, and it may not yet be widespread. Some of the technologies mentioned will probably not reach maturity until some time in the second half of the century. Still, that's actually not that many decades away...

Let's discuss how some of these technologies could contribute to transferring tasks away from governments, and over to the private sector.

  • Aging is cured
    If we can stay healthy, energetic and productive indefinitely, then there's no need for a retirement age. Without retirement pensions, the state's largest expense goes away. But don't worry; increasing automation will lead to lower prices, so you don't have to work that much, anyway. Since it will be cheaper for the state to pay for life extension treatments than to pay out pensions, governments may actually offer life extension treatments free of charge (well, paid for by the tax payers) to all its citizens some time in the relatively near future.
  • Diseases are cured
    If we we're healthier, then the government's expenditure on sick pay, medicare, medicaid (or similar programs for countries outside the US), and maybe even hospitals (if nanobots can heal us from within) should go down significantly.
  • Brain connected to the Internet and information downloading
    If we can learn and acquire new skills simply by downloading information to the brain, then there's no real need for schools (as a place to learn), which is another big expense for governments today. This, in combination with biotechnologies that can heal and enhance human beings, could also enable anybody who wants a job to get one. Even if downloading information isn't that cheap when the technology is relatively new, companies could pay the cost for new employees to learn (download) the skills they need. The reason I think companies would be willing to make that investment is that the cost of downloading knowledge would still be very low in comparison to the added value the employee could provide with the downloaded knowledge.
    If anyone can get a job, then very few people will need charity to make ends meet, which means the amount of money governments would need to spend on a social safety net would go way down. And then the task of helping the needy may even be performed adequately by private charities. 
  • Atomically precise manufacturing
    When everyone can make almost any physical object with their own 3D-printer, then global trade will look very different than today. The need to transport things around the world will likely decrease substantially. That means governments aren't going to get that much revenue from tariffs. Other trade barriers will also lose their importance. It also means that banning or restricting certain items, such as guns, recreational drugs or medical drugs, will be difficult or impossible. I think it's likely that the laws will change in response to this, so that we don't continue spending excessive amounts of resources fighting "wars" that just cannot be won, such as the current war on drugs. This should mean less government spending on police services.

I'm not the first person to point out that new technologies are going to impact politics. In a series of articles libertarian author Onar Åm has explained how several new technologies have been, are, and are going to disrupt politics, taking power away from politicians, something which should lead to smaller governments. In part five of the series he attempts to explain why these emerging technologies are disrupting politics:

When everyone has affordable access to a technology, it becomes practically impossible to control. People then don't need to ask politicians to be able to do the things they want. They can just do them. That's precisely why these technologies are politically disruptive.

Others have said essentially the same thing using the term decentralization. "The 21st century technologies are decentralized rather than centralized", according to Kurzweil.

Peter Diamandis uses the term democratization. Technologies that are being digitized become disruptive (though growth could be deceptively slow at first), then they become demonetized (cheap), then dematerialized (virtual), and finally democratized. (According to Diamandis, these are the 6 Ds of technology disruption.)

Actually, Ray Kurzweil himself recently talked a little about whether technology will end the nation state:

In the video Kurzweil says that nation states, due to the Internet and its globalizing effect, have already become less influential than they used to be, and that he thinks they're going to continue to get less influential.

He doesn't say, however, that nation states will go away completely, but he doesn't say it won't happen, either.

So as far as I know, neither Kurzweil, nor Diamandis, nor Åm has said that governments are going to disappear completely, and thus it's probably not obvious that that will actually happen. Even David Friedman, who has written an entire book describing how all the tasks that are now performed by governments, could instead be performed privately (in a system called anarcho-capitalism), suspects governments will still exist 100 years from now: 2)

I think predicting that far ahead is hard. The most likely [anarcho-capitalist] scenario, I think, is for anarcho-capitalism online and states still controlling realspace. If enough of life is online, states end up competing for very mobile taxpayers, so are more like landlords than states.

But the world is changing very rapidly due mostly to technological change, so any prediction is more nearly a guess.

So I cannot be sure that governments and politicians will disappear in 100 years. But I do feel quite confident that governments will get significantly smaller towards the end of the century, possibly sooner. And the possibility that they may actually disappear altogether is at least worth consideration, in my opinion.

Bitcoin/blockchain
In addition to Kurzweil's predictions, there's one very exciting technology we need to discuss, namely internet money (e.g. Bitcoin) and one of its underlying technologies, the blockchain.

I think the internet is going to be one of the major forces for reducing the role of government. The one thing that's missing, but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash.

- Milton Friedman

As he explains in this video, Milton Friedman thought that the Internet, in combination with "a reliable e-cash", would make it harder for governments to collect taxes. He made this statement in 1999. Now, 18 years later, we do have e-cash - in the form of Bitcoin (among others). It may not yet be as reliable as Milton Friedman intended, but we're getting there.

Bitcoin is a form of internet money or e-cash, also called a cryptocurrency. It's a decentralized currency - which means that it's not controlled by a central authority, such as a government, a central bank, or even a company. It's also peer to peer, which means that the two parties to a payment transaction don't need to involve a trusted third party in order to avoid the double spending problem. They only need to trust Bitcoin itself (the Bitcoin software).

The total number of Bitcoins in the world is limited and will never exceed 21 million. At the moment almost 80% of all Bitcoins that will ever exist have been created, and after the year 2140, no more new Bitcoins will be created.

Although new Bitcoins are still being created today, the demand for Bitcoin has increased at a much faster rate than the number of Bitcoins, so the value of a Bitcoin has risen exponentially (with some ups and downs, though), and one Bitcoin is currently valued at more than $4000. Contrary to this, government currencies, like the US dollar, tend to lose value, due to government-controlled expansion of the money supply (the more money in circulation, the less one unit of money will be worth - all else equal).

Bitcoin is not perfect, though; still in its infancy, it's far from a mature technology. I've heard people comparing it to the Internet of the early 1990s. However, it's also not static. It's being improved continuously, something which is absolutely necessary in order to cope with a growing number of users and transactions. Bitcoin also has many competitors, and if Bitcoin isn't able to solve one particular problem, another cryptocurrency probably will and could potentially take over for Bitcoin as the biggest cryptocurrency. Billions of dollars are being invested in these technologies. E-cash is definitely here to stay.

Bitcoin is built on top of the blockchain, which is a distributed database that stores every single payment transaction made with Bitcoins. In other words, every Bitcoin transaction ever made is stored forever, and it's stored on countless computers all around the world, which makes it extremely hard to make fake changes.

These properties - that everything is stored and can't be changed - can be very useful in other areas too, not just for money and payments.

However, it may be hard to implement a successful application using the blockchain without also including a cryptocurrency in the implementation, since an incentive is needed to make people invest the computing power necessary to validate transactions. For Bitcoin it's possible to create new Bitcoins in a process called mining, a digital equivalent to mining gold. When people are mining Bitcoin, they're simultaneously validating transactions. So the Bitcoins they receive as a reward functions as an incentive to validate the transactions.

Keeping this in mind, the blockchain can also be used to keep track of who owns what (ownership). It can be used to store contracts - in Ethereum some types of contracts ("smart contracts") can even be executed automatically when some condition is met. Ethereum, by the way, has implemented its own currency, Ether. It would also be possible to store things like birth certificates, wills, and who is married to who on the blockchain, just to name a few examples.

Today, most governments are heavily involved in these areas, and in some countries this works well, but in other countries where the government may be more corrupt, it unfortunately does not. With the new blockchain technology, people in poor third world countries might finally stop having to worry about their property being confiscated and given to someone else, since, if ownership is logged on the blockchain, they can prove that they're the owner. Secure property rights are extremely important for economic development, so this could actually translate into many more people escaping poverty much faster.

Bitcoin can also provide banking services without a bank, and Bitcoin and the blockchain technology might have a bigger impact in developing countries than in the developed countries - at least in the short term, and especially if transaction fees can be kept low enough. Also, people in countries where the currency experiences runaway inflation will have a great incentive to start using Bitcoin.

Some anarchists believe that Bitcoin and the blockchain technology on its own is going to bring an end to the nation state. I'm not sure how many non-anarchists are of the same belief, so it may be just wishful thinking. Personally, I believe we're going to see the end of governments at some time, but the reason, I think, will be a combination of Bitcoin/blockchain, and other technologies as discussed above.

Jeff Berwick is one anarchist who believes that Bitcoin and blockchain will bring an end to governments:

It goes way beyond just money. Money is important enough. This could be where everything is based, and there's so much innovation going on now. There's a company called BitNation, for example, and they're trying to, essentially, put governance on the Blockchain, so all contracts, all property deeds, everything would be on the Blockchain. They're actually starting in Africa, because many of these countries never had a sort of a system of private property, and a way to have a good system to tell who owns what, and that's why they've had problems for so many years, or even centuries. But they're trying to put that into place.

People start using these sort of systems very quickly. There becomes really no need for government whatsoever, I think there's no need for it now. But for people who think there is some need for it still, contracts, adjudication and things like that, that can all be taken out by these blockchain technologies, so that's why you're seeing billions of dollars actually going into this right now. Many people don't realize it. This is sort of where the Internet was in 1994, is where Bitcoin is in 2015/2016. And I was there for the start of the Internet, so I remember. It's very similar. Your average person still doesn't know what a big deal is going on behind the scenes, but this is going to revolutionize the world. It's not just going to be Bitcoin. In fact, who knows about Bitcoin? It could be gone in a couple of years because the innovation is happening so fast, and there's going to be so many things built on top of this technology, that it's going to change the world.

But what if governments also start using Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies? Maybe they issue their own cryptocurrencies? Could Bitcoin still be a force for smaller governments?

I think Yes. Bitcoin and other non-governmental alternatives would still be available, in competition with the state currencies. That probably means that the inflation rate for the government currencies can't be that high, or else more people will switch to e.g. Bitcoin, which is getting more valuable over time - not less.

So if I can choose between money that appreciates in value or money that gets worth less, all else equal, that's an easy choice. But all else isn't going to be equal, so many people are going to choose government coins over Bitcoin anyway. But the bigger the difference in inflation/deflation, the more people are going to choose Bitcoin.

So it's not unnatural to think that the state, in competition with Bitcoin, will have to lower its inflation rate - create less new money - if they want people to continue to use their money. If they can't create as much money as they would like, the government will lose some of its power - or options. I'm in particular thinking about the option to fight wars in faraway countries, which is arguably the worst and most brutal thing states do.

War is extremely expensive, and if you or I am asked to pay so that our government can make war in the Middle-East, we would probably say No thanks if we could, or we would protest if taxes were raised to finance the war. But the way wars are financed is by creating - or printing - money, which is much less visible to most people. In other words, wars are financed by decreasing the value of the currency. If Bitcoin, as a competitor to government currencies, is able to lead to less inflation in the government currencies, that could actually make it harder for governments to go to war, which could mean less wars and a more peaceful future.

 

Are there some set of tasks that, no matter how technologically advanced we become, we absolutely need governments to perform? According to the minarchist libertarian position, there should be a government, but it should be limited to protecting the rights of the individual, so it should be responsible for police, courts and national defence, and nothing else. However, both policing services and arbitration is done by private companies today in addition to being done by governments, so it's not such a long stretch to imagine that they could be completely privatized. And in the future, when the world is much wealthier, even more globalized than today, where governments may be really small, where people can get almost everything they need in a decentralized way, and where governments can't finance wars with inflation, then who has anything to gain from war? I think world peace is achievable this century, and then, who needs a military?

So for me, a much more logical end point than minarchy is anarchy, where there is no government at all. And although it may sound terrible to most people right now, I think you won't mind it if/when that future world arrives.

Does anything point towards bigger governments?
OK, I've talked mostly about things that are pointing towards smaller governments in the future. But we should also consider the opposite. What factors could lead to bigger governments, or at least slow the decrease in size? I see two main possibilities in the short to medium term:

  • Universal basic income
    The fear of robots taking over many jobs that are today performed by humans has made the idea of a universal basic income more popular, with some countries and organizations doing experiments with basic incomes. I wouldn't be surprised if it's implemented more broadly in the coming decades. If so, I hope it will be a replacement for existing government welfare programs, not an addition to them.
    If a basic income is implemented as a replacement for the existing welfare programs, that could open up for a private welfare market (since some people will still need more help than what a basic income can provide), where there is competition, leading to better solutions than today's. If that works out well, then in the longer term, government welfare (including basic income) might not be necessary (since it's taken care of by the private sector and also since fewer people will need help, as discussed above).
  • Government pays for rejuvenation treatments
    Since at some point it will be cheaper for governments to pay for rejuvenation treatments than to pay old-age pensions, I don't think it's unlikely that they will offer to pay for rejuvenation treatments in exchange for not paying out pensions. Although the cost of paying for rejuvenation treatments is lower than the cost of paying out pensions, paying for most people's rejuvenation treatments will be a significant cost - at least at first. If there's enough competition despite governments' involvement in the rejuvenation market, prices will continue to decrease over time, and if rejuvenation treatments get affordable for almost everyone, the need for government to pay will also go away.

I'm sure there are several other important items that could point toward bigger governments, but the way I see it, there are far more things about future technologies that are pointing towards smaller governments than towards bigger government. But we'll see. Hopefully, both you and I will be alive to see the actual outcome in 2117.

Do you think governments will disappear? What are your best arguments that we will or will not have politicians and governments in 100 years?


1) I'm not quite sure about the timeframe for downloading knowledge and skills. In his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil writes: "The nature of education will change once again when we merge with nonbiological intelligence. We will then have the ability to download knowledge and skills, at least into the nonbiological portion of our intelligence. [...] We don't yet have comparable communication ports in our biological brains to quickly download the interneuronal connection and neurotransmitter patterns that represent our learning [...] a limitation we will overcome in the Singularity."

Downloading knowledge and skills instantly into our biological brains is a technology that will be developed in the second half of this century, according to Kurzweil's earlier book, The Age Of Spiritual Machines (1999). However, Nicholas Negroponte (cofounder of the MIT Media Lab and co-creator of Wired Magazine) has predicted that in less than 30 years you may take a pill, which dissolves, goes to the brain via the bloodstream, and alters the brain in just the right ways so that you may learn some topic - the examples he used were English and Shakespeare.

2) From an email conversation, quoted with permission.

How Nanotechnology Can Revolutionize Medicine (Guest Post)

For all its wonders, modern medicine has been insufficient at treating many diseases, and medical advancement has even slowed in recent decades.

And that's where nanotechnology can help! Nanotechnology - technology that deals with dimensions between several atoms and 100 nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter) - was first proposed in 1959 by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman in his seminal talk There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.

Since then, nanotechnology has advanced considerably and is in the process of revolutionizing various industries, from energy to computing.

Arguably the largest potential that nanotechnology holds is in its capabilities to improve medicine.

Nanomedicine Potential
There are many theoretical reasons that nanotechnology will likely be a boon for medicine.

First, nanotechnology deals with manipulating matter on the nanoscale, and most processes of life - including most diseases and aging - fundamentally occur on that scale (biologically, this is the subcellular level).

Under the most technical sense of the word, all life is actually nanotechnology - we're all machines with parts that operate on the nanoscale. It's sensible that the best way to influence processes on this scale is by building our own nanomachines.

Second, nanotechnology allows for unprecedented control over the properties of materials. On the nanoscale, changing the structure of materials allows for tailoring their properties. For instance, changing the size and shape of carbon nanotubes allows for changing them between metals and semiconductors. This is due to peculiarities of quantum mechanics - on small length scales, the magnitudes of these lengths affect how particles (such as electrons) behave.

This is quite different from our human-scale world, where (for example) making a brick twice as big doesn't really change the brick's properties.

More advanced nanotechnology also allows us to create nanosystems where different parts interact with each other on the nanoscale, giving rise to complicated behavior.

By allowing us to tailor the properties and function of materials such that they act the way we want on the subcellular level, nanotechnology presents many opportunities.

While nanomedical research is relatively new, it has already shown many exciting results. One of the most exciting areas of current research is in combating cancer.

Cancer
Cancer can be thought of as out of control cellular growth. As cancer cells grow and replicate without bound, they eventually interfere with the function of normal cells.

Cancer drugs attempt to attack these cancerous cells. Unfortunately, it's hard to target just the cancer cells, so these drugs are often poisonous to normal cells as well. Dosage is then typically a tradeoff between poisoning cancer cells and poisoning normal cells.

Luckily, nanotechnology can enable much more precise targeting of cancer cells. For example, cancer cells tend to consume lots and lots of Vitamin B9 in an effort to grow quickly. Scientists have created many types of nanoparticles that combine this vitamin and cancer drugs. For instance, both of these have been simultaneously attached to carbon nanotubes.

The resulting nanomedicine acts a bit like a Trojan Horse. The cancer cells eagerly eat up the vitamin, and in the process also consume the toxic drug.

Image: carbon nanotube that is functionalized with a cancer drug (red) and Vitamin B9 (green). Source: Zwicke, G. et al., Nano Rev.

Scientists can also improve the imaging of cancer by additionally attaching imaging agents (such as iron oxide nanocrystals) to these nanoparticles. This would be like if Odysseus gave GPS devices to the warriors inside the Trojan Horse. By monitoring the warriors' movements once inside the city, he could learn the layout of Troy.

Cancer has proven to be a particularly difficult disease to fight. A drug can wipe out 99% of the cancer cells, but the cancer will likely come back, immune to this drug. It's a bit like an arms race, though nanotechnology has shown much progress.

Similar tools have also shown promise in fighting other diseases as well - such as heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. And scientists are making strides in creating, improving, and integrating various nanoscale devices, including: molecular switches, nanomotors, and even simple molecular machines.

Arguably the most impressive examples of nanomedicine today use something known as DNA Origami.

DNA
Before we dig into DNA origami, let's quickly review the structure of DNA.

Typically DNA consists of two strands, which are held together by a series of base pairs.

These base pairs have four variations: A, T, G, and C. A binds with T, and G binds with C. So if one strand has a sequence that goes "AATG", it will bind with one that goes "TTAC" (and the two strands are complimentary).

DNA Origami
DNA origami allows for scientists to create arbitrary shapes out of DNA.

To create DNA origami of a particular shape, we first create one long strand that will fill the body of the shape (we have the technology to synthesize DNA in any sequence we want).

The desired shape may require two regions of this long strand (which we will call X and Y) to be next to each other, despite not naturally being next to each other.

In order for the long strand to achieve the desired shape, we would need to "staple" X to Y. We accomplish this using a short "staple strand" of DNA. The staple strand is synthesized such that the beginning of its base pair sequence binds to X and the end of its sequence binds to Y, holding X and Y together.

By creating lots of staple strands that staple the long strand in specific locations, almost any shape can be created.

The first publication about DNA origami (by CalTech Prof. Paul Rothemund in 2006) demonstrated the ability to create various shapes.

Image: various shapes created with DNA origami. Source: Rothemund, P., Nature.

Since then, we've increased our ability to make more and more complicated structures out of DNA origami.

And the really cool thing is that scientists have used this technique to create medical nanorobots.

One group was able to make a chest out of DNA origami. They additionally put strands on the inside of the chest that would bind to specific drugs, keeping the drugs inside the chest. On the "front" of the chest, they put a lock.

The lock consisted of strands that bound the top of the chest to the bottom that were almost complimentary. Imagine how the strand AATG almost binds perfectly to TTCC. So the strands would generally keep the chest shut.

But the strands bound even better to particular molecules that tend to be found in certain cancer cells (the "key"). The idea was that in the presence of these cells, the strands would bind to those molecules instead, opening up, and releasing the drug.

And it worked!

When the scientists tested these nanorobots on cancer cells and healthy cells in a petri dish, they found that in healthy cells, the chest stayed closed, keeping the drugs inside. But in cancer cells, the chest opened, releasing the drugs.

Image: the DNA nanorobot in the closed and open configurations. Note when it's open, there are red blobs attached to the bottom right and top left parts of the "lock." That blob is the "key" that opens the nanorobot, exposing the drugs (pink). Source: Douglas, S. et al., Science.

And more recently, work on DNA origami nanorobots has allowed for even more complicated behavior. Scientists realized the "payload" inside one nanorobot could be the "key" to open another nanorobot. Additional payloads in other nanorobots could clamp further nanorobots shut (not allowing them to open, even in the presence of their keys). By having a swarm of various types of nanorobots, they were able to implement universal computing inside a live cockroach.

Looking To The Future
Extensions of current nanomedicine paints a picture in which increasingly precise and targeted therapies are able to act in more complicated ways - potentially even following sophisticated algorithms.

Where do extensions of these nanotechnologies lead?

In the short and medium term, nanotechnology offers the possibility of treating and even curing many diseases, while decreasing side effects, turning around the recent slow progress in medicine.

In the much longer term, nanotechnology may even allow us to go further than that, combating aging and allowing for human enhancement.

Recent work has demonstrated the possibility of combating aging. When mice were cleared of senescent cells (cells that have "retired" and stopped dividing) via bioengineering methods, these mice lived longer than normal mice. Crucially, these mice further stayed healthier longer.

Image: two mice that are the same age. The one on the left aged normally, while the one on the right was purged of senescent cells, decreasing the effects of aging. Source: Baker, D. et al., Nature.

Aging is, fundamentally, changes in the nanoscale organization of matter in an organism that leads to decreased capabilities and increased chance of death. Much of the ravages of aging may be caused by a genetic program running, though the genetic program itself is stored as the organization of matter on the nanoscale (in DNA).

To the best available knowledge today, there is no theoretical reason that advanced nanotechnology would not be able to reorganize this matter to even reverse the aging process and keep humans as healthy and fit as 25 year olds.

On the augmentation front, the coolest capabilities deal with interfacing with the human brain.

MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte (cofounder of the MIT Media Lab and co-creator of Wired Magazine) predicts that eventually, nanorobots could access every neuron in your brain through your bloodstream. These nanorobots could allow you to "learn" Shakespeare or French by depositing information in the appropriate places in your brain. (Though Prof. Negroponte also posits that he won't be around to see this - he's 73.)

Similarly, nanorobots within the brain may allow people to experience virtual reality, all while lying down with their eyes closed.

Of course, we're a long way away from these technological capabilities - decades at least. But if 200 years from now you're still alive and living in your own personal virtual utopia created from nanorobots in your brain, you'll have nanotechnology to thank.

 

Guest post by Daniel Eth. Daniel is a PhD student at UCLA performing computational nanotechnology research. He runs the blog thinkingofutils.com where he posts about science, technology, and economics.

Unhappy or Depressed? In the Future, Everything Will Be All Right!

I fundamentally believe everything will be all right. In fact, I think that the future is going to be much better than any of us could possibly imagine.

Today's world is not perfect - far from it. There are hundreds of millions of depressed or unhappy people and billions suffering from one or more diseases. Actually, if we include mental illnesses and back-pain, but not the common cold, as much as 95% of the world's population had a at least one health problem during 2013, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study! And it even seems like we're getting more sick. According to the same study, the number of individuals with more than ten disorders increased by 52% between 1990 and 2013.

The situation isn't as bad as it sounds, though. We have medicines that can improve the quality of life for many sick people. We're also living longer, and since almost everyone (99.97%, according to the study) above the age of 80 suffers from at least one health condition, increased longevity (which I would say is a good thing) is certainly one of the reasons for the rise in the number of sick people.

But if we look at more than just the number of sick people, we see a much brighter picture. The world is actually moving in the right direction quite fast. There are just so many positive trends. Peter Diamandis has created a web page with a collection of charts visualizing these trends, arranged in eight different categories:

  • Increasing Happiness & Increasing Equality
  • Increase in Safety & Reduction in Violence
  • Increasing Health Abundance
  • Increasing Energy Abundance
  • Reducing Poverty
  • Increasing Technological Abundance
  • Increasing Learning & Literacy
  • Increasing Global Connectivity

Technological progress plays an important role in enabling many of these positive trends, and the rate of technological progress has always been accelerating and will surely continue to do so in the foreseeable future. So if we extrapolate these trends, it's not entirely unlikely that we'll end up with a world that is very nearly perfect. To be sure, there are dangers along the way, so I can't say it's a certainty, but, in my opinion, it is quite likely.

You may be thinking that it's not possible to predict the future. True, no one can know exactly what will happen in the future, but some less specific things can actually be predicted quite confidently, assuming just that no catastrophic events occur. One such less specific thing is the fact that technology is always getting better, which is not a coincidence: Once one person figures out something new, the whole world can eventually benefit from that new discovery. The more new discoveries, the better off we all become, so the fact that we're more than 7 billion people on this planet isn't necessarily a bad thing - quite the opposite, I would say!

You wouldn't think the world was moving much forward if you listen too much to mainstream media. Doing so can be rather depressing. Bad news is what sells, and the media is thus bombarding us with it.

We are all unknowingly addicts. Addicts of bad news. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, the news media is constantly feeding us negative stories on every digital device in their arsenal - our mobile phones, tablets, computers, radio, television and newsfeeds. Every murder, terrorist plot, economic downturn, no matter how remote, is brought to us live, instantly, over and over again.

The reason for this is simple. Our brains are hardwired to pay far more attention to negative news, than positive stories. Millions of years ago as our brains were evolving, if we missed a piece of good news, that was an inconvenience, but missing a piece of bad news could mean the end of your life and your germ-line. For that reason, we've developed portions of our brain that are constantly scanning for bad news and thereafter putting us on high alert. The old newspaper adage, 'if it bleeds, it leads' is as true today as it was a century ago.

But if we compare the world of today with the world a hundred years ago, there's not much doubt that the average human is much better off today. Don Boudreaux would rather be himself today than the world's richest man in 1916. I don't expect that everyone would make the same choice, but I, too, would definitely choose me today!

Why? Well, one thing is that we have so much more advanced technology that's making our lives more convenient and fun, and less painful. Back then, traveling was slow, air-conditioning was uncommon, there was no radio or television, and just a few movies. You could listen to recorded music, but the quality was poor, there was less music to choose from and you couldn't download it from the Internet, because, of course, there was no internet. There were no mobile phones. Medical care was both more painful and less effective, and women had a near 1% chance of dying giving birth.

I would also really like to quote the last paragraph of Don Boudreaux's article:

Honestly, I wouldn't be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916. This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America's richest man a mere 100 years ago.

It is just extraordinary to think about how much has happened in as little as 100 years! And it's not going to stop here, of course. On the contrary, the rate of technological progress is going to continue to speed up, and I wouldn't be surprised if 30 years from now, we can similarly say that the average person in 2047 is richer than the richest person in the world today.

Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google, has tried to put some numbers on how big the speed-up in technological progress is. He has said that, if we use the year 2000 as the baseline, in the 21st century we'll see progress equivalent to 20,000 baseline years. He wrote this in the introduction to his 2001 essay, The Law of Accelerating Returns. It may be useful to include the full introduction, as the implications he sees from this incredible speed-up are quite radical:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century - it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity - technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.

If Ray Kurzweil is right - or at least about half right - about how much progress there will be in the 21st century, then there's almost no limit to the kinds of problems that can be solved just this century.

And the most important problem to solve is arguably death, and in particular involuntary death, though all deaths are sad. Even the death of someone who wanted to die is sad, because it is sad that he ended up in a position where he wanted to die.

I don't know if we'll ever solve the problem of death completely, but we will come a long way this century.

About two thirds of all deaths worldwide are caused by aging (including age-related diseases), so aging is the most urgent part of the death problem that needs to be solved. And it will be mostly solved within a few decades. A year ago I argued that if you're alive 30 years from then (in 2046), you would have good chances of being alive in a thousand years also. Time will tell, but I don't think I was being too optimistic, as 2016 was another exciting year for rejuvenation science, and for technological progress in general.

Now, think back to 1916 again, and how much less convenient people's lives were back then. But for me, the most important reason I'd rather be me today than a billionaire in 1916, is that nobody - not even John D. Rockefeller - could have any realistic hope of living much beyond 100 years. Many of today's relatively young people, on the other hand, will be able to live virtually forever, avoiding all the age-related diseases and staying completely healthy indefinitely.

Although death may be the most important problem to fix, there are many other problems that need fixing as well, like providing clean water and enough food for everyone, end violence and war, eradicate poverty, disease and depression, and maybe ensure that everyone gets educated.

I think the rationale for fixing all these problems is to make all humans happy and feel good. 1) I also think all these problems are eventually going to be solved, and I think it's going to happen much sooner than most people can even imagine. Just remember, we're more than 7 billion people - we can work on a lot of problems at the same time! Also keep in mind that each different type of technology - like medical technology, artificial intelligence, computer hardware etc - doesn't get developed in a vacuum. Various branches of technology can benefit greatly from advancements in other branches:

Technological convergence is going to lead to unexpected results, it's not enough to say computers are getting faster, it's the fact that computers, and AI and robotics and 3D-printing, and all these technologies are coming together, and converging to change the world.

So, if you're not happy with your life, for whatever reason, you should know that there's a very realistic hope that your life can improve to be really awesome in the future.

The reasons why someone isn't quite happy with their lives could be many, including mental disorders, physical injury or handicap, serious, painful or embarrassing diseases, poor social skills, obesity, loneliness, unattractiveness, old age, or just low status in society compared to others. Below, I'm going to discuss how each of these problems could potentially be fixed in the future:

Depression/general unhappiness
We all seem to have a default genetic happiness level (hedonic set point) which varies from person to person. Permanent changes in life situation can lead to temporary changes in the person's happiness level, but in most cases, the person's happiness level eventually approaches his or her default happiness level.

It's possible to have a very high default happiness level and still function perfectly fine in society, so there's no obvious reason why everyone shouldn't have a high default happiness level. Designer drugs, or, preferably, genetic engineering could be used to raise our happiness levels in the future.

David Pearce has also promoted the idea of tweaking our biology so that we aren't just generally happy, but that we even feel varying degrees of pleasurable feelings at all times. It may sound a little far out at first, and, in any case, abolishing suffering (which includes depression) should have higher priority.

Physical handicap
In the future, it will be possible to heal damaged spines, allowing paralyzed people to walk again. Scientists are experimenting with several different approaches to achieving this. A new material combining graphene and polymer gels has been used to help knit together damaged spinal cords in rats. Stem cell treatment of the corticospinal tract has also been successful in rats. And in monkeys, which are much closer to humans, though it's not actually a repair strategy, a brain implant in combination with electrodes around the spine have allowed paralyzed individuals to walk again.

Some animals are able to regrow lost limbs. Unfortunately, that's not the case for humans. But perhaps there's a dormant genetic program for it buried deep within our genes. If so, it might be surprisingly easy to trick the body into regrowing a lost arm or leg. If not, it could take several additional years to enable limb regrowth. But scientist are working on it today, and Michael Levin has developed a theoretical procedure that might work, though it would probably be slow (could take more than a decade to regrow completely).

Blindness and hearing loss will be cured, as well, of course. Scientists have now been able to connect a camera directly to a person's brain, bypassing the eyes entirely. Electrodes need to be installed on the surface of the brain, so it's a bit of an invasive procedure at the moment. But things will only get better. Eventually, bionic eyes will be better than real eyes, and they could include features such as zoom, and seeing outside the visible spectrum, in infrared and ultraviolet, for example.

Disease
When we can cure aging and rejuvenate people, then we will automatically have cured most age-related diseases, which account for about 75% of all Medicare spending in the US.

But there are a lot of other diseases, so being able to cure all of them may seem like wishful thinking. I don't think it's an unrealistic goal, though, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, seem to agree. They're investing $3 billion over the next 10 years with the goal of curing, preventing and managing all diseases within this century. I think it could be possible well before the end of the century, and with their help, it is probably going to happen a little sooner than it otherwise would have.

Old age
If you're old today, there's unfortunately a high risk that you may not live long enough to live forever. There could still be hope, however. There are a few companies around the world that offer cryopreservation of a person's body after he's been pronounced legally dead. The idea is to preserve the body in almost the exact same state it was in following legal death, so that more advanced future technologies can fix the health problems that caused the body to stop working, and then resuscitate the person. The odds of being successfully resuscitated are unknown, but even a 5% chance is a whole lot better than what you get with burial or cremation, which is zero. Cryopreservation is quite expensive, but can often be paid for with a life insurance policy.

Loneliness
Artificial intelligence has improved tremendously in recent years and will eventually be able to mimic humans so well that we aren't going to be able to tell the difference. This means that you can have an AI as your best friend, or even as your lover in virtual reality. Virtual reality, by the way, has the potential to feel just as real as real reality if we can make nano-robots interface directly with the neurons in our brains.

But you may not be satisfied with just artificial friends. There may be a solution for that, as well. Artificial intelligence is going to become orders of magnitude smarter than biological intelligence. What is likely to happen is not that we allow robots to become that much smarter than us, but rather that we also make ourselves smarter by connecting our brains directly, using the Internet, to this vast artificial intelligence - effectively merging with it. What that also allows is for your brain to be connected directly to someone else's brain, allowing the two of you to read each other's minds, to know each other's feelings and really connect on a deeply intimate level.

If you struggle to find friends today, you may have better luck when geographic location doesn't matter. If everyone is connected through the Internet, you could more easily find your soulmate even if she's living on the other side of the planet (or maybe even on Mars...).

Ray Kurzweil predicts we'll be able to connect our brains directly to the Internet within 18 years.

Poor social skills
Social skills are just skills - something you can learn.

And about learning... Don't you think it's a bit annoying that you have to study for 3, 5 or 8 years after high school just to get the degree you want? That it takes tens of hour to read a book? Think about how much more you could learn if you could absorb knowledge ten times faster. Or a hundred times, or a thousand!

It may sound crazy, but there are scientists already today, who are working on technologies that can help us learn faster.

But 30 years from now learning could be done in a radically different way than how we learn today. At the end of this TED talk video from 2014 (when he's interviewed after the actual talk), Nicholas Negroponte says:

[W]e are going to ingest information. You're going to swallow a pill and know English. You're going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare. And the way to do it is through the bloodstream. So once it's in your bloodstream, it basically goes through it and gets into the brain, and when it knows that it's in the brain and the different pieces, it deposits it in the right places.

Maybe he's not exactly right - maybe it won't actually be a pill, and maybe it'll be 35 years from 2014, not 30, but if we can connect our brains to the Internet, then we are certainly going to find more efficient ways to learn than those that are available today.

So, in less than 30 years, social skills could perhaps be learned effortlessly, by swallowing a pill. But even before we get to that point, there will probably be other technologies that can help us learn things faster. As for learning social skills, maybe virtual reality games that focus on social interaction can help?

Low social status
Although you may in a sense be richer than the richest man 100 years ago, let's face it; you're probably not the richest person in the world. So relatively speaking, you're maybe not that rich. And we humans have a tendency to compare our lives with our neighbors', and if we're not rich relative to other people, many of us aren't as happy as we perhaps could have been. This means that no matter how rich we become in absolute terms, all this wealth in itself is not going to make everyone happy, so there must be another way to achieve more happiness... And there probably is.

One option is to use genetic engineering to raise our default happiness level, as discussed earlier.

Virtual reality could be another option. I think that when virtual reality feels just as real as real reality, or very close to it, virtual reality will become extremely popular. In virtual reality we don't need to have all the restraints that we have in the real world, so you could, e.g., defy gravity or move instantly from one place to another. You could live your life as Superman/Supergirl or a great king or queen in your own virtual world, and you could probably invite other (real) people into your world. But would you truly be happy if you knew it wasn't quite real? I don't know.

If we really do enjoy living in virtual reality, maybe we won't be that interested in exploring the real universe? And maybe that's even the solution to the Fermi paradox? The Fermi paradox states that when there are so incredibly many galaxies, stars and planets, and the universe has existed for as long as it has, why haven't we encountered any aliens. They should have colonized the universe a long time ago. There are many possible explanations to this seeming paradox, but I think I like the virtual reality explanation the most.

According to Ray Kurzweil, people will spend most of their time in full-immersion virtual reality in the 2040s.

Obesity
Some people really like food and really don't like working out. I don't blame them. 2) And some people gain weight much more easily than others. It would be nice if people could live the lives they wanted without worrying about putting on weight. I think therapies for this could become a reality in the relatively near future.

Mice have already been genetically engineered to lose weight in at least two different ways (probably more): They have been genetically engineered to feel a sense of satiety sooner than they previously did, and they have been genetically engineered to burn fat instead of carbs. I'd be surprised if we don't have similar therapies for humans - therapies that are safe - before 2030.

Unattractiveness
Attractiveness is subjective, so, to try to be a little bit politically correct here, what really matters is how each person feels about him/herself. So if a person is happy with his/her looks, that's fine, even if the rest of the world should disagree. But if you're not happy with your looks, it would be nice if there'd be some non-invasive way to make you look better in your own eyes, making you feel better about yourself.

Today, plastic surgery is an alternative, but it's a rather invasive procedure. We should be getting less invasive methods that can achieve the same thing in the future. Actually, surgery in general has become less invasive in recent years with more widespread use of keyhole surgery, among other things. Eventually, advanced gene editing, maybe in combination with other forms of nano-technology could be all that's needed.

Another solution is, again, virtual reality where you don't have to look like the real you, but can design your appearance just the way you like. You could even look like an imaginary animal if you want. And you could, of course, change your appearance at any time.


I did not include every single reason why someone might be unhappy with their lives, but progress happens on all fronts, so even if I didn't discuss your particular problem, there's probably cause for optimism anyway!

So, I do think everything will be all right in the future. But not just that - I think the future is going to be insanely amazing! I almost can't wait!


1) When we have the tools for it, we may also want to try to eliminate suffering in non-human animals.

2) I really like food, too. Especially chocolate. Lucky for me, I also enjoy exercising.

Gående skal passere hverandre til høyre. Grunnen er at de ikke skal bli påkjørt bakfra.

Det finnes vel strengt tatt ingen offisielle regler for hvilken side av fortauet man skal gå på, men uoffisielt er det definitivt én side (høyre) som er riktigere enn den andre (venstre).

Dessverre er det ikke alle som er klar over dette. Og selv om de fleste heldigvis går på riktig side, er det er et ganske stort mindretall som går feil.

Jeg tror mye av årsaken til forvirringen skyldes at vi som barn ble fortalt at vi skal gå på venstre side av veien. Og det er forsåvidt helt riktig, for da har du kontroll på de bilene som passerer nærmest - de kommer da forfra og ikke bakfra, og du har større muligheter til å komme deg unna hvis en bil holder på å kjøre deg ned.

Nøyaktig samme logikk forteller oss at vi må gå på høyre side av fortauet. Bare se her:

På et fortau som er rett ved siden av en bilvei, må man altså gå til høyre for at de som går nærmest veien skal ha kontroll på bilene som passerer nærmest dem.

Ikke alle fortau ligger rett ved siden av en trafikkert vei, og ikke alle steder hvor gående passerer hverandre er fortau... På disse stedene kan man dermed ikke argumentere med faren for å bli påkjørt, men hvis man skal gå til høyre på vei-nære fortau, er det helt klart enklest å forholde seg til samme regel alle andre steder også: "Gå til høyre".

Biler, sykler, båter - ja, til og med svømmere - passerer hverandre til høyre. Da er det klart at gående skal gjøre det også. Vi har høyre-kjøring i Norge - enkelt og greit!

Should we implement a universal basic income before robots take all our jobs?

- Norwegian version: Bør vi innføre en borgerlønn før roboter tar alle jobbene våre?

Many futurists believe we will have a so-called technological singularity around the middle of this century. If so, this means that artificial intelligence will become smarter than biological intelligence (unmodified humans). When this occurs (if it occurs), artificial intelligence will be smart enough to improve itself, and thus become even more intelligent compared to biological intelligence, and this intelligence explosion will happen at an ever-increasing pace.

[T]he first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

- I. J. Good

Many therefore believe that when/if the technological singularity occurs, robots will take all of our jobs because they can do everything better and cheaper than humans.

But in economics, there is something called comparative advantage, which says that it is efficient that people (and robots) specialize in doing what they are relatively best at. So even if robots would be better at absolutely everything than humans, you still get more done (in a shorter time) if both robots and humans work than if only robots work. The distribution between human and robot jobs should just ("ideally") be arranged so that the sum of what we get done is maximized. 1)

So robots will probably not take all our jobs. In any case, the fact that robots and automation will allow people to work less is really a good thing. As Arthur C. Clarke has said:

The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.

(Granted, there are some people who like working. This kind of desired employment could here be included in the term "play".)

If robots were to do absolutely all the work, that would presumably mean that everything would be free of charge for humans, which is not really possible since all people cannot have all things at once or all be in the same place at the same time. But maybe we can connect our minds to computers and live like kings or superheroes in our own hyper-realistic virtual worlds. If there's an abundance of computing power, that wouldn't necessarily always have to cost anything. And if we're satisfied with that, we might say that everything is free in practice...

Even if everything's not going to get completely free, or even if we don't get a technological singularity, there's still little doubt that the price of goods and services will fall sharply (measured in the number of hours we have to work to afford them) as a result of more and more automation. We do not need to work as much to survive today as we did 100 years ago. Increased automation and more efficient tools (better technology) are the reasons for this.

So, the number of hours we work per week has fallen significantly over the past 100 years, but the question is whether we could have worked even less if the government didn't control approximately half of our income. 2) Maybe the productivity increase we've seen, rather than making it affordable for people to work less, has allowed the government to grow more?

The transition to a society where people work substantially less than today will thus perhaps not be as rapid as it could or should have been. The consequence might be that we get problems with involuntary unemployment when more and more jobs are automated away. Large groups of people could lose their jobs at about the same time, and if new jobs aren't created fast enough (because there are strict rules for what kind of employment contracts the government allows), it may be difficult for them to find new jobs. This may lead to major riots.

As a solution to this potential problem, many people believe that some kind of guaranteed basic income should be implemented. The size of the basic income could for example vary depending on what you do and how you live, so as to provide incentives for good behavior or self-development/education, which is something Martin Ford has argued for in his book The Lights in the Tunnel. Or it could be an unconditional/universal basic income, given to every citizen.

In theory, I'm not entirely opposed to a basic income. If the basic income would replace all of the complicated and often dysfunctional welfare programs attempting to redistribute money today, that would probably be a huge improvement over the current situation, and it might open up a market for private welfare. 3) But if we look at what has happened in the past, it is unfortunately very likely that a basic income will not replace current welfare programs, but will be an addition to them. For that reason, I am still quite skeptical of a governmental basic income.

A basic income-like solution is perhaps still necessary to prevent riots and chaos?

But governments are, like most large organizations, slow to adapt to new changes. Governments are thus becoming more and more obsolete in a world that is changing ever faster. It is important that the solutions to the challenges we face are constantly adjusted to the world we live in. To adapt quickly is something governments are not so good at.

If there should be redistribution of income, it should therefore not be done by governments using coercion, but voluntarily, by private actors that need to compete with each other for people's trust and money.

I wouldn't have been particularly concerned about riots and chaos if the government didn't enforce so many regulations and severe restrictions on what is allowed - things that limit people's opportunities to find effective solutions to the challenges we face. A free market, where companies constantly appear and disappear and can experiment with countless different solutions, is in a much better place to solve our problems than a large, heavy, bureaucratic government, where everyone's forced to do things the same way.

Some form of basic income may be the best solution, but then again, maybe not. I can't, strictly speaking, know for sure what the best solution is. But what I do know is that if you allow everyone to try out the solutions they personally believe in the most, we will eventually end up with good solutions. How will the government be able to find these good solutions if they don't allow people to experiment..?

So, should we introduce a basic income before robots take all our jobs? Well, for one thing, it's not 100% certain that robots are actually going to take all our jobs, but my opinion is: I don't know. Allow people to figure it out without government interference. I realize, however, that in the short term, it's not realistic that the government will leave this to the free market. Another (not quite as good) alternative is that the government abandon its current welfare programs in favor of some kind of basic income. But it also seems unrealistic that the government is going to get rid of all existing welfare programs... A third possibility is that the government stops regulating what kinds of jobs are allowed and at what pay. That's perhaps not entirely realistic, either? Or maybe the government eventually won't have any other choice but to allow this?

Robots and the future of work is a complex subject. It's therefore quite possible that some of my assumptions are wrong. Maybe there's no need to worry? What are your thoughts? What do you think will happen?


1) A few decades into the future, people will probably connect their brains to artificial intelligence in the "cloud" so as to "merge with" artificial intelligence, so the distinction between humans and machines may not be as sharp as one might get the impression of in the rest of this article.

2) I tried to calculate the total taxes, including sales tax, that I paid to the Norwegian government in 2014. It was about 45%, but 50% may be a more typical number for Norwegian citizens. I wrote about it in this blog post (it's in Norwegian).

3) For some people, e.g. disabled people who need a lot of care, a basic income may not be enough. But if people are willing to pay for a social safety net, there should be a market for private actors to help with this. Today, this is hard for private actors to do, since competing with the government, which has near infinite resources, is very hard. But if the government sticks to just providing a basic income, there will be a level playing field for private actors who would like to provide welfare services on top of that, making it possible to turn a profit. A good thing about having private companies provide welfare services is that there will be competition among them - to make the most money each provider needs to be viewed favorably by the public, otherwise people will just stop paying or go to a different provider.

If you're alive in 30 years, chances are good you may also be alive in 1000 years

- Norwegian version: Hvis du lever om 30 år, er det gode sjanser for at du også kan leve om 1000 år

Sounds unlikely? It's not - it's actually quite likely.

The only way to get people to live for a thousand years or more is to develop advanced technologies that can manipulate our bodies down to the cellular and molecular level. So the question is whether humanity will develop the necessary technologies over the next 30 years, or not. Personally, I think it's very close to 100% certain that we'll manage to do this.

That is, we don't have to perfect the technology in 30 years. What we must do is to develop technology that can make old people 10, 20 or 30 years younger, biologically speaking, so an 80-year-old, for example, can get the body of a 60-year-old. In that case, he has bought himself 20 more years of life, and in those 20 years the technology will have progressed even further, so that when he is 100 years and his body again is like an 80-year-old's, he can rejuvenate more than 20 years. In all likelihood we will take treatments more often than once every 20 years, and if so, the remaining life expectancy can be illustrated like this:

Image by Aubrey de Grey (I think)

The figure is not entirely accurate, partly because people aged 100 years and 0 years clearly don't have the same remaining life expectancy today, and also because the curves would be more jagged (since it might go some time between each treatment), but it still illustrates the point well: the numbers above the curves represent how old the person is today (today is all the way to the left in the figure), and if the curve hits the horizontal line at the bottom (the time axis), the person is dead. According to the figure, then, a person who's 80 years old today will have difficulty living forever, while a typical 50-year-old might just make it.

Normally, the remaining life expectancy of a person goes down as time passes and the person gets older. When someone is 50 years old, for example, one thinks that they have a shorter remaining life expectancy than when the person was 30. In the figure that means that the curve always slopes downward towards 0 (the horizontal line) as time passes. But in the future, better technology will cause life expectancy to start increasing: The older we get, the longer we can actually expect to live. In the figure this is illustrated by the curve turning and starting to slope upwards.

It would therefore theoretically be possible to live indefinitely without getting an old body, but not only is it possible for many of us, it is possible even if the technology isn't progressing particularly fast. For it is, like I said, not necessary for the technology that can make us younger to be perfect in 30 years, it only needs to work well enough that we can live long enough to benefit from the technology that will be developed after that. Looking at it like this, it doesn't really take all that much to get people to live for more than 1,000 years.

Many might still be skeptical of the notion that technology will progress fast enough over the next 30 years. Will we be able to rejuvenate people by about 20 years, biologically speaking, in such a relatively short time span? I am almost certain that the answer to that question is Yes.

Because technology will advance fast - very fast.
With a few assumptions, such as the Earth not being hit by a large asteroid, some aspects of the future can actually be predicted with a high degree of certainty. One of these is that we will have more efficient technology in the future than today. It's even become apparent that just how much better the technology will be is also quite easy to predict - in certain areas. The best known example of this is perhaps Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on an area doubles every two years. More generally, the amount of computing power we can buy for a fixed amount of money doubles in a relatively short span of time. 1) This was true long before we got transistors (Moore's Law), and it will probably also hold true after it is no longer possible to increase the number of transistors per area. At that point some other technology with significantly greater potential will take over for transistors.

The time it takes to double computers' performance is only half the time it takes to double the number of transistors per area, for since the spacing between transistors is shorter, it also takes less time for signals to move between them. Thus, the performance of computers doubles, not every other year, but every single year!

The fact that the performance of computers does not increase linearly, but actually doubles at regular intervals, is very important. Those who know the history of the inventor of the game of chess know how few doublings are needed before we get to very large numbers: If we take the number 1 as the starting point, 10 doublings take us to about 1000, 20 doublings get us to a million and 30 doublings from the number 1 take us to a little over one billion. If the price performance of computers doubles every year, the price performance will thus be a billion times better in 30 years than it is today. At that point it's virtually just the imagination that limits what we can achieve with all that computing power.

If we examine how computing power per constant dollar has evolved since the year 1900, we will see that the time between each doubling is actually shorter now than it was 100 years ago. If this trend continues and we extrapolate the trend all the way to the end of this century, we might get a development that looks something like this: 2)

Image from Ray Kurzweil's book The Singularity is Near - When Humans Transcend Biology

Note that the y-axis is logarithmic - each of the marked values on the y-axis is actually 100,000 times greater than the previous one. A straight line pointing upwards in a logarithmic plot corresponds to an exponential (explosive) increase. The amount of computing power we can buy for a given amount of money increases even faster than this!

Computers aren't just getting faster, they are also becoming smarter and can do more and more of the things we previously thought only humans could do. In 1997, the world's best chess player, Garry Kasparov was defeated in chess by a computer. In 2011, two of the world's best Jeopardy players were defeated in Jeopardy by Watson, a supercomputer developed by IBM. So with increased computing power and better algorithms computers have become smarter and smarter. The progress has been very rapid, and if it continues, machine intelligence will at some point not only be faster, but also become smarter than human/biological intelligence. Machine intelligence will then be able to make improvements to itself without input from humans. Ray Kurzweil, whom Bill Gates has called the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence, and who works as director of engineering at Google, is perhaps the best-known futurist, and he has said that this will happen by the year 2045. 2045 is less than 30 years away.

Sure, computers are getting better, but how's that relevant for making people younger?
We take advantage of computers in ever more areas of our lives. According to Ray Kurzweil, as soon as something becomes an information technology, it starts progressing according to Moore's Law. The technology thus begins to progress exponentially, with regular doublings in performance. An information technology is a technology that uses computers extensively. In recent decades, biology and medicine has to an increasing extent started to become an information technology. With computers we can now, among other things:

  • Read human genes.
  • Edit genes with CRISPR/Cas9, a revolutionary technology that has been adopted by laboratories worldwide. Still better technologies for gene editing are under development.
  • 3D print some human organs.
  • Create a physical chromosome designed on a computer. Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute did this in 2010, before putting the chromosome into a cell where it caused the cell to start dividing.
  • Diagnose diseases better than human doctors, based on image files, description of symptoms and information about the patient. (The Watson supercomputer has, among other things, been used for this purpose after its Jeopardy victory.)
  • Measure the body's health condition using small sensors. Do you remember that relatively small device the Star Trek doctors scanned their patients with to diagnose them? In Star Trek, they called it a Tricorder. The X Prize Foundation has an ongoing competition where the goal of the participating teams is to create a Tricorder-like device that can be used to diagnose a few diseases, 16 of them to begin with. The aim is to give people, even in poor parts of the world, easy access to their own health information. Patients must therefore be able to use the Tricorder to diagnose themselves with ease.

So medicine is about to become an information technology, and that's the main reason why we can expect medical technology to advance exponentially in the future.

The more advanced our technology becomes, the smaller sized computers we're able to make, and in the long term we can envisage mini computers the size of red blood cells. We can have billions of these in our blood, and they can act as an artificial immune system that continuously helps our natural immune system to fix things that have gone wrong. In the long term this may be the way we will be controlling the aging process, but fortunately it's not necessary with technology that advanced in order to repair aging damage 'well enough' in the short term.

Most aging researchers agree that there's only about seven fundamental reasons why we age. Aubrey de Grey, the best-known advocate for defeating aging and Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation 3), a charitable organization working to fight aging, stated already more than ten years ago that even without revolutionary new technologies there was about a 50% chance that we would be able, within 25 years, to repair the seven types of aging damage well enough to increase people's life expectancy by 25-30 years.

For this to be achievable in just 25 years, the level of funding would have to be very good, according to de Grey. Thus far, the funding has been far from as good as one might hope for, but important progress has been made, nonetheless, and 2015 was a good year for aging research. Private firms are now trying to develop treatments for four (perhaps soon to be five) of the seven categories of aging damage. Simply removing old "zombie cells" (senescent cells - cells that have stopped dividing, but that aren't being recycled by the immune system) has led to a 25% increase in longevity in mice. Actually, two different companies are now working to develop treatments to remove this type of harmful cells in humans, Unity Biotechnology and Oisin Biotechnology. The more firms competing to develop treatments, the greater the likelihood that someone succeeds, so this is very promising!

So considering how far we've come already and how fast technology is improving and can be expected to improve in the future, I don't think there's any doubt that we'll have the aging process under control in less than 30 years. Maybe 30 years is too cautious an estimate, even. Ray Kurzweil has said that already by 2030, life expectancy will increase by one year per year, and I actually won't be very surprised if he's right. But everyone in the world won't get access to the technology as early as Kurzweil estimates, which is why nearly 30 years might still be closer to the truth for most people?

Is it inevitable that we'll be living much longer lives in the future?
Living a long time is closely linked to being healthy. As long as you have good health, you are not going to die of aging. No matter how skeptical some people are today to the idea of people living lives of more than 1,000 years, I think most of them will still choose good health if they can. No one wants to get cancer, dementia or heart problems. One would have to be pretty principled if one refuses to take the anti-aging treatments that in the future can provide us with much better health, when most other people around us are taking them. It is in everyone's interest to develop these treatments and to have good health. 4) Technology trends indicate that the treatments will arrive soon, and, yes, it is virtually inevitable!

And we're not going to extend human life expectancy to a mere 150 years. It may well be that new, still unknown, types of aging damage will be found to be important when people start approaching 150 years of age, but given the incredibly fast pace of technological progress, at the time when the first humans will be 150 years old, it's going to be easy to figure out how to repair these new types of aging damage. So if you've made it to 150, you're "over the hump" (a long time ago), and then there's simply no limit to how long you can live.


1) An important reason why technological progress is speeding up as rapidly as it is, is that we're developing more and more effective tools, and with more effective tools, we're in turn able to develop even more effective tool.

2) But isn't the pace of technological progress eventually going to slow down? Maybe, but Ray Kurzweil (who thinks people are going to improve themselves by "merging" with the technology we're developing) thinks it's going to be a very long time until that's going to happen. In his essay The Law of Accelerating Returns, he writes:

Can the pace of technological progress continue to speed up indefinitely? Is there not a point where humans are unable to think fast enough to keep up with it? With regard to unenhanced humans, clearly so. But what would a thousand scientists, each a thousand times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating a thousand times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One year would be like a millennium. What would they come up with?

Well, for one thing, they would come up with technology to become even more intelligent (because their intelligence is no longer of fixed capacity). They would change their own thought processes to think even faster. When the scientists evolve to be a million times more intelligent and operate a million times faster, then an hour would result in a century of progress (in today's terms).

3) Donate to SENS Research Foundation.

4) Many people might think that the Earth will be overpopulated if we stop dying. That's far from certain.


This blog post has also been discussed on Reddit (/r/Futurology, /r/singularity) and Hacker News.

Hvis du lever om 30 år, er det gode sjanser for at du også kan leve om 1000 år

- English version: If you're alive in 30 years, chances are good you may also be alive in 1000 years

Du synes kanskje det høres usannsynlig ut? Det er ikke det.

Den eneste måten å få mennesker til å leve i 1000 år og mer på er å utvikle avansert teknologi som kan manipulere kroppene våre helt ned på celle- og molekylnivå. Spørsmålet er altså om menneskeheten kommer til å utvikle den nødvendige teknologien i løpet av de neste 30 årene eller ikke. Personlig mener jeg det er ganske sikkert at vi kommer til å gjøre det.

Det vil si, vi er ikke nødt til å perfeksjonere teknologien på 30 år. Det vi må gjøre er å utvikle teknologi som kan gjøre gamle mennesker 10, 20 eller 30 år yngre, biologisk sett, slik at en 80-åring for eksempel kan få kropp som en 60-åring. Dermed har han kjøpt seg 20 nye år, og på de 20 årene vil teknologien ha kommet enda mye lenger, slik at når han er 100 år og kroppen igjen er som en 80-åring sin, kan han forynges mer enn 20 år. Sannsynligvis vil man ta behandlinger oftere enn hvert 20. år, og da kan gjenværende levealder illustreres omtrent slik:



Figuren er ikke helt nøyaktig, blant annet siden personer på 100 år og 0 år åpenbart ikke har samme gjenværende forventede levealder idag og fordi kurvene ville vært mer hakkete (siden det kanskje vil gå en del tid mellom hver behandling), men den illustrerer likevel poenget godt: Tallene over kurvene representerer hvor gammel personen er idag (idag er helt til venstre på figuren), og hvis kurven treffer den horisontale linjen nederst (tidsaksen), er personen død. Ifølge figuren vil da en som er 80 år idag ha problemer med å leve evig, mens en typisk 50-åring akkurat vil kunne klare det.

Normalt har forventet levealder for en person blitt kortere etter hvert som tiden har gått og personen har blitt eldre. Når noen er 50 år, tenker man for eksempel at vedkommende har kortere igjen av livet enn da han var 30. På figuren betyr det at kurven hele tiden beveger seg nedover mot 0 (den horisontale linjen) etter hvert som tiden går. Men i fremtiden vil teknologi føre til at forventet levealder vil begynne å øke: Jo eldre vi blir, jo lenger kan vi faktisk forvente å leve. På figuren er det illustrert ved at kurven snur og begynner å gå oppover.

Det vil altså i teorien være mulig å leve på ubestemt tid uten å få en gammel kropp, men ikke bare er det mulig for mange av oss, det er mulig selv om teknologien ikke utvikler seg spesielt fort. For det er, som sagt, ikke nødvendig at teknologien som kan gjøre oss yngre er perfekt om 30 år, den må bare fungere bra nok til at vi kan leve lenge nok til å kunne dra nytte av teknologien som vil bli utviklet etter det igjen. Når man ser på det på denne måten, er det egentlig ikke så mye som skal til for at mennesker skal kunne leve i over 1000 år.

Mange er kanskje likevel skeptiske til om teknologien vil utvikle seg fort nok de nærmeste 30 årene. Vil vi klare å gjøre mennesker rundt 20 år yngre, biologisk sett, i løpet av denne relativt korte tiden? Jeg er nesten helt sikker på at svaret på det spørsmålet er Ja.

For teknologien vil utvikle seg fort - veldig fort.
Med enkelte forutsetninger, som at jorda ikke blir truffet av en stor asteroide, er det nemlig visse aspekter av fremtiden man kan forutsi med stor grad av sikkerhet. Ett av disse er at vi vil ha mer effektiv teknologi i fremtiden enn idag. Det har til og med vist seg at ganske nøyaktig hvor mye bedre teknologien vil være også er ganske lett å forutsi - på visse områder. Mest kjent er kanskje Moores lov, som sier at antall transistorer på et areal dobles annethvert år. Mer generelt er det slik at hvor mye regnekraft vi kan kjøpe for en fast pengemengde dobler seg i løpet av relativt kort tid. 1) Dette gjaldt lenge før vi fikk transistorer (Moores lov), og det vil etter all sannsynlighet også gjelde etter at det ikke lenger er mulig å øke antall transistorer per areal. Da vil en annen teknologi med vesentlig større potensiale overta for transistorer.

Tiden det tar å doble datamaskiners ytelse er bare halvparten av tiden det tar å doble antallet transistorer på et areal, for siden avstanden mellom transistorene blir kortere, tar det også kortere tid for signalene å bevege seg mellom dem. Datamaskiners ytelse dobler seg dermed ikke hvert andre år, men hvert eneste år!

Det at datamaskiners ytelse ikke øker lineært, men faktisk dobler seg med jevne mellomrom, er veldig viktig. De som kjenner historien om sjakkspillets oppfinner, vet hvor få doblinger som skal til før vi kommer til veldig store tall: Hvis tallet 1 er utgangspunktet, tar 10 doblinger oss til ca 1000, 20 doblinger tar oss til omtrent en million og 30 doblinger fra 1 tar oss til en litt over en milliard. Dersom datamaskiners regnekraft per pris (price performance) dobles hvert år, vil denne altså være en milliard ganger bedre om 30 år enn idag. Da er det nærmest bare fantasien som setter grenser for hva vi kan bruke all den regnekraften til.

Hvis vi ser på hvordan regnekraft per pengemengde har utviklet seg siden år 1900, ser vi at tiden mellom hver dobling faktisk er kortere nå enn for 100 år siden. Hvis denne utviklingen fortsetter og vi trekker linjene frem til slutten av dette århundret, kan vi få en utvikling som ser omtrent slik ut: 2)

 

Legg merke til at y-aksen er logaritmisk - hver av de markerte verdiene på y-aksen er hele 100.000 ganger større enn den forrige. En rett linje som går oppover på en logaritmisk skala tilsvarer en eksponentiell (eksplosiv) økning. Hvor mye regnekraft vi kan kjøpe for en gitt pengemengde øker altså enda fortere enn dette!

Datamaskiner blir ikke bare raskere, de blir også smartere og kan gjøre stadig flere av de tingene vi før trodde bare mennesker kunne gjøre. I 1997 ble verdens beste sjakkspiller, Garry Kasparov, slått i sjakk av en datamaskin. I 2011 ble to av verdens beste Jeopardy-spillere slått i Jeopardy av Watson, en superdatamaskin utviklet av IBM. Så med økt regnekraft og bedre algoritmer har datamaskiner blitt smartere og smartere. Utviklingen har vært veldig rask, og hvis den fortsetter, vil maskinintelligens på et eller annet tidspunkt ikke bare være raskere, men også bli smartere, enn menneskelig/biologisk intelligens. Maskinintelligens vil da kunne forbedre seg selv uten input fra mennesker. Ray Kurzweil, som av Bill Gates har blitt kalt the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence, og som jobber som sjefsingeniør i Google, er kanskje den mest kjente fremtidsforskeren, og han har sagt at dette vil skje innen år 2045. 2045 er mindre enn 30 år unna.

Greit nok, datamaskiner blir bedre, men hva har det å si for å gjøre mennesker yngre?
Vi bruker datamaskiner på stadig flere områder. Ray Kurzweil pleier å si at så snart noe blir en informasjonsteknologi, begynner utviklingen å følge Moores lov. Teknologien begynner altså å utvikle seg eksponentielt, med jevnlige doblinger i ytelse. En informasjonsteknologi er en teknologi som benytter datamaskiner i stor grad. De siste tiårene har biologi og medisin i økende grad blitt en informasjonsteknologi. Med datamaskiner kan vi nå blant annet:

  • Lese menneskets gener.
  • Editere gener med CRISPR/Cas9, en revolusjonerende teknologi som har blitt tatt i bruk av laboratorier over hele verden. Enda bedre teknologier for editering av gener er under utvikling.
  • 3D-printe en del organer.
  • Lage et fysisk kromosom design'et på en datamaskin. Forskere ved J. Craig Venter Institute gjorde dette i 2010, før de satte kromosomet inn i en celle og fikk den til å formere seg.
  • Diagnostisere sykdommer bedre enn leger, basert på bildefiler, beskrivelse av symptomer og informasjon om pasienten selv. (Superdatamaskinen Watson har blant annet blitt brukt til dette etter seieren i Jeopardy.)
  • Måle kroppens helsetilstand med små sensorer. Husker du den relativt lille dingsen legene i Star Trek brukte til å scan'e pasientene sine med for å sjekke hva som feilet dem? I Star Trek kalte de det for en tricorder. The X Prize Foundation har en pågående konkurranse hvor målet for lagene som deltar er å lage en tricorder-lignende dings som kan brukes til å diagnostisere en del sykdommer, 16 stk i første omgang. Målet er at folk, også i fattige deler av verden, lett skal få tilgang til egen helseinformasjon. Pasienten må derfor enkelt kunne bruke tricorder'en til å diagnostisere seg selv.

Så medisin er iferd med å bli en informasjonsteknologi, og det er hovedgrunnen til at vi kan forvente at den medisinske utviklingen bare vil akselerere i årene som kommer.

Jo mer avansert teknologien blir, jo mindre datamaskiner kan man lage, og på sikt kan man tenke seg mini-datamaskiner på størrelse med røde blodlegemer. Disse kan vi ha milliarder av i blodet vårt, og de kan fungere som et kunstig immunsystem som kontinuerlig hjelper vårt naturlige immunsystem med å fikse ting som ikke er som de skal være. På sikt kan det være slik vi kommer til å kontrollere aldringsprosessen, men det er nok heldigvis ikke nødvendig med avansert teknologi for å kunne reparere aldringsskader "godt nok" på kort sikt.

De fleste aldringsforskere er enige om at det er bare circa syv hovedgrunner til at vi eldes. Aubrey de Grey, den mest kjente forkjemperen for å bekjempe aldring og Chief Science Officer i SENS Research Foundation, en veldedig organisasjon som jobber for nettopp å bekjempe aldring, uttalte allerede for mer enn ti år siden at selv uten revolusjonerende nye teknologier var det rundt 50% sjanse for at man i løpet av ca 25 år ville kunne reparere de syv typene aldringsskader godt nok til å øke menneskers levealder med 25-30 år.

At man ville klare det i løpet av 25 år forutsatte ifølge de Grey at finansieringen var god nok. Finansieringen har langt ifra vært så god som man skulle ønske, men det har likevel blitt gjort viktige fremskritt, og 2015 var et godt år for aldringsforskningen. Innen fire (kanskje snart fem) av de syv kategoriene av aldringsskader er det nå private firmaer som prøver å utvikle behandlinger. Bare det å fjerne gamle "zombie-celler" (senescent cells - celler som har sluttet å dele seg, men som ikke blir resirkulert av immunsystemet) har ført til en 25% økning i levealder hos mus. Faktisk så er det to ulike firmaer som nå jobber med å utvikle behandlinger for å fjerne denne typen skadelige celler i mennesker, Unity Biotechnology og Oisin Biotechnology. Jo flere som konkurrerer om å utvikle behandlingene, jo bedre er sjansen for at noen lykkes, så dette er veldig positivt!

Så med tanke på hvor langt vi har kommet allerede og hvor fort teknologiutviklingen har gått og kan forventes å gå i fremtiden, er det for meg liten tvil om at vi har aldringsprosessen under kontroll om 30 år. Kanskje er til og med 30 år et for forsiktig estimat. Ray Kurzweil har sagt at forventet levealder allerede innen 2030 vil øke med over ett år pr år, og jeg blir faktisk ikke veldig overrasket hvis han får rett i det. Hele verden vil nok likevel ikke få tilgang til teknologien så tidlig som Kurzweil sier, derfor er nærmere 30 år kanskje likevel riktigere for folk flest?

Er det uunngåelig at vi kommer til leve mye lenger i fremtiden?
Å leve lenge er nært knyttet til det å ha god helse. Så lenge man har god helse, kommer man ikke til å dø av aldring. Uansett hvor skeptiske enkelte idag er til tanken om mennesker som lever i over 1000 år, tror jeg de fleste av dem likevel kommer til å velge god helse hvis de kan. Ingen har lyst til å få kreft, demens eller hjerteproblemer. Man skal være rimelig prinsippfast om man nekter å ta anti-aldringsbehandlingene som i fremtiden kan gi oss mye bedre helse når de fleste andre rundt oss tar dem. Det er i vår alles egeninteresse å utvikle disse behandlingene og å ha en god helse. 3) Teknologiutviklingen tilsier at behandlingene snart vil komme, og, ja, det er så godt som uunngåelig!

Og vi kommer ikke bare til å utvide menneskets levealder til for eksempel 150 år. Det kan godt hende nye, hittil ukjente, kategorier av aldringsskader vil gjøre seg gjeldende i så høy alder, men i og med at teknologiutviklingen vil være så utrolig rask på det tidspunktet de første menneskene har rukket å bli 150 år, vil det da være enkelt å finne ut hvordan man eventuelt skal reparere disse nye typene av aldringsskader. Hvis man først har kommet seg til 150 år, er man altså "over kneika" (for lenge siden), og da er det rett og slett ingen grense for hvor lenge man kan leve.


1) En viktig grunn til at teknologiutviklingen akselererer er at vi hele tiden utvikler mer effektive verktøy, noe som gjør det lettere å utvikle enda mer effektive verktøy igjen.

2) Men vil ikke utviklingen flate ut etter hvert? Kanskje, men Ray Kurzweil (som mener mennesker kommer til å forbedre seg selv ved å "smelte sammen" med teknologien vi utvikler) tror det er veldig lenge til det eventuelt vil skje. I artikkelen The Law of Accelerating Returns skriver han:

Can the pace of technological progress continue to speed up indefinitely? Is there not a point where humans are unable to think fast enough to keep up with it? With regard to unenhanced humans, clearly so. But what would a thousand scientists, each a thousand times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating a thousand times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One year would be like a millennium. What would they come up with?

Well, for one thing, they would come up with technology to become even more intelligent (because their intelligence is no longer of fixed capacity). They would change their own thought processes to think even faster. When the scientists evolve to be a million times more intelligent and operate a million times faster, then an hour would result in a century of progress (in today's terms).

3) Mange tenker kanskje at jorden vil bli overbefolket hvis vi slutter å dø. Det er langt fra sikkert.

Kommentarer fra en pessimist: -En helt innlysende velsignelse at folk faktisk dør

Nylig skrev en person som mener omtrent nøyaktig det motsatte av meg en kommentar på et av mine litt eldre innlegg om overbefolkning. Vedkommende mente det var bra at mennesker døde - fordi han/hun var bekymret for overbefolkning og fordi vi gjorde så mye ondt. Det er kanskje en del andre som deler vedkommendes synspunkter, så jeg tenkte det kunne være greit å dele samtalen vår:

Når jeg hører folk diskutere teknologi og medisin som kan stoppe opp og reversere aldringsprosessen hos mennesker er det første spørsmålet som streifer hjernen min:

Finnes det virkelig folk her som vil foretrekke å drukne i egen og andres dritt? Om man ser seg om litt rundt i verden, og ser hvordan menneskene faktisk oppfører seg, må det vel kunne betraktes som en helt innlysende velsignelse at folk faktisk dør. Det faktum at vi klarer å opprettholde liv i så enormt mange mennesker her på Jorden som vi nå gjør, går faktisk på bekostning av alle andre arter. Og man behøver egentlig ikke bevege seg særlig langt heller, for å få et lite innblikk i dette. Om man sporer opphavet til det som ligger på middagstallerkenen vår trer man rett inn i en grotesk verden kun bestående av tortur og lidelse, satt i et ufattelig brutalt og grenseløst system. Vi hogger ned og forpester hele kloden. Slakter ned og utrydder. Torturerer gjerne for en liten slant. Det finnes ingen steder igjen på Jorden som vi med stolthet kan si at: Her har i alle fall ingen mennesker hatt negativ innvirkning av noe slag. Det er ingenting igjen som vi mennesker ikke har køddet til og delvis eller fullstendig ødelagt. Det kan ikke benektes at folketallet på Jorden går hardt ut over alle andre arter, arter som ikke har noen stemme, men som har like mye rett til å leve her og forvalte denne planeten som vi har. Arter som garantert aldri vil gjøre noe skade av noe slag. En annen side av saken er at livskvaliteten til menneskene også går betraktelig nedover ettersom folketallet stiger. Det sier seg jo selv at en ren, frisk og velfungerende klode har mer å gi oss enn en som er nedslitt og forpestet, nedsøplet og forgiftet, misbrukt og oppbrukt. En klode som er helt ute av balanse. Et sted hvor du må kjempe om plassen og hvor ren luft kan kjøpes på flaske.

Jeg har et litt mer optimistisk syn på verden enn deg, og jeg mener det er begrunnet.

Først må jeg innrømme at du har rett i at mennesker påfører andre dyr mye lidelse (jeg er riktignok mer opptatt av individene enn artene). Derfor har jeg begynt å spise mindre kjøtt. Jeg lager nå aldri middager med kjøtt og spiser ikke kjøttpålegg. Men det er også slik at naturen er brutal selv uten mennesker, og det ville fortsatt vært ekstremt mye lidelse blant dyr selv om menneskene ikke hadde fantes.

Det forskes for tiden på å lage ekte kjøtt på en kunstig måte. Hvis det blir billigere og sunnere enn vanlig kjøtt, kommer det etter hvert til å ta over for kjøtt produsert ved å drepe dyr.

Vi kommer også til å utvikle teknologi som kan gjøre mennesker lykkeligere og som kan gjøre at vi (nesten) ikke føler smerte (f eks ved å manipulere genene våre). Tilsvarende teknologi kan på lang sikt brukes til å gjøre dyrs liv mer behagelige. Det er teoretisk sett mulig å utrydde all lidelse i verden, men det kreves isåfall en intelligent art til å gjøre det. Menneskene er da eneste muligheten i overskuelig fremtid.

Det at vi har blitt så mange mennesker på jorda er egentlig veldig logisk. Tidligere var barnedødeligheten mye høyere, slik at for å opprettholde det totale antall mennesker i verden, måtte hver kvinne i snitt få ganske mange barn. Nå som vi har fått bedre teknologi har barnedødligheten sunket, og plutselig har vi en befolkningseksplosjon. Men mange mennesker er langt fra bare negativt. Jo flere vi er, jo fortere kan den teknologiske utviklingen gå, siden vi kan gjøre flere ting samtidig.

Antall barn vi får er riktignok på vei nedover. Mens hver kvinne for 50 år siden fikk 4,9 barn i snitt (på verdensbasis), er det tallet nå nede i under 2,4. Fortsetter nedgangen til under 2, kan det faktisk være helt nødvendig at vi utvikler livsforlengende teknologier for at menneskeheten ikke skal utryddes - for å sette det litt på spissen.

Et annet aspekt av saken er at vi mennesker heller ikke er like snille og greie med hverandre som vi ofte skal ha det til, og som vi helst liker å tro. Horder av mennesker har til alle tider fått utløp for sine mildt sagt lite flatterende sider i alle disse krigene folk på død og pine til enhver tid skal holde på med. I den senere tid har vi daglig blitt eksponert for all den elendighet og djevelskap folk faktisk er i stand til å gjøre mot hverandre. Oftere og oftere ser vi handlinger vi i denne delen av verden tidligere har vært relativt godt skånet og skjermet for. Her kan man ramse i det uendelige, men for ta et eksempel vil jeg nevne foreldre som tvangs-gifter bort døtrene sine. Et lite barn som resten av livet får æren av å bli voldtatt daglig av sin egen mann. Og når denne fysaken av en mann blir lei av henne, og ønsker å bytte henne ut, ja da er det jo bare å beskylde henne for utroskap eller annen ærekrenkede oppførsel. Da vil de samme foreldrene som giftet henne bort stå å kaste stein på henne til hun får så store hodeskader at hun dør av det. I visse kulturer er dette helt normal praksis, og det mener jeg egentlig sier en hel del om selve menneskeheten. Foruten det faktum at folk flest faktisk når alt kommer til alt er narsissistiske egoister, kommer man heller ikke utenom det faktum at veldig mange av oss er rene sadister. For mange mennesker på et lite område vil ikke bare være veldig slitsomt og utarmende, men også rett ut farlig.

Det er stor forskjell på hva mennesker faktisk gjør, og hva du skulle ønske de gjorde om de hadde teknologi som ikke eksisterer. Men en ting skal du ha, det er jo en god tanke.

Det som likevel er positivt er at vi er mindre voldelige nå enn i tidligere tider, noe Steven Pinker sier litt om i denne videoen:

Hvorfor var vi mer voldelige før? Er det arv eller miljø? Jeg er ganske sikker på at det først og fremst har med miljø å gjøre, og at måten samfunnet er organisert på er en viktig faktor. Isåfall er det ikke overraskende at ulike land har ulik grad av voldelighet.

Siden utviklingen har gått mot mindre vold, tenker jeg det er sannsynlig at den utviklingen vil fortsette i fremtiden. Kommer vi noen gang til å få fred i hele verden? Ja, jeg tror det.

Etter at den første stormen av tanker rundt dette med evig liv for alle har lagt seg, innser man jo selvsagt at det aldri vil bli noe av. Om denne teknologien noen sinne vil bli funnet opp, vil den som så mye annet her på Jorden være forbeholdt de aller rikeste. Noe som igjen betyr at det kun vil være de aller mest kyniske og skruppelløse menneskene som vil få muligheten til å leve evig. Aksjeeierne i de største multinasjonale selskapene og en rekke statsledere osv. er folk som vil ligge godt an. Og om andre lenger nedover i hierarkiet skal få ta del i deler av denne teknologien vil det kun være for å tyne noen flere arbeidsår ut av en flittig stakkar. Men hvem kan vel egentlig klandre dem. Det er rett og slett ikke mye kult å stå flere timer i kø til fots på vei opp Gaustatoppen. Det er ingenting som tyder på at menneskeheten noen sinne vil forandre seg.

Hvis du lever om 30 år, mener jeg det er gode sjanser for at du også vil være i live om 1000 år.

Jeg mener den beste måten å få mennesker til å leve veldig lenge på er å reparere aldringsskadene som akkumuleres i kroppen etter hvert som vi blir eldre. Altså å vedlikeholde kroppen ved hjelp av teknologi.

Dessverre er det ganske lite fokus på den angrepsvinkelen. Det er mer fokus på å prøve å stoppe aldringsprosessen, noe som både vil være vanskeligere å få til (fordi kroppen er så utrolig kompleks), og som ikke er til særlig god hjelp for de som allerede er gamle.

Men heldigvis er det ikke lenger tabu å si at man forsker på å bekjempe aldring.
Utviklingen innen biologi og medisin går fort om dagen, og jo mer vi lærer innen de fagområdene, jo lettere vil det være å gjøre den forskningen som skal til for å løse aldringsproblemet.

Teknologien som reparerer aldringsskader vil sannsynligvis ikke bestå av kostbare operasjoner hvor et team med leger skjærer i deg. Den vil heller komme i form av piller og/eller injeksjoner. Det betyr at den potensielt kan bli veldig billig siden fremstillingen av medisinen kan automatiseres. Hvis firmaene som tilbyr medisinen bare selger til de rike til en skyhøy pris, går de glipp av et enormt marked, og de vil antageligvis tjene mer hvis de setter prisen lavere, slik at de fleste har råd.

Riktignok vil prisen nok være høy i begynnelsen, når teknologien heller ikke fungerer spesielt bra, men som med de fleste andre teknologier, vil prisen synke og kvaliteten bli bedre etter hvert. De rike fungerer som forsøkskaniner og finansierer videre forskning ved å betale høy pris før teknologien er moden.

Det er også en mulighet for at behandlingen kan bli finansiert over skatteseddelen, slik at man ikke trenger å betale for behandlingen direkte. Grunnen til at staten kanskje kommer til å gjøre dette er at gamle syke mennesker er en utgift for staten, mens friske arbeidere gir staten inntekter. (Jeg er bekymret for at en slik statlig inngripen kan redusere konkurransen mellom tilbyderne mye, og at prisen man dermed betaler over skatteseddelen blir unødvendig høy.)

Og apropos arbeid: Vi jobber stadig mindre, og det kan vi gjøre fordi bedre teknologi og økt automatisering gjør at vi må jobbe færre timer for å få råd til det vi trenger. Hvis kunstig intelligens i fremtiden blir mye smartere enn biologisk/menneskelig intelligens og roboter i teorien kan gjøre alle jobbene våre, vil vi kanskje ikke trenge å jobbe i det hele tatt.

Fremtiden kan bli veldig bra! Det er så mange trender som peker i riktig retning!

Se gjerne denne videoen hvis du har lyst til å få et mer optimistisk syn på fremtiden:

Jeg har blitt intervjuet på Ole Landfalds podcast

Min første og foreløpig eneste podcast-deltagelse:

Ole Landfald Podcast #15 - Håkon Skaarud Karlsen om teknologi, alderdom og frihet

(Med "alderdom" menes "bekjempelse av aldring".)

 

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Jeg har blitt intervjuet på Ole Landfalds podcast. Vi snakket om fremtidens teknologi, bekjempelse av aldring og frihet:

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