The title of this overall discussion has made obvious reference to Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel called ‘Brave New World’ and along the way made some comparisons to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ novel written some 13 years later. As indicated, while these were works of fiction, rather than speculative science, it is clear that both authors saw the potential for humanity to go down a path that could lead to totalitarian governance, albeit different in scope. We might consider this position in terms of an extract taken from a speech by Huxley to the Tavistock Group in 1961.
"There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution."
In Huxley's fictional 'Brave New World', the drug 'soma' is used as a pleasurable distraction from worry, tension and pain of life, which in terms of our present-day world, we might expand to include all the pleasures on offer via technology. In this context, technology rather than religion may become the 'opium of the masses' used to placate social unrest and achieve a form of totalitarianism without necessarily resorting to violent. The earlier discussion of ‘Fortress World' also highlighted the potential for a specific form of totalitarian governance that may seek to protect itself and some portion of the population from perceived threats, both internal and external. However, this was not really a prediction, but rather just one of many possible ‘brave new worlds’ that might await in the future. For any review of past predictions suggests that most do not foresee the implications of a new technology that may not yet even exist and even when it does, we missed the possibility that it will be used in ways that are not understood.
In 2004, Bill Gates stated ‘Two years from now,
spam will be solved’.
Today, spam accounts for over 90% of all e-mail sent.
While any search of the internet will point to hundreds of predictions that were simply wrong, we might see how the prediction above over-estimated the possibility for a technical solution and under-estimated both the social and economic dimensions for abuse. Possibly more worrying for the prediction industry is that we might perceive Bill Gates to be better qualified than most to make a technical prediction that ranged only 2 years into the future, while completely missing the scale of social and economic abuse of the Internet in the following decade. However, other examples, see insets right, might suggest that this is not a new phenomena.
So are predictions of any kind simply pointless?
As indicated, if you do not take a prediction as a literal statement of what will be, but rather as a possibility that may be worthy of some consideration, then they can serve a useful purpose. Of course, there is still the problem of separating futures that are simply possible from those that are more probable, which we might quantify using a rule of thumb that the accuracy of any prediction quickly falls as a function of time. As such, even the constraint of 100 years placed on this discussion might still suggest that the future will have more than a few ‘surprises’ that have not even been considered. Therefore, we might be attempted to ask a simpler question.
Will the world get better or worse?
Unfortunately, while this might appear to be a much simpler question, it can only really be answered by the ‘winners and losers’ in any given society and where the idea of ‘better’ will be the subjective view of some future generation. However, unlike Huxley, who only projected a single ‘brave new world’, this discussion has alluded to the possibility that the future of humanity might be fragmented into what might become sub-species defined by both technology and genetics, see Hybrid AI Paradigm for details. While the following timeline extrapolates this paradigm further into the future than this discussion wishes to speculate, it might provide a framework in which some technology developments might take place.
It has been argued that technology will define the future more than any other factor in terms of its impact on the human ecosystem, i.e. social, economic and political, which may be both positive and negative. For example, we might start with the assumption that the future demand for energy can be solved without necessarily inflicting further global environmental damage, which might help the lives of millions of people.
Note: Probability suggests that global energy production will continue to used fossil fuels for some considerable time to come, where CO2 concerns may be moderated by new carbon capture developments. However, renewable energy sources will also continue development along with the necessary energy storage technology, although the cost of this approach might still be questioned. In addition, it is believed that many developed nation states may consider deploying a new generation of nuclear energy plants.
At this time, the idea of energy becoming more plentiful is not unreasonable, especially in developing economies, although the assumption that this energy will be cheaper might be questionable. However, the possibility that energy could become both cheap and plentiful could help address water shortages by utilising large-scale desalination plants, which could then reverse much of the desertification now being experienced in many regions of the world. Such change could also transform agricultural production in these regions and help feed millions who might otherwise perish through lack of water and food. Likewise, energy is also needed to maintain and potentially expand the global transport system, which now delivers so many of ‘ life’s essentials’ to the modern world. By the same token, cheap and plentiful energy may also help other technology developments to revolutionise food production using both small and large-scale hydroponic systems, which then minimise the need for soil by using mineral nutrients supplied in water solution. Continuing on this positive note, other innovations in medical research may lead to new cheaper vaccines that save the lives of even more millions, especially in the developing economies. While all these possibilities are positive, we also need to consider such developments on other aspects of the global human ecosystem.
What is the largest global population that planet Earth can support?
Today, there is the suggestion that the global population might peak somewhere between 10-15 billion by 2100, although the quality of life for a large portion of this global population might still be questioned. If so, should the goal be to elevate everybody to not only have an equal quality of life as those in the richest nation-states, but actually aspire to give everybody an even better quality of life than we might imagine possible today. Clearly, this is a laudable goal, but one that leads us to another question.
Is there an upper limit to the global population?
There is some statistical evidence that human population growth may slow as people around the world gain access to a better life, although we possibly need to question what a ‘better life’ might mean in the future, especially when considering the potential impact of AI-robotic automation. However, if we initially assume that all human life is precious and nobody has the right to limit its proliferation, then the issue of some upper limit to the human population on planet Earth may only be answered in one of two ways. Either the human population reaches some upper limit based on an individual choice to secure a better quality of life or natural selection may return with a vengeance if resources fail to support any further increase. As indicated, there is some statistical evidence that the first option has been taken by most developed economies, such that population growth not only reaches some maximum, but actually starts to decline, although the social and psychological rationale for this phenomenon might need to be considered further. However, irrespective of whether the global population rises or falls, we may still need to consider another aspect to the population question.
Is there an optimal limit to the global population?
It is realised that this is potentially quite a provocative question and one that may depend on future developments, which at this time are still speculative. However, the issue of AI-robotic developments has highlighted a potential impact on the future of human society, especially in the context of unemployment, where any inequality between the ‘haves and have-nots’ may become increasingly orientated towards IQ differentials, rather than wealth. However, while this issue leads us towards some very politically sensitive issues, the emphasis on human intelligence cannot necessarily be ignored in a future world seeking to capitalise on artificial intelligence (AI), while possibly trying to minimise the implications of negative human traits, as implied in the diagram below.
Understandably, many will interpret the diagram above as being politically incorrect, irrespective of the statistical evidence that IQ is an indicator of such traits. Again, it needs to be highlighted that the chart above only represents a statistical distribution that cannot be applied to any individual plus it needs to be recognised that IQ, in isolation, is not necessarily a guarantee of success. However, statistically, higher IQ does reflect the type of employment and income that can be secured, although it is unclear whether IQ alone will be enough to protect all in terms of AI automation.
So will AI be ‘bad news’ for most of humanity?
Note: The earlier discussion of AI-Robotic Developments outlined the potential of this type of technology. While probability would support this development, the timescales of many predictions in this area might be subject to much marketing hype in order to secure further financial investment. While accepting the field of robotics is making considerable progress, autonomy of action requires more sophisticated AI and far better manual dexterity if deployment is to expand into all physical environments. Today, probability might suggest that AI could come to threaten cognitive employment more quickly than general manual labour, especially in terms of cost reduction of professional salaries.
As the sum total of human history attests, change creates ‘winners and losers’ and there appears to be little evidence that this will not apply in the near future. However, given the increasing dependency of human civilisation on the development of technology, especially in the area of AI, it seems that highly unlikely that humanity will turn away from this future unless some global catastrophic event occurs, although we may need to recognise that such an event is not necessarily improbable. If we put aside the idea of a global disaster for the moment, we might reasonably assume that further developments in genetics and nanotechnology, augmented by AI, may only compound the impact on human society, which leads us back towards the issue of social, economic and political instability, which is already apparent in today’s world. This instability then raises another question.
What other technology might change the situation outlined above?
The last technology outlined in this overall discussion was entitled ‘Space Developments’ . After some 50+ years, humanity again appears to be taking up the challenge of space exploration in terms of the projected missions to the Moon and Mars. The reality of both manned and unmanned space missions is now becoming increasingly probable in light of all the other Technology Developments outlined. While this closing discussion will not repeat the arguments already covered, it is assumed that space technology will become capable of establishing small working space colonies in the near future, which may then grow to become space-cities in the longer term. However, such developments may well come to have some serious implications on Earth-bound societies, both in terms of resources and human development. While initial funding for space exploration might still require large government support, it is assumed that private enterprise will become increasingly attracted to the industrial and commercial opportunities that lay within a relatively close proximity of Earth, e.g. Moon, Mars and asteroid belt. While some aspects of this exploration will continue to be orientated towards manned research missions, it is probable that AI-robotic systems will become the preferred option for many industrial and commercial ventures that may then only require minimal human crews. As large-scale space industries expand over time, it is possible that they may be able to provide many important resources, not only to Earth, but in support of the further colonisation of space. Again, without repeating earlier arguments, it is assumed that the wider human habitation of space will first be pioneered by people working on industrial facilities, similar in scope to deep-sea oil rigs, which would not be conducive for long-term habitation by a wider population. In this respect, it has been argued that a rotating space-station that can simulate Earth-like gravity might be the first and most practical stepping-stone to the colonisation of space. These space-stations could be moved into orbit around or near a planet or asteroid from which AI and telepresence robotic systems might ‘harvest’ all or most of the required resources. However, there is a suggestion that these space-stations might develop into space-cities, where its inhabitants more readily accept the imposition of technology as a necessity for their survival, such that they begin to ‘evolve’ independently to the rest of humanity back on Earth.
Where might this speculative assumption leave the rest of humanity?
While there are potentially many implications, we might highlight just two. First, the population profile of the inhabitants of any form of space-station or eventual space-city will undoubtedly differ from the normal population distribution on Earth for the simple reason that everybody will have been selected to meet certain criteria, e.g. intelligence, skills and emotional stability. Second, as indicated, this population may be more likely to accept further technology developments as a matter of necessity, inclusive of genetic and AI augmentation as already outlined in the Hybrid AI Paradigm. In this respect, space colonies may become isolated from the social norms back on Earth, which may then allow them to adopt both physical and mental augmentation without the normal pressure of social conformance.
Note: While this discussion is attempting to restrict the scope of technical developments, reference might be made to an earlier discussion entitled
It is realised that many will reject the idea of mental and physical augmentation because from today’s perspective it may appear dehumanising. However, we possibly need to consider what our ancestors, of just a few generations ago, would make of modern society that appears increasingly fixated on trivia continually being streamed to our smartphones and where our ability to function in society may already depend on an ability to navigate ‘The Web’ using ‘Google search’ . As stated, it has been assumed that technology will be the primary driver of change, which then affects all other aspects of the human ecosystem, i.e. social, economic and political. For this reason, the discussion of Social Evolution was focused on the issues that might best quantify the probability of ‘success’ in the future, i.e. intelligence and the ability to learn new skills. However, as previously suggested, AI developments may also affect employment in sectors that currently require high cognitive ability, although longer-term robotic automation, dependent on AI, still has the potential to erode many manual skill jobs.
Note: In the example of space-stations and space-cities above it was suggested that inhabitants of these micro-societies would be selected based on intelligence and skills. While this might be perceived as a somewhat unique or hypothetical example, it can be argued that some form of selection process has always taken place to some degree in all societies, at all times, which then separates the winners from the losers. To assume this will not continue is possibly too naïve to register on any probability scale.
In the context of this overall discussion, the only certainty that has been expressed is the idea that the future will still be divided by winners and losers. However, humanity may have a choice as to whether it might moderate the extremes of winning and losing, such that any benefits stemming from technology might be more equitably distributed, although it is recognised that this may simply be wishful thinking. For earlier reference was made to Price's Law, which suggested that the amount of creative work produced could be attributed to the square root of the total number of contributors, such that success in creative work would result in an exponential bias towards a small percentage of the population. However, it was also recognised that Price’s law was only a mathematical model that might not apply to all populations undertaking different types of tasks, which might be more representative of larger populations, i.e. a large economy. In terms of a large economy that supports both the social and political infrastructure, it was suggested that 50/20 Principle might be more applicable, which would then suggest that 80% of any given population might fulfil some form a functional role within society. This said, we might still have to accept that genuinely creative work, both in the arts and science, may still be biased towards Price’s law. Of course, AI-robotic automation may yet further complicate this situation, if it becomes capable of not only undertaking a higher percentage of menial functions within a society, but also many of its creative functions.
So will the future be a utopian dream or dystopian nightmare?
In Orwell’s novel ‘1984’, the future might rightly be described as a dystopian nightmare for most, if not all its population, such that it probably would not represent a stable form of long-term governance. However, Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ novel is possibly more difficult to judge in as much that the majority of the population were apparently content, albeit as a result of genetic manipulation, social indoctrination or simply drug induced. Of course, while the reader of Huxley’s novel might readily perceive some of the flaws in this fictional world, they may not immediately be aware of the parallels with the English class system in 1933, when Huxley wrote his novel.
Note: As a crude summary, Huxley’s world was divided into a hierarchical caste system labelled Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. In this system the Alpha and Beta castes were representative of an elite who were not necessarily produced to be genetically identical, such that they might have a degree of individuality that extended to higher mental and physical characteristics. In contrast, the Gamma, Delta and Epsilon were more representative of a mass-produced working class, whose function in society required increasingly lower mental ability and possibly less aesthetic physical characteristics.
As indicated, the note above is a crude summary of Huxley’s caste system, but one which might have some obvious parallels in real-world societies, where ability is statistically defined within a distribution curve of a given population. In Huxley’s time, the English class system was still a reflection of an older and more rigid aristocratic hierarchy, which was slowly giving way to ability rather than a birth-right, where Huxley’s caste system might be seen as a mixture of both. Today, we see much discussion of a conceptual ‘elite’ who appear to reap the benefits of society disproportionately in comparison to everybody else and while financial success can still be achieved by what some might unkindly described as half-witted celebrities, it is not necessarily unreasonable to assume that wealth, power and influence are still more consistently linked to intellectual ability.
But what of the future?
As argued throughout this discussion, it is assumed that all possible ‘brave new worlds’ will still be defined in some way by the evolution of winners and losers, but where the idea of ‘winning’ may become increasingly dependent on ability and skills, rather than birth-right or simple luck. However, there is a distinct probability that developments in genetics and AI-robotic systems will act as a ‘wild-card’ in the evolutionary process of humanity, which might allow a small minority to function essentially without need of the larger majority of the population. If this proves to be the case, it will be a ‘paradigm shift’ between the past and the future, which will profoundly change the nature of human society. Again, many may be disturbed by the direction of this line of reasoning, and in truth they probably have good reason to be, as it suggests that some portion of the ‘larger majority’ may come to have a diminishing role in the ‘brave new world’ of the future, where an increasing number of functions might be carried out by AI automated systems. Of course, today, many will reject the possibility of this idea, let alone accept its probability, which is not necessarily unreasonable as what has been described is not certainty, but rather just one possible path that might be taken.
Note: Huxley's novel was never intended to be an accurate prediction of the future, but rather more as a metaphor for the possible implications stemming from technology, which then allowed a system of totalitarian governance to be imposed. While, today, we have not advanced to the point where this form of global totalitarianism is obvious or even possible, we might still consider some worrying parallels. In Huxley’s world, social stability is a primary goal, such that social conflict is minimised within a ‘hedonistic’ culture, while economic prosperity is engineered. However, this form of stability required the imposition of technology in the form of a genetically engineered caste system supported by social indoctrination and a drug-induced sense of happiness. However, in order to maintain economic prosperity, marketing propaganda is used to fuel excessive consumerism required to maintain production and the control of an elite, i.e. the alphas. In this context, technology is not the real problem, but rather the instrument by which the government, i.e. the alphas, can enforce the social order that maintains their position in society.
However,it is possible that some might perceive some disturbing similarities between Huxley’s fictional world and the developing reality of our own world. Of course, on the other hand, some might simply assume humanity will turn away from the stupefied utopia of Huxley’s world or hope that its reality exists sufficiently far into the future, such that it need not concern us. Of course, from another perspective, future generations might simply cast we who are alive today in the role of Huxley’s savage, such that we possibly need to be reminded of the end of the story.
“Mr Savage!” There was no answer. The door of the lighthouse was ajar. They pushed it open and walked into the shuttered twilight. Through an archway on the further side of the room they could see the bottom of the stairs that led up to the higher floors. Just under the crown of the arch dangled a pair of feet. “Mr Savage!”. Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and after a few seconds, turned as unhurried back towards left, south-south-west, south, south-east, east . . .”