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What if we all put our heads together and thought about possibilities, things that could happen but haven’t yet. In mapping out the future, let’s lump it into three more manageable categories: Near-Term (10-30 years), Medium-Term (30-100 years), and Long-Term (100-1000 years).
Near-Term would include possible extensions of existing processes and/or technologies.
Medium-Term would include possible extensions of Near-Term processes and/or technologies.
Long-Term would include possible extensions of Medium-Term processes and/or technologies.
I will start this out, but you all are invited to join by submitting comments to this post. Add your predictions to the comments. Try to detail what it will do and/or what impact it will have on us. You don’t need to detail how it would be implemented or invented. I will add more predictions via future posts, just to keep the ball rolling. Here’s my first prediction:
Prediction #1 (Near-Term)
There will be VR (Virtual Reality) bodysuits with tactile points remotely correlated to touch points on a VR glove and mediated by VR goggles projecting a virtual representation of the world, oneself, another living being, etc. The VR platform will tie together a digital representation of the senses of seeing, hearing, and touch. It will allow people to reach out with their VR gloves and touch someone they see through his VR goggles, and to feel the pressure, shape, and heat of the touch via the tactile points on the VR bodysuit. The VR bodysuit will have an embedded dense network of nodes capable of receiving digitally conveyed tactile sensations and reproducing them on the physical skin touching that node. The VR bodysuit will cover the entire body and be form fitting over all appendages. The suit itself will be breathable and weigh hardly anything.
Remote digitization of the senses of taste and smell will probably be introduced to the VR platform later.
I started out at Ohio State University majoring in Fine Arts. Two years later, I switched majors to Psychology. When I graduated OSU, I went looking for a job, thinking I’d combine my fine arts background with the psychology I’d learned. Five out of five companies I interviewed showed little interest in fine arts, psychology, or any combination thereof. It was 1969 and all the companies were looking for computer programmers back then, so I went to work for Sears, Roebuck and Company as a computer programmer.
Sears had an excellent training program and I fell head over heels in love with computer programming. I remember my first day of training. We were told to draw a flowchart that would direct a hypothetical robot to enter our office building, go up three elevators, get off on the 47th floor, and go to our office cubicle. We hadn’t learned any computer language yet, so we had to write our instructions for the robot using basic English commands that wouldn’t lend themselves to misinterpretation, like “walk straight until you reach the first elevator” or “press the button with “47” printed on it”.
I later found out, after reading Donald Knuth’s “Fundamental Algorithms” (The Art of Computer Programming Vol 1), that a flowchart is a graphic representation of an algorithm. Knuth stated that algorithms were similar to processes, methods, procedures, or routines, but also possessed the following attributes:
finiteness: algorithms have to terminate after a finite number of steps. They can’t go on forever;
definiteness: operations (steps) have to be rigorously and unambiguously specified for every possible case;
inputs: data may or may not be given to an algorithm before or during its operation;
outputs: data generated by an algorithm’s operation that bears some relation to its input;
effectiveness: an algorithm must be able to be precisely performed within a finite period of time and must be exactly repeatable.
These attributes imply that not everything is an algorithm as the title of my post suggested.
Algorithms are the cornerstone of all computer and robot programming, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. The implementation of algorithms requires that the operations, cases, inputs, and outputs specified for each algorithm be converted to a format that can be processed by a specific machine or operating system. Computer hardware is built to perform certain basic operations efficiently. Unfortunately, the formats a computer can “understand” are usually incomprehensible to the average human. Computer software allows general or special purpose algorithms to be written by humans (or other machines) to operate on a specific set of computers.
Remember that algorithms are processes, methods, procedures, or routines with extra attributes. We’ve implemented them on computers and robots. Nobody ever said that algorithms are limited to just those systems though.
What about cellular organisms, bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals? What about human beings? Why couldn’t we substitute plastic for flesh, organs, and muscles, metal for bones, gold and wires for nerves, or vice-versa? What about life itself, the brain, consciousness, or love? Could there be an algorithm for life, consciousness, or love?
It seems reasonable to me to assume that life, consciousness, and love possess the following attributes:
they are processes;
the processes are probably composed of a finite number of steps;
the processes probably have inputs and generate outputs.
but life, consciousness, and love are currently missing a couple critical attributes:
we don’t know all the operations required or the cases in which those operations occur;
we don’t know how to go about encoding the algorithms to make them effective.
Maybe we don’t need to know all the operations involved in life, consciousness, and love. Maybe we just need to know enough to create viable processes or processes capable of bootstrapping whatever else they need whenever they need it.
There are more questions on this subject than answers. I’m ok with that. There’s no known algorithm for whittling a huge block of ignorance down to a beautiful piece of knowledge or for whittling a piece of goodness out of a huge block of evil. That’s probably because those are processes that go on forever,
or at least as long as hope springs in the human breast.
The only way you’re going to have an adventure, good or bad, will be when you are alone. The reason is that two or more people make a normality.
A normality is a mutually agreed worldview and set of rules and beliefs establishing the boundaries of possibility and safety. Once we agree about what kind of world we live in, we get to decide what is or is not possible, proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable, true or false, beautiful or ugly, visible or invisible, etc.
An adventure is everything a normality is not. You don’t know what kind of world you’re in. You don’t know the rules. Maybe there are none. An adventure is boundless. Anything is possible. There are no safety nets, no guarantee of safety. You may or may not survive a war, a revolution, a pogrom, or a holocaust. You might discover and explore a new world and come back home famous and rich beyond your wildest dreams or you might be tortured and die far from home, unknown or forgotten. You might marry the love of your life or be rejected.
An adventure is deeply personal. Although you may share an adventure with someone else, your foxhole buddy, your squad, your company, your battalion, what happens to you all, happens to each one in a very different way, the fears and the loves, the successes and the failures. No matter how many people are killed, only you can die your own death. No matter how many people fall in love, when you fall in love, it’s you and no one else that falls in love.
In a battlefield, army buddies will try to turn the adventure of combat into a normality, into something safe or boring. It’s just a way of trying to deal with the terror of war. There’s a limit to how much terror an individual soul can take. Shutting down the terror works, until it doesn’t work anymore, until its insistence can’t be ignored.
I remember back in 1983 riding through Beirut on the way to our base in the Shouf mountains in a convoy of Safari trucks. We called them duce-and-a-halfs when I was in the US Army. Now I was in the Israeli Defense Forces. The truck sides were open, a guy behind a machine gun on each side, and the rest of us, bullets chambered, weapons looking for targets. I tried to look as mean as I could and didn’t talk during the whole trip. When we finally pulled into our base in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the soldier sitting next to me said in Hebrew we’re safe now. No need to be afraid anymore. I told him I wasn’t afraid before but, the truth was, I didn’t feel any safer inside the base than outside of it. At night we went to sleep in full battle gear with rifles under our thin mattresses on metal cots, serenaded by the Druze and the Christians lobbing mortar shells over us at each other. During the day I had to lay field phone cable a mile or so from Syrian shooting positions.
People often wish wistfully for an adventure. I think they’re highly over-rated. That said, I believe adventures bring us closer to reality than normalities.
There is an ancient Greek paradox, called the Sorites Paradox, originally attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. “Sorites” is Greek for “heap”. The paradox goes like this: suppose you have a heap of sand and then you start removing one grain of sand at a time. At what point does the heap of sand stop being a heap.
You can reverse it: start out with one grain of sand and then add another grain and another. At what point do your grains of sand become a heap?
Now, we can apply this paradox to more interesting categories of subjects.
A child is shamed by a number of his classmates and hangs himself as a result. Let’s say hypothetically the number of classmates involved in shaming the child was five. Say one less classmate shamed him. Would he still hang himself? Say two less? Three less? Let’s reverse it: say one person shamed him. Then two. Then three. At what point would the child be so ashamed that he would take his own life?
During an average week, there are one or two mass shooting incidents somewhere in America. A mass shooting has been defined for statistical purposes as gun-related deaths or injuries of at least four people. We could go back over the years and add up all the gun-related deaths and come up with a mind-boggling number. My question is this: at what point in the future will we collectively decide that enough is enough and pass laws to regulate who gets legal access to guns and rifles? A million? Ten million? A hundred million?
At what point does the murder of non-combatants become genocide? At what point does it become a Holocaust? A thousand? A million? Six million? We know by studying history that the actions of Hitler and the Nazi party led to the Holocaust. How many of those actions does another nation’s leader have to take before we can say that these actions will lead to another holocaust? One? Ten? A hundred?
We can study history and learn its lessons, but that does not necessarily mean that we will know how to apply those lessons to our present or future situations.
Shimon Peres once said that we should spend more time studying the future than studying the past. How do we study the future? We start out by asking ourselves what we want and then figure out what we have to do to get from now to then.
But there are things we can never know with any kind of precision, like how much cruelty, injustice, unfairness, deprivation, derision, ridicule, or invisibility can a person or a group of people take before they can’t take any more? What can we do? How do we know that what we are doing to someone is the last straw for him or her? Immanuel Kant provided the answer in his Categorical Imperative. He said we should consider what would happen if everyone did what we are thinking about doing. Kant asserted that if everyone did it and it would lead to the destruction of society, then it would be immoral; otherwise, it would be moral, or at least not immoral. I would suggest a slight alteration of Kant’s assertion for our purposes: if everyone did it before you and it is something you wouldn’t want done to you, then your doing so should be treated like the last straw, should be avoided, and another way should be sought.
The Freedom Paradox is that we are free to do or say whatever we want, but we are not free of the consequences of what we do or say. Everything we do or say has consequences, like the ripples a stone thrown into a pond cause. Although we can never know all the consequences of our actions, we must take responsibility for them as adults. The law may let us off the hook on certain of those consequences, but the laws of morality and reality do not let us off any hook whatsoever.
Don’t you all think it’s about time?
What I like about Evelyn Augusto’s effort to help stop gun violence is that she combines poetry with action. She visits high schools to offer students tools that are not self-distructive. Evelyn’s contact info is at the bottom of the poster. Contact her if you’d like her to speak to your local high school.
At this writing, according to the Gun Violence Archive there have been twenty-five school shootings thus far this year resulting in twenty-five deaths and 118 injuries.
If you agree that we need to share this info – get the word out – please feel free to cut and paste this into a post on your own site or just use the WP reblog feature. Thank you!
For most of us, who don’t have direct access to experimental evidence, there’s not much difference between what we know for sure and what we believe. Please reread the first sentence. I am not being a Doubting Thomas or a cynic. I’m just asserting an obvious fact. Only a few people, scientists and lab technicians, have direct access to experimental evidence. Only they can test a hypothesis, control the inputs, and measure the results. When the results are valid, interesting, can be replicated and pass peer reviews, then and only then can we read them and form our own opinions about the results. Our opinions are based on our beliefs: our belief that the tests were rigorously controlled and statistically significant, the results were replicated independently, the peer reviews were objective and the hypothesis is consistent with our other beliefs.
Most of us may say that we know something for sure, but what we are really saying is that we believe that something to be true.
I’m not even saying that science is a religion because that would be a disservice to both science and religion. Both have their own domains and rules of validity. Not many of us possess the time or the resources to verify hypotheses about objective reality. If all of us had to verify scientifically whether the ground beneath our feet is solid (which it is not), we never would have descended from the trees of our local savannah a million or so years ago.
I am saying most of us don’t have direct access to objective reality, which makes what scientists do exceedingly important to us.
Even the things we believe that don’t correspond to objective reality can be very important to us. There are “provable” fictions we believe that organize and synchronize us, that make multitudes of us coherent over space and time, and that provide us social identities that outlive any individual member.
Fictions give rise to religions, nation-states, armies, corporations, tribes, families and mobs. Organizations based on fictions can be temporary or can last thousands of years. They can comprise two or more people, or billions.
One of the fictions important to me is the fiction of the soul or spirit. Today, I wrote a poem about the relationship between body and spirit.
Raanana, January 6, 2018
The spirit and the body live symbiotically,
Though neither needs the other,
They both enrich each other.
The body imagines the spirit
Upon which the spirit incorporates the body
With its traits of goodness and beauty
And they grow by consuming each other,
Though neither is lessened in doing so.
The spirit sees all things, but not the individual,
The body sees only the particular and not the allthing.
The spirit can see forever, but knows not the time of day,
The body knows this moment, but not what was or what will.
Together, they are God and the universe.
Because of them, there are acts of God
And the day-to-day happenings of the world.