7 November 2009

The trend beyond green

Filed under: Humanity Plus, vision — David Wood @ 10:55 pm

Here’s a thought for the weekend – an idea that pulls together quite a lot of what’s on my mind.

Huge changes in products and technology investment are underway in the wake of the green revolution.  This revolution recognises that, whatever we humans do, we need to be aware of our impact on nature as a whole.  Our usage of energy and other resources needs to avoid triggering enormous adverse changes in the natural world – changes that will significantly diminish our capability for ongoing civilisation.

Clever minds worldwide are, understandably, giving great thought to this requirement, and are regularly proposing new ways of generating and using energy.  These minds need every encouragement.

This green revolution can be viewed as the “nature plus” trend: the recognition that human actions must change, so that rather than destroying our natural roots, we preserve them and build upon them.

My perception, however, is that there’s another trend brewing – a trend that will have an equally dramatic impact on products and technology investment, and on human actions and aspirations.

If green can be characterised as “nature plus”, this new trend can be characterised as “humanity plus“.  Tentatively, I dub this as the “blue revolution”, since blue is the colour of the sky, and I want to describe a movement away from dependency on nature – a movement that will become “without earthly limits”.

The core idea is that the waves of disruptive change that are bursting through human society will not reach any kind of stability or calm until humans are living in conditions that are very substantially improved from those of the present.  We’re not going to reach any kind of new harmony with nature, until such time as humans are living dramatically enhanced lives.

This new quality of life will be far in advance of the lifestyles which have been perceived for most of history as our “human destiny”.  The state of “humanity plus” involves:

  • technologies which give us all the ability to be smarter, stronger, wiser, kinder, calmer, and friendlier;
  • lifestyles that are recognisably “better than well”;
  • the opportunity for freedom from the tyranny of disease, decrepitude, and decay;
  • lifes that are not just “extended” but also “expanded”, with very many new fields of experience;
  • great benefits from assistance by friendly robots and friendly super-AIs;
  • an economy in a sustainable state of abundance.

The first driver for achieving this “humanity plus” future is the thoughtful development and deployment of emerging technologies – including nanotechnology, human regenerative engineering, robotics and AI, human-machine interfaces, and geo-engineering.  These technologies have tremendous potential, and remarkable improvements in them are taking place all the time.  Indeed, the rate of improvement is itself accelerating.

The second driver for achieving this future – equally important – is a set of changes in mindset:

  • rather than decrying technology as “just a technical fix”, we must be willing to embrace the new resources and opportunities that these technologies make available;
  • rather than seeking to somehow reverse human lifestyle and aspiration to that of a “simpler” time, we must recognise and support the deep and valid interests in human enhancements;
  • rather than thinking of death and decay as something that gives meaning to life, we must recognise that life reaches its fullest meaning and value in the absence of these scourges;
  • rather than seeing the status quo as somehow the pinnacle of existence, we must recognise the deep drawbacks in current society and philosophies, and be prepared to move forwards;
  • rather than seeing “natural” as somehow akin to “the best imaginable”, we must be prepared to engineer solutions that are “better than natural”;
  • rather than seeking to limit expectations, with comments such as “this kind of enhancements might become possible in 100-200 years time”, we should recognise the profound possible synergies arising from the interplay of technologies that are individually accelerating and whose compound impact can be much larger.

To be clear, I don’t see the blue revolution as opposing or superseding the green revolution.  The fundamental insight of the green revolution is correct: we cannot live in ways that cannot be supported by nature.  However, the blue revolution adds a very important new dimension.

Likewise, I see the blue revolution as being aligned with the earlier “red revolution” – namely, the insight that improvements in human life need to be made accessible to everyone, rather than being restricted to people of a particular neighbourhood, clan, race, or class.  The technologies which drive the “humanity plus” enhancements should deliver their results for increasingly low cost, so that everyone benefits.

Footnote: For some similar ideas, take a look at the Singularity University website, and at the Wikipedia article on Transhumanism.

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