Back in 1983, prolific writer Isaac Asimov was asked to imagine what the world would be like well into the 21st Century: 2019 to be precise.
Now, considering that much of his prolific writing was science fiction, it’s well worth reading. Remember, this is the guy who wrote the Foundation series which had the field of “psychohistory” that was able to predict future trends. I found his predictions to be prescient in some aspects and hopeful and others. I suppose someone might find that in and of itself unremarkable, but just as with much of Asimov’s fiction, the fun part comes from how he analyzes how society fashions itself.
Sean Illing has an interview in Vox with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey about his work on tackling aging.
Aubrey de Grey, whose prodigious beard is dwarfed by his prodigious research ambitions, famously believes that combating aging is an engineering problem. In other words, medical therapies can be developed and can be worked on now given our current scientific understanding of aging damage.
I remember first learning about the work of Dr. de Grey when he and others set up the Methuselah Foundation a little over a decade ago. While Methuselah still continues its work, de Grey has since co-founded another research foundation. They are actively working on what they term seven different categories of aging “damage” presumably trying to mitigate or outright reverse what we know of as aging.
It’s hard not to read about these goals and think of the countless times aging and immortality have been brought up in works of fantasy and science fiction. Once again, we seem to be living in a science fiction future already — though the possibility of living in a dystopia or even a Robert Ludlum techno-thriller also seems to be in the cards (maybe linked to an international conspiracy dating back to World War II!).
I have to confess, one of the reasons I like to check back on the work of de Grey, et al –besides the fact that I find the prospects both fascinating and frightening– is that I can’t be ignorant of what science fiction is becoming science fact in this area. I mean, if I’m writing stories about future humans, it might be good to know how soon we may reasonably become post-human. One of the conceits in Rogue Tyger is that all the humans in the Imperium are, to a certain extent, transhuman. The idea is that we humans wouldn’t be able to regularly cross the big black of space without some improvements to combat cosmic radiation, prolonged weightlessness, and so on. Not coincidentally, this means that most of the humans age normally, but live well past 100 Earth years old. A 150-year old human would be viewed how we might view an 80-90 year old today.
Of course, the modest increases in human lifespans I was thinking of are nothing compared to what the SENS Research Foundation is after. And before we even get to reversing aging damage, there’s a host of other questions about genetic engineering that might be in our very near future. Check out this interview with Michael Bess in Vox — also by Sean Illing. I don’t know about you, but it’s enough to just explain to my kids about why the sky is blue, let alone potential massive changes in how humans love.
Guess I better get to writing that fiction while it’s still charming fiction.
I’ve been reading and commenting a decent amount about automation this year, enough to make it seem inevitable. A popular topic with journalists and feature writers has been the impending automation of transportation which I noted back in May. Just recently, Vox ran another article about self-driving trucks and pending unemployment.
As the topic appears to be developing into a “future trend trope,” I was very intrigued to learn about the work of Robert Gordon, which Vox also did a piece on. Of course, I first learned about Robert Gordon when I got caught up listening to the Freakanomics podcast as they did an episode about American economic growth this Spring which prominently featured Robert Gordon. There’s also a transcript of a similar segment on Marketplace from 2012.
It certainly makes me consider what the economy might and can transform into.
I’ve been following various articles about basic income (or Universal Basic Income – UBI) as I find it an intriguing potential solution as we trundle towards ever-greater automation in every aspect of the economy.
Matthew Yglesias over at Vox writes about how UBI could tackle poverty — and indeed for some conservative and libertarian proponents of UBI, its potential to tackle poverty and related ills more efficiently than other social programs is one of its appeals.
Ezra Klein responds to the article (also in Vox) about how, beyond the aspect of how we afford it, implementing UBI would force a change on how we view work — and whether changing that view could even be done. Given how automation is upending what ‘work’ entails, I think our view of ‘work’ has to change — and it could be a very welcome improvement in our society if we were not overwhelmingly defined by our jobs-of-the-moment.
A week or so ago, I linked to an article in Vox about the self-driving car and how its wide use will change transportation as we know it.
This article, also from Vox, goes into how three different “disruptors” to transportation will really shake up Detroit. As the title suggests, it’s more focusing on Silicon Valley/tech companies shaking up Detroit/car companies, but it follows on some of the same themes, especially where self-driving cars are likely to be first adopted and why.
One of the reasons I’ve become more interested in learning about basic income and future potential economic models has been what appears to be the growing automation of everything. In other words, we’ve moved beyond automating factory and manufacturing processes (though we still automate that and refine that automation), and into automating service and analytical processes.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the race to implement the self-driving car, because when the self-driving car becomes more omnipresent, it will absolutely shake up delivery and transportation paradigms we live with today.
I’ve read a number of different pieces about various companies’ attempts to implement the self-driving car and their varying successes. This longer piece by David Roberts in Vox goes into how the future of transportation will radically re-define “how we get around” in terms of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, vehicle electrification, and the integration between those two.
Somehow, this seemed fitting on the eve of one of the great commuter holidays.
Anyone familiar with some of Isaac Asimov’s classic robot stories knows they are full of intriguing “what if?” scenarios.
Well, now we’re at the cusp of these “what if?” scenarios being “so, when this happens next week…” scenarios. What will we do then?
Ryan Calo explores this in an article from last month.
Short story ideas are a-brewing.