Transformations

The world is changing faster than ever before and in unprecedented ways. The rapid rise of technologies since the Industrial Revolution has changed the dynamic of human development - but we are only at the beginning. Technology today is driving transformations that have the potential to fundamentally transform most aspects of life and society. We focus on the six that we consider to be most important, but are open to considering additional transformations and technologies in response to new information.

Getting Started

The following links frame the transformations in a larger context:

  • TED Talk on the accelerating power of technology by leading futurist Ray Kurzweil.
  • The Future of Humanity : How should we think about our future? What are some possible scenarios that could arise?
  • Existential Risks : What are existential risks, which are most likely, and what can we do about them?
  • TED Talk by Erika Ilves on making a dent in the universe.
  • A Time Magazine article on the Singularity.
  • Black Mirror, a TV show that explores the ethical issues directly through stories.

Human Enhancement

While natural selection has thus far driven evolution, breakthroughs in science and technology are enabling purposeful self-evolution. With gene editing technologies such as CRISPR, we are able to eliminate certain diseases and will soon be able to select for specific traits encoded in the human genome, giving rise to ‘designer babies’ and the more radical possibility of creating new human species. Nanobots already exist that can perform specialized functions within the human body, and experts predict they will soon be able to provide cognitive enhancements such as improved memory, and general immune system support. Synthetic biology allows us to enhance our existing biological bodies. These technologies jointly enable the unprecedented fusing of man and machine in an event known as the Singularity, beyond which it becomes difficult to predict what will happen.

Enabling technologies: genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, neuro-engineering, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, prosthetics

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Simulated Reality

Advances in AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality are rapidly increasing the sophistication of simulated realities we are able to create. These will change how we interact with each other and with the world, and what we are able to experience. Virtual Reality could eventually even change where we spend most of our time: A virtual world gives you far more power and access to experiences than the physical world does, and if it’s sufficiently similar to reality, why still bother with the real world at all?

Enabling technologies: virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence

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  • The immediate implications of Virtual Reality are obvious - this talk goes in depth on some of the more groundbreaking implications it could have

Machine Intelligence

With accelerating advancements in the field of computing and machine learning, experts predict that in the next few decades computers will reach and surpass the computational speed and complexity of the human brain. AI researchers predict that there is a median 50% probability of reaching human intelligence level AI by 2040 and 90% probability by 2070. Machines will not only be able to complete any intellectual task performable by the human brain, but recursively self-improve to a level far beyond human capabilities, known as artificial superintelligence (ASI). This brings both unprecedented risks, as well as limitless possibilities - just as a monkey cannot understand a skyscraper, we cannot fully understand how such an ASI would think.

Enabling technologies: deep learning, neural nets

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  • The AI Revolution Part 1 and Part 2. An excellent and thorough introduction, with links for further reading.
  • Discussion about superintelligence with Elon Musk (SpaceX and Tesla), Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley), Demis Hassabis (Google DeepMind), Ray Kurzweil (Google), Nick Bostrom (Future of Humanity Institute), and Bart Selman (Cornell).
  • The more near-term risks of AI

Biological and Materials Manufacturing

Synthetic biology unlocks the potential of life-based manufacturing materials, the result of billions of years of refinement into highly complex processes that we are on the verge of harnessing. Evolution has only explored an infinitesimally small subset of the total possibility space of life, and is only at a local optimum; we can now begin to explore the rest.

On the other end of the spectrum, molecular manufacturing will enable bottom-up manufacturing, building up from the atomic level. 3D printing is a first step in this direction.

Enabling technologies: synthetic biology, nanotechnology, 3D printing

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Energy

Every action requires energy; it is what underpins human civilization. But our current sources of energy are unsustainable and running out, and renewables have yet to catch on en masse. But developments in new forms of energy hold great promise.

Nuclear fusion in particular could cause fundamental change. Achieving and controlling nuclear fusion would provide us a source of safe, cheap, and nearly limitless energy. Hitherto, nuclear fusion has been a distant, near-century-long dream of physicists, but with modern technologies and advancements by researchers nuclear fusion could be closer than we think. Several current initiatives towards commercial fusion show promise of achievement within decades, such as ITER, an international collaboration, and a project by Lockheed Martin, a private company.

Enabling technologies: nuclear fusion, artificial photosynthesis

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Space Development

With the advent of start-ups like SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Planet, Blue Origin, and many more, the space industry has been revived in terms of ambition, talent, and growth. Musk, NASA, and Boeing are in a space race to get to Mars; Planetary Resources seeks to exploit the resources of asteroids, orders of magnitude greater than what’s available on Earth. These developments are making asteroid mining and solar system colonization possible within a century, possibly within decades. Access to a vast new trove of raw materials often in far greater amounts than what is available on Earth, a greater understanding of the universe we live in, and the ability to form colonies and orbital habitats beyond Earth open many possibilities for the future of humanity.

Enabling technologies: nanotechnology, advanced materials, space engineering

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