by James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 25, 2019
This week’s NOVA “Look Who’s Driving” is about self-driving cars. Most people are scared of the idea of getting into a car and letting it drive. I know I am, and I’m a science fiction fan. Just think about it for a moment. Doesn’t it feel super eerie? On the other hand, what if they could actually make driverless cars 100% safe? I’m getting old and realize at a certain point it will be dangerous for me and others if I keep driving. A driverless car would be perfect for older folks, and by 2065 there will be a lot of old folks. And in the documentary, they mentioned that driverless cars should mean fewer cars and they showed aerial views of how cars cover our city landscapes now. Imagine a world with far fewer cars and parking lots. That would be nice too.
I’m sure folks in the late 19th century felt scared of the idea of giving up horses and switching to motor vehicles. And can you imagine how people felt about flying when aviation was first predicted for the future? Perfect driverless car safety has almost been achieved in ten years, so imagine how reliable it will be in another ten years.
I’m working on a science fiction short story that’s set in 2065 and trying to imagine what life might be like then. I assume war and poverty will still be with us, but there will be as much change between now and 2065 as there was from 1965 and now. I have to assume driverless cars will transform our society.
We feel dazzled by progress. And we feel it’s accelerating. But can inventors keep giving us gadgets that transform our society every five years? Smartphones and social media aren’t new anymore. Self-driving cars should become common by the late 2020s and they should shake up the way we live. But will people accept robotic chauffeurs? This year we’re freaking out over the Boeing 737 Max 8 having flaky computers. However, what if the safety of AI cars, trucks, planes, ships, and trains becomes so overwhelmingly evident that we turn over all the driving over to robots? Can we say no to such a future?
What about other uses of robots? If we keep automating at the same pace we’re on now, by 2065 will anyone have a job? Should my story imagine a work-free society, or will we pass laws to preserve some jobs for humans? What kinds of jobs should we protect and which should be given to robots? We usually assume boring and dangerous jobs should go to machines, and the creative work should be kept for us. But what if robotic doctors were cheaper, safer, and gave us longer lives? What if it reduced city budgets and provided greater public safety to have robotic cops and firemen? And would you rather send your children off to war or robots? What if the choice is between paying a $1000 robot lawyer or a $1,000,000 to human lawyers in a big case?
What if by 2035 we have general-purpose robots that are smarter than humans but not sentient? Would you rather buy a robot for your business than hire a human? And if robots become sentient, can we own them? Wouldn’t that be slavery? I’m reading The Complete Robot by Isaac Asimov, and he spent his entire writing career imagining all the possibilities robots could create. Sadly, I think Asimov mainly guessed wrong. I believe science fiction has lots of room to reimagine what robots will do to our society.
Generally, when we think of science fictional futures, we think of space travel. Will we have colonies on the Moon and Mars by 2065? I’ve been waiting for 50 years for us to go to Mars. I’m not optimistic that more years will get us there. I predict there will be another Moon rush, with several nations separately, or cooperatively setting up Lunar bases like the scientific stations that exist in Antarctica. Beyond that, I bet robots will become the main astronauts that explore the solar system.
I can imagine robots with high-definition eyes tramping all over the various planets, planetoids, moons, asteroids, and comets sending us back fantastic VR experiences. But how many humans will actually want to spend years in space, living in tin cans that are incredibly complicated machines designed to keep them alive, but with one teeny-tiny failure, vacuum, radiation, cold, or heat will horribly kill them? We’ve been without a dryer for three weeks because my new dryer died after three months and so far no one can fix it. Isn’t space travel safer and cheaper for robots? Space is a perfect environment for machines.
If robots become the preferred solution for all jobs, what will humans do? I have to believe capitalism as we know it won’t exist. What if robots are so productive they can generate wealth for everyone?
Then there’s climate change. Will we solve that problem? I bet we won’t. It would require human psychology to change too much. I must assume people will not change, so I have to predict a future where we’re consuming the Earth resources at the same accelerating rate we are now and polluting at the same rates too. We’ll probably get more efficient at using those resources and find better solutions for hiding our garbage — probably due to robots. We’ll have a lot more people, far fewer wild animals and cars, and a growing overpopulation of robots. Although, I think there might be room to predict a back-to-nature movement where some people choose to live close to the land, while others become even more hive-mind urban cyborgs. A significant portion of the population might even reject robots and automation.
That means by 2065 we might have a two-tier society. Liberals living in high-tech robotic cities, while conservatives live in rural areas and small towns with far less technology. That might make an interesting story. What if the future becomes those who ride in driverless cars and those who reject cars altogether? (If robots become 100% safe drivers, would it be practically to allow human drivers?) Could new kinds of rural economies develop that shun technology? I wonder this because I wonder if a robotic society will make some people back-to-nature Luddites. And I don’t mean that term that critically. Back-to-nature might be more ethical, more rewarding, and more human.
If you think this is all wild crazy ideas, try to comprehend how much we’ve changed in the last half-century. In the 1960s people looking for work found two categories: Men Wanted and Women Wanted. Women weren’t allowed to do most jobs, and many of them stayed at home. Think about how much we changed in just this one way. Then multiply it by all the ways we’ve changed. Is it so wild to imagine driverless cars and robotic doctors?
11 thoughts on “Predicting the Future: 2065”
I’d have to say that driverless cars would represent a very small component of what the environment will look and feel like by 2065. My sense is that our current perception of the physical space around us will be somewhat unrecognizable to observers today. First up is the ‘natural reality ‘ machine that is our current self awareness. Something we humans have lived with for many thousands of years. We interact with the environment around us including others of our kind and all species through this virtual experience of the real world. I’ll leave that thought for the moment, and slide over to the one defining feature of or virtual experience, that is our ability to modify the natural environment around us including other species (husbandry, selective breeding, genetic engineering and the like…) We lump this feature under the label technology, which is simply an extension of our survival extinct. Yes profit motive is a form of that same extension as are all actions and behaviours on the part of all life.
Back to driverless cars,…I would say that would become only one exponent of the virtual ‘reality transfer’ that is ongoing with our species. By the same token we will also be moving toward pilotless aircraft or near orbit devices of various kinds. How soon we forget that the rocket devices of early space travel right up until the present are virtually pilotless. System control is virtually independent of human input. The point is we are reducing all casual processes to algorithms. The next generation flaw will not be driver or pilot error but some type of design or systemic error.
The B737 Max 8/9 is an example of this transfer. A design error, (including training) was not executed properly to the point where pilot intervention was not able to resolve an unsafe condition.
Humans asses risk at the very basic level,…that is immediate threat. Although our natural reality machine (self awareness) can imagine the possibility of our demise in a driverless car or pilotless aircraft we will drive/fly in both as the immediate threat is not present. The fact we are driving cars now passing other vehicles at a total potential impact speed of 120mph or more does not deter us. Airlines do even more unnatural things like move people at 600mph, at 35,000 feet in a metal tube pressurized to an altitude of 8-10,000 feet. Most of us don’t even bat an eye, even with news reports of death and destruction.
In my view driving in a driverless car or pilotless aircraft will become a common place part of our natural reality. Some, depending on their individual brain propensity for risk, will be hesitant or harbor an innate sense of discomfort at the prospect. None the less life goes on. I agree the economics of use will probably change as well
I’m less inclined to the notion of recognizable bots in the near future. I see devices that will continue to communicate with us in our language, however the real evolution is in the algorithms behind the scene. More and more causal actions will be initiated by the device as opposed to our direct input or command.
In short our existence will become more determined in the sense that we will be removed from the moment to moment interventions needed to make things happen toward a more passive role in our day to day existence. That may seem scary in relation to our current sense of control, however that seems to me the condition we are moving toward none the less.
The real transfer as I eluded to earlier is how the brain will eventually move toward the next stage of our evolutionary existence that is from self awareness to self determinism. In this transfer the brain becomes less aware of the notion that we are able to initiate actions by just thinking about same (free will) to a more passive role as accepting that the environment around us is unfolding in the only way it can. For now we perceive ourselves as having an active role in designing and implementing emerging technologies, including the gradual acceptance and utilization of same as the risk proposition becomes more tolerable for an increasing number of individuals etc…At some point AI will assume more and more of the ‘responsibility’ or authority as we become more detached or less self aware.
There are many examples of this transfer happening now. We don virtual reality devices now to experience a world disassociated with the real world driven by algorithms. We do it now for our amusement. In future it will become as natural as a beautiful summer day. The holodeck from Star trek takes the concept another step forward. The Matrix conceived of a completely separate reality generated by algorithms manufactured by AI who’s apparent survival depended on convincing others that there was no other existence to be had. I would submit that the only difference between what the television/movie production shows (imagines) and what will evolve naturally is the idea that humans can actually intervene to change a pre-determined stream of causality, when in fact the real world has not changed only our perception of it has changed (evolved).
As Spock would say “fascinating”
I’ve been thinking about what you said that our 2065 physical space will be unrecognizable to us now. That’s an interesting way of thinking. We can look back to 1965 and see movies, television shows, photographs and understand what we see. But if people living in 1965 were giving movies, television shows, and photographs from 2019 would they find them recognizable?
I think they would recognize iPhones as phones, but they would be puzzled by everyone spending so much time looking at them. They might be shocked by seeing women working in jobs they never expected women to work in, but they might understand.
I think we might puzzle them a lot. They’d probably ask why we drive such giant boxy vehicles. And they might wonder why TVs are so big and show apparently pornographic movies to families.
If a time traveler brought up views of 2065 and we saw robots walking the street, even if they didn’t look like our concepts of robots I think we’d figure them out.
But I’m thinking your talking about something else. Maybe the entire gestalt look of the future. Films from the 1930s look strange to some people today. Their world looks radically different in ways. Their lingo seems different. People seem to even act differently. Is that what you’re getting at? I imagine 1965 people would have a hard time seeing 2019 music videos. I think they would give them future shock.
My sense is that although there will be recognizable artifacts 45 years hence, similar to your example of folks from 1965 observing cellular devices in our present time. This would represent only an insignificant component of change. The point I was referring to was related more to our perception of the physical world in 2065 and beyond. Our technology is continuously moving toward an alternate view fabricated from virtual reality devices. Some will be utilizing this technology to fashion an existence (moment to moment change) that is not directly related to the physical world. Devices will enable individuals or groups to experience a reality of their own choosing so to speak. Where today we might hop on a cruise or European get away,… change is good as a rest as the say… Some will escape to a private/public ‘holodeck’ for whatever duration. This experience won’t be widespread at first, however it will catch on quickly Not a passing fad but an extension of how the brain seeks to exert control over the world around it in the interests of survival.
More and more current evidence obtained through the scientific method is moving toward a belief that in fact the physical world is determined by causal relationships outside of our moment to moment influence (free will). Our emerging technology serves our instinctive need for influence and control (certainty) over events with potential consequences to our individual survival.
Virtual reality devices would serve to offer an environment where we are in charge and can determine the course of events through our own choosing. This will increasingly become the abode of those who sense a loss in their ability to function in the real world competing with others and circumstances that pose a barrier to their individual pursuit of what’s important to themselves. Or to escape the day to day routine of existence. We see examples of this today through gaming, modification of perception by chemically induced mental states (not including addiction) etc…Technology will make this alternate reality more accessible and eventually ubiquitous in first world societies to start.
So if we in fact live in a deterministic universe, and Self awareness evolved as a means for humans to socialize with other humans in a cooperative and collaborate manner through the illusion of the present and the notion that we can act and behave in a manner of our own choosing, then technology would serve in part toward reinforcing that sense of influence and control that increasingly seems to desert us.
This blog ,in part, addresses what we perceive to be the sometimes out of control actions and behaviours on the part of others that bring harm to innocent fellow human beings. That we are capable of much better. Indeed there are many examples of those who together have achieved much good. As we seek survival in the face of the negative effect of human activity on the biosphere our emerging technologies will continue to provide that means of escape beyond version 1.0 (self awareness) to version 2.0 (self preservation) Of course self preservation is just another word for survival. The point is; …as our perception of the potential threat to our survival increases so does our need for greater certainty. Technology works to fill that gap and then some
Maybe as suggested, we just need to listen to “In the year 2525” more often. The effects on humans by the very technology we event will either aid our pursuit of survival or destroy us or as Randy suggested transform us into another genus? Either way the universe will unfold in the only way possible
After reading your piece, my first reaction was to go have a listen to “In the Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans, 1968, and since you’re an old guy like me, yeah, you remember that one. I think that song is closer to the truth of the future humans will create for themselves. And the first movie I thought of was “Soylent Green,” Charlton Heston, 1973.
So all truly reduces to (01) an understanding of “human nature” that must be stated and clearly defined (02) within the context of one’s “belief system,” one’s “faith” in either (03) just “how” humans showed up in the first place or (04) both “how” and “why” they are here. That, of course, is nothing more than the debate between “Science v the Divine”.
So if “In the beginning, God created….” is truth (both “how” and “why”), then no, there are no happy endings, not on this planet, ever. Or again, Zager and Evans, along with Mr. Heston, stated the thing quite well.
But if “humans” evolved (“how” but no “why”) and all that technology and that artificial intelligence and self-driving cars–all that stuff–proves to play out, then sooner or later, at some point in that evolution of “technological progress,” someone is going to ask the salient question:
“Are we still Homo sapiens or is it time to introduce a new genus?”
And who, exactly, will get to answer that question? And why that person, that group, and not those over yonder?
But no one discusses “human nature” these days. And absent that consideration first, it really is a fun and entertaining discussion, to imagine all the possible “what if’s,” both for the better and the worse. In other words, you presented the thing perfectly.
James, stay safe and be well.
Randy, I loved “In the Year 2525.” I even bought the 45 when it came out and played it over and over again.
I think a lot about human nature. I don’t think it changes. I think society and culture change, but not us. But that’s just how I feel at the moment. I could read something new that would change my mind.
By 2065 I predict at least one nuclear “accident” and Artificial Intelligence dominating the workplace.
Sounds reasonable. I tend to think we’ll have a true general-purpose AI sometime during the 2040s.
Daydreaming about possible futures is fine, however the brutal reality is that unless humankind starts immediately reversing the seemingly inevitable hurling of ourselves into a hopeless abyss via pollution, over-population, climate-induced wars and refugees, intensifying weather events such as prolonged droughts and horrific flooding, and extinction of vital species in a vanishing, imbalanced eco-system, there won’t be much of a planet to “enjoy” despite major technological advances…
Is reading science fiction like Nero playing the lyre while Rome burned?
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