We Live In Such a Primitive Time
As technological evolution hurtles ever-forward, I often find myself reflecting on how primitive our current era truly is.
That is, from the perspective of a person of a century — or a few centuries — in the future: in 2120, in 2520 or in 3020.
For example, if we hit the limit of Moore’s law by 2100, computing power may remain relatively static for the next century or so. Quantum computing may prove less transformative than boosters have predicted. For all these reasons, I wouldn’t dare make a prediction about the capabilities of a typical home microprocessor in the year 2120 — let alone 2520.
It’s also infamously tricky to predict Black-Swan technological events: the impact of the internet, for example; or of social media or smartphones.
Many of today’s forms of interpersonal interaction and media engagement would appear only faintly unrecognizable to a person of 1990.
They might grasp the underlying concepts, sure — but the mobile web has reconfigured our daily routines in thousands of ways so minuscule they often escape our conscious awareness.
And the internet most certainly won’t be the last Black-Swan technological event to disrupt our preconceptions in the coming centuries.
Beyond factors like these, who can predict the socioeconomic shifts that transform the ways we frame and value certain technologies?
If the majority of the world’s billionaires decide that Strong AI represents a significant threat to their financial security, for example, some of the 2120s’ corporate city-states may forbid AI development within their borders — setting those enclaves down radically different technological paths from the one I’ll be describing here.
When I reflect on the crude technologies of the primitive year 2020 CE, I often find myself muttering in stereotypical caveman language:
“Ug need speak to friend. Ug need special rock, make talk to friend.”
Because, of course, the average person of 2120 will simply summon a screen from the air with a tap of the nearest wearable. The person of 2520 may summon such a portal out of the air with a mere flick of the wrist.
A person of 3020 may simply think the required information into their home, and enjoy a customized multi-sensory presentation, generated on the spot to suit their unique tastes and aesthetics.
I also find myself feeling cavemannish when I visit my kitchen to prepare food and beverages:
“Ug need eat. Ug get meat from cold cave, cook in fire. Ug make drink with firewater, or sometimes with magic leaves and beans.”
The person of 2150, on the other hand, may order up a hand-cooked meal from chefs around the world, delivered straight to the table with scarcely a wait.
In 2520, it might be easier to have the house generate a delicious energy bar packed with all essential nutrients, along with a cocktail of mood-enhancing substances and disease-fighting nanobots.
And by 3020, a twelve-course feast will be available for the asking — every dish tailored to one’s precise palette and appetites, of course.
After dinner, “Ug relax with magic mirror. Watch little people play on screen. Sometimes listen music. Music sometimes bad, but Ug must accept.”
Our person of 2120, meanwhile, might request a perfect playlist curated from all the world’s archives of public and privately recorded music.
In 2520, one’s home might generate a brand-new personalized song in response to the command, “Play me a song I’ll love to dance to.”
By 3020, if not before, each personalized track will include an entire set of simulated artists, complete with life histories and artistic career arcs to be explored.
We often call today’s world an “on-demand society,” but in truth we haven’t learned the first thing about what “on-demand” really means.
When one can speak original books and plays and movies and albums into existence, then we may say we’re approaching the true meaning of “on-demand.”
Perhaps, when the average person can simply will sculptures and furniture and period-authentic tea-kettles into existence, we may finally understand the full scale of this concept’s implications.
When I reflect on such worlds, I always come back to thinking,