Do you recall the world 50 years ago? To jog your memory, I’ve provided a Wikipedia link for the world in 1965. (1) If you’re not that old, read anyway – it’s interesting.
Now, jump forward 10 years (2025), 20,30,50 years (2065). My 3-year old grandson will be a new teenager in 2025 and 53 in 2065; add another ten years for his older cousin. What kind of world will they experience?
Today’s children have one thing in common: their heads are facing down, as they text each other and play games on smartphones, tablets and TV screens. My 3-year old grandson already manipulates an iPad in ways that surprise everyone.
A nationwide Kaiser Family Foundation survey reports that media use has increased to nearly 7 ½ hours a day in children between the ages of 8 and 18.(2) And children have become masters at multitasking, often using two or more devices at the same time. These are the M2 Generation – highly technological children whose lives seem to revolve around the media. With the constant exposure that children have to television, computers, music, mobile devices, and video games, it seems there is no limit to the amount of time they spend with media devices. (3)
Many believe the surge of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis coincides with the fast increasing use of mobile devices and video games.
I have a different theory – admittedly my own. Technology is extending the capabilities of the human brain; it is adapting children to the ever-accelerating complexities of life. It allows them to switch context rapidly, without losing depth and quality of thought. I’ve played chess with a kid on Venice beach who simultaneously played 5 others. He beat me three times (at $ 5 a game). I’m convinced that my own grandsons will beat me that way, and not simply because my brain is aging.
Technology can be both beneficial and harmful to the different ways in which people think. When books became common, many parents worried that their children were reading too much and missing out on social interactions. But reading encouraged focus and imagination. For today’s youngsters, because their brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure to the latest technology is actually wiring their intelligence in ways that are very different from previous generations. Whether that’s good or bad is indeed debatable.
Technologies will extend lifetimes, keep humans younger longer and enhance intelligence. The eventual merging of synthetic DNA and artificial intelligence will bring new diagnostics, medical treatment and smart nano-prosthetics to future generations. (4)
The widespread application of cyborg-assisted-life will change our attitudes about what the notion of “human” means. Just as computers, cell phones, the Internet, Google, and Facebook continue to change our social reality and even our brain biology, the proliferation of in-the-body technologies will radically change everything. Our artificially controlled metabolisms will begin to alter our natural biological evolution.
In April 2000, I presented a paper, “Evolution of the Techno-human” at Dick Morley’s Chaos Conference in Santa Fe, NM. I wrote an article, published by Spark-online in November 2000, on the same subject.(5) As I read that again, 15 years later, I see some resonance with what is happening today.
Human progress is not linear – it’s moving exponentially. Accelerating change is speeding up the rate of technological, social and cultural progress, generating faster and more profound changes.
Predictions of continuous accelerating change are closely associated with respected technology futurist Ray Kurzweil, who many consider to be the modern-day Thomas Edison. Here’s a summary of what Kurzweil thinks the future will be like(6) :
- By 2029, machines will be able to match the human intelligence.
- Human brains will extend to the cloud, allowing continuous learning at any age.
- Memories will be capable of being selectively erased.
- Many humans will remain in augmented reality at all times.
- In the 2030s, tiny “nanobots” will repair and preserve vital organs, making humans healthier and smarter.
- 3D printing will be common, with public 3D printing stations to print clothes, toys and almost anything.
- Within 25 years, computers will be the size of a blood cell and will connect to the brain without the need for surgery.
- The “technological singularity” will occur in 2045, enabling superhuman machine intelligence; humans and machines will become deeply integrated. That’s 30 years from now. Hmmm… my grandsons will be 33 and 43 when that occurs.
Humans are causing significant and irreversible impacts on Earth’s environment through mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted oceans and altered atmosphere. Is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?
The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has convened a group of scholars to decide by 2016 whether to officially declare that the Holocene age, which began 12,000 to 11,500 years ago at the end of the Ice Age, is over.
Humans are now in the Anthropocene age – Anthropo, for man, cene, for new. (7) Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized that term in 2000, and it has been adopted in many elite science circles.(8)
Writes New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, “Two billion years ago, cyanobacteria oxygenated the atmosphere and powerfully disrupted life on earth. But they didn’t know it. We’re the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality. That’s what distinguishes us.”
Gaia Vince quit her science journalist job in London to travel the world and see the people, plants and animals that make up our unique living planet. I’m quoting extensively from her writings and a BBC article about her quest. (9)
Gaia considers that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch – industrialization, population expansion, globalization and the revolution in communications technology. She calls modern-day humans Homni, an immensely powerful “superspecies” with intelligence, creativity and sociability comparable to the networked, linked-up, conversational accumulation of all the human brains. This includes those from the past who have left a cultural and intellectual legacy. In addition, there are also the artificial “brains” of our technological inventions. (10)
Homni influences the biosphere with its needs – currently using 18 trillion watts of energy at any time, 9,000 billion cubic meters of water per year, 40% of global land area for farming, and increasing amounts of other natural and mineral resources. Earth's land surface is being “terraformed” with multiple megacities of concrete, steel and glass.
Homni now controls three-quarters of Earth’s freshwater supplies, has modified more than three-quarters of ice-free land surface, modulates the planet's air and oceanic chemistry. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing climate change. The planet’s biodiversity is being steadily reduced, causing what scientists fear may be the sixth mass extinction in its history.
Only time will tell if Homni will eventually be benign caretakers, or continue to destroy life and with that destruction, themselves.
The May 2013 cover story of National Geographic showed babies that will live to be 120. In coming decades, humans will increasingly have a doubled lifespan and basic increased awareness of scientific, geopolitical, cultural and social factors that allow the world to function. The human super organism will be relied upon to feed, clothe, inform and heal, even to help reproduce. The result will be a new way of living that is akin to being a new subspecies. (11)
The super organism is already developing characteristics that go beyond the simple accumulation and manipulation of fellow humans. Future generations will not simply make the same mistakes. History will not repeat itself.
Global networking will bring good changes. Worldwide collaboration will increasingly have more definitive control over indiscriminate actions. Social cooperation will become the norm, with human impulses to cooperate rather than fight, nurture not neglect, working unselfishly with the long-term in mind, committed to improving relations with neighbors, building a better world.
Admittedly, many of these ideas are my own wishful prognostications. But, I agree with Gaia Vince, “The alternatives are too monstrous to contemplate.”
- Wikipedia – 1965: http://goo.gl/NB9YCM
- M2 Generation: Kids too Dependent on Media? http://goo.gl/RT6M2u
- Technology is Changing the Way Children Think & Focus: http://goo.gl/eS1MqE
- Modern Humans Are Still Evolving: http://goo.gl/5Pmwt8
- Evolution of the Techno-human – Jim Pinto Nov. 2000: http://goo.gl/5d5SrP
- Ray Kurzweil Thinks Life Will Be In The Next 20 Years: http://goo.gl/5XjJps
- Guardian – Anthropocene: The new epoch of humans? http://goo.gl/xWbqPm
- Smithsonian – What is the Anthropocene and Are We in It? http://goo.gl/Pw4gFR
- BBC – Homni: The new superorganism taking over Earth: http://goo.gl/g7ubDf
- Gaia Vince – Welcome to the Anthropocene: http://goo.gl/5EIdE2
- Book: Adventures in the Anthropocene: http://goo.gl/AX9BYz
Carlsbad, CA. USA
10 March 2015