Thursday, October 16, 2014

Transition to a very different Future

More than ever before, the world seems to be poised for rapid change. Only dreamers expect a return to the "good old days". More and more people are beginning to recognize the naivet√© and inadequacy of the present social order. There is an awakening acceptance that many of the old icons are being broken beyond repair and a new age is being ushered in.

Technology Acceleration

Technology laws dictate annual doubling of processing and networking performance. Today’s handheld computers have more processing power than the mainframe super-computers of a couple of decades ago.

Among the multitude of smart gadgets everywhere is the ubiquitous cellphone. (1) Today there are almost as many cell-phones as there are people on this earth (about 7 billion) and it took a little more than 20 years for that to happen. (Strange – by comparison, only about 60% have access to working toilets.) As we move into the future, expect more functionality: health and fitness monitoring, fingerprint scanning, augmented reality overlays, paper-thin screens, 3D and holograms, built-in projectors, voice-control, smart-wallets, ubiquitous and automatic WiFi. The possibilities are endless.

Robots have loomed over the future of labor for decades. Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labor force will see their employment options automated out of existence. (2) Some even think that robots will end up producing more than enough of everything that everyone needs. Then what?

Biotechnology Revolution

For over a decade now, biotechnology and genetic engineering has been advancing steadily. The accelerating unraveling of medical discoveries and breakthroughs, centered on the manipulations of the very essence of life – DNA, the human genome and synthetic biology. (3)

Cloned livestock are already proliferating. (4) Already, breeders are concerned that the opportunity for creative combinations may be eliminated from the process if they simply cloned the prize bulls. Hitherto, sexual reproduction has maintained biodiversity that generated greater long-term sustainability. Imagine a flock of cloned prize cattle from 2002 in the year 2050 – nothing new, nothing evolved, perhaps succumbing to a disease and obliterated.

Human Cloning

Within a few short years genetic engineering and human cloning will be relatively commonplace. (5) (6) When the relatively safe and successful delivery of an increasing number of genetically engineered human clones is demonstrated, who will choose instead the painful process and dangerous lottery of the conventional birthing process?

Millions of childless couples will wait and watch for their turn to get a clone of their own, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are many millions of unfortunate real babies in poor countries, waiting to be adopted.

Many “less advanced” people will still be following the old tried-and-true birthing mechanisms. In the long run they may turn out stronger as a result. Imagine if the "more advanced" countries were stuck with outdated genes, looking for DNA handouts.

Human animal hybrids, termed chimeras, are sometimes used for medical purposes – for example, organs suitable for transplantation or research into immune systems. (7)  If chimeras can be bred, what would differentiate them as human? Could they be used as workers at less than minimum wage? Do chimeras or clones have souls? Should they be allowed to vote? Can they be bred as soldiers? Scary possibilities! The specter of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World looms.

With these technology shifts will come the need for new thinking in all the systems of human society: laws, ethics, morals, theology, and philosophy.

Life extension

Human life expectancy has already increased from about 45 at the start of the 20th century to 80 today. Because of technology advancements, life expectancy could increase to 120 as early as 2050. (8)

Some scholars even consider that mankind is undergoing a major evolutionary transition comparable to the shifts from monkeys to apes, and apes to humans. In addition to longer lives, humans will likely delay the timing of biological reproduction and reduce the number of offspring too. These changes could signify new types of human, more focused on culture and learning than biology and reproduction. (9)

Hey! When human life-extension technology becomes commonplace, perhaps I'll still be alive at the age of 115, on my seventh career (engineer, doctor, lawyer, clergyman, plumber, space scientist and then politician) and perhaps I'll be romancing some cute 90-year-old.

Back to the Present

Many countries have simply been printing money, showing increased weakness, with debt-to-GDP ratios reaching clearly unstable heights. In 2014, China and other emerging markets are dragging instead of driving growth. The global economy is facing its biggest test of confidence in decades. Many gurus have been predicting a serious decline and, even as I write this, the stock market is showing signs that another big crash is imminent.

Large corporations are hoarding cash and going offshore to escape taxation in the U.S. Unemployment is high in all developed nations, with only low-wage service jobs available, causing serious decline of the middle-class. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing ever more unbridgeable. (10)

The developing world sees the West as greedy and arrogant. Millions of people are dying in Africa and other parts of the world while pharmaceutical companies won't allow poor countries to make much-needed drugs because they demand more profit from their investments.

The Present is not pleasant

For the majority of the world, the spread of disease is the most urgent problem. The major scare right now (October 2014) is the Ebola virus; no one knows whether it can or will be contained, and if it spreads, how can it be stopped?  In America and Europe, panic is spreading faster than the disease.

Today a large part of humanity is generating instability and discontent. Extremists and religious zealots keep inciting ever more dangerous unrest to exploit this situation. In the Middle East, disparate worlds are colliding. All recognize the direct, bold-faced threats made by ISIS/ISIL, though few even try to understand their motivations for hating Western society so much.

In the midst of this continuous turmoil of events, the ever-present media do little else than repeat the instantly available news, with refresh-cycles of hours, sometimes minutes. Each TV channel competes for attention with a succession of talking heads breathlessly breaking the news of harsh events as they unfold. And the global village grows ever smaller.

Hunger Games

While disaster looms, the vast majority remains silent, feeling like helpless onlookers completely incapable of doing anything. While a future of harmony and health is still a vague and unformed possibility in our collective imaginations, a future of conflict and suffering is easy to envision.

The film “Hunger Games” presents a heroic struggle in a world that has failed to make the transition to some form of widespread, sustainable prosperity. (11) People are barely surviving on a ruined Earth in a society that has regressed to ritualistic, annual killings for the entertainment of a privileged few. Who can deny that the premise of this movie is plausible?

Soft Solutions for Hard Problems

The conventional hard solutions are completely inadequate – guns, tanks and warplanes cannot stop suicide bombers. How many millions must die before the paradigm shifts? What is the catalyst that will signal the recognition and acceptance that no one is right or wrong?

The mass of humanity yearns to renew itself and the time for transition is near. The change will come when we care enough to ask each other, "What am I doing that makes you feel you must hurt me?" With understanding will come perhaps the beginning of a universal brotherhood of humanity. (12)

Ever the optimist, I predict – perhaps I just “feel” – that the solutions already lie within the problems themselves. Inventive, innovative, caring, charitable, far-sighted humans will indeed find a way. The future will be a better place.


  1. Number of mobile phones exceed world population 2014:
  2. Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do?
  3. Craig Venter Envisions Future of Synthetic Life:
  4. Cloned Livestock Poised To Receive FDA Clearance:
  5. Human Cloning:
  6. Adult Human Cells Cloned for First Time:
  7. Human-animal hybrids and chimeras:
  8. Life Expectancy:
  9. Humans In The Middle Of A Huge Evolutionary Transition:
  10. Inequality gap between super rich and poor widens:
  11. Hunger Games – The Price of Failed Transition:
  12. Soft Solutions for Hard Problems (Jim Pinto 2001):

Jim Pinto

17 October 2014


  1. Previous messageNext messageBack to messages
    My thoughts on your latest blog‏


    It's good. It certainly conveys your feelings about the present time in history. It kind of hammers us though... one bad thing after another while leaving out much of the positive sides.

    As to nit picks, I don't like the following sentence: Some scholars even consider that mankind is undergoing a major evolutionary transition comparable to the shifts from monkeys to apes, and apes to humans.
    They well may consider it an evolutionary change, but I don't and I don't think any evolutionary biologist would either. For evolutionary changes to be made, it requires an adaptation to either help produce more offspring, or less offspring. That way the species slowly either picks up on the genes or gets rid of the genes causing the adaptation. I think the sentence would be better if you left the word "evolutionary" out.

    I'm not too keen on this sentence either: For the majority of the world, the spread of disease is the most urgent problem.
    I'm just not sure that is right. I think that food and decent government and employment are more of a concern than disease, except in Western Africa possibly.

    Well, now that I've started picking... I'm not too keen about this sentence either: Inventive, innovative, caring, charitable, far-sighted humans will indeed find a way.
    We must have met some very different people in our lives. I agree that we all have the capacity to be what you describe, but the reality is pretty different in my opinion.

    Your friend,

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Merle.

      You're referring to conventional "evolution" the objective of which was survival of the species. With conventional birthing not being needed for survival that type of very slow evolution is surpassed by other evolutionary mechanisms.

      Right now, the primary news (almost everywhere in the world) is Ebola and ISIS - both urgent threats. Food, government and employment are not similarly life-threatening.

      Regarding, "inventive, innovative, caring, charitable..." etc. - that's my poetic and romantic side imaging what it would take to provide the "soft solutions".

      Good food for thought, I trust.


  2. I hear you, Merle. I'm an editor, and clearly, every word has meaning. However, when it comes to our friend Jim's writings, I think sometimes you have to look past the words, and get on to the meanings. Just a thought... /MM

  3. Evolution is fast, but I'm not sure if the last 10 years have been that revolutionising. It's not like we've seen major breakthroughs like we've seen with the first man on the moon, invention of penicillin, invention of refrigerator, invention of the internet etc.. iPads, Iphones, Apps, windturbines and other products from the last ten years are not revolutionary.

    However, evolution may indeed change faster in the future since open innovation is breaking through (access to huge innovative resources everywhere in the world via joint cloud collaborative tools). What's more; when combining worldwide computing power, unimaginable calculation power becomes available which is a step towards Terminator's Skynet :-)

    sorry for typo's. I'm not native English speaking

  4. Jim et al,
    The "United States Review" from 1853 wrote about the "future":
    MACHINES ARE MANAGING THEM. (I guess they meant automation)

    So, over 150 years ago wise people could imagine where the world is going to.
    And there was no electrical engine or light, no gasoline engine, no phone or radio...

    The todays crisies (IS, Ebola) are just a repetition of things we had in the past, not really new. (plague, Huns, Ottoman Empire, etc.)
    But we learned to deal with and have new methods.
    Jim, thanks again for your great research.

  5. Cloned humans with altered genes may be the answer to developing people better suited to our real world. The heaven or hell result will depend on who selects the genes to alter.
    Voluminous studies have verified that the most important factor in shaping a child’s ultimate success in life is their parent’s wealth and gene quality. When the “education solves everything crowd” discovers this they will rush to the conclusion that our children should be educated to select their parents very carefully.

  6. Very nice and thought provoking write-up Jim. The powers that be need to wake up and smell the flowers. The world is headed to a 'not so bright' future if a more statesmanlike approach is not taken to the crisis facing the world be it Ebola, be it hunger or be it social upheavals across different parts of the world

  7. Would like to see more on "soft solutions". This is the key to a fair and sustainable future. I've written a little about this as it relates to aging demographics, but there is more work to be done...

  8. This got me thinking about the reading I've done about the Renaissance in Western Europe. While we think of this period as a huge step forward in scientific understanding and social principals, it was a very scary time for most of the regular folks in those countries. The Dark Ages were brutal, but the people living in them didn't know anything else. The sudden exposure to other lands and ways of thinking undercut much of their understanding of how things were supposed to be. We can look back and see how it was all for the best, but to them it meant the institutions and cultural touchstones that were important to them were under attack. Plus, the economic benefits to these changes took a long time to hit most of society.

    In addition, it was a time of extreme religious zealotry. The Catholic Church spent much of those centuries giving approval to wholesale slaughter. Most think the Crusades were all about fighting Muslims, but Constantinople was sacked and overthrown, and several crusades were called to wipe out Christian communities in Europe who dared question the Pope's legitimacy as God's voice on Earth. I see the same thing in the Middle East now.

    The optimist in me holds fast to the belief that if we can see the positive changes through, we can also open up our world to a much better future. The transition is always scary. Hopefully, with the upping of life expectancy, we can be around to see it.

  9. Hi, Jim -

    Your latest pice is a real gem! You really covered the bases. However, you stopped short of explaining why ‘right now’ is when the shift begins.

    I think it’s about generational change. Basically: Boomers out — Millennials in.

    When you talk to the younger set, you quickly find that:

    * They do not hold our (Boomers) attachments to ‘stuff’ so they are not easily bought off
    * They are not preoccupied with imposing their beliefs on others (especially religious beliefs)
    * They are not obsessed with GLBT issues or with persecuting them one way or the other
    * They are mostly openminded about women’s reproductive rights
    * They do not believe in so called creationism; they believe in science
    * They are neither pro- nor anti-marriage
    * They are more loving and affectionate toward each other (Young people hug a LOT. It’s like they know that ultimately, they will have to rely on each other!)

    I could go on, and yes, of course there are exceptions, but that’s the gist of it. Overall, they are simply more tolerant and sensitive and less ambitious and greedy, particularly when it comes to social status and material possessions.

    Finally, I think — I hope — that they have figured out that if you continually squeeze everyone to the point that no one can afford to just live life, the very wealthy will soon run out of customers that are the very source of their wealth. And once that happens, nothing will be worth anything because no one will have money to buy anything. Sadly, we’re strongly headed in that direction, but watch for your children and your grandchildren to fix it…

    Keep up the good work, Jim!

    Your friend,

  10. We all should be very aware of the potholes, even sinkholes, and bridge outages on the road to Transition. One key unacknowledged threat is software quality. Essentially all software today is rife with errors, incompatibilities and incompleteness. Ward Cunningham calls it Technical Debt which is estimated to exceed $1Trillion already with lots more to come. Meanwhile the emerging era of robots and autonomous vehicles entails even larger and more complex, non-deterministic software suites.
    On Michelle Regan’s show, BloombergTV, 10/20/2014 Dave Cote, President and CEO of Honeywell, and credited with significant turn-around, chortled over their Lyric product line as an example of what software can do for Honeywell User Experience and device connectivity. Meanwhile Bill Ruh, VP, GE Software Science Center is supposed to make the Industrial Internet a reality, the FAA intends to transition national airspace management to the NextGen system, and here come millions of driverless vehicles from an industry that is currently recalling a significant % of each year's production. Bummer.
    I predict that all these may be headed for the inverse of Metcalf's Law regarding networks, notably, the damage experienced by any one connection on a network will be proportional to the square of the number of software faults that can interact.
    Enterprises facing financial and customer loyalty risks due to software errors, inadequacies or vulnerabilities should adopt fault detection and removel technologies that can reduce their risks to Zero. These technologies can also cut their software budgets by half, help get new products ready on time and largely neutralize cyber attacks. If software quality is not on an enterprise's risk list then the leaders better look again, closely.

  11. >The mass of humanity yearns to renew itself and the time for transition is near. The change will come when we care enough to ask each other, "What am I doing that makes you feel you must hurt me?" With understanding will come perhaps the beginning of a universal brotherhood of humanity....
    I don't see it happening soon Jim. 7.2 billion people are living according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Very few of them are at the top where they're self actualizing and self transcendant. The rest are still clawing their way through life, clinging to basic survivalist instincts and trying to protect their selves/family/race/religion/belief-system from the attacks by the rest of the population. As they claw their way up the pyramid, they're set to attack most everything that doesn't fit within their local/personal reference framework. Until basic human nature changes, or somehow a good portion of the worlds population gets pretty high up in the pyramid, we're destined to continue the behavioral path we've been on for thousands of years.
    Our technological environment may change rapidly, but our basic human nature will not, and anything that disturbs our sense of self and security too much will be dealt with severely. Disrupt that, and you're subject to attack! We'll evolve, but slowly.