The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

In a recent post on "The Long War", the Belmont Club's Wretchard points to Newt Gingrich's analysis of the struggle against Islamofascism. I want to focus on one of Mr. Gingrich's comments:
We have not yet developed the doctrine or structure capable of thinking through and implementing a Long War (30 to 70 years if we are lucky) on a societal scale.
This timescale seems reasonable; yet calling it optimistic also seems reasonable. In 30 years, the youngsters toddling along Palestinian parade routes, dressed up in mockups of suicide bomb belts, might themselves be heads of established households. In 70 years, their children's children might have forgotten their parents' grudges. It could work.

Next we turn away from politics toward science. Advocates of a near-future singularity are predicting a world changed beyond recognition in 40 years or even less. These predictions may be off the mark, but consider the following.

Computer hardware with the computing capacity of a human brain is roughly 20 years away. The Moore's-law growth of single chip speeds may not hold up for anything like this long, but as James Miller summarizes the case,
There are so many possible means of expanding computing power that only a few have to be proved practical for the exponential growth in computer power to continue until 2045.
Claims of human-equivalent AI being "10 years away" in 1955 were just stupid, and those who made or even believed them are utterly discredited. But these claims were never widely accepted, largely because the balance of probability is clearly strongly against obtaining human-equivalent intelligence without human-equivalent hardware. Now the balance shifts the other way, and the burden of justification is on those who wish to maintain that human-equivalent hardware will not support human-equivalent AI. [I may attempt such a justification elsewhere, but it is not directly relevant here.] There is a still heavier burden on those who maintain that such hardware will not even result in intelligence amplification, or that society will not be deeply affected by it.

Mild intelligence-enhancing medications are already here. There is every reason to believe that they will become more widespread and more powerful over the next ten years. Even if they only affect attention span and memory retention -- two areas where the ground is already broken -- their effects on the workplace will be immense. Imagine doctors, and engineers, and attorneys who bear down all day, every day and remember everything. The changes necessary to effect drastic social change are far less than those needed for a Drexlerian Breakthrough.

The difficult question is how our society's attitudes toward our backward-looking foreign enemies will change as the effects of these enhancements start to be felt. Two major forces will come into play.

First, domestic bioconservatives will find they have increasing sympathy for the enemies of progress, as progress moves in a direction they consider harmful or even evil. These bioconservatives are likely to be in two largely disjoint camps: some will be motivated by religion, some by a quest for equality. The latter position, requiring as it does that one must value equality for all above opportunity for any, is already associated with those who do not desire a strong or exceptional America. If a significant underclass feels itself left behind, or unfairly disadvantaged by the white-brained privileged class, extreme Marxist bioconservatives will grow powerful and will find it easy to foment violence.

Religious bioconservatives, in America, will be mainly Christian. Thus it is reasonable to expect that they will proselytize peacefully -- consider how low is the present rate of anti-abortion violence -- rather than violently oppose the choices of others. [This may change when bioprogressives begin to, e.g., disassemble the Earth, but at this point the opinions of bioconservatives will no longer be so important.]

The second new force is the rise of technological pressures toward cultural coherence (or decoherence, depending on your viewpoint). I have written previously on the incentives that will begin to reward smaller and more homogenous societies. In addition, as a person's sense of self expands outside his physical body, he will become more perceptive but also inevitably more vulnerable. The desire for security will militate against the ready accomodation with the unknown that is the prime enabler of diversity. Remember that the formation of closed enclaves will become much easier, since it need not even require physical proximity; it is probably that they will become the dominant social focus of bioprogressives.

There is a vast open seam between political and military forecasts, based on a near-static world, and scientific forecasts which ignore the political. Peering from the mists of my own ignorance, I see only a few of the most obvious features within. What do you see?