- 1. Mr. David Brin, you are a science fiction writer and in the past you had a chance to consult some of the world’s most largest corporations. So my question is – what can be predicted considering the future by a writer, that can’t be predicted by executives of the largest corporations?
Organs in our brains - the prefrontal lobes - uniquely compel human beings to do "thought experiments" about what might come to pass. We do this obsessively, despite knowing full-well that our forecasts won't come true, because the process still enables us to confront a myriad bad decisions and outcomes, eliminating many of those and making up stories that might lead to success.
- 2. What are the most common questions asked by representatives of the largest corporations? What are they trying to learn from you? Do they want to know predictions about the evolution of the technology, or they want to learn how the new technology might influence people’s life in the future?
In the near term, they want hints about business opportunities and dangers. For example, what trends might make the current motif for cell-phones (a rectangular slab in your pocket) obsolete? Will rising world education levels, decentralization of skill, and the rise of desktop manufacturing mean the return of cottage industry, replacing large-scale manufacturing? Will biological synthesis follow its own Moore's Law pattern, the way computers have, leading to an Internet of organic chemistry?
- 3. Is it possible to state, that the vitality of a corporation directly depends on ability to identify how the world will change in next decade?
Our prefrontal lobes compel us to anticipate, and new tools for anticipation are arriving in a flood, from Big Data to vision and behavior analytics, from social modeling systems to face recognition and even artificial intelligence. Setting aside (for now) the implications for freedom, the biggest concern is how uneven these tools will be, how fraught with error. No
- 4. When we talking about future predictions, how much are those predictions important to small players? For example to small companies, or individuals who want to start a business? Maybe for a student, who want’s to become a dentist, isn’t important how the teeth will be fixed in the next decade, because in any case he will get all the necessary knowledge at the university?
The corporation is one method by which human beings organize themselves to pursue common goals. It has been remarkably successful, though there is nothing sacred about it, nor about any one form of government. (Indeed, both types of system become brittle when they are top-heavy.)
- 5. What do you think about a prediction and a vision, that maybe in the year 2050 nobody will be able to lie, because devices like Google Glasses will be able work as a 100% correct lie detectors? No more populists who try to win a president election by lying?
My 1980 novel SUNDIVER dealt glancingly with a future in which it became difficult to lie, because all citizens could track the gaze of politicians or salesmen and the eyes would involuntarily reveal deception. Recent scientific work suggests that something like this may be coming. In which case, we will have to decide what kind of society we want. We have several options. If we try to ban these technologies, that will only ensure that we -- you and I -- don't have them, but elites will get them anyway, in secret.
- 6. In your opinion, how will the world look in a year 2050? People with artificial body parts and cyborgs all around? Or maybe every disease can be healed in seconds, and lost body parts regrown in minutes? How about a vision, where everyone is living in a virtual world, where androids do all the work in "real“ world? Will people live longer, and our world will be much safer place? (If possible please justify your arguments in more details)
People should become familiar with the term "social singularity" which is today much discussed by the brightest young people. It is the notion that human knowledge has been accelerating for generations and that acceleration will rise even faster across the next few decades. Just one technology -- artificial intelligence -- could arrive from any of six different directions. If it does come… and assuming the new minds are friendly … then our rise in knowledge and capability may accelerate even faster.
- 7. Which of the currently emerging technologies will lead to major changes in how we work, how we consume, and how we produce goods?
Desktop fabrication will probably not eliminate manufacturing, mass-production and delivery systems. But it will become a factor, when people can upload design patterns and create their own small parts or machines. Even factory-produced items will be personally tailored to the needs of particular customers. Impatience with old-fashioned delivery systems may provoke the return of pneumatic tube transport for small or medium-scale packages. If asteroidal resources become available, all metals will plummet in price, including gold and platinum.
- 8. Let’s go back to the year 2050. What car we will drive then? Some people say that we'll have better batteries for electric cars, others say that future belongs to hydrogen powered electric cars. What is your opinion? Maybe we won't have cars at all and travel in glass tubes from one city to another?
I portray hydrogen powered cars being used by 2050 in my novels EARTH and EXISTENCE. There are real potential advantages… but not in the near term. The required infrastructure, if we copy gasoline distribution, would be insane. Hydrogen will make sense only when solar power becomes so plentiful that you fill your tank at home.
- 9. Another tough question – oceans and the human future? Will we have cities underwater? There is a lot of most needed resources under ocean flour, when we will be able to get our hands on them? Our maybe asteroid mining is the future?
Asteroid mining is a dream that only a few of us shared in the 1980s. Ocean settlement goes even farther back. Both frontiers offer the potential (still speculative but well-based) for spectacular benefits that might enrich human society far beyond any memory of poverty. Both must overcome serious obstacles. In accessing the vast resources from asteroids -- which include almost everything we currently tear out of the Earth through mines -- we must first decide to be ambitious. To become again a people who invest boldly in space. That dream has been almost crushed by cynicism, but the numbers suggest that cynics are wrong. The dreamers were right.
- 10. In the fifth decade of the last century science fiction writers predicted that by year 2000 we would have colonies on Moon, and a lot of people will be live in space stations orbiting Earth. That didn't happen. What is correct year for Moon base? And if we ever construct a Moon base, how this will affect humanity's thinking? Can a new philosophy or view to life emerge from space conquest? Will people still believe in God, when they will know that it takes only 15 minutes flight to an amusement park in Moon?
When the year 2001 came around, I had to answer many questions like: "where are the moon bases we were promised?" But watch again the film by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. It portrayed a civilization that by the year 2001 had made greater leaps in spaceflight than we've achieved. But society had progressed much less on a human plane. It conveyed a world commanded by patronizing, smug white-male-American bosses who operated in habitual secrecy. Now, you may claim that was accurate! But put aside the reflex. Today's world - for all its flaws - is far more open and diverse -- even at pinnacles of power -- than Kubrick and other science fiction writers expected or imagined. In other words, space proved to be hard! But we have made progress in areas that seemed even harder, including the human heart.
- 11. Last, but the most important question for us. What kind of future you predict for small countries like Lithuania? What can you advise for our politicians and scientists? We have limited resources, so where to focus? Do we need to follow niche technology road (like focus on lasers, biotechnology), or try to invest even a small amount of money to every emerging technology? What advice would you give to parents who will have children this year, and those children will start studies in a year 2033?
Globalization has been a mixed blessing. Great positive benefits followed the wave of export-driven development as successive nations had a chance to work hard and send their children to school. The process was seldom perfectly just -- or easy on the planet -- but the growth of a world-majority middle class has been a miracle, and those educated children will demand more improvements, still.