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Are You Amazed Yet?
Mike Treder   Dec 29, 2009   Ethical Technology  

Have the last ten years filled you with awe at the pace of scientific discovery? Or are you more, like, meh…

In a few days, it will be 2010—the start of the second decade of the new millennium.

By 2010, according to the fictional reckoning of Arthur C. Clarke, humans were supposed to be capable of conducting crewed missions to Jupiter. In reality, we’re not even close to that.


To put it another way, we are now further removed in years from the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey than that movie was from the classic silent film Metropolis.


So, where are the space colonies? The starships? The sentient computers? For that matter, where are the aliens that we should have discovered by now?

An article by Paul Milo in the Boston Globe ponders the same issues:

With just days left in the year, you might be trying out a few cool things you expect to use in 2010—an e-reader, a talking GPS system, mittens wired to run your iPod. But it’s a fair bet that there are some things you won’t have.

You won’t have an electric butler to rouse you on New Year’s Day. You won’t climb into your flying car that morning. You won’t be chowing down on your food pill for a recuperative breakfast. It’s likely to be chilly—miserable, even—thanks to the lack of a climate-controlled geodesic dome over your town. And while you may be planning a Vermont ski trip for February, you’re not going to be jetting to a Malaysian beach for the day, or relaxing at an orbiting space hotel.

If you had told this to an audience in 1930, or even 1970, they would have been shocked. Decades ago, it was virtually taken for granted that average people would regularly be traveling to space, robots would be doing all the household chores, and our steaks would be in capsule form. Even the most pessimistic folks would have guessed that by now we would be able to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in two hours.

On the other hand, we do have a lot of really cool stuff, like pocket phones that can hold a thousand books. But is it enough? Is 2010 all you expected it to be a few decades ago? Are you amazed yet?

Our current IEET reader poll asks how impressed you are with the scientific discoveries and technological accomplishments of the last ten years. Are you disappointed? Looking back, did you expect more? Or, conversely, are you blown away with the fast pace and dizzying achievements? Maybe somewhere in between?

Let us know what you think.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


More and better entertainment and gossip-facilitators is not progress.
That’s the degeneration of civilization.

I second BillK’s observation. The U.S. has just passed through a decade of improgression about the things which affect survival, despite all the singularitarian and transhumanist propaganda to the contrary. Instead we just see transhumanist make-believe in popular culture. A rational individual who wants to live in a Transhuman Future World, instead of just daydreaming about it, would probably not obsess over transhumanist themes in movies, comic books, TV shows and young adult novels (a.k.a., geek hermeneutics) when these fantasies don’t map onto trends in reality.

The paleo-futurists who have become objects of ridicule lately made some bad calls, but at least they postulated that Future People would get off their butts and do challenging and arguably useful things in the real world—colonizing the moon, building geodesic domes over cities and things like that. I don’t think they would have approved of the real 21st Century people who sit in front of their computers all day and pretend they have “second lives” online.

Most importantly from our perspective, the paleo-futurists sensed that our planet needs literal restocking from space resources to meet the needs of a growing population, a perspective which sounds increasingly plausible given recent events. The financial collapse probably resulted from the fact that our economy ran up against material shortages which no amount of additional money could surmount, like $147 a barrel of oil in the summer of 2008.

I also get the impression that transhumanism arose as a response to the frustrations many of us feel by the failure to open the space frontier over 30 years ago. I would gladly trade in a lot of this digital nonsense to live in a world with sustainable energy from solar power satellites and other extraterrestrial resources. Restocking Earth in this way would reduce our chances of experiencing Richard C. Duncan’s “Olduvai” catastrophe and keep a technologically progressive culture in business and on a more secure foundation for an indefinite stretch of time.

Yes - we are far from having androids or sentient AI among us - and space travel is ‘limited’ to the moon. Still there have been significant advances in science and medicine to make it a memorable decade.

It might be a good idea to have another poll breaking up tech-sci into different areas.  I think a few areas of science/tech have been quite impressive, while most are average or disappointing.  The one area that I would say is ‘quite impressive’ is information technology (IT), Moores law remains on target and there’s an explosion of creative new software, hardware and web apps.  Think Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wolfram Alpha, think smart phones and associated apps, think good continued progress in AI and robotics. 

Unfortunately many others areas seem stalled - space flight, genetic engineering, nano, energy and the environment all remain disappointing.  A few rays of hope in medicine perhaps with some theoretical inroads into cancer and aging, but average there at best.

Overall I’d say progress is average (but only the impressive advances in IT stopped me from saying disappointing).


Back to artificial intelligence, perhaps it was my destiny to make the huge breakthrough? 😉  I’ve suggested a very radical idea, that categorization (analogical inference) is the real basis of rationality and Bayes is merely a special case of it. I direct interested readers to the everything list:

‘impressive advances in IT’ are mostly what I referred to as ‘gossip-faciltators’.
5 million people saying ‘I’m on the bus - where are you?’ is not progress. Since when did we need to know where all our friends are and what they are doing? So Fred is making a coffee for breakfast and considering going to the mall. Who cares? !!!

Facebook and Twitter and smart phones enable a continuous stream of drivel to be flooding the airways and dumbing down people’s brains. In the remote chance that a thought might enter their brain, they have ipods and iphones that can continuously play 30,000 music tracks to distract them.

Google is useful if you are already educated. Otherwise it enables every cretin in the world to do a google search and think they are now climate scientists (as one example).

There has been some slow progress in AI and robotics, but that mostly seems to be finding things that don’t work very well. Useful, but disappointing.

I agree that there have been discoveries in medicine, but they seem to be very slow at trickling down to real life.

All things considered, I’m still not impressed.

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