Oct 29 2012

Butterfly Dreams — Everything Connects

""){ ?> By Valkyrie Ice


When I was young, I heard an old Chinese proverb that told about a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, and when he awoke, he could not say if he was a man who dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

I always liked that story because it illustrated for me the uncertain nature of reality. No matter how much we learn about our world, no matter how certain some things seem, no one can ever really know what the future will bring, if the butterfly will ever awaken.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m trapped inside a dream, just on the verge of waking to a world I’m not certain I can understand.  My writing is, in part, my way of trying to create a lens to see into that world outside of sleep.  We are at the verge of a future that has undreamed of possibilities, and there is truly no way to say for certain what it will be.  All we can do is use our knowledge of the past and the present to make our best guesses as to the future

Many writers have attempted to envision the future, and over the years, some of their visions have emerged as reality, some haven’t.  Heinlein saw a future where massive clunky analog computers drove ships across the stars, and people traveled across the country on slideways.  Asimov saw a world where robots were often more human than their makers.  Clarke envisioned an elevator to the stars.  For their time, these were plausible futures, and as the future has taken more definite shape, some of these futures have come closer to reality and some have fallen by the wayside.

Obviously, future forecasting is never going to be 100% accurate, but many of our best minds have spent considerable thought on how it might develop; numerous books have been written on the subject and many stories told about Futures Past.  I’ve read so many that at times my head spun. But I gradually realized that there was something that bothered me about them all.

Every book that attempted to predict the future always seemed to be more of the same old same old.  Yes, there were a few new items, a few strange quirks, some new technologies that had revolutionized something… but it was all very hit and miss.  A few elements might be touched on while others might be completely ignored; or some mumbo jumbo would tell about such and such being a pivotal technology that changed this and this, but everything else would be alone.  Serious books on the future were even worse at being single minded.  They all seemed to miss three things that historical perspective shows are some of the most important things that should be considered for any real concept of the shape of things to come.

The first thing that gets missed is the fact that Everything Connects.  It’s actually a very simple concept, but it’s one many futurists have utterly failed to take into account.  We’ve divided knowledge into so many separate categories for so long that very few people look outside their field of specialization to see what else is out there.  Physicists see a future that’s all about quarks and nuclear forces, biologists see a world of biotech, Engineers see cybersystems.  They’re all possible futures, but none of them really take into account the concept of Everything Connects.   No science is truly separate from any other science, and every advance is tied to a score of prior advances, and can lead to a score more.  Technology begets technology.  And with every advance there is a social impact and an adjustment to the new technology.  Everything ties together.  Some of these can be so small that they are never noticed while others are so overwhelming that they warp our entire concepts of who and what we are.  Case in point… take the Apollo program.  The goal was to create a rocket that could go to the Moon, but what we got was far more.  From the Apollo program, we got miniaturized electronics. This led — small step by small step — to improvements in medicine, engineering, biology, physics, and so many other sciences that I could write a book just on the fallout developments from this one advance.

This leads to another concept that many writers overlook: The Law of Unintended Consequences .  It’s an economic principle that when applied to technology essentially states that every invention will have uses and effects unforeseen by their creator.  I seriously doubt Alexander Graham Bell ever envisioned cell phones or the World Wide Web.  Many writers out there quite accurately show what some technologies can do, then fail utterly to go beyond that first bright idea to extrapolate what other uses might develop.  Star Trek is a prime example. The show tosses in such technologies as teleporters, replicators, and nanites and then ignores all of the implications of these very same technologies.  Face it, for every technology, there is a use, and there are abuses, and only time will tell which is which.

This leads us to the last element that often gets forgotten — One Man’s Evil is another Man’s Good.  So many writers seem to possess a skewed vision of the future that completely ignores human nature.  Cynical as it sounds, you have to anticipate that people are going to misuse, abuse, and destroy with any technology, no matter how beneficial it may seem.  For everyone who drives according to the speed limit, how many others break it?  For every person who drives a stock model, how many customize?  Any true picture of the future can’t ignore the fact that not everyone will follow the most conservative path; the most minimalist uses of new technologies.  The bad has to be observed side by side with the good, and until we look back with hindsight, no one will truly know which is which.

Three ideas that sound simple, yes?  But put them together, and you can make a lens to see, however dimly, into the possible futures that await humanity.  It may not be pretty; it may not be nice; it may even scare some people half to death. But I think it results in a clearer prediction of what may come than the sterilized visions so common in other books on the future.

Because, it’s time for the butterfly to wake up.

  • By Vandeep Krishnamurty, October 29, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    “butterfly” huh? cute term for total dehumanization and reduction of what shreds of human decency remain into : final degradation and then insectoid machinery where once there were living, feeling creatures ie OUR SPECIES whom you desire to exterminate.

    “The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

    The only people who crave the non-human world are alienated from their own humanity, people who from brain damage or circumstance LACK the ability to appreciate the human body, mind and spirit. You damaged lot are already part way to machine, so it is logical for you to cheerlead for the extinction of humanity, as you haven’t experienced it!

  • By Vandeep Krishnamurty, October 29, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    and if you REALLY want to talk about butterfly metaphors that actually are actually meaningful? Then read this and report back, Mr. Ice

  • By Chelsea Starr, October 29, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

    Enjoyable article! I just wanted to put in a reminder about all of the dystopian futurism out there (1984, Brave New World, everything by Philip K Dick), so there is a counter-movement that is a bit more critical of future advances in biology and technology. I agree with you that future-tech will be mis-used, but it’s always DARPA or other gov’t entities that fund the most interesting stuff, hoping to harness it for their purposes. The best example is the LSD research in the 50s/60s under MK-Ultra that completely failed as a mind-control/enemy neutralization tactic. You see, there is always a way to hack the new; and the new always seems to escape the government lab. Every technology contains within it a potential for use as an instrument of an intrusive state and the potential of resistance to that state. Technology is a tool. You can bust someone’s head with a hammer, but you can also build a defensive fortification. The form the tech takes doesn’t really matter; everything we can conceive of cuts both ways. And you are right, what researchers hope to find and what they actually find are different things. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

  • By Valkyrie, October 29, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    So, it’s “Vandeep” now, hummmm, “Max/Rick”? Seriously, you need to work on changing your style if you really want people to think all these sockpuppets are actually different people. Endlessly quoting the same phrase from “Dune” over and over is pretty dull too. Can’t you ever find new material?

    @ Chelsea

    Glad you enjoyed it. Getting people to look at things in brand new ways is one of my primary goals when writing. As my pet troll illustrates, it’s a real challenge. XP

  • By Matthew J Price, October 29, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    Excellent assessment of the problems plaguing futurists and especially science fiction. Science fiction gets a bit of a pass because it would be incredibly difficult to write a compelling and consistent story if it didn’t hold some things constant and change just a few. However, people attempting to seriously posit scenarios about the future ought to do better.

    Kevin Kelly does probably the best of acknowledging the law of unintended consequences in future technologies. That said, it is still damned hard to account for in the not very distant future. Can you tell me what will be the second or third order effects of quantum computing circa 2025? I sure as hell can’t.

    “The only people who crave the non-human world are alienated from their own humanity, people who from brain damage or circumstance LACK the ability to appreciate the human body, mind and spirit. You damaged lot are already part way to machine, so it is logical for you to cheerlead for the extinction of humanity, as you haven’t experienced it!”

    Screw you too Vandeep. I’ve got no issue with being human, but I’m going to be the best kind of human that is.. *ahem* humanly possible. Your blanket statement that transhumanists are damaged in some way is not only false, but stupid. If you’re concerned for the future of humanity heading into the curve of the hockey stick, contribute to the Singularity Institute for AI; They’re our best shot so far. Attacking people for wanting to use technology to be better people doesn’t stop AI, and only makes you look bad.

  • By Vandeep Krishnamurty, October 29, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

    Your notions do not even come within 200 light years of “better people” ;your notions are filed under “dehumanization”, “mechanization”, “dystopian” and “species level extinction.” Even your own writers state this clearly.

  • By Valkyrie, October 30, 2012 @ 6:18 am

    @ Matthew

    while I cannot definitely state all of the possibilities, one probable benefactor from quantum computing will be VR, as such systems seem likely to be quite useful in creating graphics at detail levels sufficient to fool the human visual cortex into believing it is “real”, especially as displays reach a point where pixels are so small that the unaided human eye cannot distinguish them. That’s just one possibility out of many, but one I haven’t really seen anyone discussing.

  • By rick james, October 30, 2012 @ 8:10 am

    Quantum Computing has no possible application to video processing, at this point in history less than a dozen theoretically possible total ALGORITHMS even exist for theoretical QC! QC is mathematically constrained to a very small subset of the functionality of a deterministic full Turing machine. How are you not aware of this?

  • By Ian, October 30, 2012 @ 10:13 am

    Rick James/Vandeep/maximo ramos/whatever you’re using:

    If you have questions regarding comment moderation, please email me directly. I’ll be happy to email you back about our moderation policy.

    Thank you.

  • By Valkyrie, October 30, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    Yes, Max, I am fully aware of their CURRENT limitations. I am also aware that the number of qubits usable AT THIS MOMENT is so small that very few applications exist.

    But there are numerous potential applications once we’ve achieved QCs which can use millions to billions of qubits, especially in modeling physical processes. As the universe itself could be viewed as a kind “quantum computer” calculating each moment from the quantum states of the moment before, it would seem that VR would likely benefit from QCs as well.

    Can I definitively claim that it will? No. It’s dependent on the development of OCs, and therefore subject to falsification or verification as further data becomes available.

    But claiming that “we can’t do it now, therefore it’s IMPOSSIBLE” is little more that wishful thinking on your part.

  • By James, November 1, 2012 @ 1:58 am

    First up, I totally agree with everything you’ve written. I’ve often felt like a lot of sci-fi is just a story written in the present with one or two technologies changed. The answer to this is, obviously, everything connects. One of the problems with this is that there is so much “everything”, and it would take a considerable polymath to really weave together a somewhat accurate narrative set in the future.

    As an example, go back in your mind to 1992. It’s only 20 years ago but we had no internet, (I know it existed, but not in any way that was useful to the average person), very basic cellphones that hardly anyone had, and computers were big, sow and expensive. I can’t imagine, in 1992, being able to write a narrative about a song being released in Korea, having over 600 million views and everyone doing the dance all over the world in a matter of weeks, (I’m talking about Gangnam Style here, but you can use many other examples).

    My point is that in just 20 years the world has changed so unbelievably much, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined. I can’t help but think that 2032 will be even more different, and in ways that would stagger us if we heard about them now. I get what you’re talking about, and I agree with you, but I can’t help but think Kurzweil has the right idea when he identifies a Singularity and doesn’t even try to see beyond it.

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