Tomorrow is good.
In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer and Daan Kersten, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All four contributors are – in addition to their ‘normal’ groundbreaking work – linked to the SingularityU The Netherlands, the organization that focuses on spreading knowledge about technologies that can provide solutions to the problems of our time. This Sunday, it’s Carlo van de Weijer‘s turn.
By Carlo van de Weijer
This week the first Singularity Summit organised by SingularityU Netherlands was held in Amsterdam. A full house with techno-optimists, and that optimism is not there for nothing. If you see the progress society has achieved in recent years in terms of life expectancy, food costs, poverty, infant mortality, and the cost of living, you can not help but conclude that technology has helped humanity to advance. This sort of good news traditionally travels badly into the minds of humans, as it is often blocked by our biological adjustment to give priority to bad news. If prehistoric man, whose skull took our last software update, missed the news that there was a lion behind a tree, this would immediately mean death. If he missed the news that there was a hunk of meat waiting for him somewhere, he would only suffer some hunger for a couple of days. Bad news hits us harder, so we give it priority.
But those positive vibes certainly didn’t mean that during the summit there wasn’t also time and attention for the dangers of technology. David Roberts spoke in his closing remarks about those dangers, especially when exponential technology is combined with a linear growth of morality. I strongly endorse him in this. As an example, he pointed at the dangers of a simulated world. I also wonder regularly if we are ready for this development. Recently, I was allowed to experience a demo of the latest Oculus VR goggles in which I imagined myself in a battle between robots and other scum.
If you are witnessing something like this, you can only conclude that a regular trip to a simulated world is much closer than we until recently have been aware of. Because even when this trip may have led to a rather apocalyptic and unrealistic environment, this of course can be tuned to any personal preference.
And the authenticity will certainly grow better in the future. At this point only sight and hearing are fooled by virtual reality glasses, but with haptic technologies one could increasingly bring a more real experience into the simulation. And it only seems a matter of time until these images, sounds and movements go directly to our senses or, even better, right into our brain. Just give me a nice summer day in Eindhoven or any other city (although I wonder why); I choose only those people with an appearance that attracts me, I’m driving around in a sports car in which I survive the most bizarre accidents and I eat the best of the best food all day long without being unhealthy or becoming fat; my simultaneously inserted food preparations will take care of that. I really think this is going to come soon. The accuracy does not need to be more than that of our senses.
Why should we still opt for our hard cold ugly outside world? The new inner world, that’s where you want to be.
“We might already have gone through the stage of a takeover by a simulated world”
If this simulated reality will really come to us this fast, one might wonder why it is that we just ‘happen’ to live in this transition period. According to many liberal techies this could be so because we already have gone through the stage of a takeover by a simulated world. Elon Musk, not the least thinker, recently suggested that the probability that we are not living in a simulation of life is about one in a billion. So take a look around and you might conclude cautiously that the inner world is already being simulated for you, in all the details that come with it… Apparently it won’t get any better than this. And that’s good news.