Dick Pelletier Sees a Magical Future Ahead of Us

March 13 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 9

Science and technology columnist Dick Pelletier is very optimistic about what’s to come, especially for someone born in 1931. He authors the blog, PositiveFuturist, which serves as a central resource for anyone interested in how advancing technologies are merging and amplifying each other to create what he calls a “magical future”.

What some may consider a utopian dream – a world in which aging has been eliminated, and physical and psychological capabilities expanded – Pelletier sees as a very real possibility for the next 20-30 year period. In a recent MemeBox interview, Pelletier was kind enough to share his views about the NBIC convergence he sees driving these breakthroughs, offering a bright and exciting vision of the future to come.

“NBIC convergence refers to the interaction of advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences,” Pelletier explained.

As a fan of Ray Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating change, he believes these technologies are advancing exponentially as the rate of change gains momentum.

“As this phenomenon becomes more understood, the possibility that we can enhance human performance and actually design our own evolution will become clear. NBIC convergence will impact dramatically with working habits and the economy. Nanotech and infotech advances could, as early as the last half of this century, turn Earth into a non-commerce scarcity-free world.”

Being a future-focused thinker like Pelletier puts one in a position to understand and think critically about the world that we’re creating. It’s not about outrageous claims or pie in the sky hopes, but rather a critical evaluation of emerging technologies tempered by critical thinking and constant research.

“Futurists fall into different categories. Consulting futurists track relevant trends, analyze them, and think creatively about their direction and meaning. They do not predict the future, they project industry developments and future trends; and they do this for a living. Businesses employ this type of futurist to gain an edge on their competitors.”

“Then there are future thinkers like myself with an obsessive curiosity of what life may offer in the coming years and the desire to share this information with others as we enter into what I call a “magical future” in the coming decades.”

By combining a generally positive attitude with the premise of the accelerating rate of technological change, Dick gave us his outlook on the NBIC advances we might expect within the next 20 years:

Nanotechnology

- Nano replicators, expected by mid-2020s, will grab atoms from air, sea water, or waste materials and build useful products such as food, clothing, and other household goods. Today, researchers are racing to create the world’s first nano-assembler, a necessary component before the replicator can be realized. The winner in this race could become our planet’s first trillionaire.

Biotechnology

- The National Cancer Institute predicts that no one will suffer or die from cancer by 2015; it may not be cured by then, but drugs will be available and affordable to keep it at bay.

-Regenerative medicine, spearheaded by embryonic stem cell research and genetic engineering, holds the promise to cure nearly every disease, stop aging, and even restore youth to older people.

- Huge opportunities exist in the field of synthetic life. This is a technology that will change our world in fundamental ways – in fact in ways that are impossible to predict. The cobbling together life from synthetic DNA will blur the line between biological and artificial, forcing a rethinking of what it means for things to be alive.

- Gene pioneer Craig Venter predicts that within 3 to 10 years, the little-known field of “wet artificial life” could produce the world’s first human-made life forms that might be used to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and replace it with methane; or a new auto fuel that would break our dependency on oil.

Information Technology

- Nearly every device in our lives will be both smart and networked, giving rise to an Internet of things. Information technologies in the next decade will drive the convergence of computers, TVs, telephones, and Internet voice communications. Computers will become cheaper, more powerful and ubiquitous. Web data will automatically self-organize based on its content, allowing search tools and software agents to provide more relevant information on demand.

- An enormous demand for personal security will spur development of cameras that interpret and identify all manner of human behavior, and radio frequency tags will become common for people and valuables.

Cognitive Sciences

- Neural enhancement will become a standard procedure enabling increased memory functions for normal people and eliminating dreaded diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

- By 2020, we will enjoy the company of a “talking machine.” This electronic wonder will understand what we say and can immediately act on our request. It will learn through experience and even anticipate our needs. The device will operate as an avatar – an on-screen image resembling a favorite movie star or loved one. On command, it will appear on any TV screen, computer monitor, or cell phone display in our home, address us by name and ask, “How can I help you.”

- Poised at the cutting edge of this fast growing industry, Fair Isaac’s Robert Hecht-Nielsen believes his company will soon market a machine called Chancellor that could bring the vision of true conversational machines closer to reality. Chancellor gets its power from the Internet and can also answer phones, make appointments and maintain schedules.

It’s a breath of fresh air (and an exciting proposition) to look forward to a future that will give us so many opportunities to be healthy, happy, and live life to the fullest. On behalf of the entire MemeBox team, I’d like to send out a warm wave of gratitude for all of Dick’s continued support and contributions to our growing community.

To read the full interview transcript, click here.

Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. It’s wonderful positivism – but won’t there be bumps along the road? It can’t all work out perfectly, as nothing ever has. Does this ‘magical future’ sort of resemble a Golden Age with minimal conflict, relative prosperity, etc? Or is it like something we’ve never seen before in human history?

    Posted by: Fishka   March 14, 2008
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  2. I’m sure it will be like something we’ve never seen, but as Dick points out (check the full length transcript), there are of course risks involved with abuse of new technologies. That’s why we have organizations like the EFF, Lifeboat Foundation, and Foresight Nanotech Institute – watchdog groups to keep an eye on that stuff before it gets out of hand.

    Posted by: Venessa Posavec   March 14, 2008
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  3. Kurzweil and other forward-thinkers believe that we cannot predict the future by comparing past events with what might happen in the future.

    Today’s exponential rates of technology and science advancements are much higher than they have been in the past, and of course, lower than they will be in the future.

    Although no one can predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, there are some constants that we can rely on such as the human instinct for survival and the fact that our species has surpassed all others in intelligence. It is logical to assume that the future will be influenced by those constants.

    But we can definitely expect a few “bumps” in the road ahead, as there are many who would resist progress.

    Leon Kass, chairman of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics finds problems with radical life extension. Kass believes attempts to conquer death devalues human life. “It is death,” he writes, “that gives urgency to life.” Kass sees research into genetics and embryonic stem cells as threats to the very nature of humanity. He issues dire warnings that once mankind starts down that slippery slope the result might be something not even human.

    Does that mean that everyone should die eventually, even if they are still in good health? Frighteningly, when asked if a future government would be within their rights to tell its citizens that they have to die, Bioethics Council member Francis Fukuyama answered, “Yes, absolutely.”

    However, it is this writer’s opinion that the human desire to improve itself will drive this “magical future” forward; and it has an excellent chance of happening during the lifetime of many who are reading this blog.

    Posted by: futuretalk   March 14, 2008
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  4. the day my government tells me i HAVE to die, i’m movin to sweden.

    Posted by: Zora Styrian   March 14, 2008
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  5. Let’s hope that current members of the Bush Council on Bioethics will be replaced by more sensible, more intelligent people when our next President assumes office.

    Hillary said one of the first actions she would perform if elected, would be to remove the Bush ban on government support for embryonic stem cell research, which should catapult this crucial science forward where it can begin saving the lives of many of our seniors (including yours truly) whose body parts may need to be replaced in the next decade.

    Posted by: futuretalk   March 14, 2008
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