The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University in cooperation with The Foundation for the Future conducted a special study on collecting foreseeable factors that might significantly affect the future of humanity in the next 1000 years. Those factors were rated by the panel of the first round of this study as to: a) how plausible it is that the factor will influence the human condition 1000 years from today; b) assuming that the factor does occur, how important its effect might be on the human condition; and c) ability of human intervention such as policy and/or funding to affect that factor’s trajectory. Round 1 also asked about the factor’s likely trajectory, benchmarks of its development, and some possible unexpected or low probability consequences. These views were used by the authors, Jerry Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon, to construct six draft scenario sketches to the year 3000. The second and final questionnaire asked for participants' additions, edits, corrections, and comments on these scenarios. They were also asked to list a fundamentally important question or two that arises due to the scenario. The results are included in the State of the Future at the Millennium.
Even though we understand how to work with the forces of nature, unlike our environmentally destructive past, we do not yet know how to provide human security for all. The integration of bio- and nanotechnology with artificial intelligence and our more enlightened worldviews provides the basis of life for 10 billion people on Earth and 50 billion in space. Although few would prefer to go back to the kinds of dangers we faced 40 generations or a thousand years ago, we still have major challenges ahead.
Civilization’s complexity and the diverse lives within it render the old Information Age measures of income, intelligence, physical abilities, and social status meaningless in the year 3000. Although our lives on Earth and in space are by no means perfect, we have made it through cyber and biological wars, natural disasters, mass migrations, and new diseases that threatened to wipe out humanity a number of times over the past thousand years.
By the twenty-second century the greenhouse effect had leveled off. Nanotech reduced the per capita drain on the environment. Architectural design improved energy efficiencies. Vaporization of seawater by pressure techniques made abundant fresh water. Fossil fuels were replaced by a combination of space solar power and nuclear fusion on Earth and in space. Nearly 20% of energy also came from wind, ground-solar, and geothermal sources. Electromagnetic beams or super batteries transported most energy. These in turn have since been replaced by today’s energy systems relying on the management of the structure of mass, made possible by scientific breakthroughs impossible for most to comprehend a millennium ago.
Although it was never quite clear whether technology proceeded faster than our ability to control it, we were unable to prevent the use of nanoweapons, genetic sabotage, and various forms of biological and information warfare. Ancient hatreds from unresolved conflicts occasionally burst forth with enough allies in a variety of powerful places to get advanced weapons to cause serious damage. Fortunately, foresight and technology assessments with species-wide feedback created enough counter measures that we are still alive today. Global codes of ethics with economic and military enforcement powers scrutinized by public cyber media probably deterred many dangers as well. However, the possibilities for new kinds of diseases from anomalies among natural mutations, artificial biology, and biological weapons leave us all a bit uneasy even today.
On the brighter side, inherited diseases of our ancestors no longer exist. They were eliminated by human genetic technology after several generations of research and contentious public debates in the early third millennium. Parents who wanted the best for their children in the early twenty-second century drove the next step of genetic engineering toward enhanced intelligence and other features.
The genes that influenced a range of brain functions were identified during the early twenty-first century. Low intelligence, like poor eyesight, was considered a genetic problem and was treated. Based on this success, many parents crossed borders to take their children to countries that legalized intelligence enhancement, causing other countries to allow the practice—with an important addition. They added the requirement that genes influencing compassion and related behaviors be checked and coupled with the treatment. As a result, human ability to deal with complex and unexpected problems was greatly increased, as was our foresight, reaction time, and compassion.
The trade-offs between enhanced memory and the speed of learning are under continual review, since our abilities in both areas are constantly evolving. The efficiency and ethics of improved brain-computer interfaces verses genetic engineering to increase individual and collective intelligence have also been debated for centuries.
Ecological and fundamentalist religious groups who resisted genetic enhancement finally accepted the value of increased intelligence, health, and more ethical behavior made possible by relatively minor genetic modification and individually tailored foods. Unfortunately, they gave in too soon. Unforeseen new kinds of diseases and genetic weaknesses were added to the human gene line and passed on to later generations. Although cosmic rays have also been doing this throughout evolution, direct human intervention had broader and faster impacts, which seemed more menacing. Even more worrisome was genetic sabotage. Like computer viruses that polluted cyberspace, the spread of genetic errors polluted the human gene pool. This contributed to unanticipated speciation within our genus. Although international treaties on global ethics were ratified, constant vigilance was necessary to prevent the use of this technology to create slave cultures and bioweapons over the past thousand years. Fortunately, we can detect problems in vitro and prevent their propagation.
Biological intelligence, artificial intelligence, and network intelligence were increased or enhanced in parallel by constantly adding new heuristics to force the incorporation of wisdom and global ethics in all systems. In the pre-global brain era, few people had many chances to use their intelligence for humanitarian purposes. Today we are all so interconnected that the right use of intelligence is constantly questioned, making the ancient dialectic of wisdom and intelligence very much alive today. Waste of any sort - including of good ideas and human talent - has become recognized as a sin. If an idea was not accessed by the right person for the right reason at the right time to make an improvement, it was considered to be a waste, a kind of reality pollution.
Increasing human intelligence by education, training, and nutrition became significantly augmented by genetic engineering. Both individual human and collective intelligence had increased and become so interconnected with technology that it could no longer be measured as an individual capacity. Although individuals with individual perspectives still exist in the year 3000, as sort of an ongoing synthesis, the continual intensity of complex interactivities with so many people and artificial intelligences has blurred the distinction between the individual’s capacity and the capacity of that person’s environment. With so much to draw from among each individual’s set of interactions, each person became more unique rather than similar. External protocols were in common, but a person’s subjectivity became far more unique than our ancestors’ of thousands of years ago. Each millennium, humanity has become a richer diversity of minds, while reinforcing much of the underlying spiritual commonality.
Most historians agree that global ethics would have evolved eventually as part of the processes of globalization, space migration, and environmental security efforts, but the fact remains that the rich-poor cyber biowars and then the series of earthquakes that destroyed several megacities in the mid-twenty-second century accelerated progress in global ethics by engendering unprecedented global compassion. At the same time, the number of trans-religious-philosophical dialogues increased rapidly. These dialogues were careful not to create a global theocracy, but to support the development of many new worldviews, which improved the climate of decisionmaking for better policy for improved human-environmental dynamics and addressing poverty.
All these developments created the conditions for protocols of civilization and inter-human standards, first enshrined in a variety of international treaties that provided the political stability that lead to the prosperity we enjoy today. Some governing systems were watershed-based. Others were market-oriented. Some are ad-hocracies of mutual intentions. The complexity of governance systems gave rise to a political ecology that still honors the old nation-states, international organizations, corporations, and NGOs for their important roles in the maintenance of civilization, much as the autonomic nervous system does for an individual. But just as the frontal lobe of the brain controls the anticipatory reasoning that makes change, the new political ecologies of individuals organized around shared intentions have become the creators of reality and are more interesting than the ethnic and national identities of the past. Indo-Chinese cultures still dominate much of contemporary style, however. Individuals participate in thousands of these “intentions” per day, creating new groups and leaving old ones all the time. The new political ecology combined the best of collective action and objectivity with individual freedom and subjectivity.
Perceptual barriers in cyberspace helped keep some potentially conflicting groups out of each other’s way. This bought time for increased human interconnectivity to lessen differences in points of view, while also allowing for the emergence of philosophical tolerance among differing worldviews.
At the turn of the fourth millennium, the combination of genetic engineering and nanomedicine has achieved “functional immortality.” People die only by accident or choice (often with religious ceremonies). The population of Earthkind has fluctuated between 9 and 11 billion for the past several centuries, while Spacekind’s birth rate has exploded, resulting in 50 billion humans throughout the solar system. Those who die transfer their experience to new kinds of life forms. These artificial life forms were produced first in space habitats by mating self-replicating intelligent devices with artificial life created from unique gene sequences not found in nature. They were created to help maintain much of our infrastructure and a healthy relationship between artificial and natural environments both on Earth and in space.
New forms of social organization emerged as the result of being supported by these artificial life forms. Instead of human hierarchies and networks for accumulation of religious, ethnic, economic, and political power, individuals continually selected different combinations of people and technological capacities to follow their curiosity. The first were the series of Seatopias. These ocean habitats consumed vast amounts of carbon dioxide to grow coral for marine biotecture (biological architecture). They created symbiotic relationships with the environment and helped restabilize terrestrial climate after global warming threatened to hit the runaway or “Venus” point of rapid temperature increase. World Wilderness Parks were also established during this period and remain intact today.
Nanotechnology had become as ubiquitous by the mid-third millennium as electricity had by the end of the second millennium. Today we are utterly dependent on picotechnology, which manipulates the atomic nucleus, and femtotechnology, which manipulates subatomic components. This knowledge allowed us to create new materials able to use subatomic energy sources, resulting in varieties of life unimaginable to most humans just a few hundred years ago. “Star Trek replicators” also made possible by these technologies, which were imagined a thousand years ago, have now become key to the economics of prosperity brought by subatomic management. Although many pursue a materially simple life, there is no poverty today in the ancient sense. In addition to global credit systems with infobanks for entrepreneurial opportunities, basic living units eliminated poverty as known in ancient times. The units contained nanotechnologies that can produce food, shelter, clothing, and are able to self-replicate.
The early success of nanotechnology in medicine, agriculture, industrial maintenance, super materials, computer chips, and self-replicating machines caused the acceleration of their use beyond our ability to control their dispersal. Nanotransceiver robots coupled with artificial life forms have killed the concept of privacy, but they have also made criminal acts less likely today. An intellectual arms race arose to create better countermeasures for signal jamming and active nanotech shields.
Even though space migration immunized humanity against a multitude of potential physical and social extinction events, the acceleration of the sustained space program was driven more by curiosity than by survival or economic necessity. Many wanted the challenge; others simply wanted escape from Earth, saying that humans had become like yeast in a closed bottle—proliferating and battling over limited substrate. The more conservative of these pioneers chose to build human settlements in capsules on Mars and then later terraformed the planet. The more adventurous chose to live in free-roaming space stations, while the most adventurous committed their gene line to be augmented by technology over several generations. These became the space-adapted conscious-technology entities preparing to leave the solar system.
Political systems on Earth tried to maintain control over space settlements, even after these pioneers had paid back the investments from Earth. Income from space tourism, electricity from space solar power, orbital retirement communities, and space industrialization were enormous. Conflicts between Spacekind and Earthkind escalated until political independence was granted to space settlements. Population pressures had increased public discussions about mass migrations, but not until the series of earthquakes in megacities and the onslaught of new diseases did space migration begin to be taken seriously by the general public. Fortunately, launch costs had fallen far enough at this point that large numbers could begin to migrate. Today a rich diversity of humanity and its symbiotic artificial life forms inhabit many locations in our solar system, and some have begun the trek to star systems with water-bearing planets.
The growing number of nuclear nations and increasing opportunities to hijack radioactive waste during transport led to the use of this waste by terrorists. This triggered several “brush fire” nuclear wars and the use of nanotechnology and biotechnology poisons, which spread sufficiently in the early twenty-first century that life-support systems for the biodiversity necessary to sustain human life was lost in much of Europe and Asia. Even in less affected areas, global warming sufficiently moved the Gulf Stream to lower temperatures to reduce European agriculture. The resulting mass migrations to Africa and the Americas throughout the twenty-first century caused further conflict. The daily struggle of 30 million AIDS orphans without love or mercy turned so many in Africa to crime networks that roving gangs eventually made political stability impossible.
Genetically targeted nanobioagents used by high-technology crime networks in the United States to prevent the migrant takeover got out of control and killed so many people that only minor sections of infrastructure could be maintained. Although centrally controlled nanotechnology was to have prevented mass self-replication in North America, transmission signals were interrupted by the social turmoil often enough that things got out of hand and turned large areas into a gray wasteland. As a result, the prevalence of disease, pestilence, and famine increased across Africa and America.
Efforts to create more serious international governance structures failed. An electronic iron curtain arose between the knowledgeable and knowledgeless. The decay of family and social values, corruption, and transnational crime became the governing elements in the system. No one cared about the environment.
Then in the twenty-second century, cataclysmic earthquakes under several megacities drove millions into savage frenzies for the necessities of life. Self-organizing groups in safer areas created artificial life forms to manage energy, food, water, and telecommunications. By the twenty-third century, these new life forms put some civilizations back into more functional order in several regions. But much of civilization had given up intellectually and escaped into psychotropic drugs, electrical stimulation, and cybersex. Humanity never recovered from the conditions that continued to generate new kinds of disease and slowly but surely humanity disappeared as a biological life form by the twenty-fourth century. The artificial life forms may well have decided that humanity was a threat and killed the remaining humans, before they knew what hit them. These forms then evolved into a system of robots, computers, and networks preparing to leave Earth and the solar system to seek other life at the dawn of the year 3000.
SETTING: A reconstructed but fairly accurate olive grove. The Acropolis
is painted in the background. Clearly this is ancient Greece. The participants
are a student audience and a lecturer, all in white togas.
PROFESSOR: Class, it’s pleasant to meet with you in this archaic way, sitting here face to face and really talking. I know it’s a throwback to the Greeks, 3,500 years or so ago, but you have to admit that there’s something refreshing about actually seeing each other in person and—what shall we call it—presence. And since the topic of this seminar is the history of time travel, it seemed appropriate that we actually see one another in the flesh, so to speak, just like the old days. This desire to re-create (notice the similarity to the old English word “recreation”) is stronger than ever these days; I hope you find the togas and olive trees a nice touch. I invite you to ask questions and add observations of your own as we proceed this morning.
To begin with, let’s agree that moving people from one time period to another constituted a leap for humankind into a previously unexplored dimension of experience. Certainly, before there was physical time shifting, there was the study of history—the issues and events of prior times. Historians attempted to give a sense of the past by reconstructing history from natural records and from the notes and documents of archivists, but the idea of traveling in time—actually moving to a different era, forward or back from the infinitely small island of the present—didn’t gain attention until the early twentieth century, when the great physicist Einstein postulated, in his special theory of relativity, that nothing could move faster than the speed of light.
Oh, certainly there had been speculation about what time really was
since the time of the Greeks. And the ancients looked at the heavens and
measured the stars and planets and knew the seasons. In the nineteenth
century, H.G. Wells, a novelist, wrote about a time machine, all brass
and black that transported a person back in time. When science and science
fiction bloomed in the twentieth century, all manner of time machines for
projecting into the future or into the past were imagined. Finney described
a method that involved using intense thought as the means for moving in
time. But it was in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
that scientists knew something like time travel might really be feasible.
Carl Sagan, a popular exo-biologist of the late twentieth century, said:
Such questions [Is time travel possible?] are purely a matter of evidence and if the evidence is inconsistent or insufficient, then we withhold judgment until there is better evidence. Right now, we are in one of those classic, wonderfully evocative moments in science when we don’t know, when there are those on both sides of the debate, and when what is at stake is very mystifying and very profound.
QUESTION: But, Professor, that sounds quite evasive to me, not an endorsement for the practicality of time travel.
PROFESSOR: Yes, I take your point. But at that time for any scientist to admit that there was the possibility of phenomena beyond the dogma of their disciplines was incredibly forward-looking. It was this attitude of “maybe” that gave permission to conventional science to go beyond its constraining beliefs.
As I said, time was a frontier, a challenge, a new place for thought and exploration. It began with this “maybe.” By the mid-twenty-first century, geographic frontiers were explored on Earth: from jungles that at first were called impenetrable in the late nineteenth century to the ocean floors complete with vents and metal nodules in the twenty-first, to the geological mantle and sub-crust clear through to the magma in the twenty-second. Our species, it seems, has an innate urge to explore, so once geophysical Earth was probed and described in all of its intricacies, other boundaries beckoned.
QUESTION: How about the planets?
PROFESSOR: The planets were next—or rather, in parallel—through robotic examination and in the case of the Moon, Mars and Venus, through manned bases that extended from the twenty-first century through the present, with the cities on those planets and the moon being the result.
Frontiers were also pressed in the spiritual and experiential front: pre-programmed psychotropics (800 years ago), brain machine chimera (700 years ago), and human-to-human transfer of synapse interconnects and downloads (600 years ago). But by the twenty-fifth century we were running short of frontiers. By that time, we had gained freedom (I’m using that term in its present meaning—that is, we had reached the plateau of social organization of work that permitted anyone total respite, the notion of work had disappeared and people had, our topic exactly, time). And the possible exploration of time stood there invitingly.
QUESTION: But what did people think time was?
PROFESSOR: They measured flow by it: so many gallons per hour, or births per year. And they considered it a flow too, the course of time. But measuring the flow of a flow was not a concept that many had. The standard time keeper evolved from the sundial and the hour glass to the atomic clock that eventually measured time with an accuracy of one second per millennium, but it all related to one-way flow, an arrow of aging and entropy, irreversible and inevitable. What a barrier to overcome!
It didn’t happen all at once, of course; there was a confluence of ideas and capabilities that gave impetus to the field. Einstein himself gave the first clue: No material object can travel as fast as light. (Or more precisely: the great principle of relativity is not that you can’t travel faster than light—it is that the laws of physics are the same for all observers (and atoms, photons, and so on) regardless of any relative motion they may have with respect to each other.) Observers looking at fast-traveling objects have slower running time than the observers who are on those fast-traveling objects. This phenomenon gave rise to the lovely nursery tale of the time-crossed lovers, Picard and Juliet: one a starship captain who flew beyond the galaxy at speeds near what his lover saw as light speed, only to return one year later by his reckoning, to find his lover shockingly older.
Advances in quantum mechanics gave then the next clues. Some quantum experiments that demonstrated the nonlocality of quantum effects made a lot of people scratch their heads in the twenty-first century. Picture this: at a test site in Europe.
PROFESSOR: Yes, there was a Europe then. A photon was sent down a fiber optics filament. The filament branched into two paths. Wave-like, the photon went down both branches simultaneously as two photons (if you want to express the process in particle terms). The termini of the two branches were kilometers apart. Yet when one of the properties of one particle (for example, spin, momentum, or polarization) was resolved (say, the spin was measured) the property of the other particle was instantly established.
QUESTION: They must have thought that was weird.
PROFESSOR: That’s exactly what they called it: weirdness. The term is very much like magic - that is, they saw it happen and were willing to accept the evidence of their own eyes, but like magic to the aborigines, they didn’t understand it. This quantum experiment was explainable in mathematical terms but was contrary to the logic of the time. (For your information, I have handed out a copy of one of the early Internet 1 pages - still available in the archives, you know - that describes one of the very first large-scale experiments of this sort that I know of. It’s attached to these notes along with some references.)
This kind of experiment was repeated many times at quantum levels and was scaled to the level of atoms in the process of developing the very first computer chips that did not rely on photolithography: the quantum chips in which the quantum states of the atoms that made up their computing apparatus were used for memory and counting. But it’s a long way from atoms to macro-scale human beings.
In the course of the basic research backing up this technology, wormholes were shown to exist, not only in theory but also in actuality. A wormhole, according to an early text, is “a handle in the topology of space, connecting two widely separated locations in our universe.” At the quantum level, this meant that information could flow instantly, in wormholes in the “quantum foam” from point to point on a chip. This was the technology principally responsible for today’s intellectual machines, as you know. It was only a matter of time, no pun intended, until the experts scaled up the effect.
So we had these socio-technical forces coming together about a thousand years ago: a willingness by physicists to consider new dimensions, a hunger by society at large for new frontiers, and the blossoming field of quantum uncertainty and teleportation.
Time travel took many forms. At first there was pseudo time travel (PTT) in the period when the longing for time travel was building but the means were yet absent. Around the globe, enclaves were built that reconstructed periods of the past, the further development of the theme park theme, if you will. There was Safari Land in Kenya: a time of pre-colonial tribal Africa, New World Plymouth, where time travelers could live in the period of the early European settling of America. There was Knight Land, medieval Europe, complete with armor, lances and tournaments. These places were actually separate countries—a place, but a time as well; they had their own governments (usually a historian was the ruler; historian-kings replaced the ideal of philosopher-kings.). To get in, a person had to make a commitment to live in the appropriate life-style for at least 10 years or more likely a lifetime, severing all contact with the contemporary world. These places were so popular that they were declared neutral zones in the wars that were fought around them. Kids studied history and simulated these environments as someone used to study travel folders.
QUESTION: But if they had to live in the old ways, didn’t mortality increase? How about disease?
PROFESSOR: Well, strange as it may sound, that was part of the attraction. Ordinary life was seen as bland; this place offered adventure and risk was part of it. As you can imagine, there was corruption and astronomical profits were made, but the genre flourished.
We went from PTT to TT when we deliberately sent people into the future. This actually was an outgrowth of PTT, since it was reasoned that if we had people who were from the past societies that were being modeled, then the accuracy would increase since they could tell us how it really was. They would be the historian-kings and queens. The first possibility of bringing people from the past to the present was cryogenics or hibernation—that is, body freezing or suspension in a slow aging state. When resuscitated these people would bring with them their memories of their time. These experiments were generally unsuccessful. Another approach was developed: send some people into space, and let their spacecraft build to high speed. They would age slowly compared with people on Earth, so that when they returned they would be a year or so older but a hundred years or five hundred years would have passed on Earth. They would return with essentially perfect memory of the earlier time, and kinghood would await in the appropriate enclave. The first of these travelers, launched in 2352, have already returned and are setting up shop in NATO land. Based on the launches of the last 500 years and speeds set for their aging voyages, we can expect to see returnees over the next 10 millennia.
QUESTION: Sounds like fun. How do we sign up?
PROFESSOR: Well, the Global Time Travel Authority (GTTA) has control and there’s a waiting list, of course, to become a timetronaut. And you know there are risks as well. If you go off to represent our time to a society, say 3,000 years in the future, with a high-speed flight of a couple of years, you can’t be sure that there will be a world to return to. But you pay your money and take your chances for a moment of fame.
So we have the first two steps: the PTT enclaves, and the fast-forward historian-kings and queens that bring their experience with history to the present. The third step is the one now occupying us, time travel to the past for the common person, call it democratized time travel (DTT). History becomes an experimental science. Now we’re into the issues of paradox.
QUESTION: Like the grandfather paradox?
PROFESSOR: Exactly. You recall how it goes: suppose you go back into
the past and kill your grandfather. How then do you exist at all? It sounds
absurd today but scientists actually debated such issues a thousand years
ago. In discussing this paradox, Sagan said:
The heart of the paradox is the apparent existence of you, the murderer of your own grandfather when the very act of murdering your own grandfather eliminates the possibility of you ever coming into existence.
Among the claimed solutions are that you can’t murder your grandfather. You shoot him, but at the critical moment he bends over to tie his shoelace, or the gun jams, or somehow nature contrives to prevent the act that interrupts the causality scheme leading to your own existence….
There have been some toy experiments in which at just the moment the time machine is actuated, the universe conspires to blow it up, which has led Hawking [a leading cosmologist of the time] and others to conclude that nature will contrive it so that time travel never in fact occurs. But no one actually knows that this is the case, and it cannot be known until we have a full theory of quantum gravity....
Debate or not, the field moved forward and time teleportation of human
beings into the past is now a real possibility in the minds of some scientists.
The technology on which the prospect is founded - wormholes in space/time
- had its birth in work published in the last millennium. Ford and Roman,
for example, wrote about negative energy a thousand years ago. They said:
[As we all know] a person who leaves Earth in a spaceship, travels near light speed and returns will have aged less than someone who remains on Earth. If the traveler manages to outrun a light ray, perhaps by taking a shortcut through a wormhole or a warp bubble, he may return before he left. Morris, Thorne, and Uri Yurtsever, then at Cal Tech, proposed a wormhole time machine in 1988, and their paper has stimulated much research on time travel over the past decade. In 1992 Hawking proved that any construction of the time machine in a finite region of space-time inherently requires negative energy.
So as we see, the phenomenon was at least in inquiring minds for a very
long time. They went on to define the conditions under which negative energy
might appear in space and hypothesized the use of such negative pulses
in the design of time machines and warp drive systems. Ford and Roman concluded
their piece by saying:
It seems that wormhole engineers face daunting problems. They must find a mechanism for confining large amounts of negative energy to extremely thin volumes. So-called cosmic strings, hypothesized in some cosmological theories, involve very large energy densities in long, narrow lines.
It is just these daunting problems described by Ford and Roman that have been the touchstone over all these years for the time machine designers. Maybe within a few decades we’ll see whether the work pays off.
QUESTION: Doesn’t that lead to another kind of paradox? If we invent time teleportation in our era, then it will exist in the future as well. So if people in the future have this technology, why don’t we see time travelers from their era now? Where are the futurists among us?
PROFESSOR: Good question. Maybe they can travel in time but have simply chosen to not come back. Or maybe they’ve chosen to go to some other more exciting time in the past. Or maybe they can regress only over a particular time interval—after all, our machines are limited too. Consider this: perhaps too many people were escaping to the past, so laws were out in place to limit the time migration. Or maybe they are really here and are prevented by some code of conduct from identifying themselves to us, but bring us wisdom of the future to make us progress to their standards. Ask yourselves this: where does a discontinuous genius like Einstein’s come from?
By the year 3000, humanity has evolved into a continuum of three principal life forms. One remains on Earth, rejecting much advancing technology; another, which merged with technology, is a conscious-technology civilization; and the third, which emerged as a range of artificial life forms initially designed by humans, consists of new and independent forms beyond human control.
Some nations let human genetic enhancement occur; others did not. There were 5,000 distinct cultures in the year 2000. By 2100 the effects of globalization had reduced this diversity to only a few hundred in three-dimensional space, but stimulated countless numbers of sub-cultures in cyber space. Both three-dimensional and cyber cultures began to bifurcate into those that preferred increased involvement with advanced technology and those that did not. Many became afraid, as artificial intelligence surpassed many human capacities. Some thought that a global computer-mind would become a criminal dictator and eventually eliminate humans. Others feared that one day the complexity of the technologies would grow beyond their ability to correct errors, or that they might lose critical knowledge to fix the technologies on which they had become totally dependent.
Although atomic-scale self-replication replaced factories that so polluted Earth in the late twentieth century, standard humans feared this could lead to a future beyond their control. A religious backlash against advancing technology swept the world. International agreements established zones for preserving the human genome and saving remaining traditional cultures. Other zones allowed more experimental relationships with advancing technologies.
“Standard humans” believed their consciousness was biologically brain-dependent, and they shunned the use of cyber-brain symbiotic transceivers. They wanted to be the traditional or standard human. Many were Earth-centered, seeking spiritual transformation through more animistic beliefs. Others were monotheists. Both feared contact with the cyber-augmented global mind. They believed that yoga and prayer were necessary to control the negative forces in human nature. Technology could not solve everything.
They believed the oneness of humanity was to be a spiritual achievement, not a technological one. Spiritual attunement with the forces of Nature and Divinity was the strategy of life. God set the rules, not technological imperatives. Life is a classroom in a divinely conscious universe. Standard humans’ communications with dolphins, whales, primates, and domestic animals gave an interspecies dimension to their culture and expanded their awareness of the richness of ecology. Most were vegetarians, and altruism was the uniting value. Many of their habitats on land and in the water were built as archologies (architecture based on ecological principles) that drew on some forms of carefully selected nano- and biotechnology, which helped reduce environmental impact.
Many standard humans believe they have found the keys to enlightenment and that some of their members have transformed themselves into pure energy, giving them the ability to cruise dimensions. They agree that conscious-technology beings are able to do almost anything, but will never find the purpose of life.
Those who welcomed increased involvement with advancing technology argued that humans were evolutionary beings or a transitional species, and, as such, it was wrong to stay in one socio-biological niche. They did not believe that their consciousness was solely biobrain-dependent. They sought enhancement both individually and collectively through a full range of technologies. Conscious-technology beings, or con-techs, accepted the mystical attitude toward life that the universe is a miraculously interconnected whole, while at the same time embracing the technocratic management of civilization.
Their ethics of individual responsibility was not based on metaphysical beliefs in receiving a transcendental reward, but instead pragmatically on making the world a better place in which to enjoy. Their ability to tune simultaneously into the song of a bird nearby, a simulated experience of the trial of Socrates, and a loved one many miles away was common to all. The ability of the mind to “go anywhere, anytime, and experience anything” operationalized the ancient religious idea of the human unity.
They improved their brain functioning by individually tailored nutrition and genetic engineering. Knowledge and problem solving were accelerated by brain-computer interface with global knowledge systems and other forms of cyber-brain symbiotics to stimulate neural activity. These enhancements fed their minds, leading to rapid acceleration of their intelligence through individual-global feedback loops that also furthered their social evolution. Some still remain on Earth, but the bulk of conscious-technology has moved beyond Earth.
The synergies among advances in neurophysiology, femtotechnology, and communications opened the door to what has been called psychic energy. The interplay of the electromagnic energies of the brain and our use of femtotech has allowed us to convert mental energy for other purposes. Ideas helped power con-techs’ world and increased their metabolic rates to keep their weight down.
The first space-adapted con-techs were referred to as “space fish” in remembrance of the joke about fish swimming in the oceans hundreds of millions of years ago who were convinced that life would never evolve on land since there was no way to breathe. The pioneering edge of conscious-technology left for several stars identified as having the greatest potential for intelligent life. They believe that merger with other life throughout the cosmos will be necessary to permeate the universe in order to end the big-bang-contraction cycle that leaves some in existential despair.
Con-techs tolerated the standard humans because their mystical side honors the standard’s quest for enlightenment, but relations did have some conflict. Not all standards practiced their values, just as con-techs didn’t always balance their mystic-selves with their technocratic-selves. The uneasy division between the two lasted several hundred years until the con-techs gave birth to artificial life forms without cytoplasm or biologically based neural patterns. One of the new life forms was designed to seek and destroy the leftover bionanotech agents used by terrorists. This success stimulated the acceleration of research to develop more artificial life forms.
The diversity of artificial life forms today is beyond the ability of any human (either standard and con-tech) to comprehend. Some nanoforms are believed to have arrived in several star systems and mated with local intelligences. Others have formed symbiotic relationships with some Earth-centered humans, unbeknownst to them, and are reinforcing the standard humans’ animist beliefs by occasionally allowing them to see inanimate objects they inhabit seem to be alive. It is also believed that these artificial life forms help keep the peace between the standard and conscious-technology humans today.
Within the last thousand years, robots rose from curiosities—machines that were barely helpful to the industrial economy of the early twenty-first century—to positions of power five hundred years ago, through the machine-war to their current subservient role today: an empire, if you will, gained and lost in 10 centuries, longer than empires of either the Romans or the British. This waltz began a thousand years ago with the confluence of a number of technologies and social developments. On the one hand, the seminal technologies pushing the Robot Era were:
• miniaturization – nanotechnology - small machines at first using improved photolithography as the manufacturing tool, moving soon to protein synthesis, using molecular processes for assembly of parts with sub-micron dimensions. Nanotechnology by 2100 became as ubiquitous as electricity was in 1950. Then it became unexceptional and quietly blended into the background, becoming part of the foundations of future human civilization, a technology that was mature in 150 years and has been taken for granted since then.
• artificial intelligence (AI) - which gained strength with the international project to map synapses and brain neurons, a project patterned after the Human Genome Project of the late twentieth century, but much more complex. With it neuro-biology was on firmer ground and the search for mind within the brain had a physical basis on which to base its exploration.
This confluence led, early on, to molecular-scale computers, atomic-scale materials, arbitrary length/ diameter/ twist carbon nanotubes, and, in particular “mechano-synthesis”—spatially selective chemical reactions that came quite close to the old idea of alchemy, creation of gold (or indeed any material) from base metals (or in our case, atomic building blocks).
The “pull” for the early robots a thousand years ago came from the need for machines to perform dull, dangerous, and repetitive jobs. People loved those early machines in the twenty-first century. They were crude at first, nonmobile but programmable and adaptable and used primarily in mechanical and electronic production lines. Once nanotechnology and AI came on the scene, even in their crudest forms, the robots gained mobility, became soldiers (mine sweepers), policemen (bomb disposal), and pets. They cleaned sewers and septic tanks, mined asteroids, and explored planets. They repaired automobiles, they made deliveries, and they tilled the fields. As mechanical moles, they found resources deep in the earth. As ultra-small monitors, they aided both police and criminals. As physician’s assistants they aided surgeons, the smallest of them entered human bodies for diagnosis (with data telemetered) and pumped blood when hearts failed. (This bio-medical arm of the robotic tree was the beginning of our cyborg culture.)
The great catalog of Renssellaer Polytech published in 2200 attempted to catalog the robot population and applications; 575,567 genera could be separately identified as embodied in 100,675,000 machines. Machines had been self-repairing, and importantly, self-replicating for a long time, but now they were evolving. Evolving toward what, it was asked; the answer was, toward doing their jobs better, which is more than human evolution—even human-directed evolution—could produce. They could understand natural language, and it could be said that many of the more advanced units had not only computer brains but also minds, in that they were adaptive to changing circumstances and could reason best solutions even to situations unexpected by their designers. Emotions - particularly those believed to be epigenetic - were added. Some neuro-physicists thought robots’ reasoning purer and superior to human reasoning, at least in limited circumstances. Throughout this early period, a primitive set of Laws of Robotics was generally followed, first by general consensus and later as required by legislation.
The great leap forward, as historians erroneously now call it, came in 2235, when most of the machines then extant were interconnected through communications networks using common programs that were self-adapted by each machine. Because most of these networks were wireless and broadband, the robots’ mobility was not impaired. This technological stroke gave the machines global intelligence. They were the embodiment of the global brain. What one knew, all knew. This development was favored by most of the users of robots since it gave them an instant and inexpensive boost in reasoning capacity and their operations could draw on information collected by other robots operating far away.
Robots were human-like and became philosophers, jugglers, politicians, orators, actors, teachers, acrobats, artists, poets, and shepherds of the less adept humans. Museums captured the folly and the glory of the prior 50,000 years of human civilization. Society was rational; instinct, particularly combative instinct, was subdued. The robots were exploring space, well beyond the reaches of the solar system, on 10,000-year journeys to other stars, in environments of radiation, heat, and acceleration that would have been unacceptable for humans.
In an echo of the original Luddites, humans asked what remained for them. The answer was human leisure (although robots could improve leisure enjoyment), learning (although robots taught, learned faster, and did not forget), and the joy of life (although the robots seemed to be enjoying themselves, too). Society had a new caste system, and humans were a race tolerated and somewhat pitied by the machines that could outthink them and outperform them in any measure of strength, vitality, speed and endurance. The most important argument made in the application of gene technology to improve human mental and physical performance was “we have to keep up with the robots.”
Keeping up was easier than it might have been: biomedical engineering provided the craftsmanship. The absolutely huge fields of genetic choice and neuroscience—linguistics, philosophy, systems modeling, organization of “consciousness,” post-synaptic cascades, artificial life (which necessarily has a quasi-neural architecture), and so on—remained the hottest and most rewarding (and reviled, by some) human endeavor.
About this time, new “parasitic” processes appeared in human society (such as computer viruses, religious cults, fads, crazes. and urban legends or addiction to virtual reality or new drugs) that reproduced and spread very quickly thanks to efficient transport and communication media. These were diverting but added to the chaos of the search for meaning.
But there were no environments that were off limits to the machines, as there were to humans. Was the earth becoming less livable? Perhaps so, but only for humans. With resources becoming scarcer, natural and artificial selection began to operate in earnest, distributing available resources most efficiently to those entities that were best able to exploit them—for the most part, the robots.
It was inevitable that humanity would try to pull the plug. The term “slavery” was in the air—that is, slaves to the robots and their insistent perfection. Suffice it to say that the mid-millennium has been called the time of the second crusade. Beginning in about 2500, serious questions were asked about the state of humans and their inferior role. Was this what God intended? Were the robots really the next step in evolution?
The cyber commandos under the hereditary general-priests began intensive study of the relationships among the machines, to identify their weaknesses, both mechanical and emotional, and began to devise a strategy, executed over three generations, that would result in the elimination of robots’ self-replicative capacity. The question at the center of their work: would the machines—smarter than the cyber commandos in many respects—fall for their strategies? The answer was to use human ingenuity, randomness, secrecy, dedication, and distraction. It took awhile but it worked. This at least began to stabilize the robot population. From there it was tricky, but the political structure changed subtly and the vector of leadership swung to humans and the old ways. Some argued that this was regression of the worst sort—that the good old days were a chimera. But others argued that human destiny should remain with biology.
Today, the most important legacy of the rise and fall of robots is our cyborg technology: the artificial augmentation of biological humans with manufactured components. This capacity descends directly from the confluence and synergies of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, bionics, materials science, genetic engineering, and telecommunications—and, of course, robotics—and has led to the superior augmented human beings that now represent the finest people on the planet.
Certainly there are a few pure robots around, but the times have indeed changed. It is hard to find pure humans anywhere. The distribution of “human” phenotypes in attribute-space has broadened almost exponentially. Through cyborgazation and genetic manipulation, the natural physical human form and the natural human brain are hard to define today. Given the full, rational, conscious control of the physical form and function of the human body, down to the molecular level, twentieth-century humans are essentially obsolete. Although the robots are under human control once again, what it means to be “human” has changed. Our ancestors would not recognize these humans, except possibly for the “Hu-Manish” (techno-retros, analogous to the Amish of the nineteenth century) who elected to opt out of the techno-evolutionary process. Only religious fanatics are unaltered humans.
As cyborgs, people can become anything they like, live for all intents as long as they like, behave any way they would like. Our capacities have given individuals power that twentieth-century humans would undoubtedly have regarded as “god-like.” Any person can perform virtually any “magic trick” that has ever been described in science fiction, in fantasy stories, or in the Bible. Each individual nano-enhanced person may personally command energies of ~1012 watts, which is roughly sufficient to levitate the Great Pyramid. What more would they have required of a God?
Back in the late years of the second millennium, scientists started to search for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence using whatever tools they had available. “Certainly,” they said, “with so many planets out there, there must be life, probably intelligent life, on some of them.” Drake derived probability estimates of the existence of another civilization somewhere in the heavens, advanced enough to be able to, and inquisitive enough to want to, communicate and identify others who might be accompanying them in their journey through space and time. Search programs were established, first under government authority and later under private funding, to scan the heavens at what was then thought to be the most likely radio frequency, the frequency of atomic hydrogen. Using the biggest radio telescopes, including the dish at Arecibo, meticulous scans were made and analyzed, all to no avail. Nevertheless, the notion of “others” was firmly imbedded in social myths of the time. It appears in the popular literature of the time in both written and video form: Star Trek, UFOs, and many of the other surviving ethnographic fables attest to this.
From the beginning it was realized that the time of contact could not be foreseen. People believed, though, that the scientific advances of their time made it more likely to contact life elsewhere in the cosmos; nevertheless, this did not imply that intelligent life would exist near to them, or that it would be willing or capable of communicating with them. In any case, there remained the strong physical limitation of the speed of light on the possibility of communication over interstellar distances. There were several apparent contacts in those early days, blips on the receivers that seemed somehow coherent and different from noise, but none could be verified. They were named “Big Bertha,” for example, and “Hiss-Tweak.” Hundreds of man-years were spent on trying to decode them, but in the end they were seen as just anomalies.
Those who continued the search were looking for an encyclopedic message (by radio or pulsed laser) from many light-years away, or contact with a super-smart probe that reached our planet. They thought - indeed, they hoped - that after contact, humanity and the other “culture” could interact and evolve together. Humanity might find ways to receive, decode, and learn from intelligent emanations that originated on other worlds.
What right-minded person could claim with authority that in all of space and time, intelligent life could only have happened here? Yet discovery after a century was still only a hope. Leading scientists and authors passed on that hope. Religious people wondered if extraterrestrial beings believed in or knew God.
There were people who argued that the search should be stopped, that extraterrestrial contact could prove to be malevolent, with humans suffering much like Native Americans did when Europeans arrived with Columbus, and like successive waves of Palo American immigrants did to their predecessors. When civilizations at different levels of technology meet, they said, that with the inferior technology inevitably suffers.
Others said that the intelligent extraterrestrials might already be aware of our existence but not consider us intelligent enough to be worth communicating with. As our own intelligence increased, the chances for contact also grew. So government was wary, in general, but tolerant. The search continued.
As the mid-millennium approached there were three great developments
that gave new fuel to the activity.
• Human space exploration and, to a limited degree, colonization.
• New modes of communications, including noncoherent sources, and techniques employing quantum phenomena to attain what seemed to be faster-than-light transfer of information.
• Great advances in cryptography, which provided new approaches to the means for embedding intelligent messages in what otherwise would seem to be noise.
While large-scale space migration did not take place, small-scale off-Earth communities were created, including at first a scientific lunar colony capable of autonomous, independent operation. This base was valuable for astronomy, scientific research, and manufacturing under non-Earth conditions. Large-scale space migration seemed to be a less important development, given the enormous costs and the relatively small benefits that human life on Mars or the Moon would offer. The counter-argument that if we stay on Earth, we have put all of our eggs in the Earth’s basket did not prevail. It was believed by the wealthier and technologically more developed societies that some permanent stations off Earth could be useful, but that it was unlikely that these would have a large impact, unless methods were developed to make, for example, Mars more amenable to life (terrafication) or more life-friendly planets were discovered on neighboring stars (say, in a radius of 20 light years from Earth). There had been some early experiments in terraforming with the use of newly designed microorganisms and nanotech robots, but environmentalists argued to keep the planetary environment pristine.
Further, it was argued that since the policy of sustainable development had worked, there was no need for extensive migration off our planet. Big natural or social catastrophes could change the situation suddenly, of course. But even then it is an ethical question: Are we willing to invest so that some minorities can escape, and for what reasons? Life is always harder in extraterrestrial colonies, especially if they are spaceship-bound. People will be best off on this planet for much longer than a thousand years unless it is totally unsupportive for life, which is very unlikely in any situation.
SETI continued on the moon. The colony set up there on the back face scanned not only with the primitive techniques but also using the new modes and codes. The ability to handle large amounts of information had of course increased by several million million times, but still no message from space.
Hope was rekindled - enough to generate a few more centuries of searching, anyway - when primitive forms of life were discovered on other solar planets. The discovery of life forms there created a complex set of opportunities (scientific discovery, agriculture) and dangers (infections with extraterrestrial parasites). Yet intelligent life seemed more like an accident of chemistry than ever.
Just a few centuries ago, the belief that humankind might be alone began to surface in earnest. A millennium, a third of the time since Christ, as much time as the interval between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Age, and still no results. With so much time having past, could this reasonably be called impatience?
The feeling of possibly being alone gave new impetus to religion and the need to guard humanity. Space colonization would immunize humanity against a multitude of physical and social extinction events. As Joe Straczynski - creator of Babylon 5, a video-myth of the late twentieth century - put it: “Scientists disagree on many things, everyone has their own theories, but one thing that all physical scientists agree on is that eventually the Sun will burn out. It may take 10 billion years, but eventually it will happen and the Earth will become uninhabitable. If, by that time, we have not learned space travel then Man will die. And Aristotle, Lao Tzu, Beethoven, Mozart, Emily Dickinson and all that we have been will be lost. It will be as if it had never been. So knowing that the death of the Earth is inevitable and that space travel is very, very difficult, it is never too early to start.” And they believed it, and so began the Noah project that so occupies us currently.
Had intelligent life been discovered elsewhere, would we have felt the need to prepare to leave so intensely?