||Millennium 3000 Scenarios
Experts in various areas were asked to speculate on life in the year 3000. Their ideas were compiled into six scenarios by two leading futurists for the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University. "The authors provide some insightful scenarios," says Ray Kurzweil. "However, I feel that their time frames do not adequately reflect the accelerating pace of progress inherent in what I call the law of accelerating returns. The types of changes they describe for 2050 and 3000 respectively will arrive much earlier in my view, but the issues raised by such developments as femtotechnology and nonbiological intelligence are compellingly described."
Originally published in 2000 by the American Council for the United
Nations University in cooperation with The
Foundation for the Future.
Feedback on these scenarios is welcome at email@example.com
and in comments on the MindX forum
(see below). The Millennium Project updates and improves the annual
"State of the Future" on an ongoing basis (deadline for
the 2002 publication: May 15, 2002).
Excerpt from the State
of the Future at the Millennium, AC/UNU Millennium Project.
Scenario 1. Still Alive at 3000
Scenario 2. End of Humanity and the Rise of
Scenario 3. It's About Time
Scenario 4. The Great Divides
Scenario 5. The Rise and Fall of the Robot
Scenario 6. ETI Disappoints after 9 Centuries
Brief background on the study
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.
Scenario 1. Still Alive at 3000
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 decision making 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.
Scenario 2. End of Humanity and the Rise
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
Scenario 3. It's About Time
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Scenario 4. The Great Divides
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 electromagnetic 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.
Scenario 5. The Rise and Fall of the Robot
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:
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
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?
Scenario 6: ETI Disappoints after 9 Centuries
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
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.
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