Martians! Martians! Martians!
2001:A Space Odyssey was recently screened with the soundtrack supported live by the San Francisco Symphony. In conjunction with the event, the Contemporary Jewish Museum hosted a gallery talk on futurism by author Jamie Metzl in their Stanley Kubrick exhibit. Jamie began his talk apologizing that he wasn’t going to spend any time on Stanley Kubrick, but instead, focus solely on futurism. It was a fascinating talk that just happened to coincide with the subject of my previous post to this list The Accelerating Acceleration Of The Future.
What stood out to me from the talk was that Metzl referred to our impending era of humanity as The Exponential Age. This would succeed past eras such as The Atomic Age, The Jet Age, The Space Age and our modern era: The Information Age.
We all know what information is, but a specific definition is that which is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.
Information is everywhere — in our speech, in our minds, in our DNA, etc. But when we refer to The Information Age, we are referring to the transfer and origination of information within our machines — words, numbers, data, images, video, and maps represented by bits on servers, laptops, and mobile phones throughout the world. Since the dawning of the internet, we have exploded our collection and use of computer stored information such that: a vast majority of our entertainment and news has shifted from radio waves or ink on paper over to digital delivery, our libraries are now search boxes on our browser, and our social interactions are increasingly channeled through tiny chat boxes. Software is eating the world.
Information sits within our little metal and plastic boxes, primarily limited to dictating what we can see on a screen. In The Information Age, software doesn’t directly interact with the real world. It is a conduit between human minds, affecting our thoughts and beliefs such that we may change our physical behaviors, but only after the information has transitioned from computer chip to screen, tunneling in through our retinas and finally re-encoded into soft tissue via neurons. Finally, our brains reprocess it and decide how to direct our digits and limbs to act. Basically, we get ideas in our minds, translate those ideas into communication, it travels through the digital circuitry of the world wide web, and comes out the other side to implant or modify ideas in other people’s minds, who then take physical actions like making a purchase, voting for a candidate, or punching on their keyboards to insert different ideas back into the system. That is the paradigm within which our information is confined.
The Exponential Age will be marked by a dramatic jail break out of this paradigm — when our vast repositories of information will directly interact with the real world in more and more ways. A key driver of this paradigm shift is the collision of hardware and software. Eric Klein from Lemnos Labs, a hardware startup incubator, extols its looming impact:
“[The Hardware Revolution] is going to be huge… I would make the assertion that it’s going to be bigger than software in some ways, because what we saw with the software revolution was an efficiency play. Everything became more efficient — how we do banking, just go industry by industry. That was in the digital world. Now imagine taking that same efficiency play and overlaying it in the physical world.”
Today, we can see a trickle of examples of information breaking from its confines: the Nest Thermostat, driverless cars, Boston Dynamic’s creepy robot dogs, unmanned aerial drones, OpenRov’s underwater Triton, and about a quarter of the most successful projects that you see on crowdfunding platforms. There seems to be a mad dash to replace almost every physical object with an internet connected replacement of that object, often to ridiculous ends. Some of these objects collect and interpret information from the real world — like Nanit’s intelligent baby monitor, others act upon the physical world based on information in the cloud, such as Teforia’s smart tea infuser, and more and more devices will do a combination of both — moving us closer and closer to the HAL 9000 (which never made an error… until it did!).
As evidence mounts that we are stepping into The Exponential Age, futurism is becoming a dominant theme in popular culture. HBO’s newest show Westworld explores a future of hyperrealistic androids. Netflix has released an incredible new season of Black Mirror — a modern Twilight Zone that swaps out the paranormal for technological realities that might only be a few years beyond our current capabilities (notice trailers for both shows linked above start out with “In this world…”).
And perhaps this concept of broken paradigms is making us a bit jealous — leading to new discussions around the hope of humanity breaking out of its own paradigm. For example:
THE PLANET: Life on Mars
In just the past month, we have seen two major declarations that humans will have life on Mars by 2030.
Barack Obama: America Will Take The Giant Leap To Mars
Elon Musk Announces His Plan To Colonize Mars And Save Humanity
THE HUMAN BODY: Defying Death
As Metzl, author of Genesis Code, states in his talk, the intersection of information technology and biology will free us from the constraints of genetics, and possibly, from the inevitability of death.
THE UNIVERSE: Our Own Paradigm
Even more bizarrely, a recently popular theory explains that the entire universe itself is a computer simulation. Reportedly, at least two billionaires are actively investing in science with the aim of breaking us out it!
Crossing over from The Information Age into The Exponential Age serves as a metaphorical precursor to what’s to come for our species as a whole.
And with all this going on, it really makes you wonder.