[extropy-chat] Futures Past

Harvey Newstrom mail at harveynewstrom.com
Sun Oct 9 20:25:19 UTC 2005

On Oct 9, 2005, at 3:56 PM, Damien Broderick wrote:

> That's why it's encouraging, on the one hand, to see Kurzweil's book 
> being reviewed everywhere but, on the other, somewhat disheartening 
> that it's being received pretty much as if all these ideas sprang 
> fully armed from his forehead (an impression not entirely inconsistent 
> with the tenor of Ray's own presentation, cough).

This is one of my frequent pet peeves.  People are constantly thinking 
some idea is new or recent.  They are usually ignorant of the long 
history that preceded it.  People think IBM invented the PC or 
Microsoft invented the Internet.

It is indeed disheartening to see old topics from prior decades 
suddenly touted as new exciting advances.  It not only bores me because 
I've seen all this stuff 10-20 years ago, but it also makes me wonder 
if the future timelines are accurate.  Kurzweil is a perfect example.  
Few of his "new" ideas are new.  We can't extrapolate upon them as 
"recent" advances and then predict that the future will accelerate even 
faster.  We have to accurately realize that that computers, the 
internet, cellphones, space-travel, DNA research, etc. took over 50 
years to occur.  Based on that timeline, the next exponential 
acceleration might occur in an astonishing 25 years!  But that is not 
the exponential speed that most people are expecting.

Or to put it in perspective:  When they finally cure baldness, failing 
eye-sight, arthritis, wrinkled skin, and other minor annoyances of 
aging in a single decade, then I might predict that cancer, diabetes 
and heart-disease could be cured in the next decade.  And then maybe 
rejouvenation therapies that really work in the decade after that.  And 
maybe real longevity after that.  And maybe potential agelessness after 
that.  But until the ball starts really rolling, I find it hard to take 
most of these predictions seriously.

And for those who doubt these predictions:  There really were 
predictions of singularities, space colonies, robot presidents,  
nanotech by the year 2000 made by people on this extropians list.  And 
it still goes on today.  People on the SIAI lists really talk about an 
AI singularity within a decade.  People on the ImmInst forums really 
talk about immortality within a decade.  People on the nano discussion 
lists really talk about Drexler-style nanotech within a decade.  People 
on the space groups really talk about space colonies within a decade.  
These predictions always have been and always will be just around the 
corner.  But I don't believe any of them.  All of these major timelines 
have been greatly delayed from earlier versions, and they will continue 
to be delays as we discover more and more difficulties with these 
projects.  It is not that technology isn't progressing exponentially 
faster.  It is just that the problems are harder than we think, and the 
amount of technology needed is much greater than expected.  We are so 
impatient, that we feel the need to accelerate our predictions every 
year, even though our prior years' predictions still haven't come true 

In fact, can anybody point to a major futurist prediction by any 
transhumanist type that has actually come true?  Anybody?  Are we 
really predicting anything more accurately than the mainstream press?  
Or have all our minority predictions failed to occur?

Harvey Newstrom <HarveyNewstrom.com>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list