So, as ‘far out futurist predictions’ go, this one is as far out there as Krypton. Compiling futurist predictions of how this century will pan out, the conclusion could easily be came to that many of us could be donning the red cape, and saving lives with our very own Man of Steel superpowers. Crazy talk it may look like now, but read on to find out why it might actually be possible.
Currently, although technology is advancing at an increasingly alarming rate, most of us only really care about what is immediately possible, and what our next big gadget will be. Although we are focused on improving our lives, we live in the now, and we have no need to attempt to predict how our lives will be in another 20-30 years. Consequently, popular culture is inherently bad at understanding the next big changes that will be caused by technological advances.
To even begin to understand how, one day, we could all become the Man of Steel, we need to hold in mind an understanding of Exponential Growth; the rate at which our technologies are advancing, is accelerating. Currently we a predisposed to think of growth as being linear (1, 2, 3, 4, 5); technological growth though is exponential (1, 2, 4, 8, 16). Counting with linear growth to 30, we get 30, counting to 30 with exponential growth, we get 1,073,741,824! So, the point here is, much more will be possible in the next few decades than most of us know, and with that 1,073,741,824 number in focus, we can read on with an open mind. For more information about technological growth, read our full Explanation of Exponential Growth.
Assembling the Possibility
To explain how you could become the Man of Steel, we need to fix together the pieces of the possibility. These pieces are those of upcoming technological advances. You should probably prepare to have your mind blown. As we advance, technologies will be converging, making more and more ideas become possible. Listed below, are upcoming technological advances that are predicted to be almost inevitable. Combined, these are the advances which will most likely enable us all to become the Man of Steel:
The first, and most important piece, is the development of super-powerful computing power. The power of our computers has advanced incredibly in the past decade; our 2013 smartphones are 4 times faster than the smartphones of 2010, and have a whole bunch of other new features. The speed of our smartphones in 2015 will be another 4 times faster. The speed of the worlds most powerful supercomputers are also advancing at this rate. Experts at Google predict that this trend will continue, and that by the year 2020, a supercomputer will have the same raw computing power as the human brain.
The next piece is the evolution of super-powerful computers into self-aware Artificial Intelligence (AI). In 2020, with our computers now operating more efficiently than our own minds, we will better use them to study how to either, make them conscious in the same way that we are, or merge their operation with our own minds, using the outsourcing of our cognition with artificial devices, to significantly advance our own intelligence levels. Quantum Computers will most probably be vital for creating conscious AI, or artificially advancing our own intelligence levels.
So, from around the year 2020, we will be progressing towards making AI self-aware (conscious), many steps are needed to achieve this and many many methods of doing it are being proposed by experts. Ray Kurzweil (AI expert at Google), predicts that by the year 2030, an AI system will at least appear to be self-aware; it will be intellectually indistinguishable from a human being. From 2030 onwards, we will likely still be refining the ‘consciousness’ of AI. The aim will be to create AI that can teach itself.
During the 2040’s, AI systems will be millions of times more powerful than the human mind (judging by exponential growth). Should an AI system become self-aware during this period then, it will immediately be millions of times smarter than the unaided human mind.
The Technological Singularity
When AI becomes self-aware, where it is already millions of times smarter than the human mind, it will have an immediate effect on the world, changing it in ways we cannot yet even begin to imagine. This period has been named by futurists (including Ray Kurzweil and Jason Silva) as the Singularity. It is promoted as an inevitable event horizon, which is impossible to predict beyond.
This future picture is of course very blurry and so prediction are controversial, and we can’t predict the exact methods with which our intelligence will continue to advance, or what will happen during a period when self-aware AI becomes possible. All we can do is use current trends, and known physical possibilities, to determine what is almost inevitable.
But even if our intelligence becomes this powerful, why does that make it probable that we could become Superman? For those of us alive now, it is incredibly unlikely that we can ever become Superman, because we will be due to die before it is a possibility. But what if that ‘due date’ was to be deleted?
Many futurist, biologists and technologists are adamant that our current life expectancy will soon be pushed back, thanks to advances in bioengineering, stem cell research, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Every one of these technologies are contributing the life extension, and all areas of study are achieving exponential results, thanks to the exponential growth of technologies. Aubrey de Grey even believes that it is probable that we will reach ”longevity escape velocity” within 20 years; life expectancy will increase by a year, for every year that passes. For more information about the possibility you could live forever, visit our Immortality Information Page.
It would be arguably reasonable to suggest that it is probable that most of us who survive another 35 years (immortality may though be reached within 20 years) will never die of old age, and that our intelligence levels (merged with technology) will become incredibly enhanced. So, if we continue to advance while being immortal, the possibilities are limitless. But when will come the first time you can say “I am Superman”?
Mind ‘Uploading’ / ‘Plugging In’
The answer to that question can be found when considering the possibilities of mind ‘uploading’, or ‘plugging in’. Methods of doing this are already being developed by many governments, companies and university departments who are studying the brain, including OpenCog, Neuromorphics Lab at Boston University, Google X Lab, Russia 2045, the NIH BRAIN Initiative (which has received 100m of US Government funding), and many many others. The European Union has also recently awarded €1.2 billion to brain researchers. Brain research expert, Hugo de Garis envisages the artificial brain building industry as being one of the world’s top industries, comparable with oil, automobile, and construction, within only 20 years. Take a look below at President Obama explaining the importance of brain research.
Combined with the massive developments that will be made in Quantum Computing power, and self-aware AI then, at some point (perhaps as soon as within a few decades), it will be possible for us to transfer our complete brain data (including consciousness, memories and personality) over to an external, personally customised, artificially enhanced brain. Alternatively, we could keep our consciousness based in our own minds and bodies, but switch the inputs (sight, hearing, smell, sense of touch, etc) and outputs (muscular movement signals) over to an artificial system, and so be connected into a computer system, instead of our bodies (comparable to what is featured the movie, The Matrix).
With our minds now being ‘free’, it will completely revolutionise the way we live. We won’t be contained to the realities of the earth and our universe. We can create potentially infinite virtual spaces, whole new virtual universes. We can create environments that seem just as real as our own, and ones that have completely different laws of physics. We can create new bodies, based in these virtual environments, which can be and do literally anything: We can become Superman.
So, that might not be what you consider ‘becoming Superman’, because it will just be an advanced computer game. It is also possible though that you could eventually have the powers of Superman in our own universe.
It may be possible to create artificial bodies (avatars) in the future, that are based in our ‘original universe’. An avatar project is already underway in Russia, with the 2045 Initiative. Avatars could eventually have super-strength, the ability to fly, the ability to move at super-speeds, and even laser weapons built into their eyes,. For security reasons though, it will be very likely that regulations are implemented against the general public having use of these super-powerful avatars, as they could of course be used to do great harm. Most probably though, law enforcement robots/avatars will be built as powerful as they can possibly be. These will need to be built by governments, just incase criminals or terrorists manage to build their own, with the intent of using them to cause damage.
So, at some point in the future, people in law enforcement will most probably become as powerful as the Man of Steel. For civilians to ‘become Superman’ it will probably need to be within a virtual reality environment. But why think of virtual realities as not reality? When we look at it from a different perspective, ‘virtual reality’ may not seem so virtual:
It will be possible for us, at some point, to create virtual universes which are just like our own. When we perfect the technique, we can start a virtual universe (exactly the same as our own universe) with the ‘big bang’, from where stars and planets will form, and certain planets become capable of supporting life. That life will grow and evolve, develop human intelligence levels, create its own technologies and then they will themselves be able to create virtual universes. And so the process could repeat.
With that future in mind, let’s now think about our past. Is our universe built upon layers of these virtual worlds? And what even is ‘virtual’? Everything outside our universe may be simply data. The facts of the true realities of existence may be inconceivable for us to currently comprehend, with our relative tiny minds. If the fabric of a universe can be based on computational data, and independent conscious mind can be grown from that universe, how can we call it not real? Those conscious beings would certainly disagree. Those conscious beings of which, are us.
What do you think?
Hopefully, with reading how it’s possible we could become the Man of Steel, you’re thinking – pft that’s nothing: The future is full of infinite, epic possibilities, of which we are incapable yet of even beginning to understand. For the fans of Superman though, donning the infamous red cape and flying over cities will be a great start on an immortal journey. How likely do you think it is that you could become the Man of Steel? Please share what you think in the comments below.
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