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More about the bubble people


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(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

We are born as a baby, struggle our entire life with everything from finding food to eat, homes to live in, educating ourselves to gain more understanding, staying healthy, making friends and relationships, raising a family, earning a living, and then we die.

If we have more accomplishments in life, earn more money, have more friends, raise a bigger family, and somehow do everything better than anyone else, we will still eventually die. Right?

In a world teaming with 8.7 million different life forms, how do humans fit in?

Every past civilization, with their manmade structures, machines, systems, and cultures, has eventually succumbed to Mother Nature. Plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi have methodically removed every trace of what they left behind. Are human accomplishments just a stepping-stone to what comes next?

We live in a world driven by prerequisites. A machinist needs to understand a single-point lathe operation before he or she can advance to multi-axial milling. Engineers need to understand the concepts of mechanical stress and strain before they start bending a cantilever beam. Metallurgists need to understand thermodynamics before they attempt phase transformations in solids. Physicists need to understand quantum mechanics before they can understand a standard model for particle physics. Mathematicians need to understand nonlinear differential equations before they can understand strange attractors.

Are all our accomplishments just stepping-stones to something else that we don’t know or understand yet? Does the fact that we can ask questions like these, ponder the unponderable, think the unthinkable, and accomplish things that no other species can accomplish, somehow give us a higher purpose? If we limit our thinking to solving past problems, we can only see a very narrow spectrum of our larger purpose. But who gets to decide what that is, and how will that expand over time?

Extending Human Mastery

In my column, “In Search of Anomaly Zero,” I describe how we can begin to control the forces of nature and circumvent major disasters long before they happen. Once we can detect the earliest micro change in conditions and craft a timeline for an impending disaster, we will be able to create response mechanisms capable of mitigating whatever forces are in play.

Human mastery does not only give us the abilities to master the forces of nature, but every law of physics, every human condition, and every exception to every rule.

But disasters are not inevitable. Neither are illnesses, human aging, or even death.

So can we imagine something better?

If we can do a better job of controlling the negative aspects of life, and even extend it to enriching the positive aspects, how will we ever know if we are managing things better?

The opportunities for extending human mastery are endless, and a critical piece for extending the boundaries of human existence.

Extending Human Reach

Many people think we live on an over populated planet. But at the same time, we also live in a very under populated universe.

The option for extending the reach of humanity throughout the universe is seemingly limitless, and yet our “reach” cannot be confined to outer space.

We also know very little about inner space, such as what lies inside our planet, inside our atoms, and inside our emotions.

In a universe that is over a trillion times greater in length than the combined distance traveled by all humans in all history, we will not overcome this challenge anytime soon.

Extending Human Potential

Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has predicted that we will reach a technological singularity by 2045, and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge is betting on 2029, a date that is ironically on the hundredth anniversary of the greatest stock market collapse in human history.

But where the 1929 crash catapulted us backwards into a more primitive form of human chaos, the singularity promises to catapult us forward into a future form of human enlightenment.

Cloaked in an air of malleable mystery, Hollywood has taken license to cast the singularity as everything from the ultimate boogeyman to the penultimate savior of humanity.

In 2013, consumer genomics company 23andMe received a patent for a designer baby kit that would allow parents to pick and choose attributes for their soon-to-be-conceived kids. This was prior to the FDA cracking down on the claims they were making.

But they were not the first. The Fertility Institutes’ clinic in Los Angeles delivered the first designer baby back in 2009.

Designer babies have long been a cocktail party discussion topic with the understanding that the era of “super babies” will soon be upon us, with the prospects of creating bigger, faster, stronger humans.

Will these so-called super-babies grow up to become super-humans?

People like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have begun focusing in on the exponential growth of artificial intelligence, as a Moore’s Law type of advancement. This has led to an entire new field of study called transhumanism with many speculating on the next iteration of humankind and how it will be exponentially more advanced than people today.

What are the true limits to human potential, and how will we ever know if we’ve reached the limit?

Extending Human Durability

No person should ever die... EVER!  Is that our goal? There are many reasons why people die, yet these reasons may all disappear as we develop fixes and cures for everything that ales us. Aging is currently our biggest problem. Over time we’ll likely be able to fix the aging problem and delay aging indefinitely. Injuries and disease are also problems. Over time we will likely be able to prevent and fix the issues associated with injuries and disease as well.

In a past column I posed the question, “How long before I can 3D print a replacement body for myself?”

With major strides being made in the area of bio printing, this becomes a legitimate question. At the same time, we still live in a very primitive time when it comes to advances on the medical front.

Perhaps the most perplexing problem to fix will be deviant behavior, because the idea of fixing deviant behavior presumes we will have a good way of sorting out the dividing line between deviant and non-deviant behavior. But there again, over time we will likely develop medical or behavioral strategies that address deviant behavior.

So, if we have the ability to fix the problems involved with aging, injury, disease, and deviant behavior, theoretically we can create a society of people capable of living forever.

Is that our goal? And if not, why not?

Extending Human Freedom

For many of us, the idea of freedom conjures up symbols of containment, like steel shackles or doors that are somehow unlocked before us, allowing us to breathe the rare air of independence.

But going beyond the insular notion of conscious confinement, is a life unrestrained by the bonds of our own limitations.

Universal freedom comes with the sense that anything is possible.

If people did not have to worry about illness, safety, natural disasters, the limitations of time and space, and human frailty, what things will then be possible?

How long before we have the unbridled freedom to live life on a macro level, take on projects larger than our solar system, and begin living outside our own bubble?

Final Thoughts

I started this column by talking about how we’re still trapped in the bubble of human existence, but finding a way to expand our bubble, or actually live beyond our reality sphere is a challenging big picture perspective.

Granted, we’ve been doing it all along, first by taking micro steps, but moving to giant leaps over the past century.

What I’m suggesting here, by adding labels to each of these dimensions, is that this is our calling, our “unfinishable mandate” to continually stretch, grow, propagate, and master not only the world around us, but also the entire universe.

The human race is genetically predispositioned to push the envelope, color outside the lines, and reach for things that will forever be unreachable.

As individuals, there will always be some who are content to find inner peace and live a minimalist lifestyle. But as a race, we will always be driven by a need to make a difference, be admired for our accomplishments, and create moments of triumph in our otherwise pale existence.

We have only taken the first step in a trillion mile journey. The next few steps, in my opinion, will be absolutely amazing.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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