We have been told for years now via a very successful advertising campaign that the future is friendly and sometimes I ponder just how friendly its going to get. Most of us have a hard time understanding and visualizing exponential growth. You know, that old-fashioned snowball effect. From time to time, if one browses through some science and technology sites on the web, one will likely be amazed at what research is being conducted. It is equally amazing to note who is doing the work and further, who is funding the research.
If you look at the past and study what was classified at any given time as opposed to what was public and accessible knowledge, you will see that capabilities existed long before the technologies underlying them became widely known and definitely before the gadgets incorporating those technologies stocked the shelves of your local stores.
This lag in awareness and availability is very carefully managed for a variety of reasons. These are the proverbial three layers of science. There are economic reasons to consider as well as strategic Geo-political reasons. There are legal reasons to do with patenting, licensing and such. As with everything else in the system we are living in, money calls the tune, directs the research and manages the emergence or suppression of each friendly new thing.
The deepest sea of dollars I know of is that of the taxpayers of this world. Collectively they underwrite the massive deficits incurred by their governments who tap into global financial sources with wild abandon, alter their behavior and compromise their sovereignty in accord with the latest contractual obligations they have entered into.
Another prodigious pool of funds are corporations. The list of research activities undertaken by university labs at any given time and the names of the corporations funding this research is information that while quite available for perusal, is usually trumped by watching Netflix instead. This acts as an obfuscation and when combined with the special jargon that is coined in each field of study, the result is that most people don’t have a clue what is going on and therefore cannot even venture an opinion.
I have noticed that as each new technology has been trotted out, it is always accompanied by press releases and stories of how it will be used for altruistic purposes. Curing diseases, improving food production and that sort of thing. These articles make perfect sense to any average person precisely because these purposes would be exactly what they as individuals would do if they had their hands on the controls. Especially our children.
We are at a point in history where we can look back and see quite a few examples of new things that were going to help us all. In many cases we can see that the real effects were the opposite or came with unforeseen consequences. You know, the blow back. How soon we forget this. How often we forget this.
One of the biggest recipients of any country’s funds are the various military branches. In this realm, much information is withheld for a variety of security reasons for upwards of fifty years and other information is fated to never to see the light of day. Each country of any global consequence maintains a secretive intelligence arm or several of these. All their secrets are under constant threat of falling into the hands of an outsider. This can be through theft, blackmail, bribery or many other techniques both new and ancient, physical or digital.
It can be also be clearly observed that some of the largest contributors to funding for research being done at any given time are the military branches of the world. Sometimes openly and sometimes via corporations who just happen to be in a line of business that supplies the military with its materials. The effect is the same, regardless. The stock of these outfits is blue chip it goes without saying.
If we consider the biological and chemical warfare programs that have existed since the First World War and still exist today, we get a very good idea of how this works. If we simply extrapolate from these patterns with consideration of the bio-engineering, computing and chemical/pharmaceutical research being conducted right now, why would we assume anything would be any different from what went before in terms of who controls the new technologies and to what purposes they employ them?
We already know that the vast stockpiles of each new weapon languish for decades as surplus and eventually as obsolete toxic waste. Always some goes missing as well. The breakthrough of one country becomes the must have of the next country. This feed-back loop has carried on from the armored horse and trebuchet to the nuclear bomb, the nerve gasses, the land mines, the pharmaceutical sprays, the blistering agents, the steel piercing bullets, the night vision goggles, the silent helicopters, the unmanned killer drones, the weather altering aerosols, the mutated crop killing fungi, the manufactured germs, viruses and pathogens, the heat rays and much worse.
We haven’t cured the common cold but we are evidently on the verge of being able to tailor plants and animals into whatever we desire via gene editing. I found it interesting to note that with every year’s larger pool of donations, one well known cancer society I looked into actually spent less on research as a result.
If, as is suggested to school children today, the new CRISPR gene editing techniques, for example, were able to fix cancer in humans, a whole lot of people would be out of a whole lot of money. One way to avoid this would be to make the treatment so expensive that only the rich people could take advantage of it while all the poor people continued scraping their coins together to fund never ending research for a hoped for less expensive alternate treatment.
Of course, anything that actually could cure cancer, for just one example, could also work in reverse. This is where any military worth its salt comes in with giga dollars for funding this kind of application to the existing publicly known research. Mix your gene editor with a nanoparticle aerosol delivery system and stand by to mutate things in ways never seen before.
A quick study of the science underlying the herbicides that have been developed since WWII will reveal an alarming trend of science being used to reverse every natural, healthy process in the plant kingdom that is of great antiquity and of unknowable rarity in our universe. In other words, the unzipping of life itself, conducted covertly in the name of good and making a few people incredibly rich.
Another unfortunate factor in this scenario is the brilliant minds of each successive generation of young scientists, who are channeled by want or by the promise of riches and privileges into exactly the kinds of research that can and will be used by people against people, regardless of the rhetoric, press releases and informational minutia that appears on TV and social media.
Consider the emergence of virtual reality for home computer systems. This technology incorporates headsets to be worn by the operators. Over time these devices will go through a predictable curve in pricing until they are ubiquitous. This business model ensures that human envy will drive people to obtain their own rig. No doubt, philanthropists will donate them to underprivileged children worldwide.
It is already known that signals work both ways. A radio wave serves both a transmitter and a receiver for example. Your Wi-Fi signal for another. When we consider the research going now to do with mapping the human brain on a scale never before possible and the concurrent work in quantum computing, several scenarios begin to take dim shape.
A short study of the tracking technologies embedded in internet search engines and the vast array of telemetry vectors hard-wired into many popular computing platforms will clearly show that a massive amount of personal data is being collected and analyzed every minute of every day. This isn’t being done for fun. On one level, it is obviously being done to better serve the advertising industry. That is the most simple and obvious use that this bonanza of information is being put to.
It is for the reader or listener to cogitate on other likely uses of this data. It must be born in mind while thus cogitating that for every good use you could think of, their potentially exists an equal and opposite bad use.
I was perusing a list of the fifty richest billionaires the other day and one thing really jumped out at me. There was a group within the group that have signed a pledge to give away something in the vicinity of 99% of all their wealth before they die. On the surface this looks counter to the spirit that drove these folks to amass such wealth in the first place. Further, it suggests to the reader that they are converted into saints upon obtaining their 40th billion or so. While the rest of us mortals have to go to ayahuasca retreats and Tantra classes to tame our raging egos.
Most curious indeed. I am fairly certain, even without checking, that this money will go to “non-profit” organizations, NGOs, charities, research facilities, universities, museums, art galleries and the like. I doubt very much that there will be any more potable water, edible food or affordable shelter for those of our fellow humans who lack these things today.
The up-side to this billionaire’s list and others like it is that it helps put in perspective just who is really wealthy and who isn’t. Some familiar names once thought to be significant men and women are suddenly dwarfed by blazing lights with names one likely has never seen in print.
One interesting person listed was a Chinese man who was a military man for a decade and a half. I believe he started out as a simple border guard. He heads a corporation called Wanda. In Chinese the name means something along the lines of “reaching over ten thousand.” This corporation is heavily into real estate both locally and globally. They are buying up movie theaters and production companies and also are involved with sporting events. They have built Plazas and even whole villages in China. In fact, they will bringing you the World Cup of Soccer at least up until 2030 as well as other popular sports competitions. In wealth ranking, the CEO is only about halfway to Jeff Bezos but his website makes for a fascinating read nonetheless. Mostly because with the exception of investors and stock traders and other high fliers, many ordinary people have never heard of him or of his empire, although they have probably purchased many of his services unknowingly.
Equally fascinating is the new research being done on the topic of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. A Swede, Svante Pääbo, has put together the Neanderthal genome and found that there are some correlations with some aspects of the neural development pattern known as autism. (CADPS2 and AUTS2) He has also concluded that all people alive today (excepting Africans) carry 1-4% Neanderthal genes. It has further come to light recently that two other species of human like creatures were at one point contemporaneous with homo sapiens, namely the Denisovans and the hobbits. These hobbits I speak of were found in Flores Island in Indonesia and not in the Shire.
A key point in this research is the fact that when homo sapiens encountered these other varietals, the others were rendered extinct. Even more surprising was that at least in the case of the Neanderthals, prior to becoming extinct, mating occurred with homo sapiens and some of the offspring obviously and definitely survived.
At this point I would like to read a quote from the New Yorker Annals of Evolution August 15, 2011 Issue - Sleeping with the Enemy - What happened between the Neanderthals and us? By Elizabeth Kolbert
“From the archaeological record, it’s inferred that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or western Asia and spread out from there, stopping when they reached water or some other significant obstacle. (During the ice ages, sea levels were a lot lower than they are now, so there was no English Channel to cross.) This is one of the most basic ways modern humans differ from Neanderthals and, in Pääbo’s view, also one of the most intriguing. By about forty-five thousand years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo erectus “spread like many other mammals in the Old World,” Pääbo told me. “They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.” If the defining characteristic of modern humans is this sort of Faustian restlessness, then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene. Several times, he told me that he thought it should be possible to identify the basis for this “madness” by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA.”
“If we one day will know that some freak mutation made the human insanity and exploration thing possible, it will be amazing to think that it was this little inversion on this chromosome that made all this happen and changed the whole ecosystem of the planet and made us dominate everything,” he said at one point. At another, he said, “We are crazy in some way. What drives it? That I would really like to understand. That would be really, really cool to know.”
I will weigh in here and say that a creature that is not adapted to living in water would have displayed infallible logic at having halted its traveling when reaching such an obstacle rather than trying to conquer it. Perhaps just living near the shore and enjoying new menu items and a nicer climate in a contented manner is not a bad choice. I am certainly glad that great white sharks, for example, didn’t decide to cross that barrier and move onto dry land. Or that rattlesnakes didn’t take to the air.
The above quotes are seven years old now and I would be very interested to see what else comes to light from this particular research and more importantly, how it is used after the fact. I heard a presentation on the topic of gene editing recently in which a scientist told a small child that someday we can maybe use gene-editing to fix some diseases like autism.
Anyone who is even slightly acquainted with the newest information on this vast topic should know by now that autism is not a disease to begin with. Rather, it is a neural variation from the majority. It is a condition of being that is to be seriously reckoned with both for the autistic person, their families, the non-autistics and the world we all share. Hence the two rather new and quite proper terms, neurodiverse and neurotypical.
Thus, if an incredibly intelligent young scientist is so misinformed as this, what, one wonders, shall the friendly future hold once this CRISPR technology is up and running in the private corporate hands of Mt. Everest climbers, multi-billionaires, military strategists and their opposite numbers in the underworld of dark deeds?
In conclusion I would venture the opinion that in light of the amount of research going on at present in so many fields and the new vocabularies being spawned as a result; that the future is not particularly friendly if we use the past as a model to predict it but rather that it is sesquipedalian.
Sources - https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/08/15/sleeping-with-the-enemy (accessed Nov. 11, 2018)
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.