Our Vision for 2047

- and how Drone Dancing will help get us there.

A summary of the Drone Dancing Society's speech at Moderna Museet, Stockholm at the Night of Philosophy 2017-05-17.

Mankind is facing unprecedented change at an exponential rate in most areas of life. If we want to look into the future we should first look backwards at evolution since it may help us to better understand the exponential curve and its power:

Some hundred thousand years ago Homo sapiens showed up but it took quite a while until they gained the ability to use tools such as fire or weapons.

Then, suddenly, within the last ten thousands of years, agriculture came along and was quickly followed by culture: Humans developed the art of transporting knowledge over time through symbols. They cooperated and organized themselves socially, formed cities, religion, law and arts. Eventually, some 250 years ago, the industrial revolution changed society completely. And now we have been in the Information or Digital Age for some decades and paradigms are shifting again:

We are entering the age of GNR: Genetics, Robotics and Nanotechnology. The term was coined in 2001 by Bill Joy who is credited with being one of the inventors of the worldwide web. He describes it as a time when quantum leaps in technological progress will double the available knowledge of mankind every few years or even months.

Mathematically, this eventually leads us to a point where this happens in less than a second. When the increase of the exponential evolution curve becomes infinite, that point is called singularity and some prominent scientists have calculated it to happen within this century.

Physicist Albert Bartlett agrees: The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.

The next five to ten years are to some extent foreseeable. Today already, AI can imitate ANY voice, compose beautiful music by itself and even replicate intuition,as was proven by recently winning a Go game against the best human player. Therefore, it is possible to image that the following applications are likely to be realized in 10-20 years:

  • We will have 3D printers in every home that are capable of producing any food we desire, building our houses or even creating new body parts from our own tissue.
  • Blockchain-technology will have eliminated and replaced intermediaries such as banks or lawyers - a nice thought, right?
  • General basic income will be the standard, paid for by taxing the robots who took our jobs - not bad either.
  • The opportunities are too seductive to abandon, especially for AI and bio-design.
  • This is all likely to happen.

But not all scenarios may turn out utopian: Bill Joy also warned in his 2001 article ”Why the future doesn’t need us” about the consequences of technological development without considering ethics or morality.

"Once a technology has come out of Pandoras’s box, it cannot be revoked - it’s a point of no return," he continues.

Technology can be compared to a weapon: it can be used for good or evil, it is the person using it who decides. Or, in other words: let’s not be worried about artificial intelligence - but about human stupidity. We can’t wait and see - we need to consider this now. Because if we don't, there is a risk that the drones will dance with themselves and not with me!

But let’s continue with the era that needs more attention: the time after the described next 10, 20 years - but before the age of the hard-to-grasp dystopia of singularity. That would be about 30 years from now, let’s say the year 2047. Why is that such an interesting timeframe? The short answer: We have no idea how it will look yet, but it lies within our expected life span and will therefore be of relevance to us.

But why don’t we talk about this more then? Why is this period of foreseeable time not covered sufficiently by the media, politicians or the business world?

Why is there a failure to imagine an alternative future 30 years from now?

Of course there are discussions about the future. Fortune 500 companies do intensely think about it but only in their particular fields. The expert debates mostly circle around technology and business perspectives but they don’t address the big picture. They make predictions about jobs when technology has replaced classical work and production methods. Furthermore, companies usually are very short-term oriented, too and mostly focus on to their next quarterly report. Exceptions are the gigantic, monopolistic Silicon Valley companies like Google, Tesla or Amazon. They have more influence and bigger budgets than some smaller nations and will continue to grow their power. They claim to have long-term visions for everybody - as long as they are beneficial to their shareholders. Thus, the visionary power is in hands of a small elite and with great power comes great responsibility.

But shouldn’t that responsibility rather lie on democratically elected representatives of the people? Unfortunately there is no concrete relation between what we suspect that will come in the future and how we currently do politics. Politicians focus on their day-to-day business and their next session period. Thus, they often are either not interested or capable of giving serious thought to the future of society. Furthermore, they often admit feeling powerless to change anything significantly or they feel simply it is not their cup of tea. What they are doing, if anything at all, is merely re-arranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

If life and society as we know them will soon radically change, we need to address this elephant in the room. So, who might fill the gap to think creatively about 2047 and its challenges? To find out, we first need to take a look at how 2047 could look like before we can identify a suitable candidate:

  • geo-engineering has solved all climate change problems
  • energy and computing power are more or less cost-free 
  • robots have taken over 70% of the jobs
  • our average expected life span has increased to 200 years 
  • our bodies even merge with machines to enter the stage of transhumanism, and
  • we become god-like creators (“homo deus”).

Doesn’t this sound like a paradise without material suffering? How much we could accomplish with all the time in our long healthy lives with all the technologically enhanced functions at hand!? However, we can’t be sure that all this new technology will actually lead to a better life for everybody.

Maybe it will become a high-tech version of panem et circenses in a fake pursuit of excitement. We may become passive consumers sucked up in 3D virtual reality worlds under the influence of psycho-active drugs? 

Israeli author Yuval Harari has argued that through continuing the technological progress "...by 2050 a new class of people might emerge - the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.“ Dealing with this new social class will be a central challenge for humanity in the coming decades.

They argue that throughout history, there have always been dystopian predictions about the end time - simply because it makes people feel more important and increases the value of their own existence. Furthermore, epistemologically, predictions usually turn out to be wrong when evaluated against the reality of what actually happened. Many historians would agree with that.

But this time we say no. Change will happen faster than ever before - just take a look at the exponential curve of evolution. To summarise: A debate is extremely important and urgent. If a future Renaissance is going to take place it doesn't really matter which particular predictions come true. However, we should be prepared to actively play a role in its emergence and for that we need to create imaginable and relatable visions of our future lives. 

We need to redefine the meaning of a life in a world without traditional work. It’s so good, it is the night of philosophy where we can include the question of the meaning of life. We become known for what we are doing. But if we are replaced by machines and thereby become obsolete two questions arise:

  • What would we do?
  • How do we define ourselves now?

People must engage in purposeful activities, or go crazy. Even Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, highlighted this issue a few months ago at his Harvard Commencement Address:

"Let’s measure progress not just by economic metrics but how many of us find their role meaningful: For our society to keep on moving, we have a generational challenge: to not only create new jobs, but to create a renewed sense of purpose."

So, what can we do about that? The more options and diversity we have, the wider the horizon is, the harder it is to find a story that gives meaning to life. We have to detach and be liberated from the past in order to think more freely and more creatively about the future. 

Storytelling by the means of arts will be the key to visualising life in 2047.

Art serves an evolutionary purpose, allowing us to try out different realities. Who knows, Sci-fi might become the most important cultural genre. For example: image shaping the dreams of God! 

It is artists who should take responsibility in what they are doing because they are shaping those dreams. For that reason, it is the artists who need to confront the audience with scenarios that deal with the impact of technology and social change. Not the managers, not the politicians, not the press.

Intellectually, the topic is already challenging. But to touch the public in a way that they can imagine, relate to and get a feeling for this soon-to-be completely different world is a real challenge.

With stories like this one, we hope to inspire the audience to imagine and reflect on the future Zeitgeist and the world we want to live in in 30 years.

There are three key learnings which should be communicated:

  1. Technological change will affect our lives - radically and soon enough.
  2. Currently we don’t have any widespread visions for our personal future.
  3. Storytelling by the means of the arts will be the key to changing today’s behaviour for a great life in 2047.

Now might be the most exciting time to be alive in so far. And it is also the time to ensure that not only artificial intelligence evolves but also an artistic intelligence. An artistic intelligence that makes sure that the drones of the future will be dancing with - and not without us.