When I become plural
by Mike Meyer
I keep thinking about Bill Gates who said that we tend to over estimate technological change in the next two years and underestimate change in ten years. Having worked at this futurist stuff for many years I would say that was a good rule of thumb until very recently. As always there are a bunch of active variables behind that statement.
Mostly that is still a good statement but I think the great change has shortened to about seven years. Humans are just very bad at dealing with anything but arithmetic change. We count instinctively but we can’t multiply worth a crap. Geometric change befuddles us just as instinctively.
That didn’t used to matter that much but now it does. Digital electronics really works at exponential rates and that is what is driving change for us now. So we are way too slow in understanding how the historical force accelerates. We get stuck in the early stage seeing doubling with small numbers but lose it when we have to think of the rate of change, itself, changing.
I think most people understand this more or less. But another variable in the problem is the long tail of humans with some just stumbling out of the 19th century. To these folks fear is the only thing they can identify. Nothing else is recognizable. And that is becoming deadly.
We are right on the edge of creating powerful robotic systems to help us deal with day to day living. Most people can probably nod along with that because we all talk to Google or Alexa at home to play our music, check the current hurricane, or maybe turn some lights on or off. But where is that going and what will it mean for people who are left behind?
As the rate of change increases there are more and more people who are falling behind because it takes work to stay current. This is a growing tragedy that we really don’t want to see.
The conflicts that now result from being blind to where major technological changes are taking human society are increasingly disruptive. Yes, not only is change disruptive but the failure to change is disruptive.
Trump is an American disaster that is so pathetic it is hard to look at. This looks like an idiot leading other idiots on a mission of self destruction. Some of these idiots are actually evil people but the followers include too many folks who have just been left behind, not just financially, but intellectually. And the dark theme of anti-intellectualism in American culture has been turned into an active tragedy.
There is a feedback loop here. The people drawn to anti-intellectualism with selective denial of science, they deny proven global warming but have no problem with quantum mechanical smart phones, are predominantly less educated. This is not an issue of intelligence but of the essential knowledge needed to understand not just change but the rate of change. This is not a natural world and we can no longer be simply natural people.
This appears in everyday life. How often do you have a discussion with someone, perhaps whom you met once, and discover that they have no means of getting information? That is they do not have a smart phone and no internet awareness. I had that happen recently in a casual conversation with a woman my wife knew. My wife recognized her in Wholefoods and said hello. She mentioned that she was looking for a type of lime that was mentioned on a TV program about a small group of islands in the Pacific. She wondered where they were as she had no idea.
Pause. Some embarrassment. I took my phone out and googled the name she gave. I then showed her a map of the island group and pictures of the islands. She was forced to admit that she “didn’t know that tech stuff”. My wife moved on to something else but that basically ended the conversation. The woman was late middle age but younger than my wife or I. What do you say?
It was very much as if we had inadvertently forced her to admit a handicap. But that might have been natural. Failing to have the common tools for instant information is no longer something that you want to admit in public. It was strange.
More importantly, what does that mean? Her view of the world and how to understand and deal with it looked very limited to us. We often need to find information to continue a conversation that would be impossible without instantaneous access to most information known to humanity. That is a very big difference in worlds. And it is only growing.
While we use Alexa now, within the next few years we will all have digital versions of ourselves. We may call them by another name but they are going to be our augmentation assistants that answer our questions, know our schedules and our needs and preferences. They will be assignable tasks, such as scheduling things, that they will do as us. As Google demonstrated with the new Google Assistant recently.
We will become multiple personalities with each biological and digital version handling different parts of our lives. Part of our time will be used in maintaining synchronization of the crew that is us.
This is not ten years away. For most people it may be five years away but for some it will be common in two years. What will conversations be like between the people with a team of virtual assistants available at the nod of their head and someone who doesn’t do “any of that tech stuff”?
Language changes in those situations. The term ‘me’ is really ‘we’. We are about to all become the royal ‘We’.