From the big past to the future

Ian Morris turns his huge historical scope around, and aims it at the next century.

By 2100 we will see cities with 140 million people. Robots will wage war. Humans, whose bodies have changed more in the last 100 years than in the previous 100,000 will “transcend biology.”

The futurist Ray Kurzweil calls this merger of human and machine intelligence “the Singularity.” Morris suggests that something like that may create new ways of capturing energy, communicating, thinking, fighting, working, loving, aging, and reproducing.

Unless, he says, we never get there. The paradox of development is that it produces forces that can cause catastrophe, if not managed properly. Climate change, Morris says, may be the “ultimate example.” The very fossil fuels that propelled social development upward after 1800 are now causing global warming.

But like earlier periods of climate change, Morris predicts, “this one will not directly cause collapse.” The truly scary thing is how people might react to the weather. Climate change could unleash famine, enormous migrations, disease, and perhaps even nuclear war.

Google didn’t catch the flu

Google Flu Trends getting it wrongGoogle’s flu predicting service has been impressively accurate in the past, but failed to apprehend the most recent American outbreak.

Google Flu Trends, which estimates prevalence from flu-related Internet searches, had drastically overestimated peak flu levels.

Why?

problems may be due to widespread media coverage of this year’s severe US flu season, including the declaration of a public-health emergency by New York state last month. The press reports may have triggered many flu-related searches by people who were not ill.

This may become a useful cautionary tale in our dawning age of big data.

A map of the next decade: the IFTF released a fun set of scenarios for the next ten years.

Why fun?  Because they proclaim these are all unlikely.  “too fast to be believable” is one set.  And “Type 2 scenarios depend on the conjunction of too many improbabilities”.

Decade map.

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