Abstract: Near-term trendsï¿½for example Moore's Lawï¿½appear to indicate that progress can accelerate. Complexity theory suggests that both cooperation and competition can have synergistic effects when participants within a system have full and rapid access to information. We can perceive such emergent properties happening whenever nature and civilization pass new thresholds. Such trends suggest that we ought to be embarking on a new era of power, intelligence and wisdom.
But there are countless examples of "oughts" that never happened. The logic of SETI suggests that our cosmos "ought" to teem with ancient and advanced intelligences, filling space with educational beacons, yet no Sesame Street tutorials have been detected. Tendentious wishing may be responsible for prematurely narrowing our view of possibility horizons.
Horizon Evaluation is a process for exploring what threats and opportunities may await us beyond the near term. It can suggest plausible scenarios for science fiction stories. It can also suggest ways to minimize threats and maximize opportunities. It may be particularly relevant for determining where to make investments.
Our civilization has already developed techniques that work well at exploring some sectors of the Possibility Horizon. Nearly all of these techniques rely upon rapid discovery of errors before those errors can prove fatal. Transparency of information flow appears to be the one common element. Only an open society would appear to have a chance of succeeding and taking advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.
David Brin, Ph.D. has a triple career as scientist, public speaker, and author. His fifteen novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and near-future trends such as the World Wide Web. A 1998 movie, directed by Kevin Costner, was loosely based on The Postman. Another novel, Startide Rising, is in pre-production at Paramount Pictures. Brin's 1998 non-fiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? -- deals with a wide range of threats and opportunities facing our wired society during the information age.
As a scientist, Brin was a fellow at the California Space Institute. More recently, he has been a research affiliate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and participated in interdisciplinary activities at the UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. He now lives in San Diego County with his wife, two infants, and about a hundred very demanding trees.
This presentation was recorded at Accelerating Change 2004, November 5-7, 2004. Check here for the complete Accelerating Change archives.
This free podcast is from our Accelerating Change series.