The post-information age: new horizons for business and education.
Humans are becoming more machine-like with the internalization of technology, and technology is becoming more human-like, with the advent of voice recognition, voice synthesis, artificial intelligence, and transceivers built into everything. With the miniaturization of technology, we are increasingly able to replace organs and amplify our biological capacity, thus becoming cyborgs--people who are dependent on technology for some vital function.
We can effectively link our bodies with the entire world for thought and action. This may all seem quite speculative, but consider that 50 percent of Americans are already temporary cyborgs by virtue of wearing glasses or contact lenses. All astronauts and deep sea divers are temporary cyborgs.
The brain-computer interface is advancing with the use of "nerve chips," which are being developed by the Stanford University Medical Center as electronic interfaces for individual nerve cells to communicate with a computer. In experiments to regenerate damaged nerves, nerve axons of rats are currently growing inside implanted nerve chips. In the future, these bionic elements will be used to program artificial hands and enhance human capability in ways not yet imagined.
In the United States, sales in artificial biology jumped to more than $1 billion in 1983, during which three million transplants were performed. That number climbed to 3.6 million in 1985, and rose to more than four million transplants a year in 1993. The whole thrust of cyborg advances is to take the best of our external technology, miniaturize it, and make it part of our bodies. The Jarvik heart, the Utah arm, artificial kidneys, the Boston elbow, miniature pancreas-like pumps, the Triad hip, heart pacemakers, microelectronically driven limbs, plastic skin, and artificial bones all exemplify the growth in cyborg technology. Bionics began by restoring human capability; soon it will enhance human capacity. Zoom vision, distant shotgun hearing, and Herculean strength could become normal abilities by the middle of the twenty-first century.
The miniaturization of technology is progressing so rapidly that machines will be constructed molecule by molecule and atom by atom. We could have thousands of mini-robots running through our bodies. Legions of bionic bacteria could make sure that strategic parts of our bodies are working optimally. All this could be on-line. We will all become the "six-million-dollar man," hooked to global telecommunications--once the price comes down.
Simultaneously, the whole thrust of advances in electronics is to take the best of our consciousness, simulate it in computer programs, and make it part of our environment. This will render inanimate objects immediately responsive to our thoughts. We can already talk to computers that recognize more than 20,000 words, giving us the uncanny feeling that they are sentient. Even buildings have sensors that make them seem alive. With advancing computer power, micro-miniaturization, and voice recognition, we can tell many inanimate objects what to do and they can tell us what to do. Our whole environment will seem to change from dumb matter to one of conscious partnership as we tell our telephones to phone home, our lights to turn off, and our music to turn on.
Concurrent with these developments is a veritable explosion in human consciousness. Consciousness creates technology, which in turn expands our consciousness, which in turn improves our technology, ad infinitum. Technology is a mirror of consciousness. Looking into this mirror changes our consciousness. We need not look like those revolting science fiction images of half-machine, half-flesh monsters. And we need not have technology that becomes our conscious enemy--like HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey." We can create an aesthetic continuum of human civilization and technology.
We in the 1990s are still prejudiced against this merger of life and machine--even though it is the fundamental trend of our age. The future of science and technology is driven by ideas. How we manage ideas determines the rate and quality of scientific discovery and technological applications. Wise leaders are formulating their science and technology policy differently than did their forebears. in the past, science was largely an individual effort. As it grew more complex, and equipment became more expensive, it evolved into a group effort. Today it has become an international on-line effort involving governments and the private sector. Increasingly it will be augmented by partnerships with intelligent machines. This means that the speed and ease of scientific inquiry will increase radically in the twenty-first century. As a result, the human role of setting direction will become far more critical than in the past. Moreover, consequences of poor or haphazard scientific policy will be more disastrous.
We are designing technology that makes us smarter by reducing the time lag from thought to response. It increases our awareness by talking to us through artificial intelligence and by reducing the cost and complexity of global communications and transportation. Unless we deliberately design our technology to reduce steps between thought and response, our lives will become too complex and we will be at the mercy of ever larger and more impersonal systems.
It is reasonable to expect that as the Baby Boomers move into the market to buy anti-aging medicines and devices, medical research in aging will receive great infusions of investment capital. Eventually we will begin designing technology that will improve all facets of our life, making prolongevity--all matters having to do with living longer--a central theme. We know that the mind can affect the brain as we focus our attention in meditation, listen to tapes with specific messages while we sleep, ingest psychoactive agents, or give up smoking through self-hypnosis. We are learning that we can program our brains the way we program a computer. We can think ourselves healthier and smarter and we can obtain assistance from chemical technology. We are also nearing the day when we will know enough about the brain's chemistry and corresponding behavior that we will consciously design our mental activity.
As civilization becomes more complex, successful design will make it easier for the mind to manage. Computerization of everything--from health records to personal communications--will be necessary just to keep track of it all. Lives will become more intense; down time will become a thing of the past. There will be something to do and someone to communicate with all the time. Desire overload may become more of a problem than information overload.
As we put ever smaller and more powerful computer chips--complete with voice synthesis and recognition--into everything from buildings to clothing, our environment will seem to change from dumb matter to conscious partners. As we think and speak, our technology will respond. Therefore, how we think will become noticeably more important. The human mind will come into its own in the early 21st century, as the personal computer did in the late 20th century.
Instead of being "future shocked" by all this rapid change, we have become habituated and numb; we have accepted technological dominance of our lives. With the advent of very low-cost interactive media, we will participate in everything from family electronic relations to designing and constructing our purchases. Couch potatoes will be replaced by interactive media addicts.
Formerly the market was a physical location around which everyone revolved; in the future the individual will be the center around which international markets revolve. The speed and precision of peoples' access to international markets will determine wealth. As markets become vastly more specialized and telecommunications more powerful, the individual mind will be able to construct its own world.
The world will not become self-focused; it will increasingly be integrated with other "worlds." New products will be portable, interactive, intelligent, integrated with other products, and very talkative--with both artificial and natural intelligence. Let's look at a specific potential product of such a future.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
With the trends of microminiaturization, technological systems integration, portability, communications, and biological sensors, it is not difficult to imagine an attache case that connects you to nearly everything in the world to which you would want to be connected. Let's call this attache case the "Tree of Knowledge" (TOK). The TOK is a worldwide computer/audio/video localized communication and retrieval system that connects high-powered satellites, such as ACTS (Advanced Communications Technology Satellite), with low-powered, inexpensive, portable ground transceivers adaptable to telephone, radio, and television. This Tree of Knowledge is your true passport to global systems of the future.
Your TOK comes with the following as standard equipment:
* Video screen
* Biological sensors
* Recording disks
* Satellite transceiver
* Roll-out solar panel/AC/DC plugs
* Weatherproof case
* Radio (AM, FM, short-wave, Ham) and television
Set the TOK on the ground. Roll out the solar panel, fold out the umbrella-like satellite receiver and transmitter, and flip on the switch that runs the solar-generated electricity through TOK's electronics. On comes the video screen with the following main menu:
(TOK's menus would be image maps with hypermedia links rather than hierarchical menus; these are shown merely to demonstrate capacity.) If you select 1, your screen shows:
1. Past audio recordings
2. Connect live
4. Voice attunement Select 2, and your screen shows:
1. Input number
2. Search by:
(a) Name (c) Association (b) Zip code (d) Dates
3. List sequence of those trying to
4. Match priorities and display Upon selecting 3, you receive the following: 1:20 a.m. 1/4/98 Sally Gibbs
(audio cuts in, gives 15-second message) 9:18 a.m. 1/3/98 John Talbert (audio: 15-second message and title) 4:20 p.m. 1/3/98 Ho Dzie
(audio: 15-second message and title)
Let's say you've been awaiting the John Talbert call. So you say "Break" into your TOK microphone, and then say "Dial 9:18 a.m. 1/3/ 98." But either the line is busy or John is not taking calls at this time. Instead of just leaving a 15-second message and title for him, you choose to end the game of "telephone tag" by leaving a full message. There is some information you want to make 100 percent clear to John, so you respond through the computer print telecommunications option instead of the audio option.
The TOK is a key example of how we can design technology to enlighten our consciousness, which in turn will enhance our technological design. For example, the TOK will be very useful for inventors. Daily notes can be recorded and electronically signed for later patent defense if necessary. Scientific research abstracts can be searched to make sure mistakes are not duplicated. Research teams can be organized around specific experiments, regardless of geographic distribution of the team. Advanced market research teams can monitor progress so inventors receive bids from investors, as was the case with much of the early work in bioengineering. Moreover, TOK will connect inventors to data bases for patent search and application. Because inventors' notes are electronically signed, legally protecting theft, the average person could be allowed access to this information to keep abreast of new developments without the usual worry of theft.
The TOK will also be useful for students. A student could, for example, search for the course in algebra designed by three leading mathematicians, several logicians, and a learning theory analyst. Because the course could be taken by, say, one billion students, the curriculum team could afford a budget of $10 million to use the best material available, take as long as necessary, and produce a classic that might cost less than one cent per user to produce.
In 1987, international data communications time charges averaged around $0.20 per minute; as such, communications costs would be larger than the cost for the entire algebra course. However, it would still be sufficiently cost-effective for anyone in the world to access it through the nearest school's or library's TOK. In this scenario, the producers of the algebra course would make enough net profit that they could turn around and produce the best course on laser mechanics over a period of several years. With this use of the TOK, all students could gain access to the very best minds the world has to offer.
If you don't feel well, you can choose the BIOLOGICALS option on the main menu. First you respond to questions from the built-in expert computer program. This program is periodically updated by international data communications into your TOK. If the program needs more information from you to make a diagnosis, you might be instructed to open the TOK's storage compartment and use a sterilized blade to take a blood sample and put it in a special slot for analysis. Sophisticated internationally accessible medical diagnosis programs can then pin down the problem by asking you a sequence of questions. It if turns out to be a simple cold, a doctor-approved prescription is printed out simultaneously on both your TOK and at the nearest pharmacy or medical store.
If the diagnosis is more sophisticated, though, it is transferred to a computer-matched doctor who has on-line duty. You switch to the AUDIO option on your TOK, then add the VIDEO option to see the doctor. The doctor may run a speech analysis program to determine whether you are experiencing any type of emotional distress. With your permission, the doctor accesses your TOK's memory to help analyze the synergy of other elements, such as diet, personality, genetics, and healthy and unhealthy habits. Analysis of all these factors, with further tests run through the TOK's sensors, continues until the diagnosis is finally confirmed, remedies are prescribed, and you are on your way to becoming well again.
This procedure has the advantage of allowing physicians to monitor a specialty on a worldwide and daily basis. Patients, without having to leave the comfort of their own home or bed, can communicate with doctors--who have an easier time keeping up with the state of the diagnostic arts because of telemedicine. Doctors are able to see many more patients a day, perhaps reducing per-visit charges or risks of infecting themselves. People often furnish personal information more freely to a computer than to a doctor in person, even though the computer is connected to a person. This may also make for better analysis.
The BIOLOGICALS option could also be used to plot a personal index of the probabilities of what diseases and lead times match your condition. Recommendations could be given, such as diet changes and exercises, so you could act in time to prevent the potential illness.
The TOK can also help with time management. You can leave a question for a specific person that would be played prior to the TOK's notifying you of the call. Let's say you know that a Mr. Jones will eventually call to find out if you are ready to buy something. When he tries to contact you, he wi hear the prerecorded message, "Have you completed your co benefit analysis of your product compared with Mrs. Smith's?" If he answers "No" or "Not yet," then your prerecorded message says, "Please let me know when you have. Until then, take care of yourself. Bye for now," and the conversation is ended. If Mr. Jones answers "Yes," then you are notified and your TOK alerts you that Mr. Jones is ready to communicate.
Let's add that you have just talked to Mr. Jones and the conversation turned out be stressful for you. When you hang up, you can switch on one of the computer programs for biofeedback, stress reduction, or other consciousness-enhancing programs that you have tailored to your preferences to help calm you down again.
These applications of the Tree of Knowledge offer us even more time to expand our mind than advances in the agricultural and industrial ages. It is widely believed that philosophy came from the leisurely, priestly caste in Egypt. Who knows what could come from a leisurely global caste that grows up in the future?
IMPACT ON CONSCIOUSNESS AND CIVILIZATION
The TOK will move the general public's perception closer to the mystic's view of the universe as being consciously interconnected. Through the heroic effort of physics and mathematics, Einstein demonstrated that the universe was interdependent. With the Tree of Knowledge, everyone will have more rapid information and communications access than did Einstein. The amount of time between thought, question, and answer will shrink. As a result, curiosity will increase.
If you had been in the middle of Africa 500 years ago and heard about a great body of water to the east, your curiosity would have been frustrated because the effort to travel there would probably have been too great. Put in Skinnerian terms, this situation would have "negatively reinforced" your curiosity. But the TOK's rapid feedback will positively reinforce your curiosity, allowing you to follow it through the countless inquiry paths--with such speed that your unconscious mind will become consciously engaged in your pursuit of wisdom. The TOK is the appropriate technology to enhance curiosity--the very source of Einstein's great gift.
In the past, oral tradition was passed on in part by traveling masters. This is still going on today, but most public information is now passed on by television "talents" who may know little of the content and quality of the information they transmit. Television quality control follows public ratings. Because the TOK is an interactive on-line system that enables cross-referencing of information, anyone can handle his or her own quality control.
The telephone allowed us to expand human contact, giving rise to a variety of relationships of varying degrees of intimacy as well as increasing the complexity of human affairs. The TOK will expand this complexity and intensity of human interactive experience. By early twenty-first-century standards, the TOK will likely be cheap enough to be accessible to almost everyone, suitable for small-scale applications, and compatible with each person's need for creativity.
One of the strongest technological trends is the integration of many technologies into a single tool, such as the TOK. When Isaac Newton was 42, he merged earthly physics and celestial physics with the theory of gravity. Rene Descartes merged algebra and geometry with coordinate graphing. The TOK will merge a vast array of storage and communications capabilities. We can already see elements of the TOK in operation today:
* integrated financial services (credit cards that can handle transactions among brokers, banks, and supply companies);
* international television, telephone, and computer conferencing.
Eventually, the TOK will be further miniaturized to be sewn into clothing or added to jewelry. In the more distant future, it may even become a bodily implant; we will become a conscious technological Tree of Life. What the printing press was to the written word and memory, the TOK will be to the spoken word and action. Although the TOK is a significant technology in our future, it is only one of many emerging tools that will influence our consciousness.
The emergence of the post-information age, or Conscious Technology Civilization, will be characterized by the interaction of six conditions:
1. As we miniaturize technology to replace organs and amplify our biological capacity, we will gradually become cyborgs, able to link our bodies with the rest of the world for thought and action.
2. The manufactured environment will seem conscious as we have conversations and relationships with inanimate objects implanted with intelligent programming that simulates speech, hearing, and cognition.
3. Advances in technology alter our consciousness, which in turn invents new technology. As we grow to appreciate this dynamic relationship we will evolve a new cultural norm that all technology is to be designed with the added criterion that it must enhance consciousness and cut the time lag between human thought and technological response as well as between technological finding and human cognition.
4. The first three conditions bring the methods of technocrats and the attitudes of mystics into a new synthesis, thereby reducing one of the greatest polarities in history.
5. Conscious technology is also a way of viewing things, inasmuch as it is a new set of things to be viewed. Just as the industrial age gave us a new way to observe and use resources, it also gave us a vast array of machinery to be used.
6. The majority of people and intelligent technology are an interrelated whole. You would still be able to distinguish humanity from technology, just as you can distinguish a rose from its color. You would not be able to separate humanity from technology, just as you would not be able to separate the color from the rose.
It is difficult for us today to imagine the field or pattern created by the interaction of these six conditions; but not so for our future minds. Creating our minds will become an exciting adventure in the early twenty-first century as we enter the Conscious Technology Age. Such a vision can help us navigate our way out of this century and into the next. It can also help us anticipate what will last and what will change.
Jerome C. Glenn, Future Mind (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis, 1989; Tokyo: TBS Britannica Japan, 1993).
Jerome C. Glenn is the coordinator for the United Nation's University's feasibility study of the Millennium Project, and executive director of the American Council for the United Nation's University, Washington, DC.
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|Author:||Glenn, Jerome C.|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1993|
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