The Top Ten Frequently Asked Questions about the Next Revolution

What is the Next Revolution?
Every twenty years or so, the world undergoes a fundamental and unpredicted change. The convergence of increasingly faster computers and cheaper software will result in computers that can think, taking over common white collar jobs and driving humanity toward a stark cusp, a choice point between self-annihilation and an Aquarian age centered on psychology and social values.
When will it happen?
Computing hardware gets faster at an exponential rate, doubling every eighteen months. Around the year 2029, computers that run as fast as the human brain will become ubiquitous. That will precipitate a Singularity when the rate of progress in technological development will become effectively infinite. But many seismic changes will occur much sooner.
Why is it a 'revolution'?
A revolutionary change occurs when the world shifts in a direction that isn’t predicted by extrapolating established trends. The path that escalating technological progress will take us on is well established, and the likely and possible destinations of that path have been explored by futurists and science fiction writers. The Next Revolution forecasts a radically different change that is not part of those trends even though it is a consequence of them. It will have an impact similar to the Agricultural, Industrial, and Information Revolutions; but it will happen much, much faster.
What are thinking machines?
A 'thinking' computer has software that emulates the behavior of the human brain to such an extent that it is indistinguishable from a person chatting to you over a network. The famous 'Turing Test' gauges this. A thinking computer would be able to understand information and draw conclusions as well as a person does. Whether it should actually be considered to be human, or whether it would also have some of the other attributes of humans such as a sense of humor, are matters for philosophers and lawyers; they don’t alter the predictions of the Next Revolution.
What is the Singularity?
Futurists notably Ray Kurzweil coined this term for the point at which thinking machines are able to take over development such as research and testing, and perform those functions so much faster that progress becomes effectively infinite. 'Singularity' is a scientific term for a place in the universe where something infinite is happening, where normal physical laws break down. When computers reach the point at which they can write their own programs, change possible due to information processing will explode.
How will society change?
The benefits of the new technology are countless. Consider medical testing, for instance: Currently trials of new drugs take years to perform on test subjects. But with accelerated computer simulations of the human body, these could be compressed into days. In the economic landscape, jobs that are purely the processing of information virtually all 'white collar' jobs can be taken over by thinking machines. In many cases the machine alternative will be so much faster that the human equivalents will disappear overnight.
But what are the revolutionary changes that will take place?
It's true that the jobs lost to technology will be a drastic change, but hardly an unforeseen one. But the real revolutionary change will be what hopefully replaces them: A whole new field of human development, with a new science of the human mind, a renaissance of psychology, and a new priority for emotional well-being at all levels of society.
I have young children. How will this future impact them?
I also have young children, and I am very much concerned with their future. They will grow up into a world where many of today’s assumptions will no longer hold. What they need to learn, and how they learn it, will be radically different from today’s emphases on technology and traditional education methods. The inflation in higher education tuition fees cannot remain so far ahead of all other commodities and services much longer. Technology may offer your children the means to live very long lives, but the world will be increasingly unstable and dangerous unless they reshape human social values.
How can we avoid the doomsday scenarios?
As technology becomes increasingly more advanced and its price plummets, the availability of more and more destructive weaponry (think: manufactured viruses) will fall within the means of more and more people. If we and our children work to heal the emotional wounds of people individually and collectively, we can create a society where sociopaths are less common and more easily found and healed.
Why the urgency?
The massive changes that bring us to the choice cusp are not all dependent upon a post-2029 Singularity. That date merely signifies when brain-class computers will become as ubiquitous as iPhones. Equivalent hardware could be deployed now (through large-scale parallel processing) by organizations with even modest budgets. What they lack is the software to turn them into thinking machines. How long will that take to develop? It would be folly to think it will be even a decade. The cost of technological weaponry is dropping all the time, yet the emotional maturity of society is not measurably increasing (and a gauge of our progress in that domain is that we have no way of measuring it). We currently have no reason to expect that we will have advanced enough in human understanding before it is too late.

The Top Ten Questions People Should Ask but Don't

Is this a positive change or a negative change?
Like virtually all changes, it is both. Technology developed for peaceful purposes has destructive applications, and vice-versa. The impact of thinking machines will be staggering. For example, what happens to medical testing when it becomes possible to model all the functions of the human body down to the molecular level. Trials of new drugs that used to take years could be run within days using accelerated simulations over multiple genotypes.
How likely is the worst case scenario?
There is reason enough to think that the worst possibility the end of the human race is likely, as pessimistic as that may sound. Models of the likelihood of life arising around a star suggest that with a septillion stars in the universe there should be many intelligent species who have generated, as we have, radio signals within a range that we could have detected. Yet we haven't. This is known as Fermi’s Paradox (aka, 'Where are they?') A disturbingly likely explanation is that civilizations reaching the level of technology to broadcast radio waves destroy themselves not long afterward. I'd like to think that humanity can beat the odds.
Why am I not seeing anything about this anywhere else?
The Next Revolution contradicts some very popular and entrenched beliefs. Chief among those is the notion that people’s focus in the future will continue to be increasingly dominated by technology. Consider: thirty years ago the average person had little to do with computers and knew nothing of email. Now, everyone needs to master basic computing skills just to fit in, let alone compete. Many people have a psychological, and financial investment in the continuance of this trend. Gainsaying it does not win their instant approval.
Why isn't technology going to be a good career choice in the future?
It goes against the popular grain to defy the notion that learning about technology is the best choice of career. And for some time to come, it will remain so, until machines are able to perform pure research as well as humans can. This will happen when they start 'thinking.'
Why should this vision be any more successful than the hippies' Aquarian experiments of the 1960s?
It may not be. The outcome depends on some critical choices being made by society as a whole, not just a few enlightened individuals. The ‘60s consciousness revolution was fueled by a secular cycle spawning another generation of spiritual iconoclasts. This time, we will have the effect of a change in economic dynamics that shifts the motivations for a much larger and more influential segment of society.
Won’t this revolution also be co-opted and perverted by the power brokers?
They will try. However, the defining feature of this revolution is a flowering of the social and psychological sciences that will expose sociopaths in positions of power. When their protective coloring can be seen though by the average person, it will be harder for them to hold on to power. But the path to that point leads through vulnerable territory: you can be sure that the wealthy and powerful have access to very good intelligence about the future.
What difference can I make?
Start educating yourself about these trends. Join in this and similar online communities, and help us understand what you have learned about what's coming. Ask yourself how you and the people you care about will fit into the new future. Bring the same awareness to your local communities, local governments, and businesses. We don't have all the answers; help us figure them out.
What will be the response of government to these changes?
That depends on which government you mean :-)
How can losing even more jobs be a good thing?
It's not a good thing, at the time it happens, for the people who lose their jobs. It may never be a good thing for them, although they may be able to react to place themselves in an even better position. It is, however, inevitable, so the question we must ask is not, "How can we stop this?" but rather, "What advantages can we extract from this?" In the long run, however, the future of employment is in much more purposeful and satisfying jobs, and the people who take them will be grateful to us for the turmoil we endured to get there.
How do I prepare my business to withstand or leverage these changes?
What is your business? No, really, what is it? Examine your purpose closely, because if you aren't clear on that, if you don't have a mission statement that everyone in your company resonates with and cleaves to, then you are cannon fodder for drastic change. During the last great revolutions, companies that defined themselves in terms of visions of how they improved the lives of their customers and changed the world were able to transition from the old patterns to the new ones. Those who defined themselves in terms of particular technologies (think: Polaroid, Kodak) fell by the wayside.
The world is now too dangerous for anything less than Utopia. — Buckminster Fuller