Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why we will never go to Mars - additional thoughts

After I posted "Why we will never go to Mars" I saw this article on glasses that can find things. This is a perfect example of a technology that will profoundly change our lives. This goes way beyond finding lost items. Technology like this will record our lives. Every event from birth to death will be recorded and available for instant access. What is the next logical step for this? A smaller camera? Maybe no camera, just learn to interpret the signals from the optic nerve and auditory nerve making your own eyes and ears the camera. How will this impact criminal justice, privacy? 300 million cameras walking around recording everything? I would imagine criminal activity would become less common provided corruption of the criminal justice system does not increase.

Of course with increased regulation of the smallest details of our lives, the potential for corruption will increase. As more and more things become illegal, people will need protection from law enforcement. This is largely what organized crime does. My guess is that increased government regulation of everything from smoking and alcohol to trans-fat regulation to whatever other nanny state garbage they come up with will increase the number of people who will need some form of protection and be willing to pay for it. But I digress.

Another thing I got to thinking about regarding my original post is what will define intelligence in the future? I am strictly speaking in the ability to recognize the different intellectual abilities of people. What do we think of as characteristics of intelligence? Knowledge, skill sets, learning ability, ability to apply knowledge?

Consider, for example, this unverified quote by Alexander Fraser Tytler:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

Before the internet, how many people had ever heard of this quote? Outside of academia, I would doubt very many. Knowing who it was attributed too would have required access to a library and a significant amount of research. Now it takes me a couple minutes to find out everything I ever wanted to know about Alexander Fraser Tytler. If everyone has access to information, knowledge will no longer distinguish intelligence. All the classic works of literature, especially those not protected by copyright will be available to everyone. And people may start to use references to these works without fear of being considered pretentious because the effort to understand the reference will be considerably less.

What about skill sets? Advanced trigonometry. Take the handy dandy glasses mentioned before. It should be relatively easy to make them recognize mathematical equations. Math was never my strong suit. Look at the most complicated trigonometric function and instantly see the solution. Want to read Spanish, look at a sentence in Spanish and get instant translation. Want to measure the size of counter top you need for your kitchen remodel, look at your kitchen where you want the counter to go and presto.

I am curious about the impact of the magic glasses on family "discussions". "I told you to get milk when you were at the store, well let me replay the conversation, oh wait , I guess I didn't. Why didn't you remind me to check if we had milk"? Don't worry guys it will still be your fault.

With regard to applying knowledge, I am not sure how that will turn out. Take the "Theory of Evolution" for example. I happen to believe there is a lot of evidence to support this and very little to support "Creationism". Some people will look at the exact same information and say only an idiot would believe in Evolution. Knowing the answers to complex trig functions and being able to apply those answers practically may be two different things. Without improving a persons mind, I don't know if you are going to be able to improve their ability to apply knowledge beyond a certain point. Improving our minds though may be an option on the table in the future at some point.

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