For my final paper in the First Year Seminar II class, I was given a freedom of to choose any topic that I would like to research, learn and share with other classmates. The requirement for this research paper was 10 to 12 pages of text, MLA format with in-text citation and works cited page. (For those of you who does not know what FYS II is, it is a required English course at my school).
For this paper, I decided to research upon something that I, personally, is interested in, mostly about the society, future and technology (and environment). This class was one of the best classes I've taken at SAIC, lot of fun and lot of learning - I am really glad that I took this class, as I was able to organize my thoughts and able to research the things that I was really interested in. I would gladly take it again.
After finishing up the semester, I found it pleasant and decided to share what I've researched. On this post, I would like to share the what I've researched during the course of my semester.
For pdf version, you can find it here.
Heui Chang (Will) Kim
Terri Lynn Griffith
English 1005-003: FYS II: Mining Cultural Archive
12 November 2016
Our Future: Not if but When
21st century is very interesting period in human history. The future has never been so effervescent, exciting, yet so ambiguous at the same time, hence we do not know what to expect and what to embrace; our race to the future was never so accelerating and we cannot fully capture and understand what we have around us. Tim Urban, the author of a blog, Wait But Why, describes the exponential growth of technological development for human civilization with a scale called ‘Die Progress Unit’. DPU in short, this unit measures the amount of technological advancement that grants death to a person who was brought from the past by shocking them with the technological progress that have been achieved. For example, if we bring a person from the 1750s to the present day, not only the person will be surprised by the amount of technological advancement, but might actually die due to the shock for all the mind-blowing discoveries and application of technology. Yet the more interesting part of the theory is that in order for another person to experience similar death-shock experience in the 1750s, not only the person have to come from the past around 250 years before, but perhaps even more; people in the 1750s might have to bring a person from time far as 12000 BC in order for that person to experience the similar death-shock experience. The theory proposes the frequency and adaptation is increasing exponentially as time goes by, suggesting the next death-shock experience for us might not be so far away.
With the expectancy of our death-shock experience might attack us any soon, our attention is then inevitably directed towards our future. According to the Kardashev scale, our civilization is currently in between of stage zero and one (about 0.7 to be precise) – making our generation of civilization the most critical generation within the scale. Proposed by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev, the Kardashev scale is a scale which measures the technological advancement of civilizations, categorized based on the level of energy consumption. The scale introduces three stages of possible future civilizations: the first stage (Type-zero civilization), which is a stage that our civilization is currently in right now, is a phase where the most primitive civilization takes on the development to become more advance civilization which ultimately able to dominate the entire planet, control the natural disasters, even harvest energy from them. Once the civilization reaches the stage of capable of harvesting energies from the planet, the civilization enters the second phase of the Kardashev scale (Type-I civilization), where the civilization starts to expand, not only the planet they are situated in, but into other planets and stars – which suggests the potential of the human beings to become multi-planetary species. The next stage, the Type-II civilization to Type-III civilization, explains the civilization could start to expand their territory further out to other places in a scale of galaxies, harvesting energy from dark matter and other theoretical sources which are only known to be possible in science fictions. It is important to point out that, while all the stages in the scale have the potential of the civilization becoming annihilated, the first stage of transition of the civilization has proven, unfortunately, to be the most hazardous stage for survival. However, once the civilization reaches the Type-I phase of the Kardashev scale, the probability of the survival for the civilization will increase significantly, potentially reducing the probability of extinction completely. But before diving in any further, it is important to see what could our society would look like if we did make it to the Type-I civilization.
When a civilization reaches the Type-I civilization in the Kardashev scale, everything will be different; the obvious changes that the civilization will have is the shift of the skyline, where the structures for the building will no longer be confined with the boundary of soil, but expand into the realm of water, air, and even space. No longer limited by the ground, the relationship between each building will also take its unique form and interaction, allowing the residents to interact with the structure in a manner where we might never imagine. The leap in engineering will create a massive jump in terms of scale, allowing the civilization to construct extremely massive-structures, not only in a scale of buildings, but in a scale that could be easily visible from space. In addition, the mega-engineering abilities would allow constructions for buildings which could be used in space, where space-architecture could be the next phase for the architectural advancement. Type-I civilization could actually be the point where the civilization might just have started to enter the phase of developing a mega-scale engineering, taking its first step in challenging the size of the structure to be in a scale of a planet.
While the scale for engineering will be gargantuas as the civilization reaches the Type-I civilization, the technology will also allow them to be capable of going not just small, but very, very small. John D. Barrow, an English astronomer and a mathematician created an extension version of Kardashev scale, which this time does not measures the growth of the civilization, but a measures the human ability to manipulate in smaller dimensions. Named as Microdimensional Mastery, Barrow categories the scale into total of seven criterions: Type I-minus to Type VI-minus, followed by Type Omega-minus, which is classified to be capable of manipulating the basic structure of space and time. While we do not know what Type-I civilization will be able to accomplish in regards to the scale of Microdimensional Mastery, it is strongly suggested that the Type-I civilization will have ability to manipulate miniscule particles small as cells in organism, destroy, manipulate and regenerate by one’s will. The level of bio-engineering of the civilization will be so advanced such that robotics technology will allow microscopic robots to be injected into the human body, let the robots find cancer and destroy only the selective targets. While all of the suggestive prediction sounds intriguing there is one theory that is actually very provocative: it is also known that, the landscape of the market structure for human society will completely shift due to the highly advanced 3 dimensional printing and development of nanotechnology, allowing the printers to print out literally anything the user desires: diamonds and golds will no longer holds its value, instead the complexity of molecule architecture will determine the pricing of the objects. Among all the oceans of possible influences, the civilization will also have the capability for manufacturing quantum computers. Electronic chips and motherboards will be so intensely powerful and small that it will be able to be implemented into fabrics for garments. The achievements that Type-I civilization could accomplish would be very astonishing - all these high computing power does seem very promising and exciting for the future, however we still have one technological feat that is beyond comparison: artificial intelligence. AI for short, artificial intelligence could literally change everything in the society - how we would live and dwell among the machines.
When categorizing the brain power of all the living things on the Earth, we can easily discover ourselves to be at the highest in the hierarchy of the pyramid. It is our logic and freewill to think critically, contemplate, wonder and ability to make decision that differentiate us from other animals, allowing us to dictate over other organisms on the Earth. However once AI is born, the story becomes significantly different: once the dominator of the food chain, might be dethroned; while the shape of the pyramid might be able to maintain the shape of the triangle, the gap between us and the AI might be extremely huge in terms of the intelligence level. Revisiting his blog, Tim Urban illustrates a simple explanation by introducing something called a ‘intelligence stairs’ where an organism is placed along the stairs in the hierarchy of intelligence. Therefore the clever you are, the higher you are placed in the stairs. Now, when human is placed on the stairs, it is quite obvious they will be placed at the very top of the stairs with few stairs higher than an organism might then follow the intelligence of human being. It is critical to realize that the space between the stairs for each organism is relatively close, until we introduce the AI into the system - if we were to place an AI into the system, the AI will actually be placed million times higher on the stairs in terms of the intelligence level. The diagram propose an intense, very intense, possibility for how an AI could actually outsmart every single organism exists on the Earth, and even the human. No doubt, it will be impossible for a human being to have such brain power of the AI’s as the intelligence level of an AI will be utmost incomparable. With such brainpower, nothing will be impossible such as the possibility of immortality, regeneration of human cell for anti-aging, and you name it. Inventing an AI will could allow the human to actually embrace the power of a deity; it is known that AI could might as be the humanity’s final invention, ever.
While all the technological feats are glamorized in the Type-I civilization, the civilization’s issue of energy takes on a completely different perspective as well. Dominating the entire globe, the civilization would be able to control and even manipulate weather, and moreover control the natural disasters to its own will, harnessing energy from such colossal forces. Extracting energy from these sources would actually mean the energy generated from such sources will reach the point where the supply of energy will exceed the demand for the energy. The marginal cost of energy could might as be low as nothing where the costs of power such as electricity, light, heat or anything that could power a service might almost be free or could be use with no cost. Our civilization has already taken necessary steps to attempt to control natural disaster. Something that might look fictional is already evident in our society and is already taking place. The extraction geothermal energy from active volcanoes could be considered as the primitive stage of attempting to utilize the power generated naturally and attempt for artificial precipitation for areas with droughts are all examples of the development that are evident in our civilization which shows the progression to Type-I civilization.
Natural disasters aren’t the only source of energy for Type-I civilization; it will be common place for civilization to utilize the technology of fusion reactors where the generators uses hydrogen – which are found in oceans – as a fuel to create energy. With the use of fusion reactors the efficiency of energy produces will be so efficient a single glass of sea water would surprisingly supply enough hydrogen to create an equivalent amount of energy that is created with a whole gallon of oil, plus without any waste as a byproduct. The issue of waste is another thing that the Type-I civilization will have such drastic improvement as a civilization reaches the classification, as Type-I civilization will almost might not produce any single waste whatsoever. This is also due to the help of the development of nanotechnology, where the decomposition of an object in atomic scale will allow atomic elements to be re-arrange into a format where a whole new structure could be formed. This inevitably suggests the Type-I civilization will no longer have waste as a byproduct during the energy consumption, ultimately illustrates stabilization of global climate and cleaner environment for humanity live in.
Clean energies such as solar, wind, hydroelectricity, etcetera would also have reached the point where the extraction of energy from sources are so efficient that it will be enough to depart from the conventional sources of energy completely, in consequence, allowing the civilization to produce clean energy to power the entire globe without any waste. It is important to take note that the development of solar energy has already been an issue in our society, where companies such as Tesla has taken initiatives to challenge the conventional usage of fossil fuels and replace them with solar energy. It is evident that the solar technology is advancing significantly each year as many attempts were been made to improve the usage of solar energy as a main source of renewable energy. With Tesla releasing its new product for its solar roofs, which are even more durable and cost-efficient than conventional roof tiles, proves the potential transition of our energy consumption to solar power energy seems very optimistic.
Out of all of these prediction, it is actually surprising to discover that our civilization have already taken the path to reach the level of Type-I civilization. A theoretical scientists, Michio Kaku explains that we already are able to witness evidences of the transition such in our daily lives – and to name few: the internet is one example of the introduction of telecommunication for planetary civilization (according to his book, he names the Type-I civilization as, planetary civilization) and the European Union might be the one example of a Type-I civilization’s economy. Everything around the globe is slowly starting emerge, where English language, for example, is becoming one of the most common language, cultures such as movies, fashions, music are slowly starting share similar traits from each other in entire globe. Michio Kaku even mentions Olympic as being the beginning of planetary sports where the participants from every country gather and compete with each other. We all agree that an influence from single individual in YouTube could initiate whole movement that could influence the people around the globe, slowly proving the that our generation has indeed taken large number of initial steps and changes to become a planetary civilization. There is a passage in a book, Physics of the Future, where Michio Kaku states, “Every headline that dominates the news reflects, in some way, the birth pangs of the planetary civilization. Commerce, trade, culture, language, entertainment, leisure activities, and even war are all being revolutionized by the emergence of this planetary civilization” (Kaku, “Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100”).
While all the evidences are pretty clear that our civilization is inevitably in the direction of becoming planetary species, Michio Kaku also suggests the possibility of failure of the transition to the next Type of the classification, supporting the Kardashev’s theory of having mere 50 percent of survival rate during the transition in the first stage of transition. In a video transcript, Will Mankind Destroy Itself?, Michio Kaku mentions the issues that could halt us reaching the Type-I civilization: “So whenever I open the newspaper every headline I see in the newspaper points to the birth pangs of a type one civilization information. However, every time I open the newspaper I also see the opposite trend as well. What is terrorism? Terrorism in some sense is a reaction against the creation of a type one civilization. Now most terrorists cannot articulate this. They don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about, but what they’re reacting to is not modernism. What they’re reacting to is the fact that we’re headed toward a multicultural tolerant scientific society and that is what they don’t want. They don’t want science. They want a theocracy. They don’t want multiculturalism. They want monoculturalism. So instinctively they don’t like the march toward a type one civilization. Now which tendency will win? I don’t know, but I hope that we emerge as a type one civilization” (Kaku, “Will Mankind Destroy Itself?”). It is distinctively clear that Michio Kaku makes references of actual examples that seems very true which supports his statement of potential failure. If we look at our society now, we are flooded with headlines from TVs and newspapers about the active terrorism which is taking place around the globe, for example, ISIS and North Korea. The two huge World Wars from the 1900s are another examples which shows intense moment of chaos in human history where entire globe broke into a war. Moreover, for past few decades and centuries, we have witnessed the movement of human that is currently directed towards the opposite from the value of globalization. While among all the threats and chaos that the globe is experience right now, there is actually one factor that could completely hinder the transition of human civilization, annihilating a human civilization completely.
The potential of artificial intelligence could actually be one of the most perilous development of technology where an entire humanity could be wiped off from history. As mentioned before, we are living in a point where science-fiction tales has started to become true, and soon enough we can have our robot friends ask us out for dinner. While we may think the artificial intelligence will immensely help humanity advancing forward, there are some people suggests a completely opposite scenario. Few famous individuals, such as Elon Musk, for example, namely warned that if artificial intelligence is born, we could either all live forever, or all die altogether. Many would ask why would an AI cold be such threat, however to explain the reason behind why the invention of AI will be a threat to humanity, is due to the uncertainty whether such super power will be in control. Once the AI goes into the wrong hands of criminals or terrorists, the abuse of such power might result massive destruction which might not be controllable even by the individuals or group who are utilizing it – hence the misuse of the AI only has two sides of ending which makes the survival rate of the civilization to be only 50 percent; Unquestionably that’s why Elon Musk started a company called SpaceX to create a backup drive for humanity on Mars so when the Earth gets destroyed, the civilization will still manage to live on Mars. Once the artificial intelligence is created, there is absolutely no turning back and like how our timeline is divided with BC and AD, our history will be divided by point of before the invention of AI and the after the invention of the AI. Although the AI could literally bring us the ability of a deity, Elon emphasis on the obscure nature of AI which might not act as we intended. Once we lose control, there is no Plan B.
If we give a quick glance throughout the timeline of human history, we realize that we have experienced many, innumerable number of chaos, violence and wars. Bloodshed after bloodshed, it almost seems miraculous that human being even still exist in this planet, still thriving, exploring and pursuing for the future. Out of all the potential threats and encouragements, it seems inevitable for human civilization will try to reach the Type-I civilization; with all the uncertainties embraced, the time will flow and civilization will move forward. If we make a quick glance of human history, revising all the historical moment in the timeline there seems to be one clear indication that is evident in our history: we are explorers, and forever explorers. Our achievement could not be made if we did not take the risk to explore the vast open seas in the past, in hope to search for the new world: the first boat to sail off the Mediterranean sea, off to search for the new world, landing on the unfamiliar continent of America, and expanding our horizon to space. Our intimate desire to take risk for search of new things are innately within us, clenching never ending thirst for our curiosity.
Inside a footage called “Wanderers” by Erik Wernquist, Carl Sagan narrates inside a video, underscoring how humanity right now is upon the next phase of conquest for exploration. Though all the future may be uncertain and ambiguous, and the timing might not be quite right yet, but the promises from the future still awaits, luring us in hope to get them. We, as human beings, will make it through.
“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas...”
Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.
Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting”
- Carl Sagan, Wanderers
“Artificial Intelligence | Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla | Code Conference 2016.” YouTube, uploaded by Recode, 2 June 2016, https://youtu.be/tV8EOQNYC-8.
Barrow, John. Impossibility: Limits of Science and the Science of Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998.
“Elon Musk elaborates on his A.I. concerns (2016.9.15).” YouTube, uploaded by Every Elon Musk Video, 15 September 2016, https://youtu.be/ycJeht-Mfus.
“Fusion Energy Explained.” YouTube, uploaded by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 10 November 2016, https://youtu.be/mZsaaturR6E.
Kaku, Michio. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny And Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. Doubleday. 2013
Kaku, Michio. (2011). Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny And Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
“Kardashev Scale.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale#cite_note-Impossibility:_Limits_of_Science_and_the_Science_of_Limits-28.
“Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species.” YouTube, uploaded by SpaceX, 27 September 2016, https://youtu.be/H7Uyfqi_TE8.
“Michio Kaku: Will Mankind Destroy Itself?” YouTube, uploaded by Big Think, 31 May 2011, https://youtu.be/7NPC47qMJVg.
“The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction.” Wait But Why – Tim Urban, http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-2.html. Accessed 26 November.
“The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence.” Wait But Why – Tim Urban, January 22, 2015, http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html.
Urban, Tim. “Intelligence Staircase 1.” Wait But Why, http://28oa9i1t08037ue3m1l0i861.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/staircase1.png
Urban, Tim. “Intelligence Staircase 2.” Wait But Why, http://28oa9i1t08037ue3m1l0i861.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/staircase2.png
“Wanderers.” Vimeo, uploaded by Erik Wernquist, 11 October 2014, https://vimeo.com/108650530.