Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Prediction for the End of the World

I am sad to report that my realization that the end of the world is occurring came to me while watching the movie “Police Academy”. The 1984 film is just as bad as I had remembered. It also has all the signs pointing to the end of humanity as we know it. “Police Academy” is 27 years old. I found myself watching the movie for an indication of what has changed in 27 years and for the most part the visual answer would be very little. Aside from the occasional hairstyle or car design, life in 1984 looks remarkably similar to life in 2011. Of course much has changed in 27 years, but most of that revolution is occurring behind the scenes and out of sight. So, my argument is that the world, as we have known it, is ending right before our eyes.

Let’s go to the high tech rumor mill for the first piece of my argument. We seem to understand that the Smartphone is changing us. It is our portal to the Internet. Currently it is a powerful tool for humans to use. At what point does the Smartphone tool actually become part of us? The tiny Smartphone display on my Blackberry annoys me. It is top of the line (for Blackberry anyway) and yet I have to squint when trying to view the weather radar or catch the finer point of a photograph. Apple is working to fix that with better heads-up displays and, if you believe the quite busy Apple rumor community, perhaps the next step is beyond a display to sit on your head like glasses, but rather a display inside of your head.  The Smartphone becomes easier to use because it becomes part of our body.

The Smartphone tool is simply our connection to what really matters: the Internet. The Internet is more than a repository of information- it has become a living world of social interaction and information. Every two days we create as much information as humanity created from the beginning of human origins up until the year 2003. That’s five exabytes of data every two days. That’s a stat rattled off at the Techonomy Conference last year. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt had a great quote during that conference, as relayed in Tech Crunch:I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening to them soon.”

Most of the data we create is not that useful: the fact that a friend from college is re-doing his kitchen or that a colleague is enjoying a trip to Bermuda is nice to know and yet not very valuable. However, those tiny bits of information put us in a real-time world with that college friend, the vacationing colleague and dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. You can almost see the information flow starting to breathe when you look at facebook. This isn’t just a set of tools being used by humans- it’s an entirely new way of living. The virtual world is dawning and the world of 1984 might as well be 1900 or 1600 or 1200. In many respects 1984 humans might have more in common with the year 1200 human than year 2050 human.

Two billion people are connected via the Internet and a new study says that $8 trillion worth of e-commerce is conducted each year. The “Internet Matters” report by McKinsey and Company shows that the Internet is merely middle of the pack when it comes to Gross Domestic Product in the 13 countries studied. Yet, as we know, the Internet reaches into every sector of the economy and has drawn the world together. More than 75 percent of businesses use the Internet. The “Internet Matters” report calls for business to optimize their participation in the “global Internet ecosystem.” Ecosystem is a great word for it. Global trading, as aided by technology, is growing daily. Our banking systems are interconnected. Our monetary systems react as one joined system. A tremor in the economy of Greece is felt quickly in the United States.  The interconnected nature of the global economy is expected to keep growing. The question is where will it lead? 

This concept of humans growing closer together due to technology is not a new one. The forest for the trees moment really comes when you see how quickly this interconnectedness is occurring. Take a few steps back from our day-to-day rush and ask yourself: are we changing before our eyes?

In “Police Academy” world of 1984 it was primarily the mass media pulling us together as a planet and most of the technology I have been discussing was still in rudimentary forms. What will happen in the next 27 years? Are we moving rapidly to a new, interconnected, technologically enhanced human? Will that lead to humans in machine form?

There is a reason I’m talking about this in a blog dedicated to the consideration of extraterrestrial intelligence. Perhaps this revolution in human technology is not unique to us at all, but merely a phase that intelligent beings go through in the steady march through evolution? If so, an extraterrestrial might watch such progress and use it as a benchmark to decide when we are worth contacting. Why bother with the silly humans when they are throwing spears and reveling in fire? Why even bother when they are tapping away on typewriters and chatting on huge plastic landline phones? You would want to make contact at a point in human development when the humans might actually be able to understand who and what you are as an alien.

Do I think this all leads to some big moment in the next few months or years where the world will end and we’ll all march off to meet our maker? Of course not. It’s much more dramatic than that. The world as we have known it for thousands of years may be ending even as we speak. It’s probably something we won’t even realize until it’s already happened.

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