It’s been dark for a lot of us, and I’m still wrestling with an awful lot, both personally and in terms of the American and international mess. 2020 has exposed so many of us to personal tragedy and loss; it has also exposed us to a brutal pandemic, shocking corruption among the powerful, brutal hatred and strife between citizens, the ugly specter of resurgent racial hatred and neo-fascism, and vast economic uncertainty.
However, this is not my first crisis, either personally or nationally, and it is for my own mental health as well as for anyone else who may be stuck in the same boat that I want to share a practice that has helped me survive a lot of darkness over the years. I want to focus on a source of hope and brightness for a few minutes. I believe that hope, like despair, is a self-fulfilling prophecy; and this is a principle I have seen on the individual and the social levels.
According to a fascinating article in SingularityHub (the flagship of Singularity University), Kurzweil’s Law of Exponential Returns (LER) continues to move us deeper into the realm of magic in technology. And I find a deeper hope than exists in the mere headline or discovery itself. Let me explain.
Researchers have found a way to process qubits (quantum bits) at a much higher temperature than the current standard of ~absolute zero, using silicon. This opens a possibility for vastly cheaper hybrid chips that merge traditional microchips with quantum processing, though the cheaper option is also far less stable.
TLDR: incomprehensibly powerful processing power, the stuff of myth and legends, is very close.
“Operating at higher temperatures introduces challenges for measuring the quantum states of the qubits, and the coherence times—the amount of time the qubits hold their quantum state—in both experiments were just a few microseconds rather than close to 100 for more established technologies.
But if the technology can play catch-up, its ability to scale and operate at higher temperatures means it could quickly eclipse the competition and usher in an era of affordable and accessible quantum computing.”Edd Gent, Singularity Hub
Alongside developments in AI and in cybernetic processing, we continue the race to see whether Cyberpunk will in fact happen far before 2077, as Homo Deus becomes a real possibility and not just a literary trope!
The enormous potential benefits are manifold, including unprecedented leaps in big data problems in brain research, the study of Consciousness, genetics, cancer research, pharmaceutical research, cosmology, and epidemiology, climatology (which is still in its infancy), along with more mundane (and practical!) problems of resource allocation. We might also have a shot at the first useful and truly scientific model of economics (eventually!)
The challenge, to adapt Sagan, is to work to ensure that our technological advances and power do not continue to outstrip our wisdom and humanity. We must put an end to our human dithering on basic human rights, including racial inequality (exemplified by the racial injustices of facial recognition technology) and the enormous problems of mass surveillance and privacy rights that have become a global issue across all borders.
We can’t forget that Peter Thiel, cofounder of Facebook, is also the co-creator of Palantir (which helps state entities orchestrate mass surveillance). We can’t forget that Alphabet (formerly Google) has also done a lot to automate illegal drone strikes for the Pentagon. We can’t forget that Amazon is fighting to merge Alexa with the Pentagon’s highly-publicized JEDI program to further automate machine killings worldwide, all while hosting an enormous portion of the intelligence agencies’ digital infrastructure.
It seems that our virtues, like our vices, are continually baked into our technologies at every turn; perhaps technology, like money, is simply a revealer and enhancer of what was already within. Education, accountability, regulation, and reform are vital in all areas of tech, along with the emerging world of human-machine interfaces, if we are to enhance and preserve our human and civil rights.
Even so, I have witnessed the democratizing and life-enhancing power of technology throughout my whole life. Technology is allowing the citizens of the world to awaken, collaborate, and liberate each other from injustice and ignorance while holding the powerful accountable and making it harder than ever to tell dangerous lies.
I also believe in self-fulfilling prophecies; which is why I choose to celebrate scientific and technological innovations and discoveries like these. I believe that the future is ultimately bright, and though the door is narrow, and there are bullies and cretins who try to bar the path, humanity (and its posthuman offspring) will find a path forward, one that bends towards justice and a new life of adventure and hope among the stars.