Saturday, July 26, 2014

Everyone an Emperor

Kevin Kelly asked via Twitter for people to offer, in 100 words, their vision for the future. Today he published the first 23 responses. I don’t have time right now to write my own short response, but here’s what I’m thinking:

In the future, everyone can choose and run their own private empire, commanding vast dominions of robotic serfs to do their bidding. Like emperors throughout history, some will devote themselves to travel and exploration, some to science, some to the arts. Each dabbles more or else in everything — there’s an empire to run, after all —  but ultimately they tend to specialize into a dynasty that is noteworthy for something, and that’s what you’ll be able to do.

Imagine if your ability to create or do anything was not constrained by your mastery of technique — computers can do that for you — but rather by your ability to imagine and then precisely articulate what you want instantiated.

You conceptualize something: a new product or service, perhaps, or a creative work like a novel or song. Imagine that the creation of that work is limited, not by your ability to build it yourself, but by your ability to describe it, or — perhaps — identify it.  "I’m not sure what I’m building, but I’ll know when I’m done.”

A lot of my ideas start out with “it’s kind of like X, only a little Y-er”. In the future, my robot minions will clamor for every clue I give them about my idea, offer proposed variations, then dutifully attempt to implement every  detail.

Computer graphics pioneer Alvy Ray Smith used to say “Reality is 80 million polygons”, and when machines can routinely give that to us, the ability to spend money on the physical world will matter less;  living and acting in the virtual world will matter more. When anyone can build a virtual empire, stocked with whatever science, art, products, — anything imaginable — then the value of “stuff” from the real world will change. The responses to Kevin Kelly’s question that involve “stuff” — environment, energy, health — that could all happen, but happen differently in each private, virtual empire.

It gets more interesting because we can each share bits and pieces of our empires. I can even take your empire and pretend it’s my own! In fact, the currency that will matter most — as it did to ancient emperors — will be the attention and respect of fellow empires. 

There’ll be a real world too, of course, and it’ll be much cleaner and wilder than it’s been in thousands of years. Physical property will have some value, but owning beachfront property or a private jet won’t have the relative prestige they did before everyone could get the bio-identical experience for free. Better to spend the land’s scarce resources on stuff to make the virtual world better: server farms, chip factories, biosensors.

That’s the basic idea, but every day that future gets closer.