When considering the future, is it more important to focus on
the extinction risk posed by advancing technology or the massive
potential for social advancement enabled by the same?
Futurist blogger and core Lifeboat Foundation member Michael
Anissimov argues that calculating and combating existential
risk is the moral imperative of our time.
Anissimov writes, “In less
than a decade, humanity will likely develop weapons even more
deadly than nukes – synthetic life, and eventually, nanorobots and
self-improving AI. Even if we consider the likelihood of human
extinction in the next century to be small, say 1%, it still merits
attention due to the incredibly high stakes involved.”
Cascio, founder of worldchanging.com and a popular
futurist blogger in his own right, concurs that existential risk is
a most valid concern.
In a recent Nanotechnology
Now column he explains, “[S]ome technologies may enable
individuals or small groups to carry out attacks, on infrastructure
or people, at a scale that would have required the resources of an
army in decades past. This is not an outlandish concern by any
means; many proponents of the “super-empowered angry individual”
(SEAI) concept cite the September 11 attacks as a crude example of
how vulnerable modern society can be to these kinds of threats.
It’s not hard to imagine what a similar band of terrorists, or
groups like Aum Shinrikyo, might try to do with access to molecular
manufacturing or advanced bioengineering tools.”
But then Cascio turns things around a bit and points out that
“angry people aren’t the only ones who could be empowered by these
By Dick Pelletier
At the First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology held in Washington DC, researchers discussed the possibilities expected of this new wonder science, including glittering visions of abundance and long, healthy life spans.
Within 20 years, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a “nanofactory” could sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up any product you want – food, clothing, appliances, or whatever your dreams desire – at little or no cost.
Nanofactories work by collecting atoms from something as inexpensive as dirt or seawater, and using software downloaded from the Internet, directs those atoms to “grow” into the final product. A nanofactory can even “grow” another nanofactory.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not. Foresight Institute sociologist Bryan Bruns said nanotech will provide solutions for some 2.7 billion people now living on less than $2 per day, and eliminate poverty worldwide.
Bruns envisions a “2025 Whole Earth Catalog” which would offer economic water filtration systems that purify 100,000 gallons of water a day; inexpensive solar roofing panels that come in rolls like Saran Wrap; powerful inexpensive computers that fit inside eyeglass frames; and suitcase-size nanoclinics with a full range of diagnostics and treatments.
“Turn trash into treasure”, could become the slogan of the 2020s. Nanorefineries will break down unwanted consumer items, sewage sludge, and other waste materials, and re-build them into food, clothing, or household items.
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing’s Robert Freitas added, “not only will nanotech provide us with a lot of cool stuff and eliminate global poverty; it will also help us live a really long time”. Freitas predicted by 2015, nanoproducts will diagnose illnesses and destroy cancer cells – and by mid-2020s, tiny cell-repair mechanisms will roam through our bodies keeping us strong, youthful, and forever healthy.
Half Empty, Half Full contrasts extreme positive and negative future scenarios. To create and submit your own Half Empty, Half Full simply follow this link, download the template by clicking on the thumbnail, open it in an image editor such as GIMP (free), then go to town creating totally original Yin & Yang futures.