I have a big picture brain. So when Apple introduces a new gottahavit gadget, I don’t wonder, “Should I buy one?” I wonder, “How will this alter reality?” And I keep coming up with this answer: Human life as we know it is nearly over. Seriously. Here’s what I predict:
Phase One—Connectability, Portability, Wearability – It all started in the 90’s when computers met their soul mate, the internet. Almost overnight, people became addicted to being connected. But we couldn’t take ’em with us. Until portable computers (including smartphones) arrived. Still, why carry ’em when you can wear ‘em? But Google Glass and Apple Watch haven’t found the magic. How the wearable bug will bite:
Phase Two—Virtuality – Oculus Rift reinvents the VR (virtual reality) game. Cool, but… The real goal is to transform game goggles into wearable computers. Soon we’ll use “in the air” keyboards and move virtual objects about with our hands. We’ll walk to work in the 1930s, dodging Prohibition Era gangsters (or zombies or gladiators) and hang out with AR (augmented reality) rock stars at RL (real life) street corners. But before the end of this decade the growing demand will be to blend virtuality with another development just now hitting puberty…
Phase Three—Implantability – The 2020s-2030s. Why look through clunky wrap-arounds when microprocessors under your skin can send signals directly to your optic or auditory nerves, and to your other senses, as well? (All of the following technology is either in use or in development.) Too invasive? Consider this: You’ll be able listen to Beethoven or watch Fast and Furious 27 in your head while savoring virtual Chicken Kiev and vintage vodka—calorie and DUI free! More importantly, there’ll be life-changing fixes for the blind and deaf, along with smartchips that keep hearts, lungs, and other organs going; floating micro-drones will locate and destroy mutated cells before they can replicate. No more heart disease. No more cancer. Longevity will take a quantum leap. And so will the interface between RL and cyberspace. BR (blended reality) will be the new norm.
Phase Four—Enhancability – The 2030s-2070s. Which will come first, the Singularity, the point at which computers acquire sentience (true AI) and surpass their human creators? Or the Cyborg Era, the point at which humans enhance their own frail frames with computer hardware to produce super-human physical and mental capabilities like VESP (virtual ESP–my term), the ability to communicate with one another via transmitted thoughts (early versions of this technology exist now). Or, as some researchers are currently attempting, by transferring human consciousness into computer hard drives? Will we be on the verge of immortality at this point? Or will Larry Page’s (Google CEO) researchers already have “solved death” (one of Google’s current goals)?
Phase Five—Immortality – 2080s? Self-repairing carbon-based life. Why make computer chips out of nonliving substances (aluminum, silicon, plasteel) when you can make them out of living cells that replicate and repair themselves indefinitely? As far back as the 90’s there were experiments in computing using single atoms as gates (the basic bits of computing). By this point, humans will have reached a new stage of self-directed evolution and will no longer be homo-sapiens. (Posthumanists and transhumanists believe this stage has already begun.) They will be something like the advanced aliens we see depicted in science-fiction movies, having gone as far as carbon-based life can go. There will be specialized humans with Hulk-like strength, or wings, or gills for living under water (will this result in new social classes and hierarchies?). Will humans have solved the limitations of movement through space-time (think warp drive)? Or will they have gone as far as matter-based beings can go?
Phase Six—Angel (or Demon)-ality —Why should super-humans even need physical mass? If consciousness can be transferred to computer bits made up of atoms, why can’t it be transferred to light particles (photons)? The entire concept of matter-based existence will, at some point, seem intolerably primitive. Why be limited by having to eat, sleep, defecate, and physically reproduce (well, OK, some of these things are kind of fun), when consciousness can inhabit light waves, enabling us to move through space-time at the speed of light. If aliens do exist, maybe we can’t see them because they are just such non-material beings.* Beings like this would, from a human perspective, be infinite, omniscient (not really, but they would seem so to us). They would be…
Or demons. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
Unless true goodness—ethics, selflessness, the divine agape love of the Greek New Testament—emerges as the sole motive of angelo-futurus, the future will be not be heaven, it will be hell.
And what about God? Will he shut everything down at some point, a la the tower of Babel? (Genesis 11:6-7) Or will he intervene in a more-or-less literal rendition of the prophecies of Daniel and John the Divine? Will there be a war against God? (Revelation 16:16)
Finally, having brought us through the process, one way or another, I pray that the One, whom we will no longer see “through a glass darkly, but face-to-face” (1 Corinthians 13:12), will say, “Well done, good and faithful servants…come and share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:23)
*C.S. Lewis first proposed this in Out of the Silent Planet (1938). Non-material doesn’t mean “immaterial,” by the way; such beings would be far more real than we carbon atom-based humans are–our bodies consist almost entirely of empty space.