Life as we know it is nearly over. Seriously. Not because of the in-progress worldwide pandemic or political upheaval, but because of what’s been happening in labs and human culture for the last several decades. I first published this prognosis in 2014, and then revised it in 2016, omitting a highly speculative timeline. A few of the dynamics have changed, but for the most part this is still how I see “life as we know it” ending. Here’s how the future could play out:
Phase One—Wearability – It all started when computers met their soul mate, the internet. Almost overnight, people became addicted to being connected. But we couldn’t take it with us–until portable computers and smartphones arrived. But wearables haven’t caught on the way portables have. So far. Wearables like Google Glass and Apple Watch are now quietly being reinvented for more essential uses like augmenting sight and hearing, and even memory loss. At some point they will become “necessary” the way portables now are.
Phase Two—Virtuality – Sorry, Oculus, but the real news isn’t in VR (virtual reality), it’s in AR (augmented reality), the transformation of those game-goggles into wearable computers. Soon we’ll use in-the-air keyboards and move virtual objects around with our hands; we’ll look at products in supermarkets and immediately know how fresh they are and what people think of them. And, sure, it would be cool if we could dodge a few zombies or gladiators while squeezing tomatoes. But, again, the real change will come when AR becomes “necessary.”
Phase Three—Implantability – Wait. Why look through clunky goggles when microprocessors under your skin can send signals directly to your optic, auditory and other nerves? (All of the following technology is either in use or in development.) Why not listen to Beethoven or watch Fast and Furious 27 in your head while savoring Chicken Kiev and vintage vodka—calorie free? But more importantly, there’ll be life-changing fixes for the blind and deaf, along with smartchips that keep our hearts, lungs, and other organs going; floating nano-drones will locate and destroy mutated cells before they can replicate. No more heart disease. No more cancer. Longevity will take a quantum leap. Forget AR, BR (blended reality) will become the new norm!
Phase Four—Enhancability – Which will come first, the Singularity, the point at which computers surpass their creators (and eliminate them)? Or the Cyborg Era, the point at
which chip-enhanced humans acquire 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). Will researchers (as some are now attempting) sustain life by transferring human consciousness into computers? Or will Google already have “solved death” (one of their current goals)?
Phase Five—Immortality – Why make computer chips out of nonliving substances when you can make them out of living cells that replicate and repair themselves?
As far back as the 90’s there were experiments in computing using atoms. By this point humans will have reached a new stage of self-directed evolution; they will no longer be homo-sapiens. (Many “posthumanists” and “transhumanists” believe this stage has already begun.) There will be humans with Hulk-like strength, or wings, or gills for living under water (will this result in new social structures?). Will we have solved the limitations of movement through space-time (think warp drive)? But wait…
Phase Six—Angel (or Demon)-ality — If consciousness can be transferred to computer bits made up of atoms, why can’t it be transferred to light particles (photons)? Matter-based existence will, at some point, seem intolerably primitive. Why eat, sleep, defecate, and physically reproduce (well, OK, some of these things are fun) when consciousness can inhabit light waves, enabling us to move through space-time at the speed of light. If aliens exist, maybe we can’t see them because they are just such non-material beings.* Such creatures would, from a human perspective, seem infinite, omniscient. They would seem like angels.
Or demons (2 Corinthians 11:14). Because 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 not be heaven, it will be hell.
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 literal rendition of the prophecies of Daniel and St. John the Divine? Will there be a war against God? (Revelation 16:16)
Having brought us through the process, one way or another, I pray that the One whom we 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 “see-through,” by the way; such beings would be far more real than we are–our bodies consist almost entirely of empty space.