What does the future look like? We essentially rely on science fiction thrillers to give us a taste of what lies ahead for humanity: Avatar; Iron Man; I, Robot; Surrogates; Star Wars; and I am Legend. But these films only give us part of the picture both in terms of the science and the social implications. They also never explain how we’ll get from here to there, making the future tantalizing but also implausible.
What we need are documentaries, short films, books and programs that help us glimpse into the near future, answering our questions about the challenges and opportunities that advances in technology will raise. We crave a realistic timeline on when we’ll see developments as varied as genomes we can manipulate to robots that will serve as our personal butlers. In an age where our extreme connectivity enables organized action, we also want to know what we can do together to protect ourselves from the unintended consequences of technological change, like lack of privacy, and how we can push forth the science that can save the lives of loved ones, such as stem cell research. Very few programs bring all these threads together. We developed The Hybrid Reality Project especially to provide such a coherent picture.
For a taste of the science and the innovators shaping our techno-future, two documentaries - one released this year and the other in the making - are inspiring.
Ray Kurzweil, inventor, entrepreneur, futurist and author of The Singularity is Near, has a film by the same name with the tag line “The true story of the future.” Based on Kurzweil’s book, the documentary features Kurzweil and a number of other cutting-edge thinkers and researchers discussing the technologies that will expand our intelligence and augment our genome, ultimately merging man and machine.
Jason Silva, the charismatic anchor of CurrentTV, is also on a quest to share the exciting world of human enhancement and immortality. His short documentary The Immortalists is a teaser for his upcoming film “Turning into Gods”, an ode to maverick trailblazers like Aubrey de Grey that are redefining what it means to be human, and paving the way for the creation of an immortal and youthful super-race.
Kurzweil and Silva are far apart in age (Kurzweil is 62 and Silva is 28); they look completely different (Kurzweil is a slight balding man with a soft voice, while Silva is athletic and tall); their backgrounds are distinct (Kurzweil is an engineer and an entrepreneur while Silva is a philosopher and media personality). Yet they share a passionate belief in techno-life and its potential to enrich our future. If the future they envision comes true, then anti-aging regimens and bio-engineering will make them both healthy and good-looking young men in their twenties regardless of their chronological age; memory chips implanted in the brain will make the entire knowledge accumulated by mankind accessible to them in a microsecond; a direct connection between the Internet and their minds will make it easy for them to exchange ideas without ever speaking, and immersive virtual reality will make every kind of exotic virtual location available for them as a meeting place; finally, nanotechnology will enable them to collaborate creatively on blueprints that can be immediately translated into new urban objects, genomes and experiences for everyone.
Indeed, Kurzweil and Silva are part of a small but expanding group of techno-optimists (not to be confused with techno-utopians) who both believe in the potential of current efforts to achieve this future and are full of hope about its implications for society. Watch out for their documentaries and others like them coming to movie theaters, NetFlix, MacTV, or other media in the near future.
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.