The waterfall of technology

Heavy construction machinery seen from a distance in front of a Norwegian waterfall.

Image by Midjourney version 5.

As a paying subscriber to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, today I got the opportunity to try the new GPT-4 model as the underlying engine for the chatbot. This was mildly interesting because I did notice changes right away. But the changes I noticed were mostly stylistic:

The old ChatGPT-3.5 had a more informal, conversational phrasing but visually used a compact style and also never posted more than a screenful at a time.

The new ChatGPT-4 favored lists of paragraphs, typically in two levels (1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b…), and each answer was longer. (It may have looked longer partly because it was broken up into many shorter paragraphs, but I believe there was also more text overall.) The new style looked less chatty and more like what you would expect from an artificial intelligence, or at least a serious university student.

The new format is not a coincidence, I think. ChatGPT did have a reputation for guesstimating and sometimes “hallucinating” false facts if it ran out of real ones. (Here in Norway at least, libraries have complained that students ordered books that didn’t exist, but which they had been recommended by ChatGPT.) GPT-4 is supposed to be more logical, even more knowledgeable, and less prone to hallucination. I believe the new love for leveled lists is an attempt to come across as more professional and formal, at the cost of being less folksy.


By sheer coincidence – or perhaps an invisible guiding hand – I got a message on the MidJourney server the same day: MidJourney version 5 was ready for testing for us paying subscribers. (Yes, a little payment here and a little payment there, a little payment here and there.) The new version has far more detail by default, and it has become pretty good at landscapes and cityscapes. The number and size of fingers is further improved (there are usually only five now and they don’t have extra joints) but my test of mythological creatures like fairies and mermaids will occasionally still come out with an extra arm or leg. Maybe there just aren’t that many photos of mythological creatures…


My inspiration for today’s picture was something I have written about a couple of times before. There is a concept called “the river of time”, and I have mentioned how in my childhood this seemed like a large quiet river running gently across the plains, but now it had turned into churning rapids and I could hear the sound of a great waterfall ahead of us. Well, I think we are almost there now, and there is no way back without razing civilization to the ground. (Which Putin seems to consider, but I don’t approve.)

This dramatic change does not come from our natural environment this time, nor from the way in which we organize our societies, although these too are affected. It is a waterfall of technology, a change so rapid that there may soon be no steering through it and we have no idea where we will come out, if we come out alive at all. In a sense, it has already begun, but it is still speeding up and we are still not in freefall, so to speak.

“This changes everything,” said Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, when he introduced the iPhone. And the smartphone did change a lot of things and still changes more and more, although the concept of the smartphone actually already existed with the Symbian operating system for Nokia phones, and Android was released shortly after.

(Incidentally, when checking the quote on Google, it is now attributed to Professor Naomi Klein, who used it as part of her book title several years later. I actually took a course on climate change where Klein lectured while she was working on that book, and she was pretty good. But I had not expected her to become the kind of “superstar” that would edge out Steve Jobs, who was revered as an invincible superhuman during his rather short lifetime.)


I habitually time travel with my mind. That is, I place myself back in my body at some point in my past and look around. It is fascinating that 20 years ago, the smartphone as we know it did not exist yet. We had mobile phones aplenty here in Norway though, although the US was still lagging. I believe Japan was the only place that was ahead of Scandinavia in mobile phone use at the time. But these phones had limited capabilities and were rather expensive in use. They were still not used as cameras or music players, let alone video players.

30 years ago, in 1993, the Internet was not yet available in private homes, at least outside the USA. Universities had it on campus, but the use was somewhat limited, and there wasn’t much content that was available on the World Wide Web. There were BBSes though, electronic bulletin boards, and the UseNet was fully functional. Only we geeks used these things though. And if we wanted to buy a book, we had to do so from a brick-and-mortar bookstore, although you could occasionally find an order form in a (paper) magazine.

40 years ago, in 1983, the PC revolution was likewise just for tech geeks. At my workplace, I was the only person who took an interest in this and tried to introduce it. As a result, I briefly became involved in the introduction of this type of technology at work, when the time was ripe for it. I never sought any leading position in this work though; human ambitions are ridiculous to me. If you can’t be a weakly godlike superintelligence persisting for thousands of years, why bother.

50 years ago, in 1973, I was still in middle school. Our farm shared a landline with three other farms, and the switchboard ladies used a different combination of ring lengths for each farm so we knew which family the phone call was for. We rarely used the phone though, phone calls were expensive. Computers were huge, filling entire rooms and needing experts standing by. I had a small book about computers that predicted that within our lifetime, personal computers would be found in private homes. I may well have been the only person in our municipality to believe that, though, or even think about such things at all.

So change has always been part of my life. But the pace of change is accelerating, and now that acceleration is accelerating as well. ChatGPT was introduced on November 30, 2022, and within a week it had a million users. It has continued to cause a frenzy, with a large number of employers stating that they will use it to reduce the number of employees, and with high school teachers complaining that their students use ChatGPT to do their homework. With the new improved version 4 months later, that usage will likely move upward to colleges.


Nor is the acceleration limited to fun stuff like making fake photos or fake high school essays. With the assistance of AI, the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 was made in a few days. (The rest of the roughly 9 months before it was released, during which millions died around the world, was mostly safety testing. Too bad they didn’t hold back the virus too for 9 months. Well except for New Zealand and most of the Nordic countries, we basically did that.) In the days of old, it used to take years, often closer to a decade, to make a new vaccine. Now it takes days. Days, instead of years.

Lately, artificial intelligence is not only writing software but also designing processors for computers. This was one of the defining elements of the proposed “technological singularity”, where computers make better computers, accelerating the capacity of computers rapidly beyond human levels and leaving humans in the dust, either as pampered pets or as corpses. So far though, it seems that AI is bound by the same laws of nature as we are. Simply having an AI design a new computer does not magically make it a thousand times faster – the change is incremental at best. Of course, this will change if the AI discovers completely new laws of nature in that particular field. Not holding my breath for that, though.

Still, incremental change is still change, and it goes faster and faster. What will happen when steadily better versions of ChatGPT and its future competitors become available for free or at a low cost on mobile phones all over the world? My Pixel 7 is already very good at transcribing spoken English (and probably some other major languages) and also reading out loud. Kids might grow up talking to AI more than to their parents. Even if the robots don’t revolt and replace humanity, we are still looking at a humanity that is radically different from anything we have seen before. Basically most people will be cyborgs, a symbiosis of human and computer, of natural and artificial intelligence. I would love to see what comes out on the other side of this transition. And at the current pace of change, I just might live to see it… at least if I drink less Pepsi.

And then AI was everywhere

Artificial Christmas card motive, people bearing lights

I wish you all a blessed Yuletide and hope your faces are not on fire like some of the folks in the background here. The picture is from MidJourney imagining a traditional Yule in Norway. 

While I was aware that people have been making some progress in AI, it still seemed to be some distance away for us non-famous folks. Until this fall, when an online acquaintance sent me a link to Dr. Alan D Thompson’s YouTube summary of his half-year report, The Sky is Bigger. (Text version here.) It was here that I discovered that while I slept, Artificial Intelligence had not only become more powerful; it had also come closer to the people. Text-to-image software using AI was trending, and thousands of ordinary people joined in on the fun. In addition, others had begun using AI to help write blogs and even novels. And toward the end of the year, OpenAI launched their ChatGPT, which became an instant sensation, gathering more than a million users in its first week. There has never been a new technology with such explosive growth before.

The growth in quality and “human-ness” of these AIs has been astounding, with noticeable improvements happening in a matter of months or sometimes less. Can this explosive improvement continue? Can it possibly even accelerate? I am not sure. Perhaps it was just a lot of long-term work that just happened to be finished simultaneously. Time will show. But I would not bet against the progress continuing at a breakneck pace.


After having messed around with an AI image generator, AI text generators, and an AI fact explainer, near the end of the year I eventually replaced my trusty old Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone with a Pixel 7 Pro. The Pixel series has been conspicuously absent from Scandinavia since its inception, despite the region being a world leader in mobile use and adopting new technology in general. But better late than never! Ironically, I use it with the US English standard interface, but that’s beside the point. The point is, both the Pro and the smaller Pixel 7 come with Google’s new multi-processor chip, the Tensor G2. The Tensor chips are (as you might expect from the name) made for AI. These are small, practical applications: Better photography, better speech recognition, and “adaptive” functions that get better the more you use them: The more you unlock the device with your face, the better it learns to know your face. The more you unlock it with your fingerprint, the faster it becomes. And the longer you have your phone, the better it knows your usage habits, and can optimize power usage to save battery life. This bite-sized machine learning means that for a while, your smartphone keeps getting better as it adapts to you.

This is not entirely new: Huawei made their last Android phones with a dedicated AI chip as well, and had lightning fast and accurate unlock and picked different modes for different camera motives. But Google has dialed this up to 11. And I suspect this is just the beginning. Take the keyboard, for instance. There is no reason why the keyboard shouldn’t get used to your writing style. Then it might autocomplete not just words but phrases and whole sentences, much like Google has started doing in Gmail. Normal people are pretty simple and repetitive, so such a feature could save them a lot of typing. Hmm, I wonder if an AI would find me simple and repetitive as well?

Anyway, it has been an exciting time to be alive, and I am glad I got to live long enough to see it. Although I would dearly love to see more in the years to come.

Screenshot City of Heroes, approx. 2004

Randomly diving in the enormous archives of my Chaos Node, I think I found the first entry that outlined my belief in the Coming Change and the parallel to the arrival of the current mind. It was more than a year before the longer series in 2005. And it was in part based on an even older entry, but one that only contains the seeds of the idea, not yet sprouted. (There is a link to that entry too.)

A super future, if any (Idus Martiæ, 2004).

THIS is a summary??

Screenshot anime Date A Live

You probably have many questions, but I am terrible at explanations. And here I prove it once again.

I will try to summarize the thing I have been babbling about most of the month: The Human Operating System version 3.

The operating system on a computer decides what kind of programs it can run, and some are better than others in certain situations. In the same way, humans have a set of basic abilities that are necessary for us to use our brain in the normal way. This “operating system” is not something we are born with, but we acquire it very early in life. The most obvious part of it is language.

Humans like us existed for a long time – a hundred thousand years, perhaps much longer – using an earlier operating system, basically the same as the Neanderthals used. Their culture was focuses squarely on survival, and the tools were fire and the hand axe, which they made exactly the same way for tens of thousands of years. Invention was practically unknown. Any form of art or decoration was absent. And we believe language as we know it was not part of their abilities, although they had the physical ability to make any sounds we can make.

I call the stone axe survival culture “Human Operating System version 1”. It worked: These humans slowly spread all over Africa, and races with the same mindset (Neanderthals and Denisovans) roamed Eurasia in the depths of the last Ice Age.

As you may have noticed, humans are different now. This is because we have a new operating system, which we download when we are infants. We are able to talk, we are creative and imaginative, we cooperate on a larger scale and usually without the use of hand axes.

Outbreaks of the current mindset (Human Operating System version 2) appeared in the most densely populated areas of Africa, first briefly showing some limited aspect of culture, and finally with a broad range of features that seems to have spread like wildfire to all human populations.Those that did not change, went extinct quickly. While we have improved on this steadily, the basic abilities today are still the same.


I believe that a great transition is going to happen again, and humanity will once again get a new operating system that is suited to the large number and the power we now wield on Earth. The new operating system will allow us to cooperate much more seamlessly, to use our resources much more efficiently, and to understand our world much more deeply.

And like there were outbreaks of version 2 before it spread everywhere, so I also believe there have been “beta tests” or early deployments of version 3. I believe ancient legends, and the world’s great religions and philosophies, are the memories of individuals and small groups who had this new operating system, this new way of thinking and feeling and relating to everything.

We need to bear in mind that in the form we know these legends, they have been transmitted to us by people like us, who have the version 2 mindset. As such, we tend to “translate” the thoughts of the higher minds into the familiar patterns of our own mind. This is similar to how you translate a globe into a map, and when the globe is lost, you think the map is the real thing, and that the world has four corners and edges from which you will fall off. But when you start to explore the world, you will realize that the map was a projection of a globe all along.

I believe that those with the Human Operating System version 3 also had access to one more dimension of the mind, the fifth dimension. We humans cannot directly sense time: We can only experience moment by moment with our senses. But in our minds, we reconstruct the dimension of time. We are not born like that, it is an ability that gradually becomes solid during our early childhood, and is improved on for a long time. In a similar way, the New Mind has the ability to mentally intuit the fifth dimension, a second time dimension at right angles to the first.

Just as the current Human Operating System version 2 brought amazing, almost miraculous abilities that were not present in version 1, so also version 3. This does not necessarily mean that every miracle reported in every religious tradition of the world is literally true, of course. But something about these people made it perfectly natural for others to expect them to be able to do pretty much anything. So it seems likely that they did show abilities not known before. It may even be that some of our modern technologies are inspired by those stores, and are in effect a kind of “copy”, similar to how the Neanderthals made imperfect but still usable copies of some Cro-Magnon tools just before they died out.


I believe the most important trait of the Human Operating System version 3 is openness, or unity as it is more commonly called. Under version 2 we have a lot of walls inside, that divide us into rooms, where different aspects of ourselves hide out and work each toward different goals, sometimes sabotaging each other outright. This can seem useful in the short run, as we can get material benefits by being different people in different situations. In particular, it helps boost reproductive success, especially in men, so it is natural that this trait has persisted so long. But getting rid of those walls frees up a lot of energy, and ending the internal squabbling gives a great strength to accomplish what a divided self could not.

Next is overcoming the walls between ourselves and others. This is rather hard to achieve when we have walls internally in ourselves, and this is why this should be a priority: Before all else, to avoid self-deception.

From time to time there are people who – randomly or after seeking it for years – experience a wordless unity with everyone and everything. They perceive the whole world, the known cosmos and beyond, as a single connected unity of which they are a small part. This changes everything… or so they think. But despite their experience of no-self, or no-distinction, after a passing of time the outside observer will notice that they again manifest egoic traits. The New Mind is not “fire and forget” – it is something that must be worked on, expanded, lived and cultivated. You may think you now have a Buddha mind, but you don’t really have any Buddha accomplishments. People don’t feel a Buddha compassion radiating from you, or sense a Buddha purity of mind. The experience of Enlightenment or Liberation is actually just a break-through into a new and larger open field, into which you will grow for the duration of your lifetime at the very least.


I have rambled about this for weeks, and it could be that some of it is just science fiction. The part about the fifth dimension will certainly seem like that. Science cannot even say for sure whether the fourth dimension, time, exists objectively or only in our minds. But the concept is certainly useful. For instance, when I bake a cake, the logical observer will be right to point out that the cake only exists in my head. I imagine a future in which there will be cake, somewhere ahead of me in the mental dimension of time. But the cake does not exist, so the skeptic is right. And imagining it will not make it magically appear. But this imagination allows me to work toward the goal of bringing a cake from the unseen and private “future” of the fourth dimension, into the 3-dimensional now where the cake is edible and delicious.

If you talk to a toddler, skepticism toward the fourth dimension is rampant: “Chocolate later” is almost indistinguishable from “chocolate never”. This is strikingly similar to how adults perceive eternity. “In eternity” means “pie in the sky when you die”, to them. They are not yet aware of eternity as a dimension that exists here and now, a dimension they will be able to intuit as clearly as if they actually perceived it, just like they have come to do with time.

The benefit of having more dimensions in your mind is that your model of the world becomes more realistic. To the toddler, the cake appears in mysterious ways. There was no cake, there may have been mention of cake, the Parent does something and cake appears! And it was good. The toddler may then implore the Parent for more cake, over and over and over again, and eventually more cake appears, so it seems that words do have power to cause cake, when directed at the proper target, often enough and with enough emotional intensity. But sometimes the cake does not appear as expected. Life is full of disappointments! But during this process, the child gradually begins to get an idea of TIME and how it works, and eventually the mental model snaps into place. The child has become One Of Us.


Since the wisdom of the current age is to show “newest first”, I shall finally post links to each entry in turn, so as to make it easier to read the ramblings in the almost random order in which they were rambled. Just press Back in your browser to get back here if you actually read any of them.

Human Operating System 3.0

The end of this world

Beta-testing eternity

Caution: Religion!

Surpassing fate while alive

Downloading eternity


The Harbingers

The Open Field

Here to help you – sort of

That said, I still suspect I said it better the first time, during the week-long series starting June 18, 2005:

The Next Big Thing

The Harbingers

Screenshot anime Narue no Sekai

Luminous beings of healing, compassion and wisdom will herald the end of the human era as we know it. And they may be your children.

I would assume that there are few enough people who would be interested in reading this strange tale about a new Human Operating System. But you may be passingly familiar with a strand of modern entertainment that is called “superheroes”. Most people in the English-speaking world knows of at least some of these, such as Superman. But why are there more and more of them?

In the early days of superhero comics, the superheroes were few and far between. Superman was the only superpowered being in his world for a while, and rather more realistic than in the later comics. No flying to the stars, just jumping over tall buildings. But anyway, gradually there popped up more of them, and they began to interact. This is mildly interesting, but could be explained from outside sources: Where there is a demand, after all, there will be a supply. People liked to read about superheroes (and now watch them in movies), so the industry supplies more of them. Still, there is more to it than that, and this is relevant to our bizarre little series.

For when the writers of the various comic book universes turn to the future, that future is full of superpowered creatures. They envision a world in which a new breed of man is either taking over the world or coexisting uneasily with the ordinary Homo Sapiens. In the Marvel Universe they are called mutants (though some call themselves Homo Superior); in the DC universe, metahumans, in the Wildstorm universe, gen-actives. But perhaps the most revealing name is that given by Valiant Comics: Here, the new people with miraculous powers are called Harbingers, from the belief that they herald a new step in human evolution.

Western comics (and later movies) have not been alone in envisioning such a future. Japanese manga and anime, while different in many aspects, also often portray a future (or parallel present) in which the number of people with “abilities” or “aura powers” is rising rapidly, as more and more children are born with abilities their parents did not have.

This is perhaps not so surprising, for in real life we have had the Flynn Effect since at least 1914, when the first systematic, large-scale IQ tests were deployed. The Flynn Effect is a steadily rising intelligence in new generations, much faster than biological evolution can provide. The growth has been about 10 points per generation, or 3 points per decade. This means that if your grandparents had an IQ of 100, which is the average, then your parents probably had an IQ of 110, and you one of 120. However, because the average IQ must remain close to 100, new IQ tests are devised and the scale is reset. So chances are that you kids are just 110, your parents 100, and grandparents 90. (On average – this obviously varies from person to person.)

The multitude of low-IQ elders was so common that for a while it was assumed that human intelligence naturally decayed with age. And eventually it does, but as Flynn discovered, the more common problem was that today’s elders have been stupid all their life. There was just not much talk about it because their level of stupid was the normal back then. It is only now that they are being revealed as stupid, because smarter generations have arrived.

So far, the mysterious powers of the gifted children seems to be mostly things like using electronic devices without reading the instruction booklet, not flying and controlling the weather with their mind. Good thing too! But if my theory is right, and humanity is gearing up for the next phase change, the actual “superheroes” of the future will be humans physically like us, but with a new and vastly improved Human Operating System, namely Version 3. And they will quite possibly be as far ahead of us as modern man was ahead of the Neanderthals and his own ancestors who solved all problems with the same hand axe.

I have mentioned that the invention of speech as we know it must have been miraculous by the standards of its time. The new type of human was able to communicate extremely detailed information and make elaborate plans, and they could do so even in darkness or through walls! They were also able to invent new tools and weapons that had never been seen before, and they enjoyed activities that seemed meaningless to their ancestors, like painting images or making instruments sing.

Just like the Version 1 human with his hand axe could not have predicted what his children would be like, so we are also unable to say for sure what will happen after the Singularity, the Armageddon, Ragnarok or whatever we call the birthquake of the new era. We suspect that there will be war and rumors of war, and upheavals in nature that exceed what we have seen before. But we do not know quite what the new world will be like, if it even succeeds in establishing itself.

Still, we have some idea. Because there have been Harbingers already. Few and far between, misunderstood even at their own time, made into legend and then myth with the passing of time. But we know a few things about them, and it seems reasonable to think that the same traits will be found in the future.

They will understand those with the old mindset, but will not be understood by them. Their understanding will be deeper even than our own, not just deeper than our understanding of each other but of ourselves. They will know us better than we know ourselves. This will apply at least to the first generation, those who grew up like us, but it may well last as long as our current mindset still exists on Earth.

They will cooperate far better, almost as if they shared a common mind or at least a telepathic connection. They will seem in some ways like individual limbs on a greater organism, even though they each have their own personality.

They will not be slaves to physical desires or the hunger for status, acceptance or recognition. This is not asceticism like those still aspiring to the New Mind. It is a full clarity of their role as beings of information, centered on a specific body but using it rather than being used by it, and extending far into a virtual space beyond the particular body. Perpetuating their bodily life or their genes will be undertaken in so far as it serves the greater purpose in which they cooperate, not at the cost of it.

They will have a different relationship to time. And more specifically to eternity. Their thoughts will stretch far into the past and the future, but even the current time will flow differently for them. They will seem to know things they could not possibly know.

They will have Abilities that seem supernatural but are not, and these will not be technological in origin (although the future superhumans will almost certainly have technology beyond our imagination). They will specifically be able to influence the bodies and minds of normals, primarily to heal and sometimes to teach, but not to enslave. Still, the normals will fear them until they know them, and some even then.

They will appear to shine at times. It seems likely that this is a perception only and that they are not literally emitting photons, but I don’t know this for sure. I know that radiance is firmly associated with past Harbingers from different continents, cultures and eras.

Luminous beings of knowledge and compassion, the Harbingers will gently herald the end of the world as we know it, the end of Humanity version 2. The gold and the silver, the bronze and the iron and the clay: Everything we knew will become like dust on the wind, and the book of history will be closed.

Technology by 2015

From YouTube by DesireFanatics

This handsome fellow on YouTube is a living person roleplaying a sim – because actual sims don’t have tablets yet. Millions of us use some form of datapad as a natural part of the day, but it is actually so recent that you don’t find them in computer games, nor in pretty much any novel that has reached print yet.

This entry is inspired by a question on Quora: “What technology trends will most dramatically change the world by 2015?”

My take on this is that 2015 is only three years away. Barring some “black swan”, some great and unforeseen event, technology has to already exist now to have much effect three years from now. It also need to either be extremely powerful or be easy to scale up / mass produce on a global level.

In light of this, my candidate is the Android tablet. Two things must go right, but seem likely to: 1) Android must not be forbidden on grounds of patents (as Apple, at the very least, would want); 2) Android must remain free, or nearly so. In this case, the free software combined with cheap mass produced hardware, will make relatively powerful tablets available to literally billions of people. Most of the tablets (and many of the people) will probably be made in China; this makes this prediction vulnerable to upheavals and war in that area. But then, most things by 2015 will be vulnerable to this.

The iPad has remained the tablet of choice since it first hit the market, but the success of the Kindle Fire shows that there is a large market among those who can’t justify the price of the iPad. There is an even larger market among those who can’t afford a Kindle Fire. The cheaper these things become, the larger the market. At the extreme, it is not unreasonable to expect a billion or two of them to be sold.

People my age and older tend to still think of the world as consisting mainly of a few rich countries and a sea of abject poverty covering the rest of the planet. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been for some time. There are a few rich countries and a few poor countries, and a large “middle class” of countries. Most of the world’s truly large countries fall in this middle range. And most of the people in them could potentially afford a cheap Android Tablet. Why would they, you may ask?

Because unlike mobile phones, tablets have a large space for pictures. Even if you are barely literate (or less than that), you can recognize the face of a friend or the logo of a company. Even for the fully literate, this may be faster. And for them, this is where things really take off. They can bring up lists of prices, quickly seeing where they can buy something cheaper or sell it for more.  Weather forecasts can be seen at a glance and studied in detail. And tablets are great for reading books and magazines. The explosive growth of e-books in recent years is mostly due to tablets of various sorts: Back when you only had the PC and the mobile phone, the growth was much slower. Today, e-books sales overshadow all physical formats combined. Magazines are following suit.

With cloud computing and compression technologies (like the one now used in the Opera Mini browser, cutting up to 90% of the need for bandwidth), you won’t need high-speed networks for the tablets to be useful. Of course for the actual middle-class, the use for entertainment will drive the spread of faster networks and wireless access points branching off from fixed-line Internet. In addition to streaming movies and music, I expect an explosion of “hangouts”, the real-world answer to the picture telephone of science fiction.

There are good reasons why the picture telephone never became a success. Most people just don’t consider themselves that beautiful at all times, and have more faith in their ability to make their voice sound good in five seconds than their hair, makeup and jewelry. Rightly so, I dare say.  However, the less improvised and very optional “hangout” (a function currently driving the spread of the Google+ social network) is another matter. It is something you join if you are motivated for it, usually as part of a group (although it is possible to have a 2-person hangout). While not everyone likes it, it is becoming more and more popular. When this function is fully implemented in cheap Android tablets, it will become an easy way for relatives to stay in touch after some of them have moved to the big city; it will let long-distance couples experience more intimacy than an ordinary phone; it may even be useful in business, as a quick teleconferencing or to show products. And it will be able to deliver on this in less than three years, I expect.

There are other technologies with far greater potential to transform society, especially in biotech and possibly nanotech. But they are unlikely to do so in three years. The Android tablet, on the other hand, has already started its victory march into the markets of what was once the “third world”. Why would they go through all the outdated technologies of the past, when they can leapfrog into the same future as we… only cheaper?


Fallback strategy: Simplicity

Screenshot Sims 3

Many of my sims enjoy painting and decorating their homes with their own paintings. Me, I enjoy playing The Sims and decorating my journal with my screenshots. ^_^

I am not really a pessimist on behalf of civilization. I think it is entirely possible that by 2050, there will be 9 billion humans who are richer than I am today, eating whatever they want, traveling wherever they want, having more entertainment than we can even imagine today. Why not? The arrow is certainly pointing in that direction, and has done so for generations, and change is happening faster and faster.

But there is also the possibility that some critical resource will run out and there won’t be any obvious replacements. Actually, we know that many of our resources will run down over the next generation: Oil, gas, probably coal, and some metals. Freshwater in some areas, various types of terrain probably. As of today, alternatives are more expensive or less effective, which is why they haven’t already replaced the original. This may continue, and we would then end up with a world which is simply more expensive to run, so to speak.

Unless there is some kind of breakthrough (or breakdown),  this is where we are headed, a world where most of the world’s population competes on roughly the same playing field as we for resources that are limited either in quantity or quality. This is not a disaster exactly, but it means there is a good chance we will have to scale back our expectations of becoming richer and richer year by year. Is that really such a horror? Until a few generations ago, the whole world was what we now call “third world”. Your ancestors and mine included. Even if we never get to take a trip to the moon, as my 10 year old self expected to do, we have much to be grateful for.

The value of material peak experiences is highly overrated.

People look forward for years to retirement, when they will do everything they did not have time for while working. A few months after they retire, most have scaled down their ambitions, and quite a few wish they were still at work. (And their family members wish it even more!)

People save up for years to go on a particularly rare vacation, and look forward to it with ever mounting expectation. The actual experience is usually pretty good, but nothing like the excitement in advance. It is like that with pretty much anything. A new car, a new house, marriage, divorce – while you usually don’t quite regret them, the awesomeness you waited for is nowhere to be found. Wherever you go, you still bring yourself with you, and this is the main part of every experience. Your self colors all you experience. It is the most important part of your life, so be sure to make it the best self you can.

Once you see through the fallacy of the wonderful peak experience, and are willing to settle for 95% happiness every day instead of 100% happiness “someday”, a lot of options open up. Everyday things can get you that far: A hobby that allows self-expression, spending time with friends, perhaps pets, or books. These need not cost a fortune, and you need not travel far for them.

Do you really think you should be number one? In the prehistoric time of scarcity, it may have been important. If you were not at the top, there might not be enough food for you, or you might not get to choose a suitable mate. Today? There is already more food in the world than needed for the world’s population; if you read this on the Internet, your problem is more likely to be too much food than too little. As for mating … I hope that depends on other things than being number one, now.

Once you let go of the need to be number one, life becomes so much easier. We don’t need the newest and best, we can enjoy whatever works, and can find happiness in simple things that don’t impress anyone but are enjoyable to ourselves.

Free yourself from the need to impress others, and you have a lot more time to do the things you really want to do. Which are those? They are the ones you wish you had chosen when you reach the end of your life. That is when you no longer feel the need to impress anyone, no longer wear a mask, when you are finally yourself. Why not start earlier?

We don’t need to be rich or famous to be ourselves. We just have to be honest. It is not easy, but it is affordable. Less pursuit and more happiness.

Using all that CO2

You may try this in your own garden, but be careful if you make your own charcoal, the process can create carbon monoxide while it lasts. There is also the obvious fire hazards.

Yesterday I wrote at length about the futility of carbon taxes: Almost all the fossil fuel will be in the atmosphere within the lifetime of most of my readers anyway. Today I will tell you how we remove some of this carbon dioxide at a moderate cost, and in the process feed multitudes for thousands of years. It is really quite simple. Even if our high-tech civilization should fall apart, this particular thing is still easily within our reach. After all, I am talking about something that has been tried successfully before, ranging from about 450 BC to around 950 AD.

During this period, the Amazonian rain forest was populated by a native people which we suspect was the ancestors of some of the nomadic people living there after the European invasion. The soil in this rainy area is of poor quality, as the rain washes nutrients out of the ground and the rapidly growing plant life mops up what is left. Yet many patches deep in what is now forest have a strikingly fertile, deep black soil that is ideal for farming: The so-called Terra Preta, the black soil of Amazon forest.

When clearing forest, these people may have used smoldering instead of wildfires, covering burning trees and bushes to reduce them to charcoal. Charcoal can also be made to more exact qualities and quantities by recent but still fairly simple methods. The charcoal was mixed with manure, compost and  the occasional pottery shard and buried in the resource-poor soil, creating a new type of dark soil with amazing properties. It yields triple the harvest without any extra fertilizer, binds nitrogen and even regenerates itself for more than 2000 years – presumably until it is removed by force.

The charcoal, of course, consists largely of carbon, which is not released to the atmosphere as it would have been through burning. Once out of the air, it stays in the ground for the aforementioned thousands of years. This has historically not been a great idea, as the climate has become slowly colder for about 10 000 years, until quite recently. Today we have a new chance: There hasn’t been this much carbon in the air since the age of dinosaurs. If there ever was a time to mass produce terra preta, now would be that time.

In addition to the old-fashioned kilns for making charcoal, modern technology opens for a process of pyrolysis, where leftover biomass (like straw from corn etc) in addition to wood can be broken down to “biochar”, releasing flammable gases in the process that can not only supply continuing energy to the process but also produce energy. This may still be out of reach for parts of the third world, but while you were not looking, most of the tropical nations stopped hunting with spears and started getting mobile phones. Whether this in reality turns out to be part of the solution or part of the problem, I cannot say for sure.


 OK, we have a way of extracting carbon permanently (or very nearly so) from the atmosphere, in the process greatly increasing crop yields without artificial fertilizer. It is possible even with simple technology, and can use either wood or worthless byproducts from agriculture. The new fertile soil regenerates itself beyond the foreseeable future. Should our civilization one day collapse, having transformed the soil of the tropics this way would vastly improve the chance of any survivors to bounce back quickly.

Why aren’t we already doing this? What could possibly stop us from cheaply, harmlessly providing food for our descendants for thousands and tens of thousands of years into the future?

Well, there is the small detail that you can get more crops THIS year with less work and less expense, by using artificial fertilizer.  Since the overwhelming majority of people are like your neighbors, not like you, this is reason enough. The second reason is of course that they have never heard about it. Now you have. For more information, just search the Internet for “terra preta” and “biochar”, while we still have an Internet.


The changes are a-changin’

Screenshot anime Nichijou

In the near future, we will have to run like a flash just to stand still. Or so it seems.

We should have acted. It was already here. But nobody wanted to believe, believe it even existed.

The technological singularity has begun to pull us in. Like a whirlpool, spinning faster and faster, gradually it becomes unavoidable. The speed at which changes change is changing faster. As Einstein said, compound interest is the strongest force in the universe. Meaning, when you keep adding to something and then keep adding to the addition to the addition, there is no limit to how far you can go, and it can only go faster and faster. And it goes faster and faster at an ever faster rate.

In the year 2000, I wrote the entry “Datapad 2010“, predicting that in 2010, it would be common to have handheld devices doing many of the things we in 2000 did with computers, but anywhere, at any time. In reality, 2010 was indeed the year of the iPad, but the iPhone (2007) was at least as close to what I had predicted. TV and movie on the datapad I predicted would happen  “perhaps 2020”. It is already here. Not quite impressive yet, a bit of a “because we can” really. But we can. I can rent movies on my Samsung Galaxy (also from 2010). And I can easily afford the wireless bandwidth to do so, at least in moderation.

I was 3 years wrong with the datapad, 10 years with the movie streaming. Admittedly these were more like first mainstream appearance, and it takes a bit for them to spread to most of the populace. Still, iPads and Tablets are pretty mainstream now in the old developed world. Not just for geeks or the rich. Still, look at these numbers again. What I predicted for 2010 came in 2007, but what I predicted for 2020 came in 2010. I am not the only one who make these mistakes. The acceleration of the accelerating change is accelerating. Time is compressed, more the further ahead we look.

In the year 2000, most of you did not even know what I was talking about with the “datapad”, or why anyone other than sci-fi geeks would have any interest in them. Today, there are also many things you don’t even think about, that I think about but don’t grasp fully.

This also affects the world economy, which I used to write about in great detail. Now, I cannot write fast enough – by the time someone stumbles on my website, it will likely have happened already.

The crisis in the Euro zone. The collapse of the dollar. Will they happen in a year, or in a week? I cannot say. The future is becoming hazy. Probably not because of tachyons from Antarctica. Probably because a middle-aged man like me has a hard time believing the speed at which things happen, now in the waning years of mankind as we have known it.

The boss of a large multinational oil company recently mentions that the world is expected to need two-thirds more energy by 2050, or the equivalent of another OPEC in addition to the one we have. Again, my first reaction is “That’s after the singularity, so not something humans should worry about”. More importantly, it is far after Peak Oil, which is now, more or less. New oil is being found here and there, but it is generally more expensive to extract than before. Despite the economic stagnation in the rich world, oil prices have risen again. You cannot simply put the ruler on the current development and say “in 2050 we will be… there!”

I’ve mentioned before that around 2040 we are expected to know millions, probably billions of times more than we know today, and the knowledge will double every day or so. Perhaps most of that knowledge will be the equivalent of  teenager Twitter messages, but it would surprise me if somewhere in those millions of times our current knowledge there isn’t something that will make our current oil companies seem obsolete, our current railroads, our current schools even.

The obvious problem is, we don’t know WHAT. It may already be there, buried in some data file in one of Google’s big computer halls. Something that changes our energy economy as much as the bow changed hunting in the Stone Age, perhaps. But how would we know? When will we find it, if ever, and how? All we know is that we know less and less of what there is to know, because knowledge is covering our world now like water is covering the bottom of the sea. And it is only the beginning. Soon everything will change. Even we.

But for now, we shall have to live with being shortsighted. Because beyond that short sight, everything becomes a blur of movement.

Preparing for the inconceivable

This, gentle reader, is how you are likely to feel at the end of today’s entry.

I was browsing the latest issue of The Economist, where they commented on the plans for a new high-speed railroad in the UK. They did not much like it, thinking it was bad economy. But what struck me was reading that a certain stretch of railroad was supposed to be finished in 2043, and I thought: “Humans will use railroads in 2043??” and then, “Will there even be humans as we know them in 2043?”

I personally assume that there will indeed be humans similar to us in 2043, unless some global disaster befalls us (like genetically engineered viruses, man-made black holes, or the unexpected wayward asteroid). Looking up, it seems that Ray Kurzweil agrees, the Singularity is not until 2045. Close call though. I am pretty sure it was 2040 a while ago, and even earlier some years ago. I guess programming artificial intelligence is harder than expected, especially when Kurzweil is no longer doing it himself. (He is the guy behind the product that eventually became Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the speech recognition software that is better than a professional human at transcribing speech. Some training required.)

The Singularity, strictly speaking, is when artificial intelligence (or artificially augmented human intelligence) starts a runaway process of self-improvement at an exponential rate. Whether this ever happens is still hotly debated. But there is something else that is not: The knowledge explosion.

You may have heard of Moore’s Law, about the progress of information technology. It has taken on its own life — in its older form it said that the density of integrated circuits doubled every two years, now it is widely cited as “the performance of computer hardware doubles every 18 months”, which is roughly what we have experienced for the last couple decades. But others have expanded this law into the past (the rate of technological progress has increased for thousands of years, although in fits and starts) and even into biological evolution, which also seems to have happened faster and faster: Life remained single-celled for some 3 billion years if not more before it started getting more complex.

Anyway, the sum of all this: The accelerating acceleration of change is accelerating. Change is not just happening faster and faster, the pace at which it happens faster and faster is itself getting faster. The knowledge we have allows us to create new tools that let us gather more knowledge faster, and this new knowledge lets us gather more knowledge faster again. We are quietly approaching the point (if we aren’t there already) where the sum of gathered data at the beginning of the year is less than what is discovered at the end of the year. Of course, most of these data are just more details about things we already know in outline, but it is still a pretty mind-boggling thought.

At some point in the lifetime of today’s middle-aged people, this process is expected to reach the level where knowledge doubles each DAY. Ah, thank you Google: “Currently, Kurtzweil estimates that knowledge doubles every 5 years. By the year 2040 it will be doubling every day.” If life expectation continues to increase by 5 hours a day as it has done lately, a good number of my classmates should be around to see it. I would not mind being there too, but of course it is no certainty.

Now, give this a brief thought. What you do today, the way your life is heading into the future – how relevant will that be in 2040 – plus minus a couple years – when human knowledge doubles Every Day? Mind you, that is the human knowledge of 2040 that doubles every day, which is in itself thousands of times the knowledge we have today. Because it has doubled every week, month and year for some time. In fact, if it miraculously only doubled every year for these 29 years, it would still be 2^29= 536 870 912 times more than now.

In reality, this speed is expected to be surpassed in a few years. And this wealth of information, hundreds of millions of times more than today (more realistically billions of times more) is what will double every day, or perhaps it is down to every hour or two in 2043, at the time when this railroad is supposed to be finished.

Will we still take trains from London to Leeds when we know a billion times more than we do today? And will learn a billion times more than we know today over the duration of the train trip?