What a time to be alive

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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2022-01-02 11:01:24

I've been thinking lately about the revolutionary new technology transitions that humanity is going through. There's a few that I think will have a huge impact over the course of the next few decades:

  • artificial intelligence, which is already well under way
  • quantum computing, which is still early days, but will give humanity unprecedented ability to effectively engineer everything from materials to genomes
  • space exploration/colonization, which will be a driver for creating all sorts of new products that will benefit everybody

There's also a few shorter-term things like cryptocurrency/web3, 3D printing, and global internet coverage which are similar in nature but smaller in their impact.

What's interesting to me is that while all of these things are in development concurrently, I'm not sure humanity has enough bandwidth to digest all of these revolutions concurrently. In isolation, each piece of tech can be developed just fine. However, there's going to be a lot of work needed to integrate it with all existing tech and with each other. The "each other" part of it is particularly expensive because for n new technologies there are O(2^n) combinations and exploring each of those possibilities requires knowledge of one or more of these new technologies (where, by definition, the knowledge is not widespread). I'm not sure we have enough people to make it happen smoothly.

It will still happen, just less smoothly than we might like. By that I mean gaps will be exposed at the intersection of technologies that can and will be abused by bad actors. Fortunes will be made and lost to these gaps.

If this all sounds very abstract here are some more concrete (although rudimentary) example questions:

  • Who will update software to move off cryptosystems like RSA that can be broken by quantum computing? What will get left unpatched and hacked?
  • As products get lighter (mass efficiency being a key factor for space colonization) delivery via drone becomes feasible for a much larger set of products. Who will have the drone delivery capability to take advantage of it?
  • How do blockchain consensus protocols deal with the scenario where a bunch of nodes are on another planet with multiple minutes of latency in communications? Is a single unified system still feasible?

These questions are pretty basic and I don't think I have enough specialized knowledge to ask better ones. But I know they're out there, and they're important to think about.

Extrapolating on this line of thinking, there's probably some ideal ratio of scientific/research activity to engineering activity such that the rate is creation of new technologies doesn't overwhelm the ability to integrate those new technologies into the world. Over time, this ratio would increase in the direction of requiring more engineering activity per unit of scientific/research activity simply because each new technology can be integrated with the increasing number of technologies that came before.

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