On being a “Conservative Futurist”

In a recent Twitter conversation with Justin Pickard, I referred to myself as a “conservative futurist.” He said he would be interested in what that means and I promised to write a blog post about it. This is my attempt to do so.

Looking back over my social media profiles (FacebookTwitterblog) you can see that I am a Christian, and nominally a libertarian. Those two alone put me at odds with many of the futurists I read, and especially with many Transhumanists who seem to believe that anyone who believes in God is opposed to them and trying to hold back humanity.

That’s not a debate I want to get into because it’s too polarized and neither side is going to change its mind no matter how well the other side argues. Instead, I want to touch on a few issues that commonly come up in Futurist conversations and describe where I might be positioned on them.

First, and probably most controversial, I am a global warming skeptic. Note that I did NOT say denier, which is a derogatory term used by those who are convinced. Does global climate change happen? Absolutely, and in cycles through time. Are we causing global warming? I’m not so sure. I’ve seen evidence that contradicts it, and seen good arguments against it. Enough so that I’m not convinced. It will be interesting to see if many of the scenarios used for planning that assume global warming will be useful after all.

Second is artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil (link to Kurzweil) and others believe that within forty years we’ll have created computers that will be super-smart and capable of thinking – that will, for all intents and purposes, be alive. I am, again, skeptical. First, I think it’s a long way from creating a computer program that evolves to one that can think for itself. Even Watson cannot do much without tweaking it’s program – which is done by human programmers, not by itself. Second, (oops, here come my religious beliefs) I don’t believe that it’s alive unless it has a soul. Does this mean I think all research should stop? Of course not – the smarter we can make them, the more help they’ll be. I just don’t believe that any computer (or robot) will ever be truly alive.

Third is life extension. I’ve read quite a bit on this, (links to books) and pay special attention to the blog of Sonia Arrison. I’ll be honest though: I believe that there’s a limit set in the Bible for us. As a matter of fact, a recent article notes an average of 114 years. I believe we can extend the healthy part of our lives up until then, but remain unconvinced that we can extend it much beyond that – and I don’t believe immortality is a possibility in any way, including “uploading.”  Especially at our current state of technology, but even beyond, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to use a silicon-based matrix to represent the human brain. (I would love to be proven wrong, of course!)

That’s just several areas where my beliefs affect my view of the future. What about you? Do you lean more toward a transhumanist view of the future or more towards a “conservative” view of the future? If you believe in some sort of supernatural diety, how does that affect your view?

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Coming attractions

Been working much overtime at the moment, but here’s what I’ll be posting on as the year goes by…

I’ve always had an eclectic range of interests. I’m trained and have worked as a mechanical engineer, but also have an MBA and read widely in many fields. Lately, I’ve been consulting with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies on tracking nuclear weapons smuggling.

So, some things I’ve been into in the past year:

1.) Mathematics. I’ve gone deeper into algebra, geometry and calculus. I’ve touched on abstract algebra and topology. I’ve even done some reading in chaos theory.

2.) Complexity theory – this applies across a wide range of disciplines such as social networks and physics. It may be applicable to terrorist networks.

3.) The future of work – outsourcing, of course, but also globalization, economics, and telecommuting.

4.) the future, period. Bob Kaplan’s gated communities, Richard Florida’s creative class and Great Reset.

5.) Economics and the stock market – are we really in a recovery or just still sliding into Great Depression 2?

6.) Terrorists and nuclear smuggling – as part of my gig at Pitt.

7.) How do many of the above subjects tie into the future of Pittsburgh (which is where I live)? How does the concept of city states apply, and is it a viable model for the future for the region?

These are all subjects I hope to keep exploring, and I hope to write more about them here on my blog.