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The bullshit populist version, sure, but also one of our possible futures.

 

This thread is for musing on how things will go, with an an emphasis on accuracy.

 

As all I can really speak to is biotech stuff, I will be posting a bit in that line here and there. For the rest, I invite our learned electronics engineers/internet pedants to provide their views on how things will go from here on out.

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To start with, a possible future which may be arrived at through a number of avenues (some of them horrible):

 

The earth is now a garden again, but not in the edenic sense. Rather, it is a very well-managed place where everything is ordered and maintained by human hands. Humans, or at last people we would recognise as human, still live here. But their numbers are drastically lower than were. All around their small settlements, the ruins of a more crowded past slowly return to nature.

 

For the average person life is long, easy and uneventful. War and struggle still exist, but it takes place at scales and energies beyond what the inhabitants of the planet would be able to partake of. Disease is all but eliminated, with people expecting ill health only right before the end of their lives. Injuries are rare, and rarely fatal. Pests and other biological nuicances are firmly under control. Work is nearly optional, because few are capable of contributing much beyond the abundance that the self-perpetuating infrastructure already provides. Entertainment and information are easily available, and the scattered people of the planet are connected in ways that go beyond what we are capable of now. Education is... different to the present, being essentially another form of entertainment rather than a means to make a living. Even so, there are philosophers, artists, engineers and scientists in the world.

 

This is a future where what we recognise as humanity has been bypassed by history; left to eddy in the wake of larger powers. Perhaps the people there are kept as a living museum, or perhaps as an exercise in hedging bets. Perhaps simple gratitude on behalf of whatever succeeds us keeps people around. In any case, it is a future where, for perhaps millions of years, the cycles of life return to something like an idealised version of the past - a long golden age where, for one group of our potential descendents, all of the hard problems have been solved and there is nothing much left to do but live good lives.

 

This is the future of humanity made redundant; put out to pasture by beneficient forces. 

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Ooh, or a hegemony that forbids genetic experimentation.

There's no reason to believe humanity will survive in some Earth paradise amusement park...

I doubt any hegemony could last long. But yeah, this is supposed to be the most optimistic future. The others are... less so, at least for H. sapiens.

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Lots of other options, like 50,000 ways our society could collapse in a heap.

But, realistically, if we manage to dodge all those, then I doubt you'd be looking at people that much resemble people in 10 kiloyears.

Ding ding ding.

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The comic linked in the OP seems to be of the opinion that cosmetic genetic engineering will occur before the defeat of aging (the aged bigots who are so past their prime that they can't find it in themselves to harass actual goddamned furries when they're right in front of them!).  This seems dubious to me.

 

To defeat aging you essentially need to make it so an organism continuously repairs itself indefinitely.  Long-lived organisms like humans already replace most cells in most tissues several times over the course of their lives.  The two obvious major problems are that this would tend to cause lots of cancer, and that there may be metabolic byproducts that build up over time that the body does not naturally remove (hardwood trees and protozooans have this problem).

 

Yes, that's a blase description of biological immortality, but it's clearly a much simpler task than custom-designing an organism.  Can anyone even design their own proteins?  Will Moore's Law hold out long enough that effective and easy modelling and design of biochemical processes at small and large scales will be possible?

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The comic linked in the OP seems to be of the opinion that cosmetic genetic engineering will occur before the defeat of aging (the aged bigots who are so past their prime that they can't find it in themselves to harass actual goddamned furries when they're right in front of them!).  This seems dubious to me.

 

To defeat aging you essentially need to make it so an organism continuously repairs itself indefinitely.  Long-lived organisms like humans already replace most cells in most tissues several times over the course of their lives.  The two obvious major problems are that this would tend to cause lots of cancer, and that there may be metabolic byproducts that build up over time that the body does not naturally remove (hardwood trees and protozooans have this problem).

 

Yes, that's a blase description of biological immortality, but it's clearly a much simpler task than custom-designing an organism.  Can anyone even design their own proteins?  Will Moore's Law hold out long enough that effective and easy modelling and design of biochemical processes at small and large scales will be possible?

Nah, that's actually pretty accurate.

 

As far as we can tell, aging is simply the accumulation of errors and damage that, in turn, begat more of themselves until the organism fails in some catastrophic way.

 

Though there are some 'general' causes of aging, such as ongoing damage caused by respiratory byproducts*, the end result is more like all of the parts exceeding their warranty than it is a simple countdown clock which could be pushed back. Although lifespan increases and, more importantly, healthy lifespan increases are going to be available within the next few decades, I don't see biological immortality becoming a thing before radical body mods. 

 

Speaking of immortality, one of the side effects if it ever did happen is that it would pretty much end any society which adopted it. This has been explored by many science-fiction writers, so I don't feel that it needs to be elaborated too much further here.

 

 

* This book makes the case that more efficient mitochondria could allow people to live to 300 or so if they could ever be properly integrated into cells. Note that this would be a germ-line insertion, so no anti-ageing treatments for us on that front. On the other hand, research seems to show that lifespan can be marginally increased while radically improving other age-related complications simply by clearing senescent cells from the body - something that can be done using drugs right now. On the downside, this seems to have the side effect of reducing wound regeneration.

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Though there are some 'general' causes of aging, such as ongoing damage caused by respiratory byproducts*, the end result is more like all of the parts exceeding their warranty than it is a simple countdown clock which could be pushed back. Although lifespan increases and, more importantly, healthy lifespan increases are going to be available within the next few decades, I don't see biological immortality becoming a thing before radical body mods. 

But if that were the case you would expect to see a strong inverse correlation between metabolic rates and lifespans... and there just isn't.  Birds have faster metabolisms than mammals, but on average live longer.

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Yes, that's a blase description of biological immortality, but it's clearly a much simpler task than custom-designing an organism.  Can anyone even design their own proteins?  Will Moore's Law hold out long enough that effective and easy modelling and design of biochemical processes at small and large scales will be possible?

Moving to your other comments - we can't design protein de novo, and won't be able to for a while. But we can optimise them pretty well*. In terms of custom design, we're far away from doing large organisms but have now found an approach that works well for bacteria. In theory, all we need to do now is extend this approach to 'circuits' made up of known components added on to blank templates in the form of minimal gene sets

 

For my part, I think most of the action in creating truly custom organisms (as opposed to ever-more complex mods) will be in the creation of animats by assembly, printing and growth/integration of components and tissues using an assembly-line setup. This would allow you to essentially bypass the complexity development while providing lots of flexibility in terms of sub-assemblies, tissues and the like.

 

 

* This company used an approach that really impressed me to get good material properties out of bacterial spider silk. Basically, the issue with producing spider silk outside of a spider (or modified silkworm) is that we simply cannot replicate spinnets properly. This company, instead of trying to improve their artificial spinnerets, decided to optimise the silk protein itself for spinning. The approach they used was also pretty boss, as it iterated out a number of modifications in a computer and then tested them in the lab.

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But if that were the case you would expect to see a strong inverse correlation between metabolic rates and lifespans... and there just isn't.  Birds have faster metabolisms than mammals, but on average live longer.

You should read that book I linked to. Essentially, fast metabolisms select for improved ROS scavenging at the mitochondrial level, which pays off in terms of increased lifespan.

This effect is the underlying reason why exercise improves lifespan.

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I think we will move towards Communism and militarism again. And kind of stay there. Interplanetary or intergalactic travel wouldnt effect politics much outside of rapid venture capitalism and resource wars depending on the amount of good shit we do find

I don't think much will change outside of medical advances. Maybe we wont have back pain. But there will always be cheeseburgers and strongmen and tanks and dope

People dont really change. Neither does inate laws or behaviors.

Sure folks might live longer. But they arent gonna change. They shouldn't atleast

Though i think its must more likely nuclear war will occur then anything else. Given NATOs aggressive nature

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Easy. Just move somewhere else.

Wouldnt effect much. FTL travel will be common by then

Folks will still have a wife and kids. Go to church sunday. Go to work monday. Drink Friday

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Easy. Just move somewhere else.

Wouldnt effect much. FTL travel will be common by then

Folks will still have a wife and kids. Go to church sunday. Go to work monday. Drink Friday

There would eventually be no more red dwarf stars to move to that aren't being used by another civilization. 

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I think we will move towards Communism and militarism again. And kind of stay there. Interplanetary or intergalactic travel wouldnt effect politics much outside of rapid venture capitalism and resource wars depending on the amount of good shit we do find

I don't think much will change outside of medical advances. Maybe we wont have back pain. But there will always be cheeseburgers and strongmen and tanks and dope

People dont really change. Neither does inate laws or behaviors.

Sure folks might live longer. But they arent gonna change. They shouldn't atleast

Though i think its must more likely nuclear war will occur then anything else. Given NATOs aggressive nature

Communism actually makes a lot more sense as a social system when technological progress isn't happening too fast (IMO, of course). As such, if you feel like decelerando is an accurate overall description of technological change then communism might indeed make a comeback.

 

Interstellar travel by anything human is pretty laughble at this point, at least until someone fundamentally breaks the known laws of physics.

 

As for people changing, my point is that we'll most likely see people change beyond recognition long before we see anything like star trek technology.

 

We will never go to the stars, because we're not well designed for flinging into space. And once we redesign (or replace) ourselves, whatever we send up there probably won't think of itself as human.

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How would civilizations, "human" or otherwise, deal with the heat death of the universe in about 10^30 years when Red Dwarfs start dying off. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer to the Fermi paradox is ultimately that it is easier and cheaper to create another universe (or hole to the same) than it is to travel widely in our own.

 

My guess is that a truly advanced civilization eventually disappears up its own arse without ever leaving its home system.

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Just to set some boundaries on the wool-gathering, here are my professional opinions on what will be doable in the next two hundred years in terms of biotech:

  • human lifespan increases (most radical approaches are germ-line only)
  • changes to musculature, metabolism, oxygen carrying capacity in adults
  • changes to pigmentation and hair growth in adults
  • inclusion of simple phenotype changes (anything other than simple pathways requiring germ-line changes) in adults
  • removal of nearly all simple genetic defects in the population
  • Limited gross anatomical changes (IE: hox-gene mutants. Germ-line only)
  • Surgical attachment of constructed tissues, organs, limbs etc.
  • Limited changes to neurological/neurochemical phenotypes (most radical approaches are germ-line only)
  • Improved treatments for a number of diseases (low-hanging fruit has been plucked, so rate of drug development is slowing accordingly)
  • Novel/aesthetic body mods using exogenous organisms or tissues (principally limited by our knowledge and control of immune responses)
  • Biological or technological telepathy (already demonstrated in very rough form - has strong societal implications)
  • Limited hibernation/stasis (already demonstrated for use in trauma surgery)
  • Full control over reproduction (gene scanning, zygote selection, germ-line modification, artificial wombs or non-human surrogates - has strong societal implications)
  • Very powerful biocontrol methodologies (gene drives, de novo pathogens, possibly tailored predators or parasites - has strong societal implications)
  • Very generalised bioreactors (multi-feedstock digestors, bioreactors for a wide range of current industrial feedstocks)
  • Third-generation GMOs (genome built up from a minimal gene set or template, or by combining large proportions of genomes amongst disparate species - has strong societal implications)
  • Basic uplifting of candidate species (subset of GMOs, driven by comparative genomic studies - has strong societal implications)

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I predict that widespread use of mature nuclear energy will result in the practical ability to perform, on an industrial or planetary engineering scale, processes that are well-described now but too expensive to pursue to any great degree.  When you're burning fuel that's a million and a half times more energy dense, a lot of possibilities open up, including:

 

  • Artificial sequestration of CO2.  Trees are too slow.  Hook up a battery of fans an ion exchange resins to a reactor and do that for realsies.
  • Desalination of seawater for agriculture.  This will be forced on us, actually, since worldwide aquifer management is idiotic.
  • Removal of industrially useful dissolved solids from seawater.  From what I read a nuclear weapons program today could reasonably get all its fissile material filtered out from seawater, and eventually power reactors could be profitably run on actinides recovered from seawater.  Conceivably some sort of combined desalination plant could also strip all the deuterium, actinides, and other useful materials from sea water as they become in turn profitable to recover.
  • Cracking of petroleum using nuclear reactor heat.  This is near-term, and will increase the recovery of petroleum because now you don't have to burn it to make heat to crack it.  This leaves more petroleum distillates, which you can sell to savages who still have to use that crap.
  • Elemental recycling of plastics and other organic waste.  Bit of an extension of the above.  "Organic" as in the actual chemistry use of the term.  This was proposed for liquid-core reactors, nuclear lightbulbs and other reactor designs that have alarmingly hot cores that give off lots of hard UV are totally radical.  Just throw your waste organic materials in and break them down into their constituent elements for re-use.
  • Recycling for serious.  Oil is used for more than energy production.  It's used as feedstock for chemical production, for making asphalt, and a jillion other things.  But if you're sucking down CO2 from the atmosphere and busting up waste plastics for their constituent atoms, do you really need to go digging for petrochemicals anymore?  No, not really.  You can synthesize anything you need if you have the constituent elements and enough energy.  And you have more energy than you know what to do with.  The future paradigm won't be shortages of this or that chemical compound so much as you think of supplies of elements.
  • Wanna build buildings and everything else out of titanium?  It's actually more abundant in Earth's crust by mass than hydrogen, the only barrier is the cost of preparation, which is essentially done by electrolysis.  Which costs basically nothing once you have enough reactors.
  • But wait, doesn't titanium have to be welded in an inert gas environment?  And aren't noble gasses prepared via a process that requires lots of electricity?  Those cost nothing now too.
  • You get the idea.  Anything that's expensive just because its preparation requires a lot of juice suddenly becomes cheap, like what happened to aluminum in the 20th century.

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Fuck it, I've been working for the past several hours on a post basically about this for small arms, so why not make my own list? Yes, it will be much less impressive than Tox's list. Not that I really qualify as having an engineering or science background...

 

  • Caseless ammunition will finally be perfected through materials science wizardry and production consistency that can make things that are as of now mutually exclusive possible.
  • Sighting technology will advance far enough that the individual soldier will have a passively stabilized rifle sight that automatically compensates for climactic conditions and trajectory.
  • Mortars will become significantly lighter, as well as being guided.
  • Infantry squads will receive explosive ordnance projection with accurate range measured in kilometers. 
  • A high capacity feed system that is simple enough for the individual user will be developed
  • Mechanical/chemical priming will finally be dispensed with, replaced by something else
  • The soldier as a unit will become powered, likely with an umbilical (that doubles as a single point sling) running from his on-board power source to his rifle.
  • Soldiers will achieve power densities above one soldierpower, either through the proverbial powered armor suit or through genetic engineering.
  • "Heavy infantry" will make a serious comeback, as multi-soldierpower troops are able to carry larger and more powerful weapons and thicker armor.
  • Special-forces-type training programs will to the best of our abilities be generalized to all troops. Army unit strength will decrease in proportion to the scale of warfare, but individual soldier competence will dramatically increase.
  • Soldiers will be increasingly integrated with unmanned systems, particularly flying drones. One possibility is that machine gun teams will be wholly supplanted by belt-fed carrying AI systems in support of expensive augmented individual troops.
  • Software development will become a major problem for individual soldier integrated systems.
  • High velocity gun systems (light gas, rail gun, etc) will eventually be incorporated into at least the platoon level.
  • Additively manufactured components will be widely incorporated into infantry subsystems.
  • Increasingly sophisticated sensors will be integrated into the individual soldier - this point is cheating as that's already happening as we speak.
  • The individual weapon will become a dual-caliber affair.
  • Active protection systems will be explored for the individual soldier.

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