2081: A Hopeful View of The Human Future - Part II: The Drivers of Change

Part II: The Drivers of Change

Sections are included on the five key "Drivers of Change" believed by O'Neill to be the focus of future development:

  • Automation
  • Space Colonies
  • Communications
  • Computers
  • Energy

O'Neill applied basic physics to understand the limits of possible change, using the history of the technology to extrapolate likely progress. He applied the history of computing to reason about how people and institutions will shape and be shaped by the likely changes. He predicted that future computers must run at a very low-voltage because of heat. The main basis of his technology extrapolation for computers is Moore's Law, one of the greatest successes of Trend estimation in predicting human progress.

His predicted the social aspects of the future of computers. He identified computers as the most certain of his five "drivers of change", because their adoption could be driven primarily by individual or local decisions, while the other four such as space colonies depended on large-scale decision-making. He observed the success of minicomputers, calculators, and the first home computers, and predicted that every home would have a computer in a hundred years. With the aid of speculations by computer pioneers such as John von Neumann and the writers of "tracts" such as Zamyatin's We, O'Neill also predicted that privacy would be under siege from computers in 2081.

O'Neill predicted that software engineering issues and the intractability of artificial intelligence problems would require massive programming efforts and very powerful processors to achieve truly usable computers. His prediction was based on the difficulties and failures of computer use he had observed in 1981, including a candid horror story of his own Princeton University library's attempt to computerize its operations. His computers of the future, represented by the robot butler his visitor to Earth encounters in 2081, included speaker-independent speech recognition and natural language processing. O'Neill correctly pointed out the huge difference between computers and human brains, and stated that, while a more human-like artificial brain is a worthy goal, computers will be vastly improved descendants of today's rather than truly intelligent and creative artificial brains.

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