The Observer lets itself down today with some futurist filler from “Britain’s leading thinker on the future”, Ian Pearson of BT’s Futurology Unit.
It leads with the old chestnut of “downloading your mind into a computer”. This is not a new idea. In fact, it’s rather past its use-by date. Any “expert” still spouting this really needs to step away from their computer and go and read some neuroscience. Repeat after me: the brain is not a computer. You are no more able to download it than you could download a bowl of fruit. In principle, of course, you can simulate any physical system with a computer; fruit, brain and the Amazonian rainforest. Doesn’t mean it’s feasible though, especially when You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know (YDKWYDK) as it is with the brain. It’s not just a matter of cranking up processor speeds. Pearson doubles-up on his error by wading into Consciousness. Moving swiftly on…
To show he’s not a crank Pearson forsees:
We can already use DNA, for example, to make electronic circuits so it’s possible to think of a smart yoghurt some time after 2020 or 2025, where the yoghurt has got a whole stack of electronics in every single bacterium. You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it.
Fantastic. Small-talk with dairy products. What are you going to natter about? How’s life on the third shelf? Who’s going off this week? Have you tried me with muesli? This reminds me of the articulate Talkie Toaster from Red Dwarf, whose entire existence revolved around toasted bread products.
The predictions stray near the mark with talk of simplifying ambient computers but for the most part the predictions show a depressing lack of imagination and insight. The theme is: more of the same but with computers which, despite spilling into the world with more complexity, will actually not break-down, confuse or be used to exploit people. This is the classic engineer’s fallacy, believing that because something is theoretically possible that it is realistic and desirable once non-engineers are involved.
It’s very easy to criticise of course. I started thinking of a few of my own predictions, off the top of my head, for people to knee-cap but found they were centered very much around rich online presence and communities. This really deserves an entry of its own. There is plenty of speculative activity around this already on the web. Just sniff around del.icio.us, etc.