This post came into existence as the result of a number of conversations with a friend. It also came out of a lot of reading and thinking about new innovations and the issues expressed herein.
It’s kind of a slight departure from the topics I normally write about here at Filmmaking Lifestyle.
Still, filmmaking and video production use technology, and its science and future trajectory highly influence what we can do with our cameras. So I think this kind of post has value here and will appeal to my audience.
Let’s begin our discussion…
A Starting Point
EXT. Washington DC – shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election.
Even with the grip of fear permeating outwards from Washington DC and around the world, I’m still very confident about the future of the world. And, for purposes of this conversation, technological developments.
I want to talk about Elon Musk, about futurism, exponential technology and the furtherance of humanity.
Where do we start with exponential tech? With futurism?
I don’t think there’s an obvious starting point. Many people come into an understanding of futurism and exponential technology through their job or career. Some read about it in their spare time.
For my money, there are a few books that I’d highly recommend you read to get a really solid understanding of exponential tech, futurism and this man called Elon.
I’ll be mentioning these books throughout the post. These are eye-opening:
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance
The Elon Musk Blog Series: Wait But Why by Tim Urban
Starting With Abundance
Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler masterpiece, Abundance, represents a solid overview, and it’s a very scientifically backed investigation into the speed of exponential tech and what it means for the future of the planet.
The Musk books aren’t necessary, but give a great insight into Musk’s career and work, whilst thankfully ignoring most of the personal life conjecture that so many biographies leap into. Vance is a respected journalist and award winning tech writer.
Urban’s book can be found online in blog form and is a detailed treatise into the scientific basis of Musk’s work. It’s a stunning piece of work and Part 1 can be found here.
There’s lots on the physics of car design and how early motors were very nearly electric rather than petrol. Plus, lots on global warming and the future of space flight (and why not much has changed in space exploration since the 1968 NASA moon landings).
The overall thinking is that in order for space flight to become commercial, companies must generate a business in government contracts and satellite delivery for private companies (something SpaceX is already doing).
From there, they will gradually bring down the price of rockets (something that they’re already doing), and make them more graspable (figuratively!) by creating re-usable rockets (again, they’re already doing it).
It’ll take time, but the costs are coming down hugely. Something that is diametrically opposed to NASA’s (and other government backed institutions’) plodding bureaucratically stifled “progress” of the last 50 years!
Needless to say, neither book is a Musk circle jerk, and whilst you can’t say any writing/research is unbiased (see above), it attacks the subject from multiple angles.
Musk — A Captain of Our Times
So who is this Elon Musk character?
Well, calling him a character isn’t too far off, as the basis for Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man Tony Stark character was based in part on Musk.
And when I say “based in part,” it took a few aspects of Musk’s life and personality, but the outgoing Stark character isn’t really a trait shared with Elon. Elon is notoriously introverted, sometimes even awkwardly so.
To me, Musk is an interesting character who satisfies my curiosity from both a creative and scientific angle.
Creatively, in that he’s a true flawed hero, on almost a cinematic (or even Shakespearean) level. And the science bent is obvious, despite science being a relatively new mode of inquiry for me.
As a side note, I really think we weren’t taught science well at school (in general), as my interest in science has grown since the end of my formal education.
I have many moments where I’m amazed at the depth of creative vision in the scientific community and I have those, “Why wasn’t it taught at school like this!?!?” moments.
Ever feel the same way?
From a business and self development perspective, Musk resonates with me, too. I can’t help but feel enamoured with someone with that much determination against all odds. An objective reading of his timeline and accomplishments can’t be ignored.
Here he is with his famous interview reply after SpaceX came very, very close to completely failing and imploding (in more ways than one!)
He also stirs up the iconoclast in me. Who else has taken on so many plodding institutions that are in dire need of change before they ruin the planet for our children?
The easy criticism would be that I have hero worship for Musk. I’ve only really been actively interested in his career for the last year or so, but it’s a fair reading.
Still, I’m interested in him mostly from a business perspective, originally intending to model some of his best attributes from that stance.
As a life-long progressive (and optimist), I then became interested in his worldview and the steps he’s taking to ‘change the world’ (not his words).
So, no, I’m not a Musk fanboy. I’m a fanboy for the continued improvement and positive development of our world.
Musk is one of the only people I’ve found who has the balls to do it!
Abundance For The Future
Musk aside, the Abundance book is mind-blowing and opened my eyes to so many interesting concepts.
It first sets a criteria for what abundance is: worldwide prosperity, for all intents and purposes.
Then, it takes a pyramid approach to looking at each element of the criteria and looks at how scientific improvements are pushing development forward in each area.
For clarity’s sake, some of the abundance pyramid discussed in the book is Water, Food, Energy, Education, Health Care and Freedom. So, it’s similar to Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs.
From there, it notes every point and backs up with real science what is actually happening right now (or has already happened).
Human Genome Mapping — One Piece of the Puzzle
For instance, with human genome mapping and the work of biochemist Craig Venter, and how he managed to map the human genome in a much faster time than government backed projects (and with a tiny % of the cost).
And, actually, the cost of mapping the human genome is good proof for the speed of exponential tech in general. It cost $15 million to do it in 2000. In 2015, the cost was down to $1,500!
Yes, for the cost of a good vacation, you can now map a human genome!
That kind of scaling and improvement of tech has never before been seen in the history of mankind, and is an example of the exponential improvements in all fields and trajectory we’re on. It’s surely one of the biggest new innovations of the last few centuries.
I’m sure you’re familiar with Moore’s Law and how the number of transistors per square inch on circuits has doubled every year since their invention.
Here’s a great chart showing the trajectory of Moore’s Law:
This is one of the key components for the reason behind exponential growth. And it’ll continue to do so now that nearly everything is digital (or going that way!)
It’s the reason why a tribesman in the deep jungles of Peru with a phone can have access to more computing power (and knowledge) than a sitting US president just 30 years ago!
It also explains how we have nth times the computing power in tiny boxes in our pockets and at a tiny fraction of the size and cost of computers even 15 years ago.
This graphic was Phone Arena showing global handset data traffic over the years puts things in perspective:
Things Are Moving Faster Than Ever Before
The key thing with the book Abundance, and this kind of discussion about the future of the world in general, is that everything is moving faster than it ever has before. New innovations are coming thick and fast.
Mankind has never experienced a time like this one. A time where technological and medical improvements (among others) are on an exponential curve. That is, that improvement “skips” steps because it’s moving so fast.
It’s the reason why well-respected people like Ray Kurzweil wrote books like The Singularity Is Near. In this, and other books, he predicts that an event will occur in the near future where something will be unlocked and, like dominoes falling, something like 1000 years of human evolution and improvements will be generated in 10 years.
It sounds like sci-fi, until you look at the predictions Kurzweil has already made and that he’s sitting on an 89%+ prediction success rate. Even guessing the years in which the developments occurred!
The book then finishes with a good 70 pages of graphs and statistics that show the vast improvements of the world (over the last 100 years+) and the trajectory we’re on for continued growth.
Things like longevity of humans, killings/rapes stats plummeting, medical advancements, etc etc etc.
Reasons to Be Cheerful
One of the key points in Abundance is that everything is connected. For instance, being able to feed every person on the planet affects dozens of other world issues and knocks them down like dominoes.
You’d have to read the book to get a true explanation and understanding of it.
One thing that is explained in the book is something that comes up often when talking about future tech and world issues. The idea that over-population is an issue, especially with a general population that’s ageing longer than ever before, due to all the medical improvements.
By most scientist and expert predictions, over-population is an issue in regions like Africa, where birthrates are out of control. But that’s another reason why improving the abundance pyramid’s various components is so important.
Birth rates, and therefore population growth, decreases as a country’s GDP increases.
Population growth also decreases with:
- improved infant mortality rates and, most importantly,
- a clean water supply.
This is something that has stood as a scientific fact throughout history.
The reasons for this are manifold, but centrally it’s to do with people in under-developed countries having more children than they “need,” due to the risk of so many dying at birth, or in infancy.
The families over-shoot (pardon the pun!) the amount of children they need due to fear of not having workers for their land, plus the ever real threat of a lack of help when they (as parents) become aged.
Basically, they have loads of kids to mitigate against the tough life they lead. But, ironically, this overall leads to more people than the land can handle.
If you think about it, this also, and strangely, speaks to a lack of optimism being detrimental to humanity in general!
Converting the planet to clean water
Water supply improvements are key, as dirty water kills more people around the world than anything else.
So you improve the water supply of a developing country with a high population growth. As that country becomes healthier, population growth drops.
Also, with better education (contraceptives), you drop population growth. As population growth drops, that improves everything else as well.
Look at all the high GDP countries in the world — population growth is always magnitudes lower than low GDP countries.
That’s just one example. All I can say is: read the book!
The negative of exponential breakthroughs and fast growing tech
I know what you’re thinking at this point. But what about the negative issues raised by exponential and fast growing tech?
Whether they be ethical, scientific or pragmatic, there’s obviously concerns. Especially with something like a ‘strong’ AI being created that develops free-will and has no interest in the future of humanity. This is something that our friend Elon has warned about on more than one occasion.
Here he is with German filmmaker Werner Herzog talking about the threat of AI (skip to 22 seconds in):
The best way I’ve heard this described is with the
Do we hate ants and show that by building skyscapers on their nests? No — we are merely indifferent to them.
Another funnier (and still quite dark) ideal about AI comes again from Musk himself. He said that a true strong AI would potentially lack common sense.
So if you tasked it with, say, eliminating spam emails from the world, it might see the swiftest course of action as eliminating all human beings!
In that way, we have to consider that a potential strong AI with freewill might not have humanities best interests at heart.
There have been dozens of films about this. Everything from the obvious example of Terminator, right through to the more recent Ex Machina.
Science fiction or science fact?
Being negative is too easy
Yes, for all of these arguments there’s a negative view. In fact, having a negative view is very easy. I’m reminded of the famous ‘man in the arena’ quote on this.
It costs to be an optimist and you do leave yourself wide open to criticism. We all know the stereotypical grouchy guy in the bar who always has a negative outlook on life.
How easy it is to live that kind of life! However, that’s not the life for me — I’d rather be on the side of Musk, Diamandis, Kotler and others on this.
Why I Chose Filmmaking…It Has Everything to Do With Future Tech and Creativity
On the subject, many years ago, I chose filmmaking as a future career, as I believed that it was the filter through which I could be my most creative.
Part of that was to do with my belief at the time (right or wrong) that it was the most advanced technology around. Not to mention the art form that can most move hearts and minds.
Since then, as tech has evolved, it’s become apparent that film isn’t the most advanced medium in the world.
For my money, the internet has become that thing. It’s the reason why I’m so invested in the digital world nowadays. And especially digital media.
It seems like old hat to even raise this argument now, but I really see the internet as the future of jobs, of careers, maybe even of lives. It’s certainly the future of new innovations.
As time has gone on, I’ve shifted my career goals based on the shifting of technology.
The internet has enabled me to make a very good living, one that I’m constantly scaling up. It’s also enabled me to be my most creative, or at least let those creative juices flow in myriad directions.
The biggest value of the internet is that we can impact people that we’ve never even met, improving their lives and ours at the same time.
New Innovations — Conclusion
Okay, this has turned out to be a much more lengthy article than I thought it would. And I still feel like I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on these points.
I’m constantly thinking and reading and talking about all this stuff. And more.
I think it’s very important that we can actually have these kind of in-depth philosophical discussions. Discussions that skirt across creative disciplines, science, theology, philosophy and more.
Yes, we can argue till the cows come home about any (or all!) of the points I’ve brought up. And we can say, “well, who knows what will happen, or even if it’ll happen in our lifetime.”
To me, that’s a classic cop-out. My stance is that of an eternal optimist (on most things). Like ‘the man in the arena,’ I’d rather be on the side of the optimist, even if I’m ultimately wrong.
I believe that there are inherent issues with future tech and the evolution of the world (especially AI), but that mankind will find a way to surmount it. An ironing out of the wrinkles, as it were.
My reasoning for this? 200,000 years of continued evolution and perseverance by the human species. We are the evidence for optimism.
What do you think about new innovations and the future of technology? Does the future look optimistic or pessimistic to you?
Love me some Elon!