Reimagining the American Dream

By Charles Mueller

The American Dream is an idea, an idea that has driven this country and inspired the world for almost 300 years.  This dream was rooted in our Declaration of Independence with the words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

As this country has evolved, so to this dream.  This dream is about finding comfort in the idea that we live in a country where there is opportunity for all and regardless of your race, creed, sex, class or the family you were born into, through hard work and determination you can create the life you want.  However, for many, the American Dream is beginning to feel like the American Nightmare, a sick illusion of hope in a world full of fear, hostility and inequality relative to times past.  Just as James Truslow Adams inspired a nation coming out of the Great Depression in his book Epic of America by first coining and describing the American Dream, our nation today, one coming out of its own era of financial despair, needs a reimagining of the American Dream.

The generation that emerged following the first references to the American Dream was the generation that helped save the world from the evil that prompted WWII.  This generations’ ethos was all about hard work, it was about survival, it was about creating a better future for their children, and their attitudes are what came to define the American Dream.  Overtime, this generations children evolved the dream to include a greater emphasis on the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness was not necessarily hard work, it was also about working the jobs you wanted and having time to enjoy the efforts of your labor with the ones you loved most.  As the country continued to mature, this third generation of the post-Great Depression American Dream became the first to truly reap the rewards of the sacrifices of the first generation; the world they lived in was evidence of the success of their grandparents.  This generation of people was promised the American Dream was finally the American Reality.

Unfortunately, the combination of the devastating effects of 9/11 on the American psyche and the Financial Crisis of 2008 on the American wallet has challenged the ethos of our time and exposed parts of the American Dream, which have turned out to be false.  The wealth gap in this country continues to grow, hateful speech is becoming more of the norm, and graduated students are entering the job market with university degrees only to find a genuine lack of opportunity compounded with a mountain of student debt.  Hard work no longer seems to be paying off.  While this reality is still greater than many other parts of the world, it represents at minimum the flattening of the trend President Franklin Roosevelt always said should be upwards in his last Inaugural Address in 1945:

“Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights — then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

It is time we reimagine the American Dream.  It is time we generate a new idea, a new hope, a new vision for the future that will inspire this nation once again and give new meaning to our purpose.  In a world dominated by the advancements of science & technology (S&T) the definition of hard work looks much different from the days it was synonymous with long hours on the farm or at the factory.  This new American Dream should anticipate the future that will be arriving, one where we can communicate with our thoughts, have robots do our chores and free ourselves from the limits of our genes.

This new American Dream should be about making the pursuit of happiness easier.  This is a dream where people don’t have to work harder to move up, they have to work smarter, they have to work more creatively, they have to take advantage of the world that has been gifted to them and imagine it to the future.  This American Dream should be about providing everyone with the ability to do this, giving everyone access to things like the Internet and creating new jobs that seek out the human imagination.  It should be about developing a society where we reward our creativity and ability to dream up the futures no one else can envision.

The future of the American Dream should be that no matter who you are, you live in a place where your imagination can come true, where opportunity exists to let your bold ideas grow into things that will change the world.  This is a world where opportunity still knocks even if you fail.  It is a world about the future and it will take all of us to make sure this new American Dream becomes reality.

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Old Ideas That Just Won’t Die

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

-Max Planck

As our decision makers are put into powerful positions and then live longer, how will the younger generations make their voices heard and ensure that new ideas are implemented? Dr. Aubrey De Grey, a British scientist, believes that the first person to live to 150 years old has already been born. While that may or may not be true, human lifespan has been increasing steadily and a great deal of research is being done on ways to increase lifespan and the quality of life in those years. However, our current system of governance and business was established when life expectancy was much lower. In fact, a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that it takes the death of prominent scientists before new directions in a field can take hold. Did our forefathers expect a lifetime position in the Supreme Court to last 40 years? As we continue to expand our lifespans through genetic engineering and new advances in medical treatments, we must consider the impact this will have on continuing to advance forward with new ideas that are put forth by the younger and less jaded members of our society.

A Revolutionary Future

By Charles Mueller

At the Center for Revolutionary & Scientific Thought (CReST) we spend a lot of our time contemplating the future and imagining the kinds of impacts (both good and bad) science & technology (S&T) can have on the world.  We talk about S&T impacts in terms of 3 phases:

  • Phase I is where S&T changes the way an existing process is implemented, making it more efficient.
  • Phase II is where S&T leads to new processes that affect businesses, government and society
  • Phase III is where S&T leads to entirely new paradigms, with new systems, industries and/or governments.

Last night, with all the world watching the President’s last State of the Union (SOTU) address, I thought the President was finally going to say the things we at CReST have been saying.  I thought he was going to finally call out to the world that it is time to imagine the kind of future only created by the Phase II and III impacts of revolutionary S&T.  Instead he described a future where we only imagined a world changed by Phase I impacts.  A world of automation would change things, but a world where we co-exist with AI or communicate to each other with our thoughts would revolutionize things more.  I’m sorry Mr. President, but the next moon shot is not a cure to cancer, it would be closer to a cure to all disease.

I wish the President had painted a future maximized by the Phase III impacts of revolutionary S&T.  Maybe he didn’t paint that picture because he knows his audience.  Maybe we have become so obsessed with “now” that we’ve started to forget to imagine tomorrow.  Maybe we simply don’t know where to look anymore for information to help us imagine a future where anything is possible.

When we go to a restaurant we ask to see the menu; our leaders need to be distilling the kinds of futures S&T can foster into a menu.  People need to talk about this menu of the future, people need to get excited about this menu and people need to elect leaders that will bring some of the those items of the menu to the table.  While I am glad our President told us to think about the future, I had hoped he would talk about a bigger future, a bolder Phase III impact kind of future. There are many more items that should have been on his menu.

At CReST we will continue to do our best to communicate to the world about the important S&T, the ones whose Phase III impacts will revolutionize the world.  If we do it right, hopefully next year in the SOTU address we will hear of a future maximized by the benefits of revolutionary S&T and well prepared to deal with its potential misuses.

All I Want For Christmas Is The Future

Dear Santa,

This year I want something for the world. I want to bring a bright future to the people of today so that our lives can be better and more fulfilling.  There are technologies and areas of science that just need a little help to flourish into the kinds of things that can revolutionize our daily lives.  I have two things I really want this year Santa.

My first wish is for a tomorrow where the human experience is truly enhanced.  I want a world where my best friend can be a sentient robot, where I can visualize my dreams and memories on my iPhone, where I can surf the web and learn new languages using just my thoughts and where I can enhance things like my ability to think critically or recover from ailments by altering the code of my existence.

We live at a time where if we dedicate the time and resources into areas of science like artificial intelligence, biotechnologies and neurotechnologies we can literally start to make our dreams become a reality. My hope is that these opportunities will free people from the limitations nature puts on us and bring the world together in a new way.

My second wish is that I want to live in a world where the laws and rules are rational and make sense.  I want a life where I can be a citizen of the world, not bound by the borders of nations.  I wish for a world where governance embraces the digital reality of our times and evolves as the technology does.

We are a digital society and we should govern ourselves like one.  We could and should be doing things like creating education policy that leverages customized software interfaces built on fifty thousand years of human evolution where we learned by mentorship and not classrooms.  We can use S&T to create a smarter world, a more rational world and a more stable world, but in order to do that we have to change, we have to embrace a future of digital governance and evolve it.

I know these are big wishes, but that is why I need your help.

If we do it right the world will come together and we will realize our future today.

Charlie

Life isn’t Fair. Should it be?

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

In our culture, we do not dictate who and who cannot have children. We limit government or societal intervention in the way we raise our children short of laws against child abuse and negligence. We, as a society, have decided that these selections and choices are solely the responsibility of the parents as long as they want them. There is no regard for the future impact on society despite the fact that this child will eventually become a voter and member of that society. Even with this lack of intention, some people are smarter than others. Some people are better athletes, or musicians, or CEOs. Life isn’t fair because we do not share all the same experiences or innate attributes that allow us to succeed (or fail). As a society, sometimes we try to make things more fair by re-distributing wealth, providing opportunities for those that are disadvantaged. However, we do not expect those with skills that allow them to succeed to stop succeeding. We encourage them because it makes our society stronger and better as a whole.

However, what if we wanted to be intentional and selective of the genes we passed on to the next generation? What if we wanted to create new genes that might make our children faster, smarter, and more productive members of society? Parents, at least the good ones, want their children’s lives to be better and more fulfilling. This is why parents are willing to sacrifice for their children. We are at the edge of a time in which we will need to make a decision on how this might impact our society. We might not even get a choice in whether it happens unless we choose not to allow immigrants based on their genetic heritage. It seems to me that we should welcome these changes, done in a manner that is safe for the overall genetic pool of the human race. Advances in science that allow us to create a better version of ourselves in the next generation (or even our own if we can teach nanobots or viruses to do the work) is just an extension of the choices we already make in who we mate with and how we raise our children. The goal is to make the next generation better and brighter and we should embrace the opportunity to do so with intent and control. Why stumble blindly through a dark room when you can turn on a light?

Making Our Existence Better with S&T

By Charles Mueller

Imagine a world where there is no such thing as a genetic disease, a world where nobody dies of cancer, takes insulin shots for diabetes or loses their life’s memories from Alzheimer’s. Imagine a world where you can learn anything instantly. Imagine a world where you don’t have to worry about how many times you go to the gym per week because your cells work naturally to keep you in better shape. Imagine a world where we control our existence and anything is possible.

Let’s create that world.

Who we are today and the world we live in have only been made possible because of our continued belief in science & technology (S&T). As we have continued to invest our time and resources into S&T, we have continually been given better knowledge and tools to help us understand and navigate our world. S&T has helped us create a world that a few centuries ago would have been pure fantasy. A world where people can fly over oceans, communicate instantly with the touch of a button and prevent contracting a deadly disease by simply taking a shot. We live in a truly awesome time thanks to S&T and as long as we continue to invest and believe in it, it will only help us make the future better.

There are several areas of S&T today that are working day and night to figure out the next great way to enhance our existence, to make our lives better. Advancements in the development of neurotechnologies are making a future possible where people can communicate and access any information with just our thoughts. New developments and applications of biotechnologies are beginning to provide real solutions to things like world hunger and genetic disease. We have always had control of our existence, but today’s world of S&T has given us a level of control we’ve never had before, a level where anything is possible. In such a world, it becomes up to us to figure out what the next chapter in our existence will be.

We need to approach the next phase in our existence with the kind of wisdom that is required for the control we have. With tools that can help us create the world we envision, it is important we have a vision of what that world should be. Without a strategy we open up the real possibility of making things worse rather than better. We can strain out those bad realities and make only the good ones possible with if we elect leaders who understand this new reality and have a real strategy for creating a better future. The right leaders can ensure we have the right policies for investments into S&T and are using the right S&T to make policies that will create the world we want.

Imagine the world you want to be a part of. Imagine a future where that world is possible. Then remember we live at time when we can start making that happen.

Let’s create that world. Let’s make our existence better.

New Intelligence

by Paul Syers

Who’s ready to be a cyborg? I am! In discussions about the future of intelligence, most people think about A.I. or bioengineering. With both technologies, people worry about the dangerous consequences. I see promise, however, in a third option: human enhancement through electronics. In today’s society, we have already developed a symbiotic relationship with technology. Why not embrace that symbiosis and enhance it for the betterment of mankind?

Instead of worrying about developing an independent intelligence in a computer that could one day overpower humanity, why not develop ways to use computers like just another organ? I imagine a future where our brains can interact directly with multiple soft A.I. programs, allowing us to outsource many functions – like sensory systems, memory storage, and data mining – while still using the human brain to retain overall awareness and analytic control.

Unlike genetic engineering, this type of intelligence augmentation would have the advantage of not being permanent. Humans could plug into and unplug out of the added capabilities. This allows us to continue to answer the question of “what it means to be human” on an individual level. Those who reject augmentation can opt out at any time and we can build in ways to reasonably prevent people from forcing augmentation on others.

Some might argue that intelligence augmented in this way is not human intelligence They cannot deny, however, that at least some part of it is human, and at least in the earliest stages, the human part will have control. Eventually this path leads to the ability to fully download a human brain into a computer, but there is much more understanding we can gain along the way.

There will still tough questions to answer, such as how best to provide access, how to ensure some amount of fairness, and who owns the products of augmented intellects. I think these questions, however, will be much easier to reach a consensus on than the questions brought up by fully independent A.I. or radical genetic manipulation. I see this hybrid approach as containing the possibility to create something that is better than the sum of its parts, while at the same time lessening the consequences of failure.

We already have many of the tools and knowledge to move in this direction. Microelectronics are more than cheap, small, and light enough. Advancements in prosthetics and other R&D projects are discovering how to make electronics talk to neurons. The research being done through the BRAIN initiative could also be harnessed to help us reach this goal, but sadly it is not. Mapping the brain is a noble goal, but it won’t lead to the advancements in medical technologies that it promises. Similar promises about curing diseases and genetic defects were made at the outset of the Human Genome Project and they have not materialized. With just a minor shift in the goals and policy of the BRAIN initiative, we could reap so many more benefits. Let’s do it, so that in a few years I can read this blog post directly on my retina.