20070410

Future Perfect, and other tired-but-familiar story lines

There are some ideas which, while eternally old, seem impossible even now, and so appear only in myths and science fiction. But one thing we can learn from science fiction is that it eventually becomes science fact.

The Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov (et al), describes a world where a secret cabal of mathematicians have devised equations that predict human history. They then use them to ensure that civilization's better traits remain when a social collapse threatens everything.

It's not so far off.

Consider some scientific advances:
- An understanding of the human psychology and how it arose from evolutionary principles, over the span of deep time, and how it functions today

- A complex woven history of wars, economic empires, the trading of technology, market forces, social trends - large-scale structures composed of individual human actions

- Data mining software so powerful it can successfully predict event states and likelihoods of events within very large sets of data (I used this kind of software when I worked at the IRS.)

- Algorithms powerful enough to predict the behavior of systems from the empirical data they produce - just from the data observed, without needing to look at the hidden cause of the observed event

It doesn't take a suspension of belief to see that large-scale algorithms will be able to predict human reactions to events. Not specifically, of course - not in the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack the US" kind of way, not in the "Gunpowder Treason on the Fifth of November", but probably in an "Amber Alert" kind of way, in an "invest in biotech" kind of way.

And maybe, someday, a "if we announce X voters will vote Y" kind of way.

Pre-crime. Pre-treason. We can't predict these things with complete certainty, but we can say, for example, that the guy who burned frogs or puppies as a kid is going to move on to take human lives. And we can't say when or who, but we can estimate a high likelihood that it will happen.

The ethical implications of this, I'll save for another post. The point of this post is to combine some current trends in science that will it is all beginning to happen. A familiar story line, but no less true just because it used to be fiction.

I know of no reason it should ever be forgot.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Fitz said...

Psycho-historical predictions were predicated on the existance of hundreds of planets wasn't it? I think you'd need that population size for it to work properly.

2:41 AM  

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