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Just You Wait Until We Discover DNA!

This weekend, I’m doing a bit of research about the stories people tell about technology. One of the most popular stories that I have come across is the tale that technological improvements are going to enable such a huge amount of change that life will soon be beyond our current imagination.

Investment manager Ben Carlson, at his Wealth Of Common Sense web site, advises his clients that, “Back to the Future II could be here sooner than we think… by the 2030s we could see major breakthroughs in all of our biggest issues.” I’m not sure what he means with his Back to the Future II comment (does he mean to warn us that a wave of bad sequels is about to swamp us?), but the idea that we could see “major breakthroughs in all of our biggest issues” is crystal clear… if the crystal happens to be buried in a muddy swamp.

To illustrate his point, Carlson shares the following chart, which he says he got from a book called Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis.

inaccurate technology chart

Do you see what this chart suggests about the future? Soon, maybe two or three hundred years from now, we will discover how to make railroads! Then, we’ll invent a device called the “telephone”! Mobile technology, however, will be slightly out of our current track of space-time, and will be invented in a parallel universe.

Among the implications of this is… that it’s easy to tell a story that looks as if it’s based upon carefully-analyzed statistics, when in fact, the numbers that appear in the spreadsheets, charts, and analysis presented to us are just sort of improvised. It’s important to look at the details to see whether the tale is credible.

Just imagine how Ben Carlson’s approach to numbers is manifested in his work in investment management.

8 thoughts on “Just You Wait Until We Discover DNA!”

  1. ella says:

    I think what he is saying is that at the point of “0” million people the year is 9000 BC and that the top of his chart on the right, or thick purple line, is the year 2000. Could have made a better chart, but it serves.

  2. Mark says:

    His chart is one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. The X-axis is not linear. The Y-axis should be logarithmic. It’s obvious that he created it in Excel and placed all the arrows. Then he adjusted the sizing without re-spacing the arrows. Was he trying to draw any sort of connection between human population and technology? If so, it’s completely missing from the figure.

    However, he is probably right in that the technological changes we’ll see soon will dramatically change civilization. We’re already seeing a hint of it with computer access to information. This access is giving people a huge ability to consider a wide variety of choices before making decisions. But they also seem to be making people stupider with all the mindless activities and by eliminating the need to actually remember anything. How much time do you spend with your smart phone or computer actually learning stuff? Does most of your time spent with technology involve games? Do you remember the phone numbers of your friends? Can you drive across town without a GPS? Do any of us really need to learn another language when our devices can translate anything for us?

    I see two major changes coming by the end of the century, perhaps as early as 2050: Artificial Intelligence and the direct linkage of computer systems to the human brain via implanted technology. The big question is whether these changes will lift the human experience to new heights or condemn us to servitude to our new electronic masters.

    1. ella says:

      Mark “I see two major changes coming by the end of the century, perhaps as early as 2050: Artificial Intelligence and the direct linkage of computer systems to the human brain via implanted technology. The big question is whether these changes will lift the human experience to new heights or condemn us to servitude to our new electronic masters.”

      Yes. You have touched a very plausible point in the human experience. There is every reason to believe it will make us slaves. Consider that such technology will still need refurbishing, or to be replaced with updated versions. Or perhaps just simply wears out and needs to be removed and replaced. And at what cost? Will everyone have the financial ability to constantly replace what is implanted in their body and/or brain? Where will that leave a person? Without a body part, like a heart or liver, dead. The brain tissue will need to be disrupted when it is wired, nerve tapping in the spinal cord will leave disrupted current flow from the brain and body nerve system. Not just to effected nerve disruption, but to vital areas elsewhere. Yet there are people who are already standing in line to become the servants of the technology implants – or those who do the implanting. That is a scary prospect.

  3. Robert Milnes says:

    F.G. Fitzer, Come on, give the author a break. The graph just needs to be tweaked. It clearly shows a high correlation between exponential population growth and technology.
    It does not show major setbacks like the Plague or WW1 & 2.
    So where does all this lead?
    Ideally, ZPG where there is no birth because there is no death. At an extraordinary level of population and technology.
    Technology so advanced that most of it becomes unnecessary.
    And no major setbacks anymore.
    Hmmmmmm!

  4. Tom says:

    Mark: Since there’s no way out of our predicament (the on-going 6th mass extinction), i see extinction of humanity (and most other life) by 2030, so your projections for 2050 are not going to happen. After the oceans are effectively devoid of life and it’s too hot (or cold or stormy or through soil depletion) to raise crops, trees and other vegetation die off from tropospheric ozone pollution (among a laundry list of others, including man-made radiation), there will be nothing to eat. As we continue along, desertification (sources of potable water drying up) advances all over the world while our population continues to grow – that’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.

  5. Robert Milnes says:

    what a gloomy bunch you are here.

    1. ella says:

      Robert “what a gloomy bunch you are here.”

      And this from you Robert?? 🙂 Perhaps you could offer the positive side?

  6. Robert Milnes says:

    I thought I did.

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