Scientific discovery moves us into ‘a new frontier,’ is engaged with a ‘battle’ against disease, a ‘war’ against cancer, or a ‘struggle’ for truth. Or at least, that is the way it is depicted in the media – a linear and progressive path that focuses on successes and ignores failures. Better living through chemistry. Energy too cheap to measure.
This is also the view of futurists like Ray Kurzweil, who predicts that in 10 years, there will be drugs that let us eat whatever we want without gaining weight, or allow us to live forever (sorry, I won’t be taking that one). It’s often too tempting to listen to futurists — like a plenary given at the recent Council of Science Editors meeting — since they tell us what we want to hear: increased efficiency and production, reliance on added intellectual value, more leisure time. Futurists give us dates that are just close enough for us to imagine, yet far enough away to escape accountability. It’s a great job if you can get it.
Yet it doesn’t matter if you new computer has doubled the processing speed of your old computer. Your brain still functions at the same speed (and perhaps a little slower now) than when you had that old computer. Your new computer does not allow you to review twice as many manuscripts, or reply twice as fast to inquiring authors. Unlike software and hardware, our brain never made the leap to Brain 3.0, let alone the upgrade to 2.0.
“Ah ha!” say the futurists. In the next 10 years, artificial intelligence will be so advanced that it will write my dissertation for me, and no one will be able to detect that it was done by a computer! (futurists use lots of exclamation marks). “Fantastic,” I reply. “I’ll send it in electronically to FacultyAdvisor2.0, which by then, the software will be able to get it back to me faster than my real advisor does.”
(image from NY Times)