Me On FastForward

I appear in this FastForward Radio interview with John Smart and Vanessa Miemis, supposedly on the distant future. It didn’t go that well. The interviewers asked the questions in the wrong order, first asking what we should do about “it” today in our personal lives, and then only at the end asking us what “it” is. And they didn’t really have us interact, but instead had us each answer the same questions in sequence.

Vanessa mainly seem to care more about expressing hope, caring, and that things must change, than about actually forecasting a distant future. John Smart expressed his view that current growth rates could continue indefinitely because, hey maybe we’ll use black holes well. But even if black holes let us square the available negentropy, that should only roughly double the time over which we could support exponential growth. As I’ve calculated:

An economy that doubled every century for a million years would grow by a factor of 103010. To support this using the 1070 atoms found within a million light years, each atom would have to support an average of 102950 people at our living standard, one person with a standard 102950 times higher, or some mix of those extremes.

To expect such a growth rate to continue for a billion or a trillion years, is well, crazy. Almost surely within a million years, and even more surely within a billion years, growth must greatly slow.

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  • nazgulnarsil

    I only need enough thorium to run my holodeck.

  • techy3

    Why wouldn’t an economy that doubled every century for a thousand centuries grow by a total factor of 2 to the 1000? How did you arrive at 10 to the 3010th power?

    • Adam

      It’s ten thousand centuries, 2^10 000.

  • Ralph

    It tends to be the way of things when one is dealing with people not familiar with one’s particular path that things tend not to go according to one’s own plan. This would definitely appearto be the case when working alongside the media. They have their strict formats into which one is expected to fit. Radio and TV interviews do tend to be scripted.The extent to which the interview is molded depends on the interviewer.
    Good examples of this would be the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Hard Talk’. Whereas in ‘Newsnight’ the subjects are ‘grilled’ in ‘Hard Talk’ there is more room for fluidity. It would seem that the extent of expression allowed depends, largely, on the market audience.

  • Phil Bowermaster

    Yeah, we might have been a little too tied to the structure of the shows we were using throughout the series. This is the World Transformed 2 and we were trying to talk more about the impact of these changes than define what they are. For things like nanotechnology and the technological singularity that worked pretty well, because we could take the earlier shows we did on those subjects (in the original The World Transformed) as a given.

    But for this one, there is no “standard line” on the distant future and it would have made much more sense to get you, John, and Venessa to answer the last question first. That would have given you more time to flesh out your answers and it probably would have sparked more interplay between the three of you, too.

    • Robin Hanson

      Live and learn. Thanks for having me on your show though.