Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Question

Have you ever woken up and realized that you had woken up in a different world than you had gone to sleep in?
It’s a serious question, one I’d really like you to think about for a moment.
The reason I ask, is because all of us have, only we didn’t realize it. And the majority of you still don’t. The reason is that the difference is so subtle, so small, that it passed without notice except for a very few.
In the year that I was born, Man landed on the moon, and it seemed the future would be a glorious adventure of man’s conquest of space. We would soon have a lunar colony, and preparations for the colonization of mars couldn’t be farther than the turn of the century… It was an exciting time to be alive.
Then political reality set in. The government couldn’t care less about people going to the moon. It only cared about the space program because it was a salve to the ego blow of the Russians getting a satellite in orbit. Once it had been done, the government lost interest in a technology that could potentially bring wealth beyond anything the planet had ever known, because the capital investment wouldn’t see that return for decades, all of which meant no one in power then would benefit.
So good bye to all the dreams of a future in space for all us wide eyed kids, hello Viet-Nam.
But what I didn’t realize then, was that the future hadn’t died. The politicians might have cut the future down, but they forgot to rip out the roots. For the longest time, no-one paid any attention as the future spread and grew new shoots, small little runners, so tiny compared to the giant the politicians had destroyed , but in massive numbers. Microelectronics, advances in medicine, bioengineering, massive integration, all the various fields that had come together to make the Space program viable took what they had learned, and expanded, never realizing that they were all still part of the same future thought gone forever, and through ten thousand little steps, a miracle occurred…
The world changed, but no one noticed.
I know I certainly didn’t at first. For the first twenty-five years of my life, I looked at a world where the only certainty seemed that we would die in nuclear fire. The Apocalypse and Armageddon lurked around every corner, and all it seemed one could hope for was that Christianity had it right and maybe the rapture would spare some of us from the ultimate holocaust.
I was such a good little Christian in those days. Like too many people, I looked for salvation from some outside force, trying to find a hope in a world where it seemed hope had died. But by my early twenties I had seen through the hypocrisies and brainwashing and political maneuverings of a church that sought nothing more than secular power and had no faith in its own teachings. Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker had proven to be such fine paragons of virtue that the trite morality disguising their political agendas had become a joke. It was a world where the future was meaningless, faith was meaningless, and fear was the only certainty. All of my bright dreams of childhood lay scattered in the dust of dreary reality. Science Fiction had become my escape, my sole solace in a world without a future.
It was at this time that I enrolled in the local vo-tech, in electronics repair. I figured I might as well make one of the few things I found enjoyable a paying job. Unfortunately, the first speech given by my teacher was how the art of electronics repair was no longer needed. It was cheaper to replace than to repair, and the diagnostics skills needed to troubleshoot at the board level was nearly useless these days. Pretty good pep talk, huh? But I had paid for the course, and had my curiosity, so I tried to learn anyway. I never did finish the course, much to my regret, but it was during this class that I woke up one morning and realized the world had undergone a fundamental shift of reality.
It started with a trip to my library, because my electronics course had just touched on the quantum nature of semi conductors, and how this property was a key to miniaturization. I had picked up a couple of books on miniaturization, and one of them was a book called NANO. It was nothing more than a biography of a man named K. Eric Drexler, but it introduced me to a concept that took my world, and shattered it forever.
Imagine an entire planet made of glass, getting hit by a meteorite, followed by an endless noise of falling glass…
I had been sleeping in a world were there was no hope, only a bleak pointless existence Nietzsche would have envied, and this one concept destroyed that world forever, and replaced it with one where there was a point of hope at the end of a long and dangerous road. Nothing else about the world had changed except the fact that my eyes were open, and could see that far off promise, but that made all the difference in the world.
There was a future again… thanks to nanotechnology.
But it was not a future like those written about by Heinlein, or Asimov, or even the various Japanese Anime I fell in love with like Battle Angel Alita, or Gundam. As much as I still love all of these stories, I can never again see them with the wide eyed wonder I did as a child. I simply can't view that future as anything other than a product of a world which no longer exists. It's never going to happen.
The same with almost every other Sci-fi book I read any more. From Star Trek, to Snow Crash, to Ghost in the Shell, they are all flawed visions of the future seen through the lens of that bleak past I once existed in. The world we are headed towards is as far beyond these visions as a Shakespearian Sonnet is from doggerel verse.
From the early days of learning about Nanotech to researching all the other advances leading to the Singularity, the more I learn, the more that these much loved stories pale against reality. Science Fiction has lost it's magic. I still enjoy picking up new books, and have grown addicted to Anime and Manga, but they are no longer my first love, though I will never deny their influences in helping me shape my view of the future.
Reality has simply grown beyond them.