In the last few months I’ve spent about $100 on PC games and about $40 on sci-fi books. In the same period, I’ve spent exactly $0 on research that could actually bring about the future envisioned by those games and books. What about you?
In a recent article, IO9 paints a bleak picture of our future – no significant life extension within this century, advanced brain-computer interfaces forever out of reach, grim stagnation or only snail-like advancement in many fields. The fact that technological progress often takes longer than expected may cause some disillusionment, but do we really have to wait a hundred years? Do we even have a choice in the matter? After all, most of us geeks lusting after robot servants and night-vision contact lenses don’t really have the skills to do the research, or the power to decide who gets government funding. Right?
As you might have guessed from the first paragraph of this post, there is at least one age-old, proven way to speed up research and development. Money. Or, as as NextBigFuture eloquently put it, “you get what you pay for.”
People should consider diverting $100-150 per year in science fiction movies, DVD, books, toys and games towards actual scientific attempts at life extension and molecular nanotechnology. This does not include another average of $60-100 per person on cosmetic surgery, vitamins and dietary supplements. Why settle for imagination, illusion and fake procedures and invest in attempts at real solutions?
If you pay for science fiction you don’t get a hovercar. You get more and better science fiction. Of course, in real world economics the equation isn’t that primitive – for example, increased demand for better graphics in computer games stimulates the development of faster hardware, which in turn has some marginal benefits for things like AI. However, this is a very inefficient way to help AI research. If these indirect benefits were the only support a research project had it could really take a century before any significant breakthroughs would be achieved.
So, when you want a dream to come true, when you want that flying car, an exoskeleton, or extra 50 years of life, or whatever – do something about it. Don’t just buy more dreams. Donate to research institutes. Spread awareness of promising technologies. At the very least, write a rave blog post that offers actionable ideas (as opposed to utopian phantasies of how cool the future will be) You might think that anything you do won’t make much of a difference. But even if that’s true – I don’t have the data to prove it one way or the other – it is certain that doing something is better than doing nothing.
I’m not going to list any particular research groups that accept donations, or attempt to proselytize (though I might in another post). That would dilute the central message – if you want sci-fi tech, consider donating some funds towards actual research. It doesn’t mean you must stop buying games, books or DVDs – lets face it, that would be a completely unrealistic, and, dare I say it, a very lame proposition indeed. But if you can afford a $20 game/DVD/book, you can probably afford a $20 donation towards making some of the cool tech seen in that game/DVD/book a reality.
As for myself, just before writing this post I set up a monthly PayPal donation to a certain AI-related institute. I will also look into several other possibilities during the next few days.Related posts :