Paul Krugman and Charlie Stross had a conversation about the future at Anticipation World Con, every paragraph of which is worth reading.

Though a few exchanges caught my mind.

Paul Krugman on the acceleration of change:

(T)here hasn’t been that kind of dramatic change … If you walked into a kitchen from the 1950’s it would look a little pokey, but you’d know what to do. It wouldn’t be that difficult. If someone from the 1950’s walked into a kitchen from 1909 they’d be pretty unhappy – they might just be able to manage. If someone from 1909 went to one from 1859, you would actually be hopeless. The big change was really between 1840 and the 1920’s, in terms of what the physical nature of modern life is like. There’s been nothing like that since.

Charlie Stross on AI:

Dead (Dutch) computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra had a number of pithy aphorisms … One I particularly like is the question of whether a machine can think is no more interesting than the question of whether or not a submarine can swim. The point being Boeing 737’s and seagulls can both fly, however, we don’t try to replicate seagulls when we’re designing a new airliner.

Stross on how little we really know:

Craig Venter came up with an interesting project a couple of years ago to sequence the Pacific Ocean. If you have a bucket of seawater, it contains probably on the order of a billion organisms most of which are viruses, probably single virus particles in that bucket from a number of species. It turns out when they did shotgun sequencing on a bucket of seawater 98% of the genes they discovered were hitherto unknown. There’s a lot of stuff out there that we do not have a clue about.

Stross and Krugman are both essentially in the same field: the prediction of the unpredictable. And each have clearly sat and thought deeply about exactly where they think we’re headed as a culture. And each make great points during this talk.

I’d add more, but I’m still digesting myself.

Thanks, Slashdot.


Updated the link to point to the non-slashdot’d site.