Chapter Twelve: Future Roads For The Human Psyche

VI. The World In 2040

Although the final chapter of this Part and then Part Three will extend guesses about the future as far forwards as 2100, predictions past 2050 about how people may live are highly speculative. The period 2020-2050 is perhaps more predictable, and as a preparation for the remainder of the book, this chapter ends with an imaginary description of how one particular individual may begin his day in 2040.

The assumptions made for this particular exploration (most of which have been 'trailed' in earlier chapters) are to be thought of as applying to the period 2030 - 2050. They may be called Utopian, or nightmarish, depending on where you are coming from!

A Morning In The Life Of Ivan Hueng-Smith

Born Hong Kong, 2015, of a Russo-Chinese mother and a British father, Ivan is 25 and still lives in Hong Kong with his parents.

7am. Ivan's wife, Lily wakes him. In fact Lily is visiting her family in Beijing and is 'inhabiting' her local Remote Cognitive Representation (RCR), a humanoid but clearly non-human robot.

It is no longer necessary for people to meet each other 'in the flesh' with rare exceptions. An individual's RCR – of which she may have several – can represent its remote 'owner', and if an encounter is not real-time, ie under conscious control, its details are transmitted back to the other party's brain by wireless using a small 2-way implant linked to aural, visual and tactile input and ouput channels. The RCR is not strictly necessary in such transactions, of course, given the wireless links which connect every individual brain to the Internet, but most people prefer to suppose the physical presence of their counter-party (wife, child, parent, colleague etc) either through their direct holographic image, or through an RCR.

Naturally, during an encounter between two people, whether or not RCRs are involved, either party has access to the full ESS (expanded sensory space – the global knowledge acquis of the human race), and participants can view or otherwise experience external input that may be useful in the transaction. (Did you see Federer yesterday?)

Group interactions between more than two people are almost invariably carried out through RCRs, due to the difficulty for the brain of maintaining contact with multiple external partners. RCRs have far greater multi-channel communication capacity than individual brains, however much enhanced.

After a few minutes, Ivan and Lily switch from their twosome to their family group, which currently has 11 members, in order to discuss caring arrangements for Lily's grandmother, who is in a nursing home in London.

At this point, Ivan's RCR invites other members of the group to participate in the discussion. Some (perhaps pre-warned) will agree; others will be absent. All will of course receive details of the meeting through their own RCRs later on if they don't participate in real time, and in any event may have posted their contributions and opinions in their own RCRs in advance of the meeting. During the discussion, hosted by Ivan's RCR, since he initiated the exchange, individuals who 'take the floor' will inhabit their own RCRs while they are speaking. (Within a very few years, such 'meetings' will be taking place in a Remote Cognitive Collective (RCC), but in 2040 that technology has only just been developed, and there are still major ethical and operational issues to be resolved.)

In 2015, in the author's family, living in four different countries, the eight Internet-enabled members already routinely write e-mails on family subjects to the group – it's far more efficient and accurate than all those multiple phone calls and meetings. Nowadays we all know what's going on. It's easy to make a phone call or send a separate e-mail in case you want to add something more private, but we hardly ever do. It's an interesting fact (but an expected one) that within this family group there has not needed to be any discussion about procedures, rules, propriety etc – we all know instinctively (we are a kin-group after all) what can be said, and when, and to whom.

8am. After breakfast, Ivan attends a (virtual) lecture as part of his post-graduate course in cognitive informatics. He has moved to his living room and for the lecture (his avatar) chooses to wear an outfit copied (by the RCR) from last night's talk show. Of course, Ivan is actually still in his shorts. His presence at the lecture is delivered by the RCR, as is the case for the other 20 or so students, and the lecturer.

The lecturer is a slightly different case, being a composite of eight different lecturers voted on by the student group. When the group formed, through a sophisticated version of an Internet chat-room, which can be thought of as an early form of an Remote Cognitive Collective, they selected a learning institution, then picked eight course elements from eight different academic bodies world-wide. AURSS (Advanced Universal Really Simple Syndication) combines the elements into a synthesized series of presentations. The lecture is interactive, in real time, and it occasionally (but seldom) happens that there is a question needing referral back to one of the eight source-lecturers, who may not necessarily be on-line for the lecture (mostly they are, because they want to get paid!).

After the lecture, which had been pre-scheduled as part of the course, Ivan remained in the virtual world of the institute socializing with other students in his group. He also spent time in the institute's library, doing some research, had a private consultation with his tutor, and finally made some contributions to his group's thesis-project.

Post-graduate studies, and indeed graduate courses in general, contain very little individually prepared and marked work by 2040. Instead, groups of students work together on tasks and projects. To some extent this is a response to the over-specialization which had dogged academic studies at the beginning of the 21st century and reflects a general trend in academic research: a project conducted by a group of 20 individuals is evidently able to draw on a far wider range of inputs than a single-author project. Given the resources of the Internet and the extended External Sensory Space (ESS), the cognitive limitations of one individual are seen as a barrier to effective research in most cases when the use of RCRs, real-time virtual project capsules (VPCs – the environment, akin to a VIC – within which a project takes place and is managed) and AURSS can produce much fuller results while preserving individual creative input. Not that individual effort is unrecognized or unrewarded: course marking distinguishes individual achievement even in the most group-oriented environments, and real-time rankings of students are accessible at all times both to them and to tutors. Projects are also competitively ranked: groups of students take immense pride in the current score of their projects, and an underperforming student receives short shrift from his fellows.

Ivan's institute (the Global Institute for Psycho-Sciences or GIPS) doesn't of course have any presence in the physical world. As a private body, it competes against its peers for funding from its students or from state scholarships.

GIPS is an example of a learning institution which performs recognisably the same functions as an old-style university: it has an academic body, offers courses, has students, and has research departments, although business management is more professional than previously. 'Tenure' still exists, despite periodic efforts to extinguish it, but the complete freedom of students to choose courses made up of multiple components from a variety of world-wide learning institutions ensures a high level of competence among lecturers. Other institutions have preferred to become purely academic (offering course modules to 'universities' on an out-sourced basis), or purely learning-based (student groups 'buy in' the courses they want within the organisational structure of the university). On the whole, though, the classical 'mixed' model has survived the virtual transition.

GIPS is run under a highly elaborated set of rules (laws) which deal with all aspects of academic and student life. These laws were developed and are maintained by local representative bodies (groups) of academics, administrators and students, but operate within a global standard-setting structure to ensure compatibility between courses and academic results.

The World Educational Organization (WEO), which administers the overall structure and provides a quasi-legal arbitration and appeals process, was formed shortly after machine translation reached the stage at which language communication difficulties became vanishingly small.

Of course, humans remain imperfect, and crime is ever-present. Criminal law and many parts of civil law have remained residence-based, although international co-operation is far stronger than it used to be in terms of extradition, judicial procedure and correction. Institutions such as GIPS are quick to refer any apparent infringement of societal norms to the appropriate national enforcement organisation; their licenses depend on it.

By 12 noon, Ivan's academic session is finished. He plans to play tennis and have lunch with a friend he met through a Google tennis group (Hong Kong branch). Tennis as a game hasn't changed much since 2015, but tennis clubs nowadays are strictly virtual. The courts themselves are operated as commercial facilities, and when you want to have a game, your RCR will find you the ideal venue and book and pay for it.

A normal site-based tennis club, 2005-style, had typically a mixture of members: old and young, good and bad, those who cheat and those who don't, etc. Although this added a certain amount of complex charm to the process of getting a game of tennis, it wasn't long before the provision of time on tennis courts became separated from the more social aspects of the game, and Internet groups of tennis players began to call the shots as to when, with whom and how they could play. The Google Hong Kong branch has around fifty different sections, each populated by a particular type of player. You can belong to more than one group – Ivan belongs to three of them, the 'married couple group', the 'good, young male player singles' group, and the 'daytime' group.

As with most groups on the Internet, group members are subject to various sets of rules, some universal and some particular. The universal rules lay down some broad principles of group participation: you are who you say you are (and you may have to prove it to an independent arbiter); the basis of your participation must be explicit (if you have a commercial goal, this must be declared); and so on. The particular rules are normally to do with behaviour between group members, and range from minor aspects of etiquette (don't shout in capitals when mailing) to group-specific rules (eg, for a tennis player, what to wear, use of correct shoes, avoidance of bad language).

All of Ivan's activities during his day so far have been associated with group activity, entirely through his own choice, and the groups he has worked or played with have been small, between 8 and 150, which corresponds pretty much to the range of group sizes that early humans encountered, and in which they acquired their groupish nature.

Another notable characteristic of Ivan's life with and through private groups is that the State is nowhere involved in setting or enforcing the rules. In 2040 there certainly still are areas of life in which the State prescribes and enforces rules, but the 21st century has seen a gradual shrinkage of such areas, as people have come to realise that most human activity is better organised at the local, group level rather than by the over-arching State.

Societal Development Between 2010 And 2040

The key influences which came together in the first decades of the 21st century to bring about the situation described above are as follows:

In 2040 it is widely supposed that future human evolution at the biological level will be technology-driven. Already of course there is no part of the body which cannot be replaced or improved by a bionic or artificial biological or bio-electronic device; and some human faculties are routinely enhanced by implants shortly after birth – hearing is the most obvious example with major improvements in the perceived frequency range and spatial discrimination. Direct manipulation of the genome has removed the great majority of genetically-transmitted diseases; and babies are 'designed' to an extent which would have seemed unacceptable even 20 years ago.

Cognitive faculties have also been enhanced in a real, genetic sense by manipulation of the genome, and are further sharpened by appropriate drug therapies, although these remain controversial. But the most obvious sense in which the human psyche has evolved, and continues to evolve, while not genetic, is through the enormous expansion of individual and group cognitive power made possible by better communication and increased access to knowledge, due to the Internet and the invention of RCRs.