Science Fiction or Science? How Big Data impacts the future
Still in lockdown
Week seven of the lockdown and the only immediate future I can think of is “when the heck are we likely to get back to some form of normal life?” Prospects do not look great for anytime soon!
So, I will console myself with thinking further ahead. Actually, when you get to my advanced years thinking too far ahead is maybe not that consoling, but hey ho!
Predicting the future is a bit of a two-edged sword for a control freak like myself – on one hand you will not be around to discover you got it completely wrong, but nor will you be able to wallow in your sweet success if you get some of it right.
The approach most soothsayers appear to take, including Nostradamus – perhaps the most famous of them all, is to be as vague as possible and to write in some obscure French dialect so that translations can be ‘interpreted’ in your favour if so required.
By way of explanation
Most of the things I am most optimistic about are based on my observations regarding the sheer tenacity and ingenuity of humankind. We are where we are because we are the most successful species on earth. Who knows, maybe the most successful species in the universe (though there has to be some doubt about that as we are only really aware of a very, very, very, very, small fraction of one percent of one little bit of it!)
Like all species our success is based upon survival. Survival despite all of the dangers and adversity thrown at us – much of it caused by ourselves it has to be said (think war, pollution, politicians etc).
So, if we are to thrive and continue into the distant future, what do I think we will need to do? Here are a few thoughts (by the way, I hate science fiction with a passion – so think about these things from the science bit only please).
Migration to Other Planets
Sooner or later (probably later, hopefully not too late) this will be inevitable, not least because we are fast ruining the one planet we do currently occupy. Obviously tentative steps have already been made, but perhaps the entire reason for our existence is to eventually populate the universe?
This thought stems from my privately held view that, if you think about it, we are in fact, just another virus like Covid-19, but we have been around longer and more successfully, so have evolved accordingly.
The drive for survival and the stark requirement for more living space will surely mean us looking to colonise the planets in the same way we gradually colonised the world?
How we actually go about doing this will depend upon the outcome of several other of my predictions.
Delay or Reverse the Aging Process
Our lives are currently, just a blink in time compared to the scale of the universe. By the time we gain a little knowledge it is wiped away by death. It is only in the last few centuries that we have been able to pass that knowledge on for future generations, first by word of mouth, then books and now computer networks. But even with this capability, death is still a bit of an ‘inconvenience’ when it comes to being able to make use of the knowledge we gather. Imagine if we could elongate life to the point where 50 years of accumulated knowledge could be followed by, say, another 50 or 100 years of productive application of that knowledge and further research. Imagine if people lived a healthy and productive life of several hundred years?
Sounds a bit scary (and much like my hated science fiction), but just suppose you suggested to someone in the middle ages that the average age of a human would be say 85 years – well surely they would have found that as unbelievable then as a 200 year lifespan seems now?
We already know a great deal about the aging process. It is linked to the deterioration of our natural gene replacement process. And we are now learning how to manipulate genes. Check it out, this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We have more than doubled the expected lifespan of a human in the western world in the last 10 generations. But again, this is but a blink in time.
Mapping the Human Brain
If you cannot think of any good reason for doing this, you are not using yours very effectively!
The human brain is one of the most miraculous, complex and intricate entities in our known world. We currently only have the vaguest ideas about exactly how it works to provide us with the memories and cognitive capabilities we all enjoy.
I know this is hard to believe when you have lost your car keys or turned up at Tesco without your purse or wallet, but believe me – you are a wonder, and you brain is the most wonderous part of you!
Apart from the obvious health benefits for dementia etc, imagine if the current research can eventually allow us to identify how the neural network operates then maybe we can begin to replicate this in our computer networks. Imagine the leap this might give us in our collective cognitive and processing capabilities. For one thing it might allow us to process the data we are gathering from the far edges of our galaxy, and beyond, much more effectively and give us a clearer view of exactly what else is out there. Maybe a black hole would not be as black?
The size and scale of the universe is mind-boggling. With our current technology the time needed to travel to even the nearest potential ‘new home’ would be, well, astronomical – 40 years to the edge of our solar system, 80,000 years to the nearest star and 749 million years to the nearest galaxy. Even a vastly extended lifespan is not going to cut it!
The only option is to find a way of travelling faster. Ideally a way that does not involve friction, because even though there is a very thin atmosphere in space, it is still sufficient to slow down any propulsion. And where would that propulsion come from? Taking rocket fuel with you is a solution for reaching the moon, but out of the question for extended space travel. Solar power only works if you are ‘near’ to the sun – not feasible when the objective is to get away from the sun. A nuclear-powered spacecraft is way beyond our current technology as it would have to be far too big and heavy to ever launch.
OK so some form of time-travel or molecular disassembly, transmission and reassembly (beam me up Scotty!) are the only options that come to mind right now (pesky science fiction once again) but lets suppose the additional computing power I mentioned in the last paragraph might allow us to identify the secrets that would allow such nonsense?
As a young boy I used to be taken every Saturday morning to our local cinema and watch a space hero called Flash Gordon prance around the screen (no wonder I hate science fiction). I did however marvel at, but entirely dismiss as rubbish, the unbelievably cool device he had which allowed him to see and talk with the evil Emperor Ming on a distant planet.
Yesterday I spoke with and saw my grandkids on a similar device. Mindblowing.
A Single Tribe
The tribal system which pervades all of humanity has served us well up to now. It has helped protect the individual, promote exploration – a breakaway tribe has to wander off to find a new home, and generally support the ‘survival of the fittest’. Strong tribes live, weak tribes die or are assimilated.
However, if we are indeed going to become space travellers, then we will need a single purpose, direction and decision-making system. We need to be Earthlings, not Americans Russians, Australians, or whatever. This would have been considered unthinkable in the past, because the tribal system at its worst has meant we have spent centuries killing each other. But the technology I mentioned above has already started to impact that. Even during this lock-down I have been able to speak from my home in Norwich, UK with people in the USA, Kuala Lumpa, and New Zealand – as if I were in the same room as them. This has got to bode well for a closer cooperation between tribes for the future. Because of such technological advances the world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Probably too small, which brings us back to my first prediction.
So you are probably thinking “what has this to do with Enterprise Big Data”? Well as I tried to explain in my last article, everything has something to do with Big Data. When the astronomers scan the heavens or the medical scientists reviews the results of brain scans they do not immediately get pretty pictures to look at – they get data. It is only when that data is processed and analysed that it begins to make some sort of sense. And that is how observations are made and information is gathered to help resolve the issue in hand.
Big Data Analysis offers the prospect for improving so many aspects of our lives and might just make the difference in the future. If we are to have a future.