John Raabe's

Our Caretaker Future
Technology as a key to evolution

Writing started with pictographs

Every new technology starts with what it already knows and uses the new technology to express mundane items from the previous era. Only later, when people understand its intrinsic power, does the technology grow to express its full potential.

Writing was initially an external way of storing transaction and counting information. Pictures of cattle were written down to document an inventory. Later a symbol was developed to represent 10 cows so 30 cows could be written with three of these new symbols rather than drawing 30 cow symbols. Later yet, pictographs were developed for ideas, feelings and actions (verbs). With these, CONCEPTS could be expressed and history could be recorded. Ideas could be developed and shared. This was a much higher use of writing and it took a long time to evolve. It was certainly not evident to the early inventors of the technology.

Chinese writing of today still retains a highly stylized pictographic system. This makes for great poetry and allows written language to evolve on a separate path from spoken language. However, most cultures have chosen to evolve writing with a phonetic alphabet — a kind of shorthand for talking where a limited number of symbols represent the spoken language.

This is much easier to learn and keeps writing more in step with cultural changes.

The new enabling technology of the Caretaker era is electronic communication. We are at the pictograph stage with this technology, using it to represent writing, speaking and a few crude moving images. Electronic communication, as it develops, will change culture and the shape of the world we inhabit equally as much as the written word changed oral tradition cultures.

The Internet started with a small handful of objects, or digital symbols, to represent the letters of the written alphabet. This was a way of sending non-paper based written messages. A few years ago the World Wide Web (a subset of the Internet) developed a technology for transmitting other types of objects such as graphics, sound and moving pictures. This opened the Internet up to a much larger audience.

There are many new types of objects that are yet to be invented — objects that will someday be transmitted electronically. We can now (crudely) represent television levels of visual and sound images. This will improve quickly over the next few years. Still to come are further extension of sensual experience such as a sense of touch through resistance feedback (under development), true 3D vision where each eye sees a different image (very close), and smell duplication (further off).

This assumes that all that can ever be transmitted electronically are simulations of the gross physical senses. This is unlikely to be a true limitation. Why should the communicable energy spectrum be limited to our sense interpretations? This is a current restriction only because we are still learning to do the obvious and it's difficult to imagine transmissions of anything else.

But what if some of the current research on such things as telekinesis, distance viewing and other physic/spiritual phenomenon yield enough information about their electromagnetic properties that we are able to understand something about how they work? Could we then communicate these waveforms electronically, or augment them by electronic communications? This is a great leap in the evolution of communication, of course, but the power of writing certainly evolved a comparable distance from its initial expectation as an external counting device. That books could communicate emotions and insights over thousands of years was not understood as the potential future of cow-counting.

It is also quite possible that this stage of our evolution is taking us beyond the use of words entirely and is moving us into a mode of communication that will enlarge and enrich the human experience as much as books and universities enlarged the world of the oral traditions.

All these are leading towards the Internet becoming a medium of stored and real-time experiences of reality. As communication technology improves, the differences between having a real-time, "in your face" experience and having a simulated one will gradually disappear. How will society change when personal experience can be recorded, shared, stored and communicated electronically? Here are some possible ways:

  • Remote shared experiences: The recent mars probe was engagingly successful because the experience was shared and transmitted on the Internet. This first crude example of remote shared experience shows the latent interest that exists for exploration of other worlds. Future missions will refine these techniques and better simulate the experience of being there yourself. This will ensure the future success of space exploration since, if needed, admission can be charged to the experience (and later control) of these adventures. Such interactive robots could endure the long journeys necessary for cost-effective exploration of space. They will also send back information that will effectively become a worldwide shared human experience.

  • Other "sensual" robots will explore sites closer to home. Probes swimming in the ocean or deep water lakes could look for buried treasure, the Loch Ness monster, or map geologic formations. Interactive Internet access would allow viewers to vote on and control mission parameters. A treasure-hunting site might even earn money as viewer/operators buy shares in the potential booty. Sensual robots will be very important to the military for dangerous mission work and to replace human medics, surgeons and mechanics working in battleground conditions.

  • Shared experiential learning: Special interest groups are now quite limited in their ability to physically be together to learn and share experiences. With sufficient real-time interaction many groups will be able to greatly expand and enlarge their learning and experience. With the current state of technology, world class bridge players can compete and learn from other players anywhere on the planet. Any highly symbolic and structured discipline (math and science, for example) already have something close to a shared electronic reality. Soon, the number of things that can be shared in this way will expand. Discussion groups, classes and experiments from the greatest teachers and researchers will be stored and available to students of almost any discipline.

These possible uses of the communications web are simple projections of technology that is already close at hand. As they evolve, technologies become more complex and subtle — and they learn to do more with less. We have come from the coal fired steam engine to the Internet in a little over 100 years. What comparably powerful subtleties are yet to be discovered?

Whether or not any technology (electronic communication or genetic engineering) has a role to play in this drama is yet to be determined. I would like to think that some final monkey waking up somewhere will cascade a new consciousness throughout the world — but that seems about as likely as finding the cosmic wisdom switch in our genetic code. Either could happen, but both are unlikely.

Futurist always look foolish when we finally get to the future. Futures never turn out to be as bad as the pessimistic model nor as grand as the utopian dream. Most likely our future will be some muddle-through stop-gap reality that is just another whistle stop on the big train ride to a destination none of us can understand.

Does that make me an optimist or a pessimist?

John Raabe, 2003 (Started 7/21/97, last revision 6/23/04) HOME

John C. Raabe
Country Plans LLC
5010 South Inglewood Dr.
Langley, WA 98260