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Key Questions Our Speakers & Emcees Are Asking about Accelerating Change

Leading thinkers are now asking fundamentally important questions relevant to accelerating change. Many answers and models are conflicting, controversial and poorly testable, at present. Yet their implications are profound, and their insights are becoming so valuable that they can be used in virtually every decision of our daily lives.

ASF is dedicated to building a community for ongoing discussion of such fundamental and future-important questions. The following are a sample of questions central to the discussions at ACC2003. We've bolded the names of leading thinkers presenting or presiding at ACC2003 who hold these interests. This is by no means a complete or fully accurate list of speaker interests, but a useful introduction to some of the conference dialogs.

  • Is there a hidden law or at least a strong statistical preference for technological acceleration? (Henry Adams, Eric Chaisson, Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec)
  • If there is, in the least, a strong statistical preference for technological acceleration, how may we best facilitate the emergence of positive accelerating change? What are the great near-term and long-term risks of technological acceleration? (Nick Bostrom, William H. Calvin, K. Eric Drexler, Robin Hanson, Bill Joy, Christine Peterson, Richard Preston)
  • Are there brakes on the process of technological acceleration that we do not yet truly appreciate? (Michael Denton, Theodore Modis, Ilkka Tuomi)
  • What brakes, benefits, and opportunities of accelerating change are presently underdiscussed and highly likely to emerge? What issues and scenarios are presently overblown and unlikely to occur? (Lyle Burkhead, Ben Goertzel)
  • Is technology becoming organic? (Brian Arthur, John McHale, Ray Kurzweil)
  • Is technology the next natural computing substrate, on course to soon model and outstrip biology, or is this an overgeneralization of a sterlie mechanistic-deterministic model? (John R. Koza, Christopher Langton)
  • How soon might we develop vastly smaller and faster transformational nanotechnologies? How will this change the nature of the future? (K. Eric Drexler, Chris Phoenix, Mike Treder)
  • How do we keep our current nanoresearch programs on track? How do we become execessively prepared for the next manufacturing revolution? (Christine Peterson)
  • To what extent will we continue to merge with our technologies in coming years? (Nick Bostrom, Rodney Brooks, Andy Clark, Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Sherry Turkle, Natasha Vita-More, Vernor Vinge)
  • Will we perceive a continual human-technology integration to be a desirable journey beyond our current biological selves?
  • Is our universe life-friendly or complexity-friendly? (Paul Davies, James N. Gardner, Martin Rees, Frank Tipler)
  • Does the universe encode or facilitate design for complex systems? (William A. Dembski, James N. Gardner)
  • Does the universe encode or facilitate design for accelerating local computation? (Bela Balazs, John Smart)
  • Has the universe required a long succession of singularities to create us, and, if so, what might that tell us about our role in any coming singularities? (Howard Bloom)
  • To what extent is there an observer-selection bias causing us to misperceive the nature of the world? (Nick Bostrom)
  • How can we achieve the Linguistic User Interface? What must be done to achieve it? What are the enabling technologies? (Matt Lennig)
  • How do we get wireless broadband to six billion people by 2020? What forces are making the world ever smarter? How do we best remove U.S. barriers to wireless and Internet development? (Alex Lightman)
  • How do we use enterprise systems and new technologies to accelerate business process improvement? (Mark Finnern)
  • What are the possibilities of self-adaptive robotic systems for space exploration? (James M. Crawford)
  • How can we best assess the truth or falsity of our speculations on the accelerating future?
  • How can we best use our accelerating technologies to improve our worst global, national, social, and personal problems?
  • How may we improve our economic, legal, and social systems to reward socially-desirable technological innovation? (Sonia Arrison)
  • Is there a nonzero sum "arc of history" and does it tell us the critical importance of global awareness in the modern world? (Robert Wright)
  • What are our present opportunities to practice accelerating compassion? (Scott A. Hunt, Paul H. Ray)
  • How do we develop greater social tools and intelligence? (Ross Mayfield, Tim O'Reilly)
  • How can we best unleash accelerating innovation and economic productivity? (Steve Jurvetson, Josh Wolfe)
  • What are the main bottlenecks to transformational change? (Melanie Swan)
  • To what extent have networks become the new environment for accelerating change, and how do we renew them over time? (Greg Papadopoulos)
  • What is the meaning of information and how do we best use it to create knowledge in an ocean of data? (Keith Devlin)

Humanity is engaged in a grand, accelerating adventure. If present trends continue, in our own lifetimes we will witness more scientific, technological, and even social learning and change than that seen over the previous millennium.

Several physicists of the very small structures in our universe (Steven Weinberg, Leon Lederman) and of the very large (Stephen Hawking, Martin Harwit) have proposed that we may soon capture much of the essence of these two domains in our accelerating and increasingly powerful scientific instrumentation and simulations. If true, that may leave only the middle zone of the very complex as our final frontier (Ian Stewart, Paul Davies). This suggests to some that artificial intelligences, if they emerge in the 21st century, will be engaged in "hard problems" such as the physical basis and larger meaning of the origin of life, the emergence of language, thought, emotion, consciousness, and spirituality, and the future trajectory of local intelligence.

Understanding is of course only part of the journey. How do we help our sociotechnological systems to strengthen our common interests, to create a continually better, cleaner, safer, and yet more creative world for all the minds that inhabit it? Such goals as improving ethics, compassion, interdependence, resilience, security, risk management, and immunity from potential catastrophes may be a function of physical intelligence, properties that are statistically highly likely to emerge in our coming networks, as long as we use caution and common sense.

We are still early in asking the big questions about the accelerating future, and in wisely guiding acceleration in our modern lives. But the more we give ourselves permission to carefully consider these issues, the better equipped we will be to create the daily personal and collective futures, consistent with unavoidable accelerating trends, that we truly desire.


©2003 Acceleration Studies Foundation
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