The major historical effect of technologies is to enhance the abilities of the humans who utilize them. This process has continued unabated, its latest manifestation is in computers, enabling huge numbers of humans to access tools and information they never before could. This of course leads to radical results.
Three events in the last five years shed light on the future of our interaction with technology, the wikileaks organization, the NSA data collection dragnet and Edward Snowdens brave act of self sacrifice. These three events are intrinsically linked, in that they stem from the same source: an exponential increase in information technological capability. It is important to remember that everyone involved in the situation is a human being, influenced and shaped by the circumstances. Human beings inevitably use new technological innovations, and as possibilities emerge, all people reach out and take those possibilities. The NSA has done what it needed to do to remain relevant in the information revolution, with the advent of total interconnection, the possibility of privacy is now a fading dream. The people as well have done what they needed to do to remain relevant, grouping together to create a powerful organization for revealing secret information.
The fact is, both sides broke the law, they observed that the situation was changing faster than the law could keep up with, and so as humans will do, took matters into their own hands.
Was it right or wrong for either side? The argument I will now present is that both the NSA spying and Wikileaks/Snowden are inevitable symptoms of the exponential growth of information technology. Furthermore, they reveal something about the future of exponential technology, and what happens when technology makes social or legal rules irrelevant.
What happens is that people make independent decisions and use technology in the way they see fit. As materials become easier to acquire, everyday people are building robots, satellites, 3D printers, Solar power stations. They are building technology with a new fundamental concept in mind. This is the concept of autonomy. The idea of independence is embedded in western culture, this has always shaped the face of things, but as these new DIY friendly high tech innovation continue to build exponentially, people are conceiving of a technological independence never before dreamed of.
This of course scares the people who are in power, and so they spy on us, try to keep secrets and make themselves the sole proprietors of the new tech. The people respond by breaking open secret information, revealing spying and attempting to capture the technology for themselves. They have been largely successful. What comes next though is anyone's guess, but its safe to assume historical patterns will hold true. If so we can expect two things: People in power will attempt to restrict access to advanced technology that is deemed to have powerful capabilities, and people without power will use any means necessary to secure powerful technology and use it to break the powerful institutions restricting them.
Now lets examine a few advanced technologies and think about how the government and the people might use them.
SOLAR POWER/ALT. ENERGY- The people will use the abundant power from solar and other efficient alternatives to create an energy revolution, this could bring power to every person, allowing them to practice a much more healthy and high standard of living. The powers that be will attempt to continue capitalizing on these products, but the decentralized nature of the industry is enabling many smaller players who do not share the centralization goals of the major corporate players to gain a decisive advantage. What the big power companies will do to resist this trend is anyone's guess, but due to decades of struggle to maintain outdated infrastructure and philosophy, they will most likely crumble before decentralized opposition.
3D PRINTING/ NANO-FABRICATION- Today's 3D printers are already powerful, but nano-technicians foresee a great possibility for this technology: Atomically precise manufacturing. This means you can create exact structures with incredibly precise function with a minimal energy/material cost. What this translates into is a new manufacturing revolution. A Nano-Printer would literally be capable of fabricating any substance who's constituent elements you possess, and because most common substances are made of the same simple pieces (Carbon, Silicone, Oxygen, Hydrogen, ect.) it will be possible to fabricate any object you can imagine from food to medicine, weapons to robots. The potential of this devise is obvious, its greatest effect could be to end poverty and scarcity forever. With one of these devices in every house, we can end poverty and environmental destruction in one blow. The other side of this is of course how the people in power will react to every person having unlimited access to fabrication. People will make weapons, people will make robots and spy gear, people will do all sorts of crazy things. The Nano-Fabricator also would give a clever user the ability to be autonomous from the system itself, meaning that the people in power will fear for their relevance. How they will react is anyone's guess, but it will probably be to aggressively restrict access to the tech and to clamp down on anyone who tries to break away.
ANTI-AGING/NANO-MEDICINE- One of the other powerful possibilities of the nano revolution is the idea of nano-medicine. This is the concept of treating the body on an atomic level. A short list of possibilities reveals that nano-medicine is basically equivalent to immortality: Nano-robots that can fight any micro organism, Nano robots that can repair any damage to cells or organs, they can perform DNA therapy that replaces damaged chromosomes, the list goes on and on. No disease will withstand this revolution.
AUTONOMOUS ROBOTICS- With the advent of intelligent powerful robots, humanity is freed from risking human life to undertake dangerous tasks. The ease of acquiring micro controllers and computers means that right now anyone can build their own spy drone. But soon, it will easy to build much more powerful robots, and people are sure to jump at the opportunity. How long before civilians start acquiring military robots? Probably not long. How will the powerful react? Probably with excessive force.
SPACE TECHNOLOGY- The new space age is on the horizon, and it is an age of corporate and personal space exploration. The shift from government to corporate to personal exploration is taking place as the technology exponentially improves, soon the momentum will take off in an unstoppable fashion. One of the primary boons in space is vast reserves of mineral and water resources, these can be extracted in space and sent down to earth for use. If humanity moves to mining resources in space, it will vastly improve our chances of saving the environment. The economic imperatives are there, with decreasing mineral deposits on earth, space begins to look more inviting. We can hope that the recent advances in private space programs will trigger a new space race and unite humanity to a future in the stars.
It is important to bring a long reaching historical perspective to these rapid advances. This is all part of a patterns of slow social shift, starting from the first moments that humanity tried to organize itself into groups larger than tribes.
In the beginning, religion was humanities great foundational principal, uniting us in purpose. As science grew, religious rule began to be replaced by secular forms of law. Slowly, this became the trend until more secular power existed than not. As governments grew, private economic organizations began to acquire wealth and power, the age of the corporation had come. In the recent past, corporations have usurped much if not all the powers of traditional government and become the dominant form of organization on the planet. Now a new trend is growing, a shift from corporate to personal power. No longer will individual power be delegated away, for even today the power at the fingertips of your average person is greater than the power wielded by kings of old. As technology increases exponentially, so to will increase the power a single individual can possess. When the day comes that corporations can no longer efficiently wield power because of the decentralized nature of society and advanced technology, they will crumble into irrelevance.
The destination of humanities course is unknowable, due to the ever more rapid speed of change. We can however deduce a great trend in western civilization, a trend of individual freedom, the trend of autonomous technology, the trend of inter connectivity, and the trend of hands on do it yourself involvement in technology by ordinary people. This leads to the conclusion that in the future, people will be truly free to follow their own creativity, people will have more material and power for creation than they know what to do with, and people will spread into the stars seeking new worlds and civilizations.