From stone tools to the Internet, from the Internet to the Metaverse
I first started playing ChatGPT on Christmas 2022. Within days, I wrote a science fiction novel about it and blogged about my experiences. Very few of my family and friends knew what I was doing. They probably thought, “That’s just some nerdy thing he’s doing.” Within six months, almost everyone was using his ChatGPT on a daily basis.
Technology has the unique ability to go very fast and slow at the same time. In the 1980s, everyone started using computers in the blink of an eye, so it felt like things were moving fast. In the 1990s, the Internet spread rapidly. In 10 years, smartphones came out, and before that, in 10 years, social media came out. Recently, AI has joined these technologies by storm.
At the same time, it feels slow. Artificial intelligence is a scientific field that has its origins in the fifties of the 20th century. For a long time, it was developed out of the public eye. Although we have reached a breakthrough moment, in other areas it is still just a promise. We don’t have fully autonomous cars, intelligent robots, or a metaverse. But while technology seems to be advancing rapidly, the real advances are decades old. When you feel like it’s still too late.
From science fiction to everyday life
Book 1984 A dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1949. In the story, everyone is under collective surveillance. In particular, he was set in 1984, which was far enough in the future, but still close enough for readers to imagine. In the decades following its publication, many parallels were found between this book and the Cold War. Still, many of the concepts introduced in the book, such as “Big Brother” and “Thought Police,” were not understood literally.
This situation has slowly changed since 1984, when computers and the Internet became commonplace. 2024 is the year when George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality. Just think of Snowden exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance program and China’s practices. Surveillance, shame, judgment their people. It feels logical that the other dystopian sci-fi worlds featured in Snow Crash, VR Player one, and Matrix would slowly become reality in the decades following their publication.
But in reality, technology’s impact on our lives is a million times more subtle than portrayed in science fiction. Certainly, all the mentioned technologies, from computers to AI, have their drawbacks, but at the same time they have given humanity a great deal of individual freedom and power.
Could anyone have imagined that a virus could conquer the world in 1784? Yes, because history shows us events like the Black Death and other pandemics. Could they have also imagined that everyone would stay away from each other and stay at home for years? Of course. But can they imagine being able to communicate with family and friends all over the world while staying at home? Unlikely. Zoom calls, where people can meet and talk to each other even if they’re on five different continents, will feel like magic.
What’s happening here is called the Varian rule. People feel things they can’t even imagine at first. A few geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci may be able to imagine or invent things, but to most people it seems like magic. Then, after a while, science fiction writers can write stories around new technological concepts while scientists work on basic science.
At some point, these technologies will be available to the ultra-wealthy. Varian Rule says: “An easy way to predict the future is to look at what the rich have today. The middle-income group will have the equivalent in 10 years, and the poor will have the equivalent in another 10 years. We’ll be able to get something comparable.”Right now, your grandmother or someone in a poor country is using a smartphone, but in 20 years they’ll be using AI, too.
In the game and Netflix series The Last of Us, the writers imagine a world taken over by a fungus that grows out of control, parasitic on humans. It is easy to imagine that just a few years after the outbreak of COVID-19, viruses, fungi, and other natural phenomena will multiply uncontrollably and rapidly, ultimately affecting us all.
In such natural phenomena, the evolutionary law of natural selection can be applied. Or, in Darwin’s words, “survival of the fittest.” Technology acts like an organism, like a virus that spreads around the world. Currently, our world is already covered in technological dust. Dust made of zeros and ones. It’s made of data.
Technology rules and laws play a slightly different role, as they are often less constrained by resources. For example, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and Google’s director of engineering, proposed the “law of accelerating returns.” This law suggests that technological change is not linear but exponential, meaning that new generations of technology build on previous generations of technology at an accelerating rate.
You don’t learn anything about these things in school. We learn about Shakespeare, Darwin, and Martin Luther King. You may also learn how to apply technologies such as Microsoft Windows and Office. What we don’t learn is how technology impacts our daily lives and controls the direction of the world. And like Kurzweil’s law, its influence grows with each generation.
this story is about you
When I was young, we had one of the first personal computers at home. It was in another room, so we were not allowed to touch it. I didn’t know what to do when the black screen appeared anyway. When the Internet became the World Wide Web, the world expanded. I could visit any page, write about any topic, and (illegally) download any music I wanted.
As a teenager, I couldn’t believe that “older and wiser” people didn’t respond to that. Why weren’t there new laws? Why didn’t we make the most of this technology? As I later found out, those “old and wise” people didn’t understand technology. The same thing happened with smartphones and social media, and the response from lawmakers and schools came years later. That’s why I’m writing this series about technology.
The world and our lives are covered in zeros and ones. Can the Internet help us understand our history as the inventors of the first stone tools? And can we understand the future as the Internet evolves and incorporates other technologies such as cryptocurrencies, IoT, and AI? From the Internet to the Metaverse How do I get there?
This is not a story about emerging technology. It’s about you. How everything in our lives will be digitally connected. How do we break through the sea of 0s and 1s?