Neal Stephenson. (Creative Commons photo by Bob Lee.)
There's been a lot of discussion in this week's Cosmic Trigger online discussion about Robert Anton Wilson's predictions for technology breakthroughs in the near future, including life extension and space colonization.
I wrote in the comments that "RAW's predictions on longevity have turned out badly so far, and his predictions on space travel/space colonization haven't worked out, either, but a lot of people have been wrong about the pace of space travel, including Arthur C. Clarke, who has generally done well with predictions. I've seen discussion about the unexpectedly slow pace of space travel and technology in general from Neal Stephenson, Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel, among others." Allow me to clarify and expand on that.
Eric Wagner wrote in reply, "I don't think Bob's prediction on longevity and space migration have turned out badly. I think the changes have happened more slowly than he anticipated, but the he correctly saw the trends."
About whether life extension is likely to happen anytime soon, I am agnostic; I have not studied it the way that Charles Faris or Rasa have, so I don't feel qualified to offer an opinion. As for space migration, I tend to agree with Eric that it seems likely.
The establishment of space colonies in orbit and on the Moon hasn't happened as quickly as RAW thought it would, but a lot of other people were wrong about that, too. In fact, many people have written in the past few years about how space travel and technology in general have not advanced as quickly as expected.
Tyler Cowen wrote an entire book, The Great Stagnation, to argue that with the exception of information technology, there have been few advances in technology in the last few decades and that for the most part the way we live is very similar to how our grandparents lived.
Peter Thiel has been thinking along much the same lines, and in fact referenced stagnation in his speech about a week ago at the Republican convention, saying that during the time of the Apollo space program, "The future felt limitless."
"But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all.
"That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan Project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.
"Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East."
Neal Stephenson, in his 2011 essay "Innovation Starvation" (reprinted in the book Some Remarks) wrote, "I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness. Where's my donut-shaped space station? Where's my ticket to Mars? ... I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program may be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer, to name only a few."
What steps should be taken to revive a sense of optimism about technology and "get things done"?