Looking Back at 2011: Will It Be Remembered As The Year Before 2012?

For those who are mystically inclined, 2011 is likely a year that is pregnant with significance. In fact, not merely pregnant — the birth of a new aeon is so near that, in the radiance of cosmic time — the new age baby should be sticking its head out of the womb right about now.

Even for those of us not pinning our hopes and fears on the Mayan calendar, 2011 was a year fraught with potential paradigmatic shifts in how we see the universe (or multiverse) we happen to occupy (and, another change… can I still use the word occupy without seeming to protest too much?).

In May, CERN Scientists captured “Antimatter” for 1/6 of a second and researchers at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute claimed to find an arsenic-based lifeform.

In July, scientists punched a hole in the fabric of time with a “time clock” (And here I am merely quoting a gizmodo headline about a cloak that hides events in time) and then, physicists simulated the end of time in their lab.  What the hell? They couldn’t wait a freakin’ year for the real thing?

In August, MIT scientists took another step towards ALife mimicking biological complexity using tiny polymers.  Not to be outdone, scientists in Glasgow announced that they had taken the first steps toward inorganic life — something called Inorganic-Chemical-Cells or iCHELLS.  Meanwhile Harvard-based Pataphysician, Hassan I Sirius, announced that he had discovered inorganic life simply by tuning in to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on Bravo.

September brought the major cosmological upset of the season when scientists at CERN announced that they had measured neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light. Some speculated that this could be proof of extra dimensions.  In November, a repeat experiment appeared to confirm the earlier results. Still, many scientists are skeptical.

In October, scientists in England announced a laser powerful enough to tear apart the vacuum of space.  So, if you’ve been following along, we’ve now torn time and space… but we may have extra dimensions so no worries!

In November, Terence W. Deacon published possibly the most fully realized scientific explanation of how mind emerged from matter and researchers at the University of South Wales — using the science of quantum fluctuations — created light out of a vacuum, making the researchers, collectively, the God of the Old Testament.

Meanwhile, back amidst humanity, these are revolting times. It’s hard to believe that around this time last year, when it came to revolution, all we had was one handsome Aussie antiauthoritarian with an autocratic streak and some anonymous hackers dancing along the borderline between open cyber-revolution and the pursuit of lulz.

Indeed, as per Time magazine, 2011 was the year of the protester, represented most prominently by the uprising of the Arab Spring and, in the US, by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement — the revolution that began with a hashtag.   Meanwhile, Anonymous upped its game — at least rhetorically — by declaring war on all governments, banks and corporations.  Suit up, Bernadine Dohrn!

Seriously though, as plutocracy continues to shade towards kleptocracy, questions around economic fairness will not be ignored.  Observing transhumanist and Singularitarian-oriented groups on Facebook, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a strong majority responding positively to OWS, driving some libertarians and economic conservatives into fits of apoplexy. (one fellow in the Acceler8or conference threatened to nuke the world if it didn’t follow the path of a totally free market.  On the other hand, it needs to be said that there are some libertarians and anarcho-capitalist supporters of OWS. After all, governance is the ocracy in plutocracy.)  These issues will certainly continue to haunt the H+ world and will tend to challenge the prevailing notion in some circles that desirable change can be fostered almost exclusively by technical progress.

Have we forgotten anything?  Oh yes, I think most of us have forgotten that there’s a massive wasteland surrounding a nuclear plant in Japan and people won’t be going back there for decades (or centuries?).  Did that really happen this year?  Doesn’t it seem like the distant past? Will we be buried by floods or earthquakes — or will our memories simply be buried under the info blitz?

Well, things aren’t all bad. Finally, a nation has recognized the importance of contemporary youth by making a twenty-something its leader. Hells yeah!  2012 is gonna be a blast!

R.U. Sirius is currently editor of Acceler8or. That’s where he got those awesome mind-breaking science links from, btw, so check it out!

 

6 Comments

  1. I dont believe in the 2012 apocalypse. I am a transhumanist, but I will not be corrupted by hatred and lust for chaos and bloodshed. I believe that an a “singularity” as you call it will come about not because of a cataclysm, but because of a realist. A realist with a dream of helping humanity. It wont be big, it will have to escalate from a single innovation. Yes, some will be left behind, it’s evolution, but it’s slow. We may not experience much of it, and if we do, it will be nowhere near perfect. If safety from cataclysm is your motivation, then by all means, work with it. But keep extreme things like that in the confines of your own minds, and “what if?” scenarios so people will think about it. Currently, H+ is labeling themselves as psychos. Present yourselves as not prophets of doom, but as ordinary men and women, with a dream to change humanity for the better.

  2. star0 gave much better overview of important events in technology. Most impressive are brain-computer interface, siri and watson. Nothing important in physics though.

    Terence W. Deacon btw, presents in his book quite an old idea. There is Ben Goertzel’s book on the same topic.

    • Nothing important in physics? The LHC is dialing in on the Higgs Boson as we speak, we’ve generated light in a COMPLETE VACCUM proving an aspect of quantum theory, University of Michigan researchers found a way to exploit the magnetic properties of light to make solar panels entirely out of glass, etc. etc. etc. etc….

  3. A few tech items from 2011 worth mentioning:

    1. Prototype computer screen contact lenses (single pixel only thus far).

    2. IBM’s Watson tech now ready to uncover viable drugs from vast databases of biochemical literature, and to recommend cancer treatments to Cedar’s-Sinai oncologists.

    3. Retinal neural network (biological) functioning can now be emulated to a high enough degree of accuracy that near normal bionic eyes are a possibility for the very near future (see the TED talk by Sheila Nirenberg).

    4. Multiple new cancer vaccines that show great promise in drastically reducing the sizes of tumors, and for some types of cancer, curing the disease outright.

    5. Many other diseases have seen radical new treatments or potential treatments this year, including: hemophilia B (via gene therapy); sleeping sickness; flus (via universal vaccine); Alzheimer’s (insulin inhaler treatment and vaccine tested in mice); cystic fibrosis; Parkinson’s; ALS (breakthrough in identifying commonalities among all types of the disease, and there is now even a possible treatment being investigated); despite Geron’s dropping their paralysis studies using stem cells, many new developments in stem cells to treat diseases have appeared just this year; obesity now has two potential breakthrough treatments (one is in clinical trials already); Ebola (a long-lived vaccine to treat it); multiple sclerosis; malaria; AIDS. Drugs to stop a wide range of viral infections have also been developed. Gene therapy for muscular dystrophy in development. Mouthwash to end cavities.

    6. Bio-printing of artificial organs is now a lot further along; and there is a new kind of plastic that has been used to form a scaffold on which to place stem cells to grow organs such as windpipes.

    7. The level of automation is rising dramatically. Foxconn, for example, plans to use unheard-of numbers of robots to manufacture electronics, including now solar panels. Farmbots are now very close to reality, there is even a fully-functional robot soon to be used in the horticulture industry to move potted plants. Robot security guards are soon to be used in South Korea.

    8. Honda released their next model of the Asimo, which is now fully autonomous. The new Nao robot looks impressive. NASA has a new humanoid robot. And there are several more new, impressive robots.

    9. Apple has basically mainstreamed decent, narrow A.I. in the form of SIRI (which was available a little more than a year ago, actually). And now there are rumors that Google will soon release their answer to SIRI — project Majel.

    10. The first forays into “Matrix-like learning” using neurofeedback and MRI’s has arrived.

    11. Iphone-size x-ray scanners now exist; and medical tricorders have arrived.

    12. Ultrasonic brain surgery has arrived. In fact, many new uses for ultrasonic surgery has now arrived.

    13. The cost of solar panels continues to fall precipitously.

    14. See-through video glasses have arrived, and there are rumors that Google has an advanced-stage prototype heads-up-display (HUD) embedded in see-through glasses.

    15. The cost of 3D printers continues to fall, and they are now as cheap as high-quality desktop computers.

    16. Neuromorphic chips have been developed by IBM and their collaborators; and MIT has built highly detailed neuron chips with large numbers of synapses.

    17. Photonic chip prototype developed by researchers at Bristol in the U.K. allows one to work with entanglement.

    18. Several breakthrough discoveries in superconductors, including a new theory (by some Caltech chemists) to explain the underlying causal mechanisms of high-temperature superconductivity.

    19. The PR2 robot can now go pick up a sandwich at Subways — traversing the floors of a building and using elevators, all autonomously (and the route was not pre-programmed).

    20. New algorithms (breakthroughs?) in unsupervised parsing and ontology induction have been developed.

    21. Multiple breakthroughs in battery technology, including one giving batteries 10X the storage capacity with short recharge times (but only 150 recharge cycles), and a long-lived battery (that can be recharged thousands of times without loss in capacity).

    22. Memory and cognition-enhancing drugs (more than one) have been tested in rodents.

    23. Multiple firsts for brain-chip-computer interfaces tested in monkeys and rodents, including a artificial partial hippocampus.

    24. Nanotube wires now conduct as well as copper. Could electronics of the future have no metal wires at all?

    25. Several developments in the use of quadcopters: using them to build architectural artwork; and the Matternet (still developing — watch out for this in coming years… it could be the start of a revolution)

    26. And there have been several developments in life-extension research (some even look like breakthroughs to me).

    27. Computer chip performance continues to improve, and quad-core chips in smartphones is near.

    And these are only the ones that I can think of off the top of my head!

  4. Sounds like grasping at straws to me, R.U. What about the fact that high-profile free market advocates like Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen have raised the prospect of a Great Stagnation? That would explain why the 21st Centuryreality doesn’t look much like “the 21st Century” we read about as children.

    Just look at all the “future of X” things we can observe now, in our mysterious, far-future year 2012, which have turned into either illusions or ashes:

    Nanotechnology

    Manned space exploration

    Space colonization (which really sucks to those of us who joined the L-5 Society back in the late 1970’s)

    Artificial intelligence

    “Anti-aging” and “life extension”

    The postindustrial leisure society

    Guaranteed incomes for everyone, not just for rentiers like the Bushes and the Kennedys

    Fusion power

    Commercial supersonic travel

    I could go on, but you get the idea. Several books and websites have documented what we now call the paleofuture, and a lot of it looks simply embarrassing now.

    It seems increasingly likely to me that left to their own devices, societies proceed more in a drunkard’s walk fashion than according to an implicit goal which gets them somewhere, like how an acorn grows up into an oak tree. A lot of our notions about “the future” from the last century incorporate teleological notions, rather like creationism, which the empirical evidence doesn’t seem to support.

  5. The “wasteland” around Fukushima is the result of setting acceptable radiation levels at about 1,000 times the level we all get through medical radiation exposure. The number of people who have died of radiation from that event is around zero. In the same time, 30 coal miners have died (and coal and other high-carbon sources have killed others). Look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki today before repeating the reflexive anti-nuclear line.

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