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In The Year 2050

The English speaking world’s favorite source for news, Telegraph.co.uk, informs their readers that more than 40 percent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press/Smithsonian Magazine.

You have got to hand it to the editors at Telegraph; they know how to craft an enticing headline. It made ME stop and take notice, and I am grateful that it did. There are some other very interesting poll results that accompany the Jesus question.

Some of my favorites:

81% believe computers will be able to converse like humans by 2050.

58% believe another world war will have occurred by 2050.

71% believe cancer will be cured by 2050.

31% believe the earth will be struck by an asteroid by 2050.

I suppose these are a few of my favorites because I can’t believe in any of these scenarios occurring by 2050.

Computers are truly amazing, and getting more amazing by the year. But we should not allow our amazement to underestimate the complexity of the human brain. For my limited understanding of how complex the human brain is, to try and replicate the half dozen or so speech-related functions of the brain using computers would seem akin to mapping all of the galaxies in the observable universe. (Actually, upon checking, scientists have mapped about 15% of the universe – that’s actually much more that I would have guessed.)

A modern “world war” in the context of WWI and WWII seems unlikely to occur. The more likely scenario is nuclear annihilation, which I think is less classified as warfare and more accurately described as human genocide – not really an ideal comparison to the world wars from the 1910’s and 1940’s. Either way, will anyone still be around to say who was right and who was wrong?

A “cure for cancer” is like stating  a “cure for infections”. There are so many types of cancer that develop for different reasons. Cancer is part of the human condition, or more accurately, the “living condition”. Most living things, especially animals, will always be subject to cancers. Some types of cancers might be cured, but all cancers? By 2050? No.

Asteroid strikes are so rare, and people’s belief in an asteroid strike is based on a misunderstanding of statistics. The odds of death by asteroid are about 1 in 500,000. By contrast, odds of death by motor vehicle are 1 in 100. Not all asteroids will be of the global killer variety, some are just a few tens of meters wide, but I doubt the respondents had these numbers in mind when offering their feelings.

Read the article and let us know which poll numbers are your favorites.

6 comments to In The Year 2050

  • petrucio

    I don’t think we need to map and replicate the human speech-related functions in order to implement a computer that passes a Turing test. Computers are not biological machines – to implement natural speech by copying how biology does it is like bending spoons using only the power of the mind.

    I DO think computers will pass Turing tests much earlier than 2050. If you read “converse like humans” and do not think passing Turing tests would qualify, you’re setting your goal posts unrealistically far. You know where that leads…

    And while I do agree that curing cancer is like curing infections (or making war on terror), I think it’s possible that we will eventually reach a point where the death rate from all cancers would be so low that it would be considered curable. It’s semantics. Again, goal posts too far.

    And asteroids? Sure, we’ll get hit, many times, by tennis balls. Anyway, these questions are frased so ambiguously to the point of being useless. You and I had completely different interpretations of them, and there are many more possible.

  • scienceandreason

    Wag says … by 2050 61% will not send letters. In a related story, experts predict most Americans will be unable to read by mid-century.

    I see a connection between 71% predicting a worldwide energy crisis, and the likelihood of future wars. Not of the WW I/II variety, mind you, but more along the lines of our current national nightmares. May our children forgive us our profligate ways with oil.

    As far as computers and human speech, I’m a bit skeptical on that one, though it would be cool to see it happen. What would we say to it anyway? More to the point, why would it want to converse with us anyway? What if it has a personality disorder like Marvin the Paranoid Android?

    Cancer cured by 2050? Doubtful, but better preventions and treatments may render it much less life threatening than today. We can always hope things improve in this area.

    As for Jebus returning, I guess we can always refer to Mark 13:24,30. We’re still waiting …… ZZZzzzzz ……. I’m holding out for the Flying Spaghetti Monster … seems like a nicer fella.

  • eean

    I really don’t see there being another World War either. Basically a world war would require superpowers to gang up on each other. I don’t see that happening.

    But mostly I commented to register agreement with petrucio regarding computers talking. :)

  • radiantmatrix

    Som of your arguments are based on assumptions that are a bit of a stretch.

    As @petrucio pointed out, getting computers to converse enough like humans that most people would agree that the computer is human-like doesn’t require anywhere near a complete mapping of human speech in the brain. Convincingly simulating human behavior is a lot easier than modeling the actual thought process behind it. In fact, there are already machines that “converse” like humans (humans can’t distinguish the computer from a fellow human) using text-only, and confined to certain topics. It’s not a stretch to imagine that in 40 years, we might be able to recognize human speech as input, and provide human speech as output, well enough to fool most people.

    As for the World War, you’ve constrained yourself to conventional warfare in the manner of WWI and WWII. What about other kinds of war, at which we’re currently only guessing? WWIII could as easily be an information war, or a war where the superpowers remain neutral and the developing world dukes it out. Annihilation isn’t necessarily the only outcome.

  • My favorite: 66 per cent say the Earth will definitely or probably get warmer but it breaks down strongly along political lines, with just 48 per cent of Republicans saying so and 83 per cent of Democrats.

    This intrigues me as it has much to do with the thought processes that underlie political affiliation. How one thinks, what one believes, acts as a filter – determining which facts/data one is willing to accept. Its not about the data – it’s about the beliefs/preconceptions. This is a striking example of this phenomena.

  • Nick Andrew

    Indeed. The existence or cause of Anthropogenic Global Warming is one of those worldview-affecting type questions. A person who believes that the Earth was created to spec by Jehovah and animals were created so mankind could control them is statistically more likely to be politically Republican and statistically less likely to accept that we’re causing problems with the planet due to our behaviour.

    As for the other questions, I wouldn’t be surprised if we can converse with computers (whether vocally or not) by 2050. We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years.

    As for the return of Jeesus … not gonna happen. Is there a website where people can bet against the end-of-the-world believers? It must be easy money.

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