Is it possible to algorithmically predict the timeline, structure, and impact of S&T revolutions?
Scientific progress is epsodic with periods of incremental progress interleaved with paradigm shifts that disrupt very fabric of our society (Kuhn). Such disruption affects every field of human endeavor with impacts that are tantamount to irreversible societal transformations and complete changes in the way people live their lives, see the world, and view their position in it. Historically, we have seen the Copernican revolution that changed our position in the universe, the industrial revolution involving the invention of the powerloom and other gadgets that transformed us from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, the quantum revolution that changed our world view, the computer revolution that gave rise to the information world we live in today, the web and the social network revolution that throughly changed the ways in which we live our lives, and the mobile revolution changing the way we communicate (of course there have been others in the middle including the automobile revolution, air transportation revolution, the space exploration revolution, etc.). Right now we are going through the AI revolution that has just started impacting our society.
Each of these revolutions have resulted in upheavals and dismantling of our society. For example, the current AI revolution is making us rethink the future of work as did the industrial revolution in the ninteenth century. It is also making us think about the impact of autonomous machine intelligence in different areas of our life such as transportation and military ushering transformations and raising questions that were unimaginable even recently. In many of these cases of scientific and technological revolutions, the society was not prepared for the resulting upheavals. While the result of these revolutions have largely been positive with the end product being a more advanced human society, in most of these cases the societal fabric went through severe pains and turmoil due to these sudden transformations hitting it like thunderbolts.
Given that we have accumulated so much historical data on these scientific and technological revolutions, is it possible to scientifcally predict the timeline, structure, and impact of the future scientific and technological revolutions so that we can prepare the society for them in advance in a gradual shock-free way? This will give us sufficient time to put in place normative/regulatory/adminstrative frameworks that can help absorb the shock when the real disruption comes. Educational frameworks can be instituted to help prepare the population for the upcoming upheavals much the same way fire drills prepare for disastrous eventualities.
While scientists have developed theories to predict the end of the world that will take place in billions of years in the future, there was nothing in place to predict the impacts of a world revolutionized by the web and the social networks. The results were disastrous with the disruptions precipitated by the web and social networks revolution threatening the very foundations of our democratic society. Had this revolution and its consequences been explored years earlier, regulatory, administrative, and technological frameworks would have been in place to prevent the disastrous side effects. Predicting the scientific and technological future of the world has remained an ad-hoc art form practiced by futurists and scifi movies who have been noted more for their failures than their success.
An endeavor answering these questions would require collaborations between scientists specializing in AI, Statistics, Augmented Reality, Philosophy, Economics, Social Sciences, as well as virtually members of any STEM discipline.
Why does it matter? What scientific discoveries, innovations, and desired societal outcomes might result from investment/Prize in this area?
Every scientific and technological (S&T) revolution has shaken the very fabric of our society displacing people, worldviews, professions, and public and private structures. In most cases, the society was not adequately prepared for such changes and as such societal transformations induced by S&T revolutions arrived like bolts from the blue. It took decades of struggle before society finally adapted to these irreversible transformations with generations getting lost in the intervening years.
With the advent of the 21st century, fueled by the web, we have accumulated a trasure trove of data. The science of data-driven prediction has made giant leaps in the past decade. Can data-driven science predict the timeline, structure, and impacts of the future S&T revolutions and suggest interventions designed to prepare the society for the resulting disrptive changes?
Answering this question would require fundamental interdisciplinary research involving virtually every discipline in social sciences and STEM. While existing data-driven machine learning techniques have been able to show superhuman performance in many domains, they rely on the assumption that the test conditions/data follows the same probability distribution as the one in which they were trained on: an assumption that is violated in the realm of futurism where the future can be different from anything that experienced in the past. Recent advances based on density ratio estimation and kernelized techniques (Sugiyama) address problems of divergence of test data from the training distribution. More fundamental research is needed especially to deal with cases where environments that influence S&T revolutions of the future may not exist today. Fundamental research is needed to understand how humans interact with pervasive changes in society. This requires significant advances in behavioral sciences and game theory, cognitive sciences, and psychology. New techniques for data collection based on augmented reality ought to be devised. Suggesting interventions with the aim of preparing the society for pervasive changes induced by S&T revolutions require fundamental advances in causal reasoning. Advances in nonlinear dynamical systems and chaos theory are needed to study/predict the nonlinear nature of S&T progress. New educational paradigms need to be devised for educating the populace on the impact of disruptive S&T revolutions.
The results of such an endeavor can enable paradigm shifts in virtually every discipline. Data-driven understanding of the dynamics of S&T revolutions can help better engineer them. We envision the creation of a decision support system that can aid global and local governments in policy-making and help industry/financial leaders make futuristic investments. Scientifically, we foresee the emergence of a new discipline of algorithmic meta science/technology that can significantly impact the evolution of the human civilization shedding light on its future and helping regulate its path.
Investment in the proposed area would lead to the development of a data-driven scientific framework that can predict the timeline, structure, and impacts of future scientific and technological (S&T) revolutions well ahead of time helping prepare the society for the induced disruptive eventualities by instituting social, administrative, regulatory, technological, and normative structures. Data-driven understanding of the dynamics of S&T revolutions can help better engineer them. Properly engineered S&T revolutions can protect the human society from existential/foundational threats resulting from their unintended negative consequences. Scientifically, it would lead emergence of a new discipline of algorithmic meta science/technology that can significantly accelerate the evolution of the human civilization shedding light on its future and helping regulate its path.
Why is this the right time to invest or sponsor a prize in this area?
In the last 30 years, human civilization has experienced an exponential scientific and technological (S&T) growth rate never seen before in its history. This has been fueled by S&T breakthroughs (discovery of gravitational waves, earth-like exoplanets, Higg’s Boson, CRISPR, advances in aging science, artificial intelligence, social networks, etc.). These breakthroughs are transforming the human society altering its fabric, its view of the world, and its position under the sun . We conjecture that the exponential growth is going to continue leading to further S&T revolutions in the future that will shake the foundations of our society. It is important that we understand and predict these S&T revolutions and brace ourselves to face their positive and unintended consequences. Fortunately, algorithmic and hardware advances in the past decade have created opportunities for data-driven prediction of S&T revolutions to prepare us for the future. The moment to exploit this opportunity is now.