William Miller dropped to his knees and begged the heavens for a sign. Miller’s biblical doomsday predictions had attracted a following of 50,000 believers across the nation, and in that moment only a sign from above would satisfy them. As he knelt, gasps erupted from the crowd when a shooting star streaked across the night sky…
As long as humans have sought meaning in the world, we’ve had a fetish for the end of times. The “Millerites” planned to be immolated upon the second arrival of Jesus on December 31, 1843. They sold off all their possessions as the fated day approached. Predictably, Christ was a no-show on doomsday, and 50,000 people went back to find their livelihoods in shambles. Millerism occurred because the message made sense; followers needed clarity in America’s rapidly changing industrialization period. We now face another time of great and confounding change, and doomsayers claim humanity has finally escaped its primordial crib, only to run full speed into a world filled with sharp objects. The signs are everywhere.
During the 2016 Presidential election cycle, foreign agents sabotaged the largely popular Facebook News feature. Malicious algorithms flooded individual users’ online feeds with fake news and toxic political rhetoric. People didn’t know they had been spoon-fed false information—until it was too late.
The Internet is not a private, safe place. Hackers regularly breach major corporate and government databases. Nobody knows how often hacks really occur, or what exactly is being stolen. People assume hackers only steal credit card information, but they target the most intimate, personal information they can find regarding relationships, habits, vices, motivations, beliefs, hopes and fears. This information is valuable, as it can be used to manipulate and exploit people. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states that the general who knows themselves and the opponent is assured victory, and the greatest victories are won indirectly before the opponent even knows they’re under attack.
A modern workforce of engineers and scientists are developing seamless interfaces between humans and emerging technologies. In the future, various technologies will collect and share user data to the Internet for analysis by complex algorithms, then use that data to optimize user experience. For example: Your house will know you’re nearing the end of your third sleep cycle and brew coffee, then let the dog out into the yard. This process of data collection, analysis and optimization will become nothing less than the creation of reality itself when we achieve the generation of technology, including self-motivating AI, self-driving cars, human-like robots and advanced, wearable smartphone tech (like Google Glass). The Internet will become the highway—and storage center—for the information advanced realities will be built on. Control of that reality belongs to the holder of the data.
China’s Big Data
China’s National Reputation System (NRS) monitors citizen activity in public—and in private. Its 626 million cameras are simply part of a much more advanced apparatus, which also tracks smartphone and computer activity. By 2020, the Chinese government will access, monitor and analyze everyone’s Internet data, including website traffic, finances and communication. Data is processed through algorithms which rank, reward and punish citizens for their behavior at all times. The Chinese state acknowledges no negative repercussions in its approach to eliminating “unsocial” behavior.
During early test trials of the surveillance system on students at the Wuchang University of Technology, an employee who wished to remain anonymous told Chinese news outlet Cnhubei.com that “[a]fter the cameras were installed, the study environment improved a great deal . . . Phenomena such as playing with phones, napping, or chatting during class have virtually disappeared.” The National Reputation System creates a personality profile of each citizen and applies predictive analysis to categorize beliefs and simulate future behaviors. The NRS decides if you are a threat.
Humanity is closely tied to its creations in this age of technology; the definition of what is human must expand to include mechanization. That also means we will shed elements from older definitions of humanity, including rights, liberties and beliefs. The future, then, will belong to whoever holds the data. Considering such a future, “The end is nigh!” seems the understatement of the century.
It’s The End of the World As We Know It
The world has been “doomed” many times before. Here are a few classic doomsayer predictions, blatant reminders we still don’t know anything about the universe’s plans for us…
Space Calamity:The Jupiter Effect (1974)
In their popular book, scientists John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann predicted that a rare alignment of planets would pull at the Earth’s tectonic plates and cause catastrophe.
Technology: Y2K (2000)
As early as the 1980s, people realized computer coding malfunctioned when entering dates after the year 2000. These fears were unfounded, as computers continued working even though they couldn’t make sense of the change in date.
Resource Depletion: Malthusianism (1798)
Resource Biologist Thomas Robert Malthus used predictive mathematics to identify the precise time when population growth would finally overburden Earth’s resources. This model was updated by The Limits to Growthin 1972.
Military: Mutually Assured Destruction (1950 – Present)
At the peak of Cold War tension, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear payload aimed at one another to irradiate the planet many times over. This potential doomsday is in hibernation, and could awaken at any time.