John McCain and computers

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by Thomas Heuerman, 9/10/08 • John McCain doesn’t use a computer; he doesn’t know how to log on to the internet.

As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.

Some other things he may not know:

• Humanity increases the search for knowledge by 50% a year,

• There are 6 billion google searches a month,

• Over two trillion text messages will be sent in 2008,

• If MySpace were a country, it would be the 11th largest,

• More information is added to the internet in one week than was available from prehistoric times through the 19th century,

• By 2013 supercomputers may exceed the computational capacity of the entire human race,

• By 2048 the power of a $1,000 computer will probably exceed the computational power of the entire human species,

• This capability will create a world of instant communications and instant access to all knowledge for virtually all of humanity,

• The fight for the future will be for the best education, best technology, and best business value.

Today computing power rides a curve of exponential change unprecedented in human history, and the exponential change itself will continue to accelerate. Moore’s Law states that the power of information technology will double every 18 months. In 2002, the 27th doubling occurred. A doubling means that the next step is as tall as all the previous steps put together. The potential systemic impact of such power translated to new technologies (genetics, robotics, nanotechnology) and on all of life staggers the mind.

We are on the verge of an almost unimaginable future: what scientists call the Singularity. At the point of Singularity technology evolves so rapidly that our everyday world no longer makes sense. We cannot escape this “perfect storm” of chaos (order without predictability), nor can we go back to an earlier time; we must go through this global transformation.

Author Vernor Vinge wrote of the essence of the Singularity: A super humanity–artificially created. Soon machines smarter than the human brain will be created according to Vinge.

Vinge wrote that this change will be comparable to the rise of human life on earth. This will be a unique transition with profound systemic implications for humanity fraught with unpredictability and unintended consequences.

Will we create a new heaven on earth with all problems solved? Or will a new hell on earth emerge where the technology goes bad and the machines rule and humans become their slaves? Or will life continue as it has in the past—imperfect and creative–just with new complexities to cope with?

Are our children prepared for this world?

McCain’s lack of computer skills is less a practical issue than a reflection of a worldview from another time—a worldview that no longer solves problems for America. His is a cold-war worldview that no longer fits the world of today.

The world is in the midst of a great shift. The distribution of American power is shifting in most all dimensions—industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural. The black/white thinking of McCain makes no sense in the world of chaos theory, quantum physics, and a diverse, alive, interconnected, and interdependent world and global economy where many nations are powerful and are global leaders. The world is in need of wisdom and intellect along with computer skills.

In his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, McCain said that he understands the world. Can a man who does not understand the internet understand the world?

I believe that a well-intended McCain will lead America deeper into decline and mediocrity because he doesn’t understand the world of the Singularity. Will we follow blindly?

McCain lives in a world that no longer exists. He is a Smith Corona typewriter in an iPhone world. Do we want our future in his hands?

Heuerman, Ph.D. is a change consultant, former Secret Service agent, and Star Tribune executive. He lives in Moorhead, MN