The co-founding editor of “Wired” magazine and author of Out of Control is working on a new book on “what technology wants.” His research led to the first-ever history of scientific methodology. Starting from this long-term view of science’s past transformation, he speculates on how the practice of science will change in the future.
Science, says Kevin Kelly, is the process of changing how we know things. It is the foundation our culture and society. While civilizations come and go, science grows steadily onward. It does this by watching itself.
Recursion is the essence of science. For example, science papers cite other science papers, and that process of research pointing at itself invokes a whole higher level, the emergent shape of citation space. Recursion always does that. It is the engine of scientific progress and thus of the progress of society.
A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future. Kelly chronicled a sequence of new recursive devices in science…
Projecting forward, Kelly had five things to say about the next 100 years in science…
1) There will be more change in the next 50 years of science than in the last 400 years.
2) This will be a century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.
3) Computers will keep leading to new ways of science. Information is growing by 66% per year while physical production grows by only 7% per year. The data volume is growing to such levels of “zillionics” that we can expect science to compile vast combinatorial libraries, to run combinatorial sweeps through possibility space (as Stephen Wolfram has done with cellular automata), and to run multiple competing hypotheses in a matrix. Deep realtime simulations and hypothesis search will drive data collection in the real world.
4) New ways of knowing will emerge. “Wikiscience” is leading to perpetually refined papers with a thousand authors. Distributed instrumentation and experiment, thanks to miniscule transaction cost, will yield smart-mob, hive-mind science operating “fast, cheap, & out of control.” Negative results will have positive value (there is already a “Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine”). Triple-blind experiments will emerge through massive non-invasive statistical data collection— no one, not the subjects or the experimenters, will realize an experiment was going on until later. (In the Q&A, one questioner predicted the coming of the zero-author paper, generated wholly by computers.)
5) Science will create new levels of meaning. The Internet already is made of one quintillion transistors, a trillion links, a million emails per second, 20 exabytes of memory. It is approaching the level of the human brain and is doubling every year, while the brain is not. It is all becoming effectively one machine. And we are the machine.
“Science is the way we surprise God,” said Kelly. “That’s what we’re here for.” Our moral obligation is to generate possibilities, to discover the infinite ways, however complex and high-dimension, to play the infinite game. It will take all possible species of intelligence in order for the universe to understand itself. Science, in this way, is holy. It is a divine trip.
PS… Kevin Kelly’s book in progress on all this, and much more, is being written online and is visitable and discussable at http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/index.php.-- by Stewart Brand