By Bill Sniffin
With your arms around the future; And your back against the past — the Moody Blues
One of the high points of our annual New Year’s trip to see Dallas relatives is my yearly visit with the smartest person I know.
Of the 301,000 employees at Hewlett Packard a few years ago, one special employee stood out, their lone futurist, Jeff Wacker.
He is retired now and working on a book.
He also used to live in the same neighborhood as our daughter in Allen, TX.
A Nebraska native, Jeff would fit comfortably in Wyoming. His values and those of the Cowboy State pretty much line up. If his wife Nancy did not have some health issues, he might be living right now on the family homestead in western Nebraska, which he calls “eastern Wyoming.”
He has the same typical bad news for fossil fuels we Wyomingites all are hearing. But he blames it on an amazing future of batteries and even exotic fuel sources like anti-matter.
He feels strongly that the hysteria about global warming is over-stated. He is an expert on just about everything. He challenges folks who believe Al Gore to dig into where that “90 percent of scientists believe . . .” story came from. He says we are in a 1,000-year cycle and the heating of the earth occurs 600 years after CO2 increases.
As a futurist, he thinks on a global scale and in big pictures. He worries about eternal life. “We are very close to providing a path where people don’t have to die, that one of the biggest future problems will be should we die and how should we die. Suicide?”
He also says the future of work could be the biggest issue of the 21st century. Automation, unique robots including microscopic nanobots, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to erode the job market. “I have a friend who says we will always need people to keep the robots running – really? We already have robots that repair other robots.”
He divides all the various technologies into five areas:
• Nanotech is the creation of super tiny robots that can float around inside your bloodstream and keep you healthy. He sees billions of nanobots taking care of the trillions of cells in the body.
• Biotech will see cures and inventions occurring at fantastic rates in the near future and far future. Again, he really believes a huge problem for the youngest people living on the planet today is how do they want to die? He believes young people in the near future have the potential to live as long as they want to.
• Robotech is already changing the world. “What will people do when there are no jobs?” Typical work week might be 26 hours or less. He says three-fourths of all manufacturing jobs are already “gone and not coming back.”
• Infotech leaves him discouraged especially when it comes to social media. He quotes a favorite author who said, “When everybody is an author, there are no editors.”
He thinks amazing sensors will be developed on a the micro level while, on a macro level, the world will be covered with satellites similar to the doomsday prediction of the Terminator movies, which saw all those troubles caused by a structure called SkyNet.
• Energytech may see more change than any other sector. “Look back 200 years to 1820. We have advanced 2,000 years in the past 200 years. This will just accelerate,” he concludes. He also credits it to the gradual warming of the climate over those two centuries. “We went from horse and buggy to planning a Mars launch today.”
In 1820, the most valuable material on earth was aluminum; because it was only created when lightning would strike bauxite. A nine-inch pyramid-shaped piece of aluminum is used as the cap of the top of the Washington Monument, for example.
Having this chat with Jeff Wacker left my head spinning. We are heading into a strange new world that sounded both hopeful and daunting to me.
He really is worried about the robots with artificial intelligence taking over. “When it happens, it will happen exponentially, so we probably will not know what hit us until it has already happened!”
On that dreary note, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.