The collective

Let’s for the moment imagine that humanity can avoid a fall of civilization. Then one may ponder where humanity is heading to. There are some very strong hints.

Despite laws that prohibit the use of a cell phone while driving a car, I often see people busy typing on their cell phones while they are supposed to be focussing on the road. I’ve also often seen couples or groups of people sitting at tables in restaurants typing on cell phones instead of talking to each other. Why do people behave this way? And what does it have to do with where humanity is heading?

It reveals a very strong urge lying within the human psyche. Humans like to interact with other humans. Social media provide them with this capability on a scale that far exceeds the usual level of interaction. They become so attached to this new thing that they cannot stop interacting via social media to do mundane tasks such as driving cars. They would also rather interact via social media with a large number of “friends” than face-to-face with a few individuals.

Many years ago there was a TV series called Star Trek. One of the antagonists introduced in this series was the Borg. It consisted of a hive of mentally interconnect individuals – a group mind. It was know as the Collective. Its mode of operation was to attack civilizations and then absorb the individuals from those civilizations into itself. It would say “resistance is futile, you shall be assimilated.”

The Brog from Star Trek

So, when I see how attached people become to social media, I get the feeling humanity is becoming a collective. We are turning into the Borg. There is no fighting it. Unless this process is halted by a fall of civilization, humanity will eventually be a single being consisting of mentally interconnected individuals.

Perhaps such a state of existence is not a bad thing. I can think of a few benefits. Most people are generally more happy when they have constant interaction with other people. There are exceptions of course (like me). But there always need to be those that keep the systems running.

Speaking of which, those that develop technology should keep in mind this tendency toward the development of a collective. For one thing, it would help if the need to be connected to the collective does not interfere with mundane tasks. It would be better if cars can drive themselves. However, there are other tasks that cannot be delegated. For that purpose, cell phones need to be replaced by wearable devices. The screen can become a heads-up display in goggles that can be integrated into glasses if necessary. The keyboard needs to become integrated into gloves that sense finger motion. Or the keyboard can be dispensed with if voice-to-text technology matures. Then the microphone needs to be replaced by a ultra-sonic sensor that images the mouth cavity to determine what is being said. This way, people would not need to talk out load. With such technology, you can stay connected to the collective while doing your shopping.

At the end of the cold war, one would have expected that humanity would have pulled out all stops to develop space travel and colonize the moon and the other planets. Instead, technology shifted to the development of communication in the form of cell phones and the internet. That brought us to where we are today. The one recent exception to this trend was Elon Musk who developed space travel into a commercial enterprise. But now he is buying Twitter. Go figure!

Consequences of lockdown

It is now just over a week since we entered lockdown. The statistics of the number of known COVID-19 cases seemed to have flattened off, but the authorities warn that there may be many more people that are infected that we don’t know about yet.

don’t panic, don’t panic

So, here we are going about our business in as far as one can go about one’s business sitting at home. Of course we need to stay positive. This is especially important for those of us living alone. As a result, I find myself thinking about the situation, observing how things develop and trying to think what it will lead to. I came to the conclusion that the world will probably never be the same again. Even assuming we get through this (and I guess one must hold onto the conviction that we will get through it), there are certain things that (I think) will change forever.

What does the future hold?

Perhaps you’ve already heard that one of the effects of lockdown is that more people will start to work from home. Video conferencing will become more prevalent. So will online file-sharing facilities and all that kind of stuff. (Let’s just hope the internet keeps on working.) However, I think there is another consequence that has been largely ignored. It is something I call the collective impetus.

So, what is this collective impetus? A long long time ago there was this TV series called Star Trek. It actually spawned several different series. One of the iconic antagonists that appeared in many of these series, but especially in Star Trek Voyager is the Borg, a cybernetic hive mind that called itself the Collective. It would inform its victims: “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

Some time ago I started to see a resemblance between the Collective (the Borg) and those people that are constantly on their cellphones. It occurred to me that the obsession of these people to be in contact with others (so much so that they even do that while driving a car) effectively means that they are gradually becoming part of a collective hive mind.

Enter lockdown. Now, what little face-to-face interaction people had is drastically reduced. As a result, more people are forced to keep contact with one another via cellphones. Hence the collective impetus. The society that will emerge after the lockdown may look significantly more like a collective than before the lockdown.

Is this what cellphones will look like in the future?

One can even imagine that cellphones will eventually start to look like the devices on the heads of people in the Borg. Perhaps this is the next phase in the evolution of the universe. Perhaps people will lose their individuality and the whole collective hive mind will start to act like a single organism. What about those of us that refuse to become part of this collective?

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“Beam me up Scotty”

Julle ken seker almal hierdie gesegde wat kom uit die TV reeks Star Trek. Miskien het julle al gewonder of die wetenskap dalk daartoe instaat sal wees om tegnologie te ontwikkel wat dit sal moontlik maak vir ‘n mens om so van een plek na ‘n ander ge”beam” te word. Wel ek twyfel of dit ooit heeltemal ‘n realiteit sal word, maar tog bestaan daar in die kleine ‘n proses wat iets wat eers op een plek bestaan het, oor te dra na ‘n ander plek.

Verbeel jou jy het ‘n spesiale boksie waarin jy ‘n kosbare voorwerpie kan stoor. Hierdie voorwerp het ‘n spesiale eienskap. Dit is gekoppel aan ‘n soortgelyk voorwerp in ‘n soortgelyke boksie wat in iemand anders se besit is. Die voorwerpies in hierdie twee boksies het een of ander besondere koppeling met mekaar ten spyte daarvan dat die twee boksies vêr van mekaar af is. Gestel die ander persoon wil vir jou ‘n ander voorwerp wat hy teekom stuur. Dan vat hy die nuwe voorwerp en kombineer dit op ‘n sekere manier met die voorwerp in sy boksie. Daarna vat hy sy selfoon, bel jou en gee vir jou een van 4 kodewoorde. Al wat jy dan hoef te doen is om een van 4 knoppies op jou boksie te druk wat ooreenstem met die kodewoord en siedaar! Die voorwerp in jou boksie het verander in die voorwerp wat die ander persoon vir jou wou stuur.

Klink dit dalk vir jou soos ‘n fantasie storie waar jy verwag om ook nog van towernaars, feetjies en drake te hoor?

Wel behalwe vir ‘n paar beperkings, is dit presies wat mens deesdae kan doen.

Die eerste beperking is dat die voorwerpe ter sprake almal kwantum toestand moet wees. Mens kan nou nie juis veel met so ‘n kwantum toestand in die alledaagse lewe doen nie. Jy kan nie jou hare daarmee kam nie, jy kan nie jou honger daarmee stil nie en jy kan nie eers daarmee dronk word nie. 😉 ‘n Kwantum toestand is iets soos ‘n foton met ‘n spesifieke polarisasie of ‘n atoom in ‘n opgewekde toestand (nee, nie soos in `vrolik’ nie). Verder is hierdie “boksie” waarin die kwantum toestand gestoor moet word, nou nie juis iets wat jy saam met jou strand toe kan vat nie, behalwe as jy in die gewoonte is om ‘n hele wetenskap laboratorium saam met jou strandbal en jou sonbrandolie in te pak.

Die manier waarop die kwantum toestand “gekombineer” moet word, impliseer dat daar ‘n sogenaamde “gesamentlike meting” gedoen moet word op die gestoorde toestand en die toestand wat oorgestuur moet word. In die proses word beide hierdie kwantum toestande vernietig, maar die resultaat van die meting gee een van 4 antwoorde. Hierdie antwoord moet na die persoon met die ander boksie gestuur word. Wat eintlik gebeur is dat die meting die voorwerp wat in die ander boksie is verander het na een van 4 moontlike toestande. Een van die 4 is presies dieselfde as die toestand wat oorgestuur moet word. Die ander drie kan deur ‘n eenvoudige transformasie verander word in die gewensde toestand. Dit is wat die knoppie op die boksie doen en dit is hoekom die resultaat van die meting as ‘n kodewoord oorgestuur moet word. Dis egter nie regtig nodig om die kodewoorde geheim te hou nie want niemand anders kan enigiets met die informasie doen as hulle nie daardie spesiale voorwerp (kwantum toestand) het nie.

Nou hoe is dit moontlik dat ‘n gesamentlike meting tussen twee kwantum toestande wat op een plek in die wêreld gedoen word ‘n ander kwantum toestand op ‘n ander plek in die wêreld kan verander? Die sleutel is geleë in die skep van verstrengelde kwantum toestande. Dit is dieselfde verstrengelde toestande wat nodig is vir die EPR paradoks waaroor ek so tyd terug geskryf het. Die twee spesiale gekoppelde “voorwerpe” in die boksies is dan inderdaad sulke twee verstrengelde kwantum toestande. Weens hul verstrengelde aard veroorsaak ‘n meting op een van die twee dat die ander een verander word.

Hierdie manier om ‘n kwantum toestand te verplaas van een plek na ‘n ander plek, word kantum teleportasie genoem. Dit is in 1993 vir die eerste keer voorgestel en in 1997 deur Anton Zeilinger en sy groep in Oostenryk eksperimenteel verwesenlik.

Vir my is hierdie ‘n fasinerende meganisme, maar of dit ooit eendag daartoe gaan lei dat mens rondge”beam” kan word twyfel ek sterk.