Anteacceleratio: Latin for "Before the acceleration". The "acceleration" in this case refers to the Singularity itself, not the general increasing rate of technological change.
We will know we're living in the Anteacceleratio when:
- Artificial intelligence is no longer "just" an engine for software to function but genuinely cognitive agents that possess some level of real-world understanding. It becomes a "cognitive engine", actively capable of responding to us. It can identify problems to fix and then fix them for us. These agents are also capable of communicating with each other— if one agent can't fix a problem, it can search for another that can. The internet itself will seem intelligent. And as a result, the young have no concept of a Web that isn't their friend, a sort of godlike person they know rather than a medium of communication and entertainment.
- Artistry is no longer limited to artists. One no longer has to wait for someone else to come up with an idea or spend years honing their craft just for the opportunity of breaking into media. There will be no reason to commission artists besides the novelty of doing so. People won't have to water down their ideas to make them more acceptable to work on and view. And as a result, ideas and cultural transmission will accelerate into a memetic singularity. Niches of niches will develop and branch out into their own niches. Some will be satisfied with simply consuming all of this media. Many others will take their time to create and alter existing media. It will even be possible to live in "alternative history bubbles" where one can actively rewrite history and experience timelines in history that did not happen. One could alter voices, faces, and instruments to make it so that the Beatles were an all-female band. They could then create entire interviews and documentaries, forum posts, pop culture references, encyclopedia bits, and more to fit this alternative history. One could make it so that death metal has consistently topped the pop charts since the 1990s and no one considers this out of place or unrealistic. One could make it so that an entire arthouse genre of film from 1960s Mexico rose and dominated Western cinema, generating these films and critical reactions. One could make it so that the Soviet Union defeated the United States in the Cold War in the 1960s and make it seem as if all modern TV, film, radio, and video games have Soviet-friendly content. One could make it so that Satan and Cthulhu have direct dominion over Earth and change media to reflect this. All of this and much, much, much more can exist just in one's bedroom, a separate reality from one's living room, perhaps shared online with others, perhaps existing solely for the enjoyment of one...
- Automation is the new reality of the world economy. It will be commonly discussed on the news of how quickly automation is spreading throughout every known industry. Politicians of a certain ilk will continue to blame age-old scapegoats, ignoring automation in lieu of immigrants and saboteurs right up until they realize it's more profitable to play on Luddite fears. The term "All-Human" or "Human-Made" will become a political buzzword just as much as an economic and social one. In places with strong agrarian roots like the USA, you can expect to see "God-fearing, rough-handed farmer governors" start to rise. They're not socialists or anything. Just the opposite. They're typically well-to-do types who nevertheless put on a veneer of being down-to-earth, rooted in the land and basic "All-American toil". They're real men who work with their hands and earn their daily bread rather than those effete urban liberals who let machines do all the work. Regardless of the reality on the ground, of course, where these same types are the ones getting rich off of mechanized labor and neither side of the spectrum particularly benefits. But there will be genuine populist reactions and actual farmers and laborers pleading for some sort of help, and the initial reaction will be to simply wage war on automation: promote businesses who ban drones and robots, shame people who rely on automation, and exalt human sweat. Ironically, it might lead to the right wing believing a sort of independently-created labor theory of value. Either way, this will just be the very start of things, and it won't necessarily be the dominant trend as most will be fine with automation. Indeed, there will likely be a new movement based entirely around profiting off of the effects of automation. Something like the Fully Automated Luxury Communism movement. Others will call for basic income. But the one thing that won't happen: denial. People won't be able to deny it's happening. Some will surely say "this is the same thing as the Luddites 200+ years ago, so it will pass." But no one will be able to say "the machines aren't taking our jobs" with a straight face. That won't stop some particularly corrupt and out-of-touch individuals from trying, but extremely few will believe it.
- Anxiety is common among the older generations over the rate of change directly infringing upon things they hold sacred. Institutions and traditions refined over centuries and millennia will become obsolete over the course of a few years. Children born immediately before and during the Anteacceleratio era will have no reason to attend school, at least school as we understand it to be. There will be no jobs for them when they graduate. There will be no reason to learn how to drive except for the novelty of doing so. There will be no reason to learn how to find love if love can be generated. Children will be brought up without the expectation of joining the labor force. This may bring about a flourishing of the human spirit. It may also bring about an epoch of lethargic idleness. As a result, the elderly generations will be angry and bitter. On one hand, they will spit at this fully-automated world as being devoid of humanity and enabling the worst forms of laziness and entitlement. On the other, they will be angry that they worked their entire lives, expecting a familiar world in their silver years to get good and angry at, only to be handed something esoteric and unexpected. They will have been told endlessly by neoliberals and traditionalists that artificial intelligence and robots "only enhances jobs", that "they create new jobs", and "there will always be a need for humans." In the Anteacceleratio, this will have been exposed as little more than a self-reassuring lie. Those in their middle years will be the angriest— they were not taught to prepare for this and were told it wasn't going to happen, and they have nothing saved to capitalize on what is done.
Some time ago, I remarked on how interesting these times are by drawing a comparison to previous eras of great change— our forefathers lived in eras where a religious and culturally insulated rural peasantry unchanged since Roman times was able to watch aeroplanes take flight, hear the human voice to instantly cross oceans, and see machines mass produce goods in factories. When a person was born 150 years ago, they would grow up in a world where their lives were likely to be identical to their great-great-great-great grandparents and they had little reason to believe their great-great-great-great-grandchildren would live lives any different.
Fast forward to today— 2019— and you see that there is a growing divide between the generations, a divide that is far more technological than ever before. Parents of the 1980s and 1990s may have been concerned about their children's habits of watching TV and reading comic books, but this was nothing unfamiliar to them. Rather, parents and grandparents were concerned with their children's choice to spend more time with these more lonely pursuits than socialization, which which was necessary to obtain jobs and a social life in their future.
Yet these days, parents and grandparents often do not understand what their children do. With the rise of the internet, social media trends seem to come and go every year. Happenings that would have defined entire generations are now passé within a season. The young are simultaneously more detached and more sociable than any generation before them. It is at a point where infants— 2 year olds, if that— are having developmental delays triggered entirely by their usage of technology. They may have a difficult time learning to talk because they'd rather use a touch screen and listen. They may instinctively tap glass and talk to photos, or perhaps call for Alexa in places where Alexa is not installed in a manner as if it were a surrogate mother.
Older generations are frightened by these changes and fall back on claims that this technology is causing people to lose touch with one another and become dependent. "Why can't we just not use technology?" people will ask. "This is all just wrong."
And yet it continues. There has been no widespread attempt to disconnect. On one hand, this is due to natural generational angst— even the Greeks and Romans talked of disrespectful and detached youths, and the world still turns.
On the other, there is an element of future shock at play. Things are happening so quickly, we don't have time to react before something new comes along.
We humans are social apes. We crave socialization and gratification. We evolved around our ability to use tools and move. Now it is all coming to a head as our tools reach levels of complexity so extreme and esoteric that we can no longer understand it all.
This is not the Anteacceleratio. It's scary to consider, but the cold fact is that we are not even in the pre-Singularity era and already we are seeing increasing societal disruption and future shock.
What will the full thing look like? When will we know we're in the Anteacceleratio era?
First, let's step back and consider the existence of technology curves...
The 2000s and 2010s were always filled with a lot of what I called "business futurism": a lot of business rules management, a lot of HR automation, a lot of AI for optimization of figures and data, a lot of big infrastructure projects, a lot of "dumb" software, a lot of geopolitical angst over social media, a lot of consumer electronic novelties, and none the juicy stuff promised by sci-fi visionaries. For the longest time, I thought this may have been proof that sci-tech progress really is slowing down. The truth, however, is that sci-tech progress has since the 19th century ebbed and flowed between breakthroughs, practical applications, and relatively quiet periods of refinement. There are "three curves" for post-industrial technological development, and I didn't make that observation out of fairy dust. I'm not even the first person to make such an observation: s-curves are a fundamental part of futurist observation.
The bedrock of our current zeitgeist hasn't changed in decades, and we're merely refining what already existed. But go back far enough— especially into the 1970s and 1980s— and you'll see a seemingly endless parade of breakthroughs, innovations, and massive strides forward in sci-tech enabled by the rise of the digital era. Once upon a time, five years meant the difference between a computer that crashed after typing a few paragraphs and a computer with a graphical operating system. Now, it seems computers make only the most incremental steps forward and companies try convincing us that a slightly clearer screen resolution is completely worth spending $1,000.
But truth be told, it's not a monumental difference from how electrical appliances eventually only gave you a few new colors as a means of enticing you to pay more.
Think of it this way: someone in 1870 would be astounded by the world of 1930. It's something completely different from what they expected, and many would never have been able to predict the changes that were on the way. Someone from 1930 would have been completely astounded by the world of 1990. And someone from 1990 will be completely astounded by the world of 2050.
Between 1870 and 1930, AKA the "first curve", what happened? Experimental innovations from earlier decades begot practical innovations in the present. Automobiles— which had been invented multiple times going as far back as the 17th century— finally came into their own in the 1880s. The practical control of electricity began with Alessandro Volta and Michael Faraday in the early 1800s, but we didn't start seeing true electrical applications on a wide scale until the late 1800s. We had telegraphs, but then came telephones. We had cameras, but then came cinema. Physics got a major kick in the rear thanks to evidence-based science— we didn't even know subatomic particles existed until 1897, and penicillin wasn't created until 1928. Powered flight began in 1903 with a fight shorter than the wingspan of a modern plane. Lightbulbs lit up cities starting in the 1890s. And so on and so forth.
The first curve was defined by electricity, modern physics, mechanical industry, aerospace engineering, and radio. If we stopped there, we'd have a steampunk world. It also laid down the roots for the second curve, which started after World War II. With that, we got nuclear physics, space exploration, digital industry, quantum physics, lasers, modern medicine, and the internet. The curve effectively ended in the 1990s, and we're in an intermediate period of pure refinement as well as development the roots of the next curve. While the smartphone is a phenomenally important invention, it is a refinement of earlier technologies.
The first curve started around 1880 and ended by 1920; the second curve started at 1950 and ended by 1990. The third curve is about to get started. Anyone who's paying attention can see that artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, automation, space commercialization, human augmentation, and superconductors are the root of the next fifty years of sci-tech and social change.
And of course, artificial intelligence is like nothing we've ever dealt with before so who knows if the cycle will hold. But the whole theme of the third curve of great technological change seems to be that of enhancing the human condition, something that was not true for either of the previous curves or the gradual periods of technological growth before them. The very idea is so alien to our ways of thinking that many futurists of earlier decades had not predicted anything like it. There was quite a lot about computers spreading throughout society, instant communications with people across the planet, traveling into space, capturing images with a device in your hand, and accessing something like the internet, but many futurist predictions seem to stop there or skip ahead to interstellar travel and utopian societies without anything connecting the two.
It's no different from someone from a first-curve era predicting video messaging, interactive media, and flying cars without predicting integrated circuits and lasers in industry or someone from a pre-curve era predicting flying machines and hearing another human's voice from a long distance through things like "magic" or otherwise unexplained leaps of logic. Artificial intelligence is essentially the electricity or integrated circuit of this coming century, except on a scale far beyond anything we can imagine.
I've already mentioned how youths are gradually growing ever more foreign to parents. It used to be that kids could gather around their wizened grandparents and listen to tales of how things used to be in order to learn of how to live life upcoming. Now, the words of elders are obsolete, biased takes built from experiences in more brutish, inhumane times talking of skills no longer applicable.
The Anteacceleratio is more than just the obsolescence of adults. It's the complete destruction of traditional human society as we know it. It's the point at which contemporary life becomes utterly indistinguishable from science fiction with all that brings with it. It's not the Singularity itself, but that might be why it's such a scary time. Things are changing too quickly for humans to handle but not quickly enough for there to be an "intelligence explosion". Whatever skills you try to learn one year will become obsolete the next. It's a frightening acceleration of human capability.