The brilliant, if not a bit wacky, futurist Ray Kurzweil sees a future in which there’s essentially no need to ever leave the house or have real face-to-face interactions. For those with agoraphobia or extreme social anxiety that might sound downright utopian.
In an interview published on his website, Transcendent Man, Kurzweil explains: “…all the physical things we need, certainly by the 2020s, will be information files and you’ll pay for these with online forms of purchasing and you’ll be able to buy them on online stores.” This, of course, is a given since many of us already do much of our shopping today online. But what about dating or careers? Surely we’ll need to leave the house for those things?
Maybe not. Kurzweil suggests that most of our interactions — professional and personal alike — could be done virtually by the late 2020s thanks to VR brain implants. “We can … send into the brain signals representing a virtual environment and so the computer will actually create the environment and then we can be virtual actors in a virtual environment and do any of the things we do in real reality.”
Combine brains on VR with AI and robots that are capable of doing much of he physical labor and manufacturing for us, and perhaps he’s right; perhaps there won’t be much need to leave the house. What few intellectual jobs are left for us humans could surely be done remotely. Many already are. But the more complicated, mushy romantic side of human existence, the love and the sex… one would expect those to still happen mostly in person, right?
Kurzweil argues that if it can be done in person most likely it can be done virtually. This includes having a “sensual experience in a virtual environment.” Sensations like eating and sex can simply be transferred directly to the brain, presumably to the extent that you cannot tell what is real what is virtual. That’s a scary thought… a bit too Matrix-like for my taste.
There may not even be much need for transport and delivery of goods by 2100, Kurzweil says, with advances in 3D printing likely to culminate in replicator-like devices by the end of the century. Even today, says Kurzweil, “I can actually email you a violin or a guitar and you can print it out in a three-dimensional printer. There’s a band that has all three-dimensional, 3D printed instruments.” And yes, according to Kurzweil, you’ll be able to 3D print food and clothes as well. Assuming the energy and raw materials needed to power replicator-like 3D printers become available at little or no cost, they would indeed usher in a new paradigm of decentralized production.
All in all, these changes would have huge impacts on our society, and, on an individual basis, allow each of us to live a life both potentially very isolated and yet highly engaging in ways we could only begin to imagine. But will any of this actually happen? Ray Kurzweil has been known to make some accurate predictions; in the 1980s, for example, he correctly anticipated that a computer would be able to beat even the greatest human chess players by the year 2000, which occurred in 1997 when Deep Blue bested Garry Kasparov. Other predictions though, like self-driving cars by 2009, have turned out to be slightly premature.
So hang in there, it may be several decades yet before you can shun real life altogether. But there is hope.