DECEMBER 31, 2011
Akop P. Nazaretyan, PhD (philosophy, psychology), believes that in the mid-21st century our civilization will face an unparalleled tipping point. Nazaretyan explains which crises we need to overcome in order to reach a new level.

Akop P. Nazaretyan is chief researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of more then 280 scientific papers and the hypothesis of techno-humanitarian balance. The hypothesis states that in every new state of civilization's development, the destructiveness of its technology and weapons increases. If the civilization fails to keep the techno-humanitarian balance and transform its moral and ethical standards towards development of humanistic values and the reduction of violence, it threatens self-destruct. The civilizations that have survived to the present day were able to maintain the balance and overcome this 'evolutionary selection.' Now history is accelerating, the number of challenges is growing, and the need to predict crises and find systemic solutions is also increasing.

Nazaretyan also serves as head of Euro-Asian Center for Big History and Comprehensive Forecasting. Along with Russia 2045, the Movement working on radical life extension through cybernetic technologies, EACBCF will hold the international Global Future 2045 Congress. The Congress will take place in Moscow, February 17-20, 2012, and will be attended by well known scientists from all over the world, including notables from the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the conversation with Russia 2045's founders, Nazaretyan spoke about the forthcoming Congress, contact points of both organisations, removal from nature's consequences, probable scenarios of civilization's development, ways out of current and future crises, and rethinking of the meanings of 'person,' 'consciousness,' 'death,' and 'immortality.’

Russia 2045: Recently we are witnessing an avalanche of growth in the technologies once only seen in the pages of science fiction novels: nanorobots, genetic engineering, robotics, and neural networks simulation. Which technologies, in your opinion, will keep evolving and which lead to  dead ends?  

Akop P. Nazaretyan: I think there will be symbiosis and synthesis of different technologies, while the division into biological and non-biological ones will come to naught. Man is increasingly losing his biological nature, while Artificial Intelligences are gaining human traits.

Modern technologies are deviations from nature which did not happen yesterday, or a hundred, or two hundred years ago. Domestication of fire is deviation from nature already. As you may see, we have gone far enough. The world becomes increasingly less natural. We can not do anything about it. And we should not. Without modern technologies, our civilization will come to a standstill. Thanks to medicine, natural selection in the civilized world has disappeared. Immunisations and vaccines were invented and child mortality decreased by an order of magnitude. People who would not have lived three years a hundred years ago survive and have children today. A completely healthy individual will soon be met only among indigenous people who preserved natural selection. So, without medicine, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics, our survival is questionable. And, which technologies do you consider the most viable and rational?

Russia 2045: We all believe (And many scientists from our advisory council share our view) that future lies in cybernetic technologies, not the biological ones. Over millions of years of evolution, our bodies have accumulated thousands of mistakes. In fixing one of them, we break the delicate balance. Sooner or later it will respond with new failures. Aging, disease and death are still inevitable. Imagine that you have an antique car made with great care and thought. Let's say it's over fifty years old. Suppose it was always treated with care – sooner or later it will start to break down. You love it, you will repair it. But if you just need to get somewhere, perhaps, you would prefer to have a new one on hand.

Robotics is developing with giant strides today. Modern robots become more and more realistic: They sing, play violin, are able to learn, understand speech, and experience emotions. We are confident that in less than ten years we will create a robot that can be remotely controlled by a human via 'brain-computer' interface. It will bring joy of movement to the paralyzed. Subsequently, a way to transfer one's brain (and then, one's mind) into the body of this robot will be developed. It will not happen tomorrow. It is our goal for the next decade and we are doing our utmost to achieve it.

Akop P. Nazaretyan: The difference between us is only that you are younger and more optimistic. I have said many times and would repeat that modern man's mind is artificial already. Even our emotions and feelings – not to mention our thoughts – are so permeated by cultural codes that naturalness is out of the question. So, the nature of future human intelligence's carrier – biological or cybernetic – does not matter.

I also feel obliged to talk about threats technology may pose. Today we are, in some sense, returning to Paleolithic era when the distinction between military and everyday technologies did not exist. Bow and arrows could be used both for hunting animals and for war between tribes. The separation occurred later. Today, it is vanishing again. Medications can now become weapons of mass destruction. 'The father of nanotechnology' Eric Drexler predicts creation of nanobacteria which will affect only people with particular genotypes.

Russia 2045: Do we have enough time to adapt to these new threats?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: It is our only way out. Sun Microsystems' chief scientist, Bill Joy, admits that while the 20th century was the era of weapons of mass destruction, the 21th century will become the era of knowledge of mass destruction. The most horrible weapons are becoming more and more available, affordable. To create disruptive technology, today fewer specialists, knowledge and money is needed. Fifty years ago, one could not create a nuclear bomb at home...

Russia 2045: While today some mad hacker can crack the computer system of a nuclear power plant!

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Exactly! The foolproof system is under threat.

Russia 2045: Are there any other problems related to the rapid development of technologies?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Yes. The development of technologies has and will cause the resistance of conservatives and growth of fundamentalism. The survival of civilization on Earth depends on which trend prevails. What distinguishes the ideology of fundamentalism? It tends to have macro-group identifications: 'I am a worker,' 'I am Russian,' 'I am a Christian,' 'I am a Muslim,’ and separation into 'friends and foes,' 'us and them.' Micro-groups are arranged on another principle, they frequently overlap causing the growth of cultural diversity. At the current level of communications, one's main social circle doesn't consist of neighbours, but of the people with whom one shares interests. The evolution of the Internet and online translators strengthens this tendency. Macro-group cultures are not very resilient and will gradually die off.

But there is another opinion. Famed American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington states in his book The Clash of Civilizations that civilizations will divide along religious lines and will fight with each other. This will mean the end of history, and perhaps evolution will be continued by some other civilizations, on other planets.

Russia 2045: Is this scenario avoidable?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Our research shows that the civilizations that endure are those that could manage techno-humanitarian disbalances. We exist because the civilizations that lived before us have passed – and passed successfully – all the previous phases. They have not destroyed themselves, nor have they become stuck in one of the phases, althougth they might have well done so. And probably the civilization to advance to the cosmic level will be the one (perhaps literally the only one) that will overcome the disbalance of the present day and find a 'common denominator' between instrumental and humanitarian intelligence, and develop its technologies in this way.

Russia 2045: Could you please tell us more about Big History and its laws?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Today’s fulminating development is the result of acceleration which can be described by a simple logarithmic formula. The formula was derived by Russian physicist A. Panov and Australian economist D. Snoox. They studied the history of the biosphere, including the history of humanity, for the period of about four billion years and worked independently from each other. In mid-21st century, the Snoox-Panov curve turns into a vertical.

Russia 2045: What can it mean for us?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: It means a most powerful polyfurcation, a change comparable to the emergence of life on Earth. We will face either tremendous breakthrough or rapid collapse.

Russia 2045: Can the consumer society crisis and the loss of conceptual guidelines contribute to the collapse?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Crises you have listed are no more then technology development's outlays. In political psychology, this is called a 'retrospective aberration.' There is a law: When standards of living grow too fast, expectations grow even faster, and thus frustration increases. In the mid-19th century, the average life expectancy in such cities as Stockholm or Manchester was only 17-20 years. Women got married at their teens and gave birth without medical assistance or clean sheets. Most of the children died, half of women died in labor. It was natural, and no one protested. When life expectancy reached three decades, discontent appeared. When it reached seventy years, it became hard to find anyone satisfied with it.

In the 60th decade of the 20th century, there were three really severe crises that involved the threat of nuclear war: the Berlin crisis, the Caribbean crisis and the Middle Eastern crisis. Today, fall of stock prices is called a crisis – semantic drift occurs. Life is a stable disequilibrium, and I suspect that crises are its integral part.

Russia 2045: That is, the ideological crisis does not exist?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: No, it does. The crisis of meanings. According to World Health Organisation, the number of suicides have surpassed the number of homicides by half again as much. This is an unprecedented situation. People begin to die of boredom rather then anger.

It is the cost of the great achievements of humanistic culture. Today, the value of human life is higher then ever before. All the history of mankind was the history of struggling for survival – until recently. For thousands of years, we got used to the fact that meanings are best formed at war, no matter if it was a potential or actual war. In this complicated and versatile world, it is difficult for meanings to form.

Russia 2045: But we all would like to do without wars.

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Of course. Here is another example of the worldview crisis. If, with the help of nanotechnology, we manage to penetrate beyond the level of 'nano' into the 10 raised to the minus 30th power scale, space at this level will be multidimensional. In this space, motion at the speed faster then the speed of light becomes possible. So, there is no limit to signal transmission. Note that it doesn't contradict the relativity theory, because the speed of light is unbreakable only in three-dimensional space. Thus, in the next decades, we will have to look for new answers to the questions, 'What is life, death, immortality, human, animal, machine, sense, consciousness?’ That is what conceptual crisis means!

Russia 2045: This is impressive. May we talk now about the collaboration between Russia 2045 and Euro-Asian Center for Big History and Comprehensive Forecasting? How can we be useful for each other?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: The relationship between us suggest itself. We, as the Center of Comprehensive Forecasting, would like to show you the mechanisms of restraining dangers and threats, to complement your enthusiasm with our scepticism.

In psychology, the terms 'risk' and 'threat' mean different things. Threat is all that may harm your interests, whether financial, physical, or any other. Risk is a ratio of threat to one's readiness to resist it. There is a textbook example. It is obvious that there are more threats outside then at home. But most of the accidents, murders and other unpleasant events happen at home. Why so? When you leave home, you get ready to deal with the fact that cars are moving, criminals may be about, and so on. While at home, you relax and estimate minimal threats as zero threats. That is why risk modeling is so important and will greatly increase our chances of achieving our goal.

Russia 2045: You have already been communicating with the speakers of the Global Future 2045 Congress. Could you please tell us which of the stated topics for discussion seem the most absorbing to them?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Everyone is very interested in Big History. I warn them, 'We will talk not of the past itself, but of the past as an instrument for forecasting the future.’ And I ask them to send me abstracts precisely about the future. I am certain we will have enough scientists to discuss the problem of meaning, and the formation of meanings, and many other issues.

Russia 2045: Do you expect the Russian Academy of Sciences to be interested at the Congress?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Definitely! It will involve such serious academicians as Vyacheslav S. Stepin, Abdusalam A. Guseynov, Vladislav A. Lectorsky, Vladimir L. Shultz, Victor F. Petrenko, and Andrey V. Yurevich – all of them are RAS's corresponding members. Many scientists from abroad will participate as well.

Russia 2045: Can Russia 2045's participation in the Congress form a favourable opinion of it in academic environment?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: I have no doubts! Your participation should eliminate all criticism and accusations aimed at Russia 2045.

Russia 2045: Do you think that in the interval between congresses we should commission some research to be carried out, or perhaps, some practical work?

Akop P. Nazaretyan: You could establish a Russia 2045 fund...

Russia 2045: We have established it already! According to fund's charter, it will support not only technical studies, but also humanitarian ones.

Akop P. Nazaretyan: Then let's design terms for grant applications, and create a committee similar to the Nobel Prize one, or an editorial board. Our Center publishes four scientific magazines – two in Russian, two in English – we may publish the terms of competition there (and on the websites), and announce the amount of funding offered.

Russia 2045: We will certainly do this! And we are so glad and thankful you are willing to participate.

Akop P. Nazaretyan: We will select humanitarian works of such quality, that being the laureate of this award will be no less honorable then being Academy of Sciences's member. We will make the selection without paternalism, without corruption. I know people we may draw in – worthwhile, professional and honest.

The problems of Big History and comprehensive forecasting are inexhaustible. Some of the great physicists said that if the solution of a scientific problem creates a new problem, it was pseudo-solution, and if the solution does not create new problems, it was a pseudo-problem. A serious solution to a serious problem creates an avalanche of new problems. So, we will regularly meet, expand our representation, watch trends, look at what changes, assess which problems are real and which are not. There will be a lot of controversy – it is a normal workflow. Post-classical science does not seek for truth, but builds working models.

Russia 2045: Thank you so much for the conversation and your support!
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