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Woz’s Crystal Ball: Life On Mars, Flying Cars—And Robots In Charge

Ahead of this weekend’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak muses on life in 2075 and buying a one-way ticket to the Red Planet.

Woz’s Crystal Ball: Life On Mars, Flying Cars—And Robots In Charge
Steve Wozniak [Photo: Emily Price]

After its smash first year in 2016, Silicon Valley Comic Con is back. The three-day geek fest kicks off Friday in Downtown San Jose and runs through Sunday April 23, and legendary Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak will once more be presiding.

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The event bills itself as a perfect pairing of pop culture and tech and, for a comics convention, carries a pretty heavy theme: “The Future of Humanity: Where Will We Be in 2075?”

While it also includes the usual hijinks like cosplay and appearances by celebs like Star Trek‘s William Shatner, Batman‘s Adam West, and The Flash‘s Grant Gustin, there will also be panel discussions built around its theme.

Wozniak, the driving force behind SVCC, said he makes sure the three-day nerd-a-thon comes with a Woz twist.

“It had to be different because it’s mine. I didn’t want to do the same old things,” Woz tells me. “So (last year) we built in a huge technology element. We had scientists talking about living on Mars, and artificial intelligence vs. super gene-edited babies. We had demand for more of that so we’ve expanded this year.”

This year’s show also includes a science fair competition, presentations by NASA and Virgin Galactic, the first-ever presentation of all the X-prize tricorder finalists, and tons of robots.

“We’ve got the popular culture stuff, and the people who are working on ideas and technologies that might apply to making some of those popular culture science fiction things a reality,” he says.

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As for what Woz thinks we’ll be doing in 2075, he had some intriguing thoughts.

[Photo: Flickr/SDASM Archives]

Earthlings On Mars

By 2075, the idea of “having a colony on Mars is reasonable,” he says. “We’ve never been able to establish a colony on the moon, which is a lot closer, but there are a lot of reasons and the scientists in our panels will explain those reasons—why the moon cannot be developed to support humanity and Mars can. Mars has the elements and the ingredients that can do it.”

He expects there will at the very least be a small colony, akin to an International Space Station.

“I’ll buy a one-way ticket to Mars to be one of the explorers,” he says.

As for what we’ll be toting around in our pockets here on Earth in 60 years, Woz thinks we won’t have completely abandoned personal computers and smartphones. He sees us using a device that’s hand-sized, but also wearable. Just like cars have maintained the same general shape and design (four wheels and a body) for the past 100 years, we’ll see the same in phones and wearables. One thing that will change in the coming years: cars.

[Photo: Flickr user National Archive]

The Car Of The Future

By 2075, Woz thinks we’ll all be tooling around in self-driving cars.

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“I believe that it’s not only possible but going to happen,” he says. “I think the costs are trivial to do that and the benefits are so great. Cars that you drive are just going to be a sport. Small areas that you’re allowed to go out and have the experience of the old car days.”

What we may have to wait for, however, are flying cars.

“Cars that fly themselves are always in comic books. Is it possible? Yeah, but I say there’s laws of physics. There’s lots of problems in the way. Most of the problems are people, how we live, our infrastructure today,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of free space where we could probably start a flying community.”

In his opinion, one of the big obstacles in the way of flying cars is energy. It takes a ton of energy to lift you off the ground and start flying. While there have been a few examples already of people getting close to success, Woz says that for it to truly be a reality there will have to be low-cost options that people can afford and lots of energy available.

“I don’t think that could happen by ’75. I think it’s going to take too much of our infrastructure to convert over, that’s too short a time frame, maybe another hundred years for sure,” he says. Once we do get flying cars, however, he thinks we won’t ever have to worry about learning how to fly them. Just like cars, they’ll be self-driving.

While computers will likely take over the wheel, Woz says not to expect them to take over every aspect of our lives anytime soon.

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[Photo: Flickr user Internet Archive]

AI And The Robot Revolution

“I think AI is amazing because when I was young I never thought a computer could equal the human mind,” he says.

While artificial intelligence is certainly getting smarter, Woz says not to count on getting to a point where we just think about things and a machine will know what we want and be prepared to meet our every demand.

“I don’t buy into that. I don’t think that the mind is advanced enough for that. Could we just talk and listen for everything? Well, we’re getting further along in that regard, but I just don’t believe it will do enough of the job,” he says.

He thinks in a lot of ways what we currently define as intelligence is something a little different. For instance, if we teach a machine how to play chess better than a human then it’s deemed “intelligent.” However, to get to that place, a human had to decide to program the computer to learn chess and develop a strategy for learning that made it better than everyone else. The computer couldn’t have decided “Oh, I’m going to learn chess and be the best at it” on its own.

“A computer that hasn’t lived a human life is going to have trouble being creative in a human creative sense,” he says. Just because we won’t see it in 60 years doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all,” he says.

“Almost every expert agrees that it’s very possible that someday every little robot walking around will be smart, personable, and have feelings and consciousness just like a human. Very possible. How long it will take is in dispute. I think the best minds today are saying decades, and it might even be hundreds of years,” he says.

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“Somehow there’s something in us from our evolution or whatever that forces us to seek and create new things and make changes. If it’s in us, it must have a purpose or a meaning. What does it get us to? That ultimate happy in heaven [where] we all have everything we want?” he riffs. “We all keep thinking we’re going to get happy and not have to work and live. Let’s go there. What if these machines did everything we needed in life and we humans just got to enjoy the benefits of it like our dogs? We’d be taken care of so well, we’d be so happy.”

Woz says after he got that idea he started feeding his dogs filet mignon. “If I’m going to be a pet someday—do unto others as you would have done unto you,” he says, as his dogs Ziggy and Zelda lay sprawled out napping beside him.

“Artificial intelligence, even if it totally kind of ran the world and we humans didn’t really have the important role of deciding how to make the world better in the future—I think we’d still be happy and I don’t think it would be a bad thing. But I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime,” he says. “When it happens, I don’t think humans are going to be all upset.”

About the author

Emily is a journalist based in San Francisco.

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