We’re getting reliable, instant answers from machines thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence. But if knowledge is growing exponentially because of scientific tools, then we should be running out of puzzles. Instead we keep discovering greater unknowns. In the future, questions will be more valuable than answers. Author and Wired’s “Senior Maverick” Kevin Kelly predicts our biggest questions are yet to come.
Because of the tools of science, we know vastly more about the universe, our world and ourselves than we did a century ago. Yet the paradox of science is that every answer we uncover yields at least two brand new questions. More tools and more answers lead to ever more questions.
Telescopes, scanners and atom smashers expanded not only what we knew but expanded what we didn’t know. Previous discoveries helped us to recently realize that 96 percent of all matter and energy in our universe is outside of our vision. The universe is not made of the atoms and heat we discovered last century; instead it is primarily composed of two unknown entities we call “dark”— dark energy and dark matter.
Let’s be honest: “dark” is a euphemism for ignorance. We really have no idea what the bulk of the universe is made of. We find a similar proportion of ignorance if we probe deeply into the cell or the brain. We don’t know nothin’ relative to what could be known.
Thus, even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially.
We have no reason to expect this to reverse in the future. The more disruptive a technology or tool is, the more disruptive the questions it will breed. We can expect future technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation and quantum computing (to name a few on the near horizon) to unleash a barrage of new huge questions we could have never thought to ask before. In fact, it’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.