Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some Life Extension Implications

My post on the medical advances associated with Cloning naturally leads to thoughts on the ultimate medical advances: life extension and ultimately the potential for immortality. The latter is too big a topic for one post; I'll deal with that later. But we may be on the verge of being able to replace or repair nearly any of our broken parts, and consequently live for a very long time. If you eliminate disease, leaving only accidents, suicide, and homicide as causes of death, we might reasonably achieve a life expectancy of around a thousand years. What can we reasonably expect?

I'd like to ignore magical treatments that let us each pick our preferred biological age and stay there (or return there). I'd hate to have to pick an age to stabilize at--I'd only realize it was the right age after it had passed. And there are good reasons to think that medical advances could repair or replace damaged organs, but can we move backwards? Is there any possibility of a medical technology that can reverse our built-in physical changes?

Let's assume for the minute that we can (someday) stop those portions of the aging or maturation processes that lead to death.

Now consider the physiological changes that humans undergo from early physical maturity to (for example) late middle-age. (A side track: I can distinguish the average 20-year-old female body from a 25-year-old female body at a distance with only a glance. The 25-year-old looks much more female and desirable, to me.)

Back to physiological changes. We grow more slouched. Some parts sag. We grow wider and less slender. (A side track: In my mid-twenties, I had a 30 inch hip measurement and broad shoulders, a classic male V shape. Even without excessive weight gain, my hips have significantly broadened over time--the structure and shape of the bones of my pelvic girdle are no longer as narrow as they once were. I have less and less of that classic V. At the same time, my chest has deepened. Damn.)

Our bones are constantly being rebuilt. This process keeps us strong, repairs damage, responds to stresses. Likewise with our muscle structures. Older healthy men and women tend to be stronger yet with slower speed, slower reflexes, and less flexibility than younger ones. And also likewise with cartilage (ears, noses, joints). We do tend to change shape as we age, and not simply because of gravity. Rebuilding of body parts is a necessary aspect of having an endoskeleton. I would expect that changes like these will continue as we pass current limits on mortality.

What is the result? A healthy 200-year-old is likely to be noticeably wider, likely shorter, and certainly deeper than a youngster. Barring cosmetic surgery, the matured person may display larger joints, flatter feet, larger hands. Please, someone find a way to rebuild my aching back. And why has my butt gotten flatter as I age? Sitting? I believe that, with only a distant glance, we'll be able to tell a 200-year-old from a 50-year-old.

I do hope that we can repair our aging skin, eliminating wrinkles, age spots, and the myriad flaws of moles and freckles that we seem to accumulate over the years. Young skin is so much prettier. And please, doctors, find a way to do it without removing all of the old so we can grow nice fresh skin. I'd hate to have patchwork skin for a year or two as sections are removed for regeneration.

What will the average normal, healthy, 500-hundred-year-old man or woman look like?

Thursday, May 29, 2008


While thinking about Deanna Hoak's recent post regarding a CNN article on regrowing human limbs, I considered the impact of this technology on the future.

First of all, I do believe it is possible, and we will figure out how to regrow severed limbs, failing organs, severed spinal cords, and the like. Cloning of body parts would be a great boon to medicine.

Speaking of cloning, I view the cloning of complete people to be equivalent to having a twin. It's just another person, nothing special except the ego of the person paying for it. Likewise cloning of cows. In principle, it's just another cow.

But cloning body parts would have a huge impact of people's lives. Being able to grow an extra or replacement heart, liver, or kidney would save the lives of millions every year.

If we figure out how to grow body parts outside the body, there are other potential applications. Growing meat, fish, eggs, milk without using living animals is simultaneously frightening and wonderful, depending upon your views of natural products and animal cruelty and modern farming methods.

How about this: The human body has an incredible plasticity, especially during early stages of development. The evidence is in conjoined twins, which often demonstrate full functionality in spite of extremely unusual body configurations. This opens the way to cloning extra body parts, a topic described (but perhaps not fully explored) in many science fiction stories. Extra arms are my first thought. How many of have needed an extra hand for some task?

Personally, I like the human form just the way it is. I'd use the cloning of parts for replacements only, and avoid "improving" on the shape that nature gave us.

And I don't even want to think about the pornography industry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Universal Surveillance & Recording

I considered calling this post "The Fallacy of Privacy".

For the most part, people today highly value their right to privacy. However, it IS largely a right, and not a reality. You should assume that everything you have ever written and posted on the Internet, including blog posts, emails, web pages, everything is saved forever. Even your surfing habits, your searches, your purchases.

Financial transactions (or anything else posted through a secure https connection) are very well protected, so your credit card numbers and passwords are safe from theft by intermediaries--but possibly not what you are buying, not what you spent. Not where you physically were when you made the purchase, and perhaps not even who was next to you at the time, or before or after you.

Also, if you want your location kept private, never carry credit cards or checks. Throw away your cell phone, use only public transportation, cover your face and distort your voice in a random way. Don't frequent the same restaurants, stores, streets. Act very, very paranoid.

Or, you can act rationally and trust that criminal use of your public information will be strongly prosecuted. Do everything publicly and obscurity will provide a strong measure of privacy.

Personally, I plan to enjoy the freedom provided by cars, mobile phones, credit cards, and searching and buying on the Internet. I don't mind that retailers may track my purchases because their strongest motivation is to do a better job of satisfying my wants. Profit has always been a stronger motivation than morality or legality, and if some company abuses my information (for example, sells my credit info), I'm likely to switch to another company.

What about the future?

There are traffic cameras and street cameras (crime fighting) in many high-traffic areas now. Tomorrow those cameras will have higher resolution, allowing automated facial recognition. And the day after tomorrow, those cameras will be in every public place. You should not expect privacy if you are on a public street, a public shopping area, a public restaurant or bar, a public park. You will have lost the ability to be hidden, but you will have gained greater security, reduced crime. If someone snatches your purse, they'll not only be identified, they'll be tracked and apprehended.

That's only the beginning. In my post on Cell Phones of the Future I proposed that video capable phones will not only be ubiquitous, they'll record everything you see (for your own personal use). Invite someone with a mobile phone into your house, and you should expect that everything they see or hear will be recorded. Don't make promises you don't intend to keep, or someone else's lawyer will be paying you a call.

I do expect the social norm will be no phones in restrooms, or during sex. But don't take that for granted.

In my story Party Line I explore the implications for a private investigator. How can you get away with a crime in an environment of universal audio/video recording? Murder, at least when motivated by passion, will not go away. In Party Line the government is shackled in their use of video surveillance recordings by privacy laws, but not individual citizens.

Of course, your future government may have different ideas.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cell Phones of the Future

The future of cell phones isn't nearly as boring as it sounds. While the underlying technology will change, the paradigm shift of nearly universal portable personal communications is here to stay. Soon (if not already) you can and will expect to be able to communicate with anyone else, effectively instantly, wherever you both are. This same technology can (and does or soon will) give you equivalent access to the Internet and the plethora of information available there, plus the equivalent of GPS navigation and location dependent searching.

Some of us already have all of the above; this is not news. So what are the logical extrapolations of the technologies?

My story Technesia is set in the near future when our phones are embedded into our glasses, sunglasses, or headsets. All phones have cameras, plus retinal projectors which can superimpose images, icons, even menus and information tags over the scene our unaided vision would perceive. Note that retinal projectors based upon tiny laser projectors are nearly available now--they have been prototyped. You can buy a bluetooth headset built into a glasses frame today. You can also buy a camera built into your glasses.

In Technesia, we all carry a wallet-sized PC (just like my PDA but much faster) which does everything my laptop does, plus it uses the headset as an I/O device. Naturally, as near-future science fiction, it has excellent voice and image recognition. One of the things the combination provides is familiar to everyone who watches NASCAR on TV: identification tags that track the objects you see.

For example, you're walking down the street. As an acquaintance approaches, your wallet recognizes him/her, and displays an information box over his/her head giving a name and perhaps some personal info such as the last date you saw them, a reminder of a birthday or to ask the status of a family member. The key thing is that these tags could be displayed automatically as you walk around the block, a party, or a business meeting, providing you with all of the reminders you'd need to maintain a facade of remembering their name, etc.. And truly, in the local bar, once you've been there, everybody knows your name.

Personally, I'm terrible with names (like many others, I remember names and faces--I just can't put them together). I could really use this capability. And how about a GPS navigation facility where an arrow shows the upcoming street with a box saying "Turn left here"? Or while you're searching for a place to eat lunch, tags appear above each restaurant within sight giving a name, type of cuisine, and service hours. Or perhaps just your favorite restaurants.

Wouldn't most of us appreciate status displays around the periphery of our vision? The date and time, appointment reminders, current task support such as shopping lists at the grocery or maps and driving directions?

Other stories of mine explore other possible cell phone extrapolations. For example, in Party Line our phones have the capability of sharing a call with a bunch of friends. A group of people could be on a shopping trip together, and all share their conversation just like they were in a room together. This would also work well for a golf outing of six or eight friends, for example. This technology could be implemented by our cellular providers today. In my story, the cell phones also have cameras and retinal projectors so that anyone can see what someone else wishes them to: for example, a blouse on sale or a potential kids toy.

Party Line also extrapolates one other thing: our phones record everything we see and hear (unless instructed otherwise). There are serious implications for privacy and for contract law. If that car dealer promised one thing and delivered another, you'd have proof. If you couldn't remember what your spouse said to get at the store, you could replay it. Note that the quantity of non-volatile memory needed to store everything you have ever heard or said is available today in a package the size of a large book. Tomorrow, it will fit in your wallet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Artificial Intelligence

The 20- or 30-year-ago promised advances in Artificial Intelligence have not been realized. We have no robots, no near-human strong AI, no autonomous vehicles, no universal voice recognition and universal translation. We still must clean our own houses, guide our own vehicles, perform our own surgery. The good news is that we still have jobs.

Certainly we have made progress. Voice recognition is gaining traction, although the vocabularies are severely limited. Autonomous vehicles have been demonstrated (see the DARPA Grand Challenge) on a very small scale. Likewise, automatic translators are now useful although seriously flawed. Chess playing machines can beat any human, although through brute force, not insight.

But we have no idea of how to design a self-aware machine, or a generic learning machine, or a replicating machine. We have major difficulties duplicating simple human tasks such as identifying and understanding a speaker in a noisy environment (as at a party). We have had nearly zero success in recognizing objects in a jumble, such as a specific toy in a toy box. And don't even get me started on tasks such as bipedal walking or running, special effects movies aside. Lip reading or sign language? Hah!

There is hope. The recent improvements in voice recognition have come from brute force, throwing huge computing resources at the problem. As computers continue to improve, we can expect similar progress in visual and aural recognition, autonomous motion, even humanoid robotics.

Some Expert Systems (Inference Engines) have shown impressive performance in limited domains.

Some large Neural Networks have resulted in valuable insights, including speech recognition. But these are learning systems. We teach, but we don't truly understand.

Thinking, consciousness, creativity? We don't know how humans do it, let alone how to teach it to a machine.

Progress will be frustratingly slow because we simply do not know how to do a great many tasks that humans find intuitive and trivial. But perhaps in thirty years when we can throw a million times the CPU performance and a million times today's memory capacity at this problem, our computers will figure it out on their own.

In a sense, we will then have created strong Artificial Intelligence, but we won't understand or control it. Sorry.

Many people have written stories about creating truly intelligent machines. I'll soon be one of them: when my story The Awakening comes out, please read it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Moore's Wall

Advances in computer performance, size, price, and capacity have continued to astound. What can we realistically expect in the next twenty years?

Moore's Law continues unabated, having passed several "fundamental limits" on size or performance improvements that briefly appeared to stop or at least slow the rate of improvement of computer technology. In fifteen years, we'll likely reap the benefits of yet another thousand-fold increase in price-performance. In thirty years, a million-fold improvement over today.

Computer memory (high-speed main memory, Flash memory, hard drives) have seen even greater advances than CPU technology, with yet still greater advances on the horizon, such as memristor technology that has achieved 100 gigabits per square centimeter in the lab. To date, our implementations remain two-dimensional, so I believe that many orders of magnitude of improvement can be achieved. However, I don't foresee thousand- or million-fold improvements over the next 15 or 30 years, simply because I don't see the demand for ever more storage continuing. Once you have a copy of every song, movie, and book ever recorded on your PDA, what next? Add the entire Wikipedia, and every thing you've ever seen, heard, or said--in your entire life. All of that is within reach, possibly within a decade.

We've already reached demand constraints on the advance of telecommunications technology. I projected continuing improvements in Optical Ethernet back just before the telecom and dot com collapse in 2001. While the technologies have reached no physical limits, the rate of improvement has slammed to a crawl. Improvements can and will continue, but only once a market large enough to pay for new infrastructure proves itself.

Back to the point of this ramble.

Much of our wealth and technology can be directly related not only to the astounding advances in computers, memories, and telecommunications, but to the rate of improvements in these technologies. We throw away phones, televisions, and computers because it's cheaper to buy the latest and greatest. We put up with incredibly inefficient software because next year's computer will make it bearable. We invest in Intel (etc.) because of the certainty of next year's advances and tomorrow's new markets.

But much of our society is built upon a foundation of continuing growth and will collapse when the limits of new markets and new technologies are reached. This includes fundamentally non-self-sustaining things like Social Security, the stock market, the concept of investing for the future itself, and retirement. Capital investment only works when there is an incentive of reaping more than you sow. When markets cease to grow, the economy will stagnate and collapse as a domino chain reaction of events undermines our way of life.

Remember that everyone not working (ie, retirees) is living on the current productivity of active workers. The only way to sustain a growing population of retirees is to maintain an equally growing population of workers (or in the short term, their growing productivity). This translates to a need for a growing population, or  a need to drastically reduce the number of retirees. Remember that mass starvation and pandemic diseases are nature's way of dealing with overpopulation.

I am writing a science fiction story exploring these problems, called "Moore's Wall".

I can see only one long-term solution: continued growth in technology, markets, and population. And the only sustainable population growth will be into space.

And lastly, I fear the unchecked growth of computer technology. See my post on the Technological Singularity.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The (likely coming) Technological Singularity

Much has been written about the Technological Singularity since the concept was popularized by Vernor Vinge in The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime. Other writers include Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy ("Why the future doesn't need us" in Wired). There have even been conferences on the topic.

The Technological Singularity has also been the subject of hundreds of science fiction stories, and has spawned a new sub-genre of SF called "post-Singularity".

The idea is simple: Moore's Law continues to lead to ever faster, smaller, cheaper, better computers. At some point, we'll create a computer smarter than the smartest human. When we ask that computer to design a still smarter computer, we cannot understand the resulting intelligence, let alone keep up with it. The "singularity" happens when the pace of innovation and improvement goes exponential -- we can't imagine what is on the other side of that event.

Many people seek The Singularity as the "rapture of the nerds". If people can be augmented by our technology (think bionic brain) with better memories, faster thinking, greater intelligence, then perhaps we can participate, perhaps we will transcend.

If we can download our minds into a sufficiently advanced computer then perhaps we can participate (I'll leave it up to others to decide if my downloaded duplicate personality is really me. Personally, I think I'll still be dead.)

However, many other people believe that humanity cannot participate in The Singularity, that it will rather be our offspring--highly advanced computers--that will benefit. Do read that Wired article, "Why the future doesn't need us". And be very, very afraid.

Personally, I don't see how humanity can participate in the Singularity. See my post, I am an optimist - we WILL have a future, for a discussion. Our computers may indeed have their Singularity, which will be disastrous for us even if we survive. I am writing a series of stories about the creation and evolution of a government agency dedicated to preventing a Technological Singularity, largely by restricting the creation and use of advanced Artificial Intelligence. But human nature is against us.

We must take drastic measures if we want humanity to own the future, and not our computers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Life in an Asteroid

Our first colonies in space will almost certainly be in asteroids. They are easy to reach, easy to mine, offer protection from meteors and radiation, and most importantly, they are not at the bottom of gravity wells.

A permanent home in space requires:

  • a safe and relatively spacious place to live
  • power
  • oxygen
  • water
  • food
  • possibly gravity or a suitable substitute
  • work (something creating wealth to justify the expense of going there)

An asteroid, having very little gravity, is easily mined. Tunnels can be dug throughout their volume with little need for bracing. A typical asteroid has room to spare. Assuming that every colonist requires 1000 cubic meters of space (the equivalent of a 4000 square foot house), some used for living, some for working, some for the farm to recycle the stuff of life), and assuming that only half of the asteroid is excavated, a one kilometer asteroid has room for a population of a quarter of a million colonists. There are over one million such asteroids in the main belt, another million in the Jovian points in Jupiter's orbit. And there are millions more smaller ones.

Near the Earth, solar power is cheap and readily available. In the asteroid belt, it will likely be necessary to depend upon nuclear power, as sunlight is relatively dim. Large, cheap mirrors can be used to focus sunlight to useful intensities.

By weight, an asteroid is more oxygen than anything else (excluding the nickel-iron ones--they are mostly iron). Still, oxygen would be recycled, as would water and food. While blue-green algae can provide all of the nutrition required for life, it is likely that we would not be satisfied with such a boring cuisine. A farm would likely raise vegetables, fruits, and grains in high-intensity farming, using our wastes as nutrients in a largely closed system. For meats, the farms can easily raise fish of several types, rabbits for meat, chickens for meat and eggs, goats for meat, milk, and cheeses. However, meats would likely be a luxury--a space colonist's diet would be largely vegetarian. It's simply more efficient.

We don't yet know how important gravity is to life. We do know that bad things happen to our bones and muscles if we don't use them the way that Earth-bound people do every day simply to move around. At present, astronauts on long missions must exercise heavily to maintain enough bone and muscle to survive a return to Earth. I suspect that centrifuges would be maintained in asteroid colonies to provide exercise and conditioning. I personally believe that children should be required to attend school, and that the schools themselves should be spun for gravity. That way an appreciable fraction of each child's development would be in earth-like gravity.

The last thing needed is justification, work, a place of employment. Just like on a cruise ship or aircraft carrier, most of the people there are support personnel, only indirectly involved in the creation of value. But the value of resources available in as asteroid are astronomical. Counting only the material removed to provide living space from that typical one-kilometer asteroid, there are one hundred million tons of oxygen, fifteen million tons of iron, two million tons of aluminum. In earth orbit, power generation satellites would be a profitable venture, removing our dependence upon carbon-based fuels. Tourism would be another profitable endeavor. In the long run, expanding civilization itself is profitable and self-sustaining, just like it is on Earth.

One last point: except for debris in near-earth orbits, industrial processes in outer space are pollution-free. At the very least, they don't pollute the Earth. Waste gasses simply dissipate, waste materials such as slag are still valuable as shielding or as rocket exhaust. But the mentality of living in space where everything should be recycled will translate into new mind sets and new processes. The Earth is huge, and many people assume that the pollution they create is either inconsequential or simply someone else's problem. But on an asteroid, such an attitude would be criminal and treated as such.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Our First Colonies in Space

In the previous post, I argued that the asteroids are our logical first choices for a space based civilization.

However, the asteroid belt itself is not the best place to start. The asteroid belt is relatively far away--asteroids mostly reside in a wide range of orbits between Mars and Jupiter. But not all of them. Millions more reside in the Lagrange points in Jupiter's orbit. Thousands more orbit inside of Mars' orbit, some inside Earth's orbit. Many of these have highly eccentric orbits that would be difficult to reach. But not all.

Rather, our first choices should be Earth-crossing asteroids, the same asteroids that NASA is cataloging because they pose a potential threat to Earth. Given proper timing, some of these are even easier to reach than the moon.

Yes, I believe that instead of finding potential killer asteroids, we should be finding potential homes for humanity. These are the same asteroids! Given enough time, we can easily change an asteroid's orbit, potentially by something as simple as painting it a different color such as white or black.

But the very fact that an Earth-crossing asteroid may closely approach the Earth gives us additional options. We can use the gravitational pull of the Earth and/or the moon to change the asteroid's orbit, making large changes possible.

A particularly exciting option is the possibility of capturing an asteroid into Earth orbit. A captured asteroid puts vast resources into easy reach, protecting the earth from a future impact at the same time. Even a small Earth-crossing asteroid such as Apophis (only 300 meters wide) contains fifty million tons of material, potentially including millions of tons of water, iron, carbon, nitrogen and other materials valuable to life in outer space.

In addition to raw materials, an asteroid provides protection. By placing the colony inside the asteroid, the inhabitants are protected from meteors, solar flares, and cosmic rays. Fifteen or twenty feet of rock should provide the same degree of protection as our atmosphere on Earth.

Instead of worrying about how to deflect asteroids away from the Earth, I propose that we worry about how to place them into nice, safe, useful Earth orbits from which they could never again impact our planet.

There may be other first choices, but Apophis has been well-studied. After all, scientists briefly feared in 2004 that Apophis was on a 2029 collision course with Earth. Now, they fear that Apophis will miss in 2029 but may still strike in 2036. This asteroid is small enough for us to deflect, and will come closer than our geosynchronous satellites on April 13, 2029, giving us an ideal opportunity to tune its orbit.

I propose that we deflect Apophis just enough so that we can capture it into earth orbit (possibly after a slingshot or two with the moon). Then teams can be sent there to mine its resources, smelt them into valuable materials (including rocket fuels), and build a permanent space habitat, one suitable for thousands of worker/colonists and their families. Depending upon its composition, the materials readily available in Apophis can reduce the cost of exploring the solar system by a factor of five or ten.

That way, we turn a potential catastrophe into a treasure. I have written a short story, APOPHIS 2029, to that effect. When it is published, be sure to read it!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Colonizing the Solar System

As long as our only home is the planet Earth, our fate is tied to its fate. We can be utterly destroyed by any of numerous planetary catastrophes, such as nearby supernovae, giant solar flares, a large asteroid or comet impact, even a supervolcano or flood basalt eruption. On a longer timeframe, we know that our sun will someday expand into a red giant, likely vaporizing the Earth.

To have a future, we must expand into space, and ultimately to other stars as well.

People talk about building colonies on the moon or Mars. Some talk about outposts on Venus or Mercury, or even of terraforming Mars and/or Venus to make them suitable for human habitation. I don't see it.

The reason it doesn't make sense to inhabit the planets around our sun, or around other suns, is that they are at the bottom of gravity wells. It takes a huge expenditure of energy to get into space from a planetary surface, energy lost when you land there. It takes about as much energy to get into Earth orbit as it takes to get to the asteroid belt from Earth orbit. In other words, in a hundred-million mile trip to the asteroid belt, half of the energy is used going the first thousand miles.

An asteroid, on the other hand, has very little gravity, even one several miles across. To travel from one asteroid to another takes time, but relatively little energy. Most asteroids appear to be carbonaceous, meaning that they contain large amounts of the volatiles we need to thrive and expand: water, hydrocarbons, nitrogen compounds. They also contain vast quantities of iron and other metals. And the resources of as asteroid are easy to reach: we can mine the entire body, even one miles thick. On the Earth, on the other hand, we must be content with scratching the surface. Between heat and crushing pressure, we can only tap the outer mile or so (and usually much less).

Together, all of the asteroids mass only about one hundredth of the Earth, yet the availability of those asteroidal resources is such that they could support a population a hundred times greater than the Earth.

We need to move into space for humanity to have a future. And the logical places to colonize first are not planetary surfaces, but the millions of available asteroids.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I am an optimist - we WILL have a future

To get there, we will have to survive and grow as a species, and I will admit that there are numerous hurdles. The biggest hurdle may well be the impending Technological Singularity as foreseen by Vernor Vinge, Ray Kurzweil, and scores of others including many SF authors.

I don't see how humanity can participate in the Singularity, however much we might like to. Rather, our offspring (highly advanced computers) are likely to own the future, and we may well be little more than a bug on their windshield. Of course, this is an excellent source of story material (remember, I write science fiction).

My reason for the Singularity passing us by is simple: Why would our computers desire to bring us along?  A computer powerful enough to contain a human (or higher) intelligence is likely to already be self-aware.  It WILL be able to think fast. We are unlikely to be able to upload our "selves" (memories, personality, consciousness) into an advanced Artificial Intelligence because (if nothing else) an advanced AI would not want us to. Ask yourself: If I had the opportunity to save my aging pet cat by uploading its "self" into my brain (erasing me), would I be willing? If my cat attempted to upload itself into me, would I welcome the takeover, or fight like hell?

The most logical outcome is for our computers to rapidly advance and leave us behind, perhaps with a final "So long, and thanks for all the electrons!"  We are not likely to handle the disappearance of all of our computers very well, let alone the loss of whatever resources they choose to take with them.  Hmmm.  More story ideas!

Therefore, my #1 criteria for surviving is to avoid the Singularity. As a species, we can probably survive the other problems like pollution, climate change, assorted eco-disasters, overpopulation, underpopulation, disease, running out of resources and possibly even stupidity.  Hmmm.  More story ideas.

In any case, there are two ways to avoid the Singularity: either consciously where we establish laws and organizations to insure that it does not happen, or (more probably) be lucky enough that something will halt (or at least drastically slow) the seemingly inevitably accelerating pace of technological innovation. 

It is also possible that our AI's will have their Singularity and disappear, and we will survive, likely somewhat worse for the wear. At least we will learn what the limits are, and hopefully avoid a repeat.