More than ever before, the world seems to be poised for rapid change. Only dreamers expect a return to the "good old days". More and more people are beginning to recognize the naiveté and inadequacy of the present social order. There is an awakening acceptance that many of the old icons are being broken beyond repair and a new age is being ushered in.
Technology laws dictate annual doubling of processing and networking performance. Today’s handheld computers have more processing power than the mainframe super-computers of a couple of decades ago.Among the multitude of smart gadgets everywhere is the ubiquitous cellphone. (1) Today there are almost as many cell-phones as there are people on this earth (about 7 billion) and it took a little more than 20 years for that to happen. (Strange – by comparison, only about 60% have access to working toilets.) As we move into the future, expect more functionality: health and fitness monitoring, fingerprint scanning, augmented reality overlays, paper-thin screens, 3D and holograms, built-in projectors, voice-control, smart-wallets, ubiquitous and automatic WiFi. The possibilities are endless.
Robots have loomed over the future of labor for decades. Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labor force will see their employment options automated out of existence. (2) Some even think that robots will end up producing more than enough of everything that everyone needs. Then what?
For over a decade now, biotechnology and genetic engineering has been advancing steadily. The accelerating unraveling of medical discoveries and breakthroughs, centered on the manipulations of the very essence of life – DNA, the human genome and synthetic biology. (3)
Cloned livestock are already proliferating. (4) Already, breeders are concerned that the opportunity for creative combinations may be eliminated from the process if they simply cloned the prize bulls. Hitherto, sexual reproduction has maintained biodiversity that generated greater long-term sustainability. Imagine a flock of cloned prize cattle from 2002 in the year 2050 – nothing new, nothing evolved, perhaps succumbing to a disease and obliterated.
Within a few short years genetic engineering and human cloning will be relatively commonplace. (5) (6) When the relatively safe and successful delivery of an increasing number of genetically engineered human clones is demonstrated, who will choose instead the painful process and dangerous lottery of the conventional birthing process?
Millions of childless couples will wait and watch for their turn to get a clone of their own, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are many millions of unfortunate real babies in poor countries, waiting to be adopted.
Many “less advanced” people will still be following the old tried-and-true birthing mechanisms. In the long run they may turn out stronger as a result. Imagine if the "more advanced" countries were stuck with outdated genes, looking for DNA handouts.
Human animal hybrids, termed chimeras, are sometimes used for medical purposes – for example, organs suitable for transplantation or research into immune systems. (7) If chimeras can be bred, what would differentiate them as human? Could they be used as workers at less than minimum wage? Do chimeras or clones have souls? Should they be allowed to vote? Can they be bred as soldiers? Scary possibilities! The specter of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World looms.
With these technology shifts will come the need for new thinking in all the systems of human society: laws, ethics, morals, theology, and philosophy.
Human life expectancy has already increased from about 45 at the start of the 20th century to 80 today. Because of technology advancements, life expectancy could increase to 120 as early as 2050. (8)
Some scholars even consider that mankind is undergoing a major evolutionary transition comparable to the shifts from monkeys to apes, and apes to humans. In addition to longer lives, humans will likely delay the timing of biological reproduction and reduce the number of offspring too. These changes could signify new types of human, more focused on culture and learning than biology and reproduction. (9)
Hey! When human life-extension technology becomes commonplace, perhaps I'll still be alive at the age of 115, on my seventh career (engineer, doctor, lawyer, clergyman, plumber, space scientist and then politician) and perhaps I'll be romancing some cute 90-year-old.
Back to the Present
Many countries have simply been printing money, showing increased weakness, with debt-to-GDP ratios reaching clearly unstable heights. In 2014, China and other emerging markets are dragging instead of driving growth. The global economy is facing its biggest test of confidence in decades. Many gurus have been predicting a serious decline and, even as I write this, the stock market is showing signs that another big crash is imminent.
Large corporations are hoarding cash and going offshore to escape taxation in the U.S. Unemployment is high in all developed nations, with only low-wage service jobs available, causing serious decline of the middle-class. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing ever more unbridgeable. (10)
The developing world sees the West as greedy and arrogant. Millions of people are dying in Africa and other parts of the world while pharmaceutical companies won't allow poor countries to make much-needed drugs because they demand more profit from their investments.
The Present is not pleasant
For the majority of the world, the spread of disease is the most urgent problem. The major scare right now (October 2014) is the Ebola virus; no one knows whether it can or will be contained, and if it spreads, how can it be stopped? In America and Europe, panic is spreading faster than the disease.
Today a large part of humanity is generating instability and discontent. Extremists and religious zealots keep inciting ever more dangerous unrest to exploit this situation. In the Middle East, disparate worlds are colliding. All recognize the direct, bold-faced threats made by ISIS/ISIL, though few even try to understand their motivations for hating Western society so much.
In the midst of this continuous turmoil of events, the ever-present media do little else than repeat the instantly available news, with refresh-cycles of hours, sometimes minutes. Each TV channel competes for attention with a succession of talking heads breathlessly breaking the news of harsh events as they unfold. And the global village grows ever smaller.
While disaster looms, the vast majority remains silent, feeling like helpless onlookers completely incapable of doing anything. While a future of harmony and health is still a vague and unformed possibility in our collective imaginations, a future of conflict and suffering is easy to envision.
The film “Hunger Games” presents a heroic struggle in a world that has failed to make the transition to some form of widespread, sustainable prosperity. (11) People are barely surviving on a ruined Earth in a society that has regressed to ritualistic, annual killings for the entertainment of a privileged few. Who can deny that the premise of this movie is plausible?
Soft Solutions for Hard Problems
The conventional hard solutions are completely inadequate – guns, tanks and warplanes cannot stop suicide bombers. How many millions must die before the paradigm shifts? What is the catalyst that will signal the recognition and acceptance that no one is right or wrong?
The mass of humanity yearns to renew itself and the time for transition is near. The change will come when we care enough to ask each other, "What am I doing that makes you feel you must hurt me?" With understanding will come perhaps the beginning of a universal brotherhood of humanity. (12)
Ever the optimist, I predict – perhaps I just “feel” – that the solutions already lie within the problems themselves. Inventive, innovative, caring, charitable, far-sighted humans will indeed find a way. The future will be a better place.
- Number of mobile phones exceed world population 2014: http://goo.gl/9PxaL6
- Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do? http://goo.gl/m3YyTI
- Craig Venter Envisions Future of Synthetic Life: http://goo.gl/jxU0rW
- Cloned Livestock Poised To Receive FDA Clearance: http://goo.gl/HFyTH3
- Human Cloning: http://goo.gl/uWoQ7I
- Adult Human Cells Cloned for First Time: http://goo.gl/Wn9n8b
- Human-animal hybrids and chimeras: http://goo.gl/UJI9p6
- Life Expectancy: http://goo.gl/5kjSo3
- Humans In The Middle Of A Huge Evolutionary Transition: http://goo.gl/JV1cxs
- Inequality gap between super rich and poor widens: http://goo.gl/tQREc2
- Hunger Games – The Price of Failed Transition: http://goo.gl/Xc55t2
- Soft Solutions for Hard Problems (Jim Pinto 2001): http://goo.gl/2MQQUJ
17 October 2014