Come, visit the future!
See what we know about the future of mankind.
Hi, nice to see you here! You’ve come to just the right place.
This is the first post in a new series where we’ll look, week after week, into the possible futures of mankind. What will our future and that of our kids be like? Will we terraform Mars? Will we live in cities that soar above the clouds of Venus? Will robots take over and enslave us? Will we ever meet aliens?
In this series, we’ll go to philosophy, history and science in search of answers. We will look at how art and science fiction imagine our future. I am a university lecturer in philosophy, and this series of posts first began as a lecture on “Technology and the Future of Mankind.” But if hours upon hours of university lecturing is not your thing — well, then just stay right here on this page. In this series of posts, I’ve put together the highlights from those lectures, everything that I found exciting and amazing, and I hope that you’ll have the same fun that I had when I was researching these posts: the fun of taking a small peek into the mists of our future.
What will it be like, that future?
Will we live in a world like that of New Generation Star Trek, where everyone has a crisp clean uniform, a smile on their face, and gets to spend their free time in Ten Forward, looking out of the panoramic windows into the promise of endless adventure? Will we have a future in which there are no wars, no poverty, no hunger, no money? In which we work only to perfect ourselves, as Captain Picard is fond of saying?
Or will it be the world of Alien? Badly paid space workers, crammed together into dirty mining ships that roam the solar system for resources, owned by companies that exploit their employees in the ruthless pursuit of more inequality and power?
Or will it be Blade Runner? A world in which we cannot any more distinguish between man and machine? A world in which not even oneself knows what kind of thing one is. Will it be like that?
What about space? Will we ever fly through space like in those movies? Will we colonise the solar system, living on the shores of a lake on Titan, or underwater in the oceans of Enceladus? Will we live in glass domes on the red sands of Mars? And will we be able to leave the solar system? Will we fly to other stars? Will we cross the galaxy, utilising warp drives and dilithium crystals, or will we have to finally surrender in the face of the enormous distances between the stars? Will we be tied to our little planet forever?
Tourists in space?
In 2016, NASA created a series of posters that show off the tourist attractions of the universe. Nightlife on planets where the sun never rises, planet hopping in the Trappist-1 system, a walk on the bright red grass of an alien world… Will this ever be our reality?
Of course, we cannot know the future. And perhaps that’s for the best. But we can try to use all our available resources to make an educated guess. There are things we know about the future: We know how humans behave, how societies develop, and what priorities drive our decisions. We have a long history to look back upon and learn from. If technologies developed in a particular way in the past, again and again, then perhaps these patterns will repeat in the future too. And then, we have about fifty years of modern, hard science fiction to give us ideas and inspiration. Using all these, we might at least try to get a sense of where we might be heading with our world.
We will begin by examining what technology is, and how it affects society. And we will have to talk about progress. What really is progress? Is technological progress something different from social progress? Or do both always go hand in hand? Has technology in the past made us better, happier people? Or did we live better lives 500 years ago? Or 5000? Some say that the development of agriculture was where things first went south. Hunters and gatherers have easier lives, work less, are healthier, and have more fun. Or not?
We will then look at democracy. In the past two hundred years or so, we have embraced and cultivated the view that democratic governments are the best way to organise a society. But what happens when we add our advanced technologies to the mix? We know today about the effects that social media like Facebook and Twitter have on democracy, and it’s not always a pretty picture. But perhaps the fault is not with social media, but with democracy itself? In a society that’s governed by a future benevolent and all-knowing AI, does it even make sense to leave decisions in the hands of people that might be fallible, greedy, selfish, corrupt, or uneducated?
And does democracy even scale? Originally, democracy was a way for the 30,000 male citizens of Athens to talk to each other and engage with the issues that affected them all. This model was never meant to apply to the one billion citizens of China or India, or even to the thirty or fifty billion that might, one day, live and die all over the solar system. But if democracy has outlived its usefulness, what is there to replace it?
Of course, in a series like this, we will also talk about environmental destruction: the most likely reason that we won’t actually have a future beyond perhaps a few hundred years. It’s not only global warming that we will have to face. It’s unsustainable fishing practices, extinction of species, including vital insect life, the poisoning of land and water through agriculture and industry, ocean plastics and microplastics. One thing we don’t have is a lack of environmental problems, and while some may deny that global warming is to be taken seriously, there is no denying that all the other issues are also out to get us and terminate our civilisation (if it deserves that name).
Reminds me of a reply, attributed by the Internet’s collective memory to various different people; so let’s just leave it anonymous. A famous person was once asked: “What do you think of human civilisation?” And the great thinker replied: “I think it would be a good idea.”
And there are many other topics coming up later on. We will talk about energy, medicine, and nanotechnologies. About AI and robots. About planetary catastrophes and what we can do to prevent them or, alternatively, to recover from them.
At the end of the series, we will have enough material to try and predict what the world might look like in 50, or 100, or 500 years. But what about 5,000? And what about the far future of the Earth and our solar system? Even if we don’t destroy it, our planet won’t exist forever. At some point, all life on Earth will end. How will this happen, and when?
I’m excited to share this journey with you! Depending on where you read or listen to this, just press “Subscribe” or “Follow” to come along for the ride; and don’t forget to “clap” or “like” or do whatever your platform of choice allows you to do to recommend this series to others!
Hop onto the wagon, take a seat, and enjoy the view. Welcome to Our Future!
Originally published at https://daily-philosophy.com on January 17, 2020.
A podcast will be available next week on all major podcasting platforms.
New instalments every Friday. Stay tuned!