We Need to Talk About the Future

On Friday we discussed the miraculous progress modernity has made in ending the great evils of the world. This is in large part fueled by the amazing sophistication of our technology, and the coming of the digital age.

The state of modern technology is absolutely amazing. I have a personal computer in my pocket with enough storage it could contain 6,000 books. I can use that computer to hire a stranger to chauffeur me anywhere I tell him. I can order almost any consumer item and have it at my house in two days. Have you ever thought about that? And Uber, the iPhone, and Amazon aren’t even the forefront of technological expansion. If technology is making science fiction of thirty years ago reality today, what will it bless us with thirty years from now?

If you hear from the futurists, people like Elon Musk who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible, their predictions for what is coming are absolutely mind-boggling. Nanotechnology that can repair DNA and cure virtually all disease. Implants allowing the human brain to interface with the internet. Computers significantly smarter than any person could ever be. The possibility of living to 200, or 2000. These are not impossibilities. This is going to be reality in the next 30 to 50 years. Cancer? Gone. Car accidents? Largely eliminated by self-driving vehicles. Telepathy or regeneration? No longer a fantasy confined to superhero movies.

I don’t do overstatement, but we are about to witness the most dramatic transformation of human life in history. Think the agricultural revolution changed things? Wait until you can access most of the information in the world with just a thought.

A lot of that is amazing, but we need to talk about this. It is unwise for a family to pack their bags and move without first having a family discussion. Similarly, we as a people should not move into a new age without any preparation. Right now the only people talking about the technology of the future are those creating it. I am not some luddite, nor do I think we’ll accidentally create Skynet and trigger the apocalypse. But we as a species are about to redefine what it means to be human. This is a big deal. I’m all for nanotech that can cure cancer or let the disabled walk. But being able to access the internet with a thought, I’m not so sure about. And I am certainly not on board the immortality train. What technology will increase human flourishing, and what technology only serves to prevent us from dealing with the basic, unsolvable problems of existence?

Not only are there some technologies I find dangerous, but even the good technologies are going to dramatically alter human existence. Our old way of doing things, in morality, politics, economics, and any other discipline, are no longer going to be good enough. Trying to maintain our methods of doing life today in the world of tomorrow is as silly as getting around by horse in 2018. When America was shifting from an agrarian society to an industrial society in the late 19th century, this was accompanied by growing pains seen in increases in suicide, corruption, loneliness, inequality, displacement, and many people were left behind. And America spent the first decades of the 20th century updating our society to accommodate those changes. A new era is coming, and it’s going to make the shift from agrarianism to industrialism look about as dramatic as a change of clothes. And our social operating systems need to update if we are to continue flourishing in the coming age.

I certainly don’t have the answers to a lot of these questions. However more people need to be a part of the process answering them. How we are to manage the redefinition of human existence is a significantly more important question than who sits on the Supreme Court or whether a migrant caravan is going to cross the border. My generation is coming to be at the forefront of these changes, and managing the shift is going to be our greatest challenge.

My best answer is my fallback answer. Whatever change needs to take place must first take place in me. We’re going to discuss this more on Friday. I’ll see you then.

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