In The Next 50 Years: Why I’m Optimistic Because Everything Will Be Terrible, science fiction writer John Shirley talks about where we are now and where we're headed.
It's worth remembering that he is a science fiction writer, so there's a lot he talks about in this article that I feel is a bit "out there" (or at least several hundred years off), but the highlighted points below stood out as particularly thought-provoking.
I believe in the power of human good and in natures ability to find natural ways of correcting imbalances, but I also feel that our growing mastery over the elements and our growing usage of technology is tampering with those natural checks and balances; we're putting more responsibility in our hands without actually accepting the responsibility.
Addiction to social media, videogames, cell phones and the internet is now a recognized phenomena and that has implications for our relationship to future tech. Because its addictive capacity will only increase as its experiential quality improves.
It's strange—most of our technology is about extending our reach... but paradoxically, we're in danger of a relationship to technology that actually cuts us off from one another. Cartoonists already caricature families who sit together talking to everyone but each other on their plethora of devices...
The real singularity will be simply an unprecedented cybernetic intelligence explosion to many orders of magnitude, combined with astronomically improved interactivity—but the Kurzweilian singularity that allows us to interface with machines until, in his words, "there will be no distinction between human and machine" , will not come about sustainably because the psychological and social consequences would be so dire.
People who are quadroplegic have noted that they feel less emotion than they did, when they could still feel their entire bodies. The projection of the self into electronics reduces our relationship to the body, the seat of our emotions, and for several reasons that might lead to an increase in psychopathology.
And empathy may be a precious commodity in the future. Most people unconsciously cut off their empathy when they're feeling endangered — when the population increases to 8 and 9 and 10 billion, we may instinctively become, as a race, proportionately less empathetic — unless, with self-observation and cognitive therapy, we actively struggle against that kind of degeneracy.
Mastery of technology must include acknowledgement of its dark side. Mastery of technology means accepting of limitations. Limitations have value, eg limiting electricity to what will work for a particular power line means electrical flow isn't wasted. Water is good; a flood usually isn't. Technology too needs limits.
An invention which pollutes is only partly invented. And a lot of the time we rush into technology so quickly we don't realize it's going to pollute... It was recently discovered that every time a garment made from synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it lets go of thousands of tiny plastic fibers which end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe. No one expected that. No one thought that form of manufacture through.
It's time for a new philosophy of technology—one that acknowledges its dark side and thinks pro actively about the consequences of new technology so that technology can be tweaked and negative consequences prepared for. Technology needs to evolve a conscience.
Only world government — not an autocratic one, but a world governance committed to human rights, the rights of women (which are integral to population control), and environmental justice — can deal with the kinds of international crises that will arise in an environmentally stricken and overpopulated world. World government will not mean anyone gives up their culture, except the bits that reject human rights; it will not be a great gray conformity; there will still be at least as much national sovereignty, for most issues, as states in Europe have in the EU — and remember that the EU, a fuzzy foreshadowing of world government, is in a very early stage. It's having problems, and that was inevitable as it's still evolving. But it does have the right idea. Toward the end of the 21st century the world will move toward a framework of consensus, on some basic rules regarding population growth, the environment, and access to technology. Empowering third world people with education and technology will give them a step toward the resources and coping ability they'll need to survive.
I believe we'll achieve a collective progressive consciousness as a result of the revelatory shocks we'll endure in the next fifty years. We'll learn... we'll come to understand that we can't treat Spaceship Earth as a party cruise ship.