Last week, we looked at several crazy – but plausible! – paradigms of the world to come. But there are way more futurist visions than I can fit in a single post, so here are 5 more futures that YOU might end up living in. Which one would you pick, if it was up to you? Let’s head to the list:
7. Information Society
Humans have a long history of manipulating the world for our own benefit (you could even argue it’s the driving force of civilization). We used animals to free us from back-breaking agricultural labor, and the industrial revolution brought us machines to do our weaving, driving, and manufacturing. Today, we’re still remaking our world, but it’s increasingly computers, not machines, that are the crucial tools. In other words, the trend is toward a society that primarily works with information, while our work with physical objects is mostly taken care of for us. This flow toward abstraction and higher-order functions can already be seen in spheres as diverse as art, urban management, and social interaction. Knowledge and information will be our currency and our canvas.
8. One World
Globalization is the process by which the world metaphorically shrinks. Goods, services and even relationships now commonly cross national borders; a car manufactured in Germany might be made with Indonesian rubber and a Chinese stereo and be sold to someone in the United States. There are clear negatives to this trend: for one, countries with lax laws have an incentive to exploit their labor and environment; for another, many fear that cultural diffusion weakens individual cultures. Globalization taken to its logical extreme suggests that earth’s citizens might one day think of themselves as a single society. There may or may not be a world government, but there would be a single unified culture with shared values across all the world. Whether this is a good thing for humanity or not is a matter of opinion (see Pluralism, below).
Earth’s inhabitants have created countless different cultures; perhaps everyone will come to value this diversity and the future will have different values in different places after all. Consider this: most futurists today, including yours truly, belong to industrialized, capitalistic societies that value individualism, achievement and progress – in other words, most of us are part of the same broad culture (loosely referred to elsewhere as “Western” culture). It’s no wonder our predictions focus so heavily on technological progress. But to someone with different values, say “family” or “authority” or “community”, the future might look very different – and we might get to see a world that explores many of these different kinds of futures at once. This is the opposite of One World, above.
I spend a lot of time here at Cosmic Revolutions writing about sustainability, and with good reason: an unsustainable existence – by definition – has no future at all! Our current society is something of a mixed bag on this front, but there’s also a growing awareness of the concept. Perhaps one day, we’ll build a society that is truly 100% sustainable. That would include getting all of our energy from renewable sources, recycling or reusing raw materials at the same rate we use them, and ensuring that our water and food resources are up to the task of feeding everyone. We’d probably need to have a fairly stable birth-to-death ratio, too, or we’ll risk collapse one way or the other.
11. Home Among the Stars
It’s possible that when far-future humans look back on history, they’ll see our entire time on earth as nothing more than an incubation phase, the place where we got our feet under us before heading out to explore the stars and colonize the galaxy. Assuming the technological hurdles can be overcome, this future seems almost inevitable for two reasons. One, the earth has a finite lifetime. Even if you forget about sustainability considerations, our planet will eventually be swallowed by the sun and we’ll need to go somewhere if we’re still around. Two, we humans are so driven toward exploration and expansion, it’s hard to imagine anything that could keep us pinned to this one tiny planet for what could potentially be a million-year-long civilization. So don’t be surprised if some of these future scenarios end up playing out on distant planets or interstellar space stations rather than here at home. How’s that for a cosmic revolution?
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So which scenarios from this post (or last week‘s) do you think are best? What other possible futures can you imagine? Speak up in the comment box, and don’t forget to subscribe at the right to get more fresh future writing, for free.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to the Center for Future Consciousness and their amazingly comprehensive round-up of different future perspectives, which inspired many of this week’s entries. It’s a highly recommended read.