Alternative Futures to Avoid

Am I dreaming, or are some beacons of this new hi-tech world beginning to wonder if we are creating a monster? When the Astronomer Royal in the UK says that we only have a 50 percent chance of making it as a species beyond 2100, I am not sure if I want to take that new gene therapy to double my life span to 150.

“The 21st-century technologies – genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics – are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them. Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction, this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication. I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals” (Joy 2000).

“West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real “strategic” danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization” (Kaplan 1994).

Juxtaposed between these extreme visions of rampant technology and primitive tribal anarchy, if there is an overwhelming threat to both governments and the private sector alike, it is this notion of global anarchy in either direction. Control over resource allocation and environmental degradation as a survival issue should conjure up sufficient horrors and nightmares to drive a global coordinated effort towards sustainable development, but will it? Will humans follow the “boiling frog” principle and simply adjust to the unfolding possibilities for self-extinction? Will the human species be the first and only species to be responsible for its own extinction?

Should we, as Kaplan (1994) suggests, “Think of a stretch limo in the potholed streets of New York City, where homeless beggars live. Inside the limo are the air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the emerging Pacific Rim, and a few other isolated places, with their trade summitry and computer-information highways. Outside the stretch limo would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth in guerrilla conflicts that ripple across continents and intersect in no discernible pattern–meaning there’s no easy-to-define threat”. Or is there an alternative, more palatable future? And, if so, what do governments, NGOs and the private sector have to do together to bring it about?

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