A-Z OF THE FUTURE
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Over the last 200 years the impact of human activity on planet Earth has become so significant that this period could be defined as the human era. This is what ‘Anthropocene’ captures: ‘anthropos’ means human and ‘cene’ refers to a geological age. Examples of the extent of human activity include huge population growth (rising from 1 billion in 1800 to an estimated 9 billion by 2050); environmental degradation, including global warming; and a pace of extinction of animals so rapid as to constitute the 6th great extinction event on planet Earth. It is not, however, all of humanity that is causing these effects, nor have humans always been so rapaciously destructive on such a large scale. Our modern social systems and technologies have enabled this devastating toll. Other suggested names for the modern age include ‘Capitalocene’ (identifying capitalism as the problem), and ‘Necrocene’ (which argues that have ‘become death’, marked in particular by the development of nuclear weapons). Whether it is the systems we have created or our fundamental nature that is ultimately at fault, it is clear we have not been able to create the comparative abundance and luxury that many of us now enjoy without creating catastrophic effects. Human impacts are likely to increase as our technological powers and resource demands rise in the future.
Biotechnology is destined to have an astounding impact on what it means to be human. Simply put, it's technology based on biological systems and processes - those building blocks of life. By altering nature's cells, biotechnology has the potential to create and change fundamental aspects of our daily lives, including life itself. New technologies are enabling advancements in how we consider what these complex and microscopic biological systems can do. Computers can crunch genetic data, such as DNA and our human genome, meaning we have the ability to genetically modify living organisms as we wish. The CRISPR genetic engineering tool can alter cells with incredible precision, which should help treat and cure diseases on a mass scale. By creating new medicines, reducing our need on petroleum and the food we eat, biotechnology may heal, fuel and feed the world. But with this new dawn comes risk and uncertainty. The ability to alter living organisms, with evolutionary implications for our descendants, raises ethical concerns that will have to be agreed on a global level. The likelihood of ‘designer babies’, altered in the embryo, means that humanity could take direct control over the evolution of our own species. Giving life’s cells a digital footprint opens the door to the threat of biohacking, where individuals could be personally attacked, inside out. We're entering nature’s technological revolution, in which we have to balance the dream of improved and personalised healthcare with the ethical and safety concerns of what it means to fundamentally alter the building blocks of life as we know it.
The world is comprised of a network of interconnected systems. From the most elementary particle, to the human body, to how we construct society and to the formation of our universe, these are all comprised of a system of one kind or another. Systems are nested within larger systems and are pourous, constantly interacting with other systems. Understanding how our reality if reliant on these systems helps us to see that the world is not machine-like with simple cause and effect relationships, and clear purposes or goals. Rather the world is a complex, dynamic and highly unpredictable network of interactions that constantly adapt and co-evolve. Appreciating this has fundamental impacts for how we think about the future.
The connections between humanity, technology, environments and society are so utterly complex, that it becomes impossible to be anywhere near certain of where the future will take us.
It requires that we have more humility in our ability to make predictions, as it's impossible to fully understand this myriad of interconnectivity. The future is almost infinitely complex which is why grand predictions about the future are nearly always wrong. But complexity should not make us fearful of making predictions or thinking about what might happen though. Prediction is good if it encourages us to face up to social problems that already exist, it’s bad when it leads us to be passive whether through a belief that the future is inevitable and beyond our control or that technology will simply fix our problems for us.
The largest problems that humanity faces in the twenty first century are ones we all share. Global warming, environmental degradation, nuclear weapons, the threat of pandemics, runaway artificial intelligence – all these things pose threats to our very existence as a species. At the same time, power structures are more complex than ever before, and some corporations are financially bigger and more powerful than many countries. Yet through technology we are all much more interconnected – there are globally pervasive cultures as well as national ones. We may have far more in common with someone from the other side of the world than with our next door neighbour. It's a complex web of power, technology and capital that shapes our social world.
Our geo-political world is built on the co-ordination and competition of nation states - countries that battle for influence and supremacy. As new technologies are developed, how countries act and compete using this soft power will be fundamental to how we live. Already we see governments impose limitations around how people can access and use technology, such as how some US-developed technologies are restricted in China. If this approach is continued for biotechnology, transhumanist and other future topics, it could mean borders put in place affecting how we live and travel. How we as individuals and societies identify where we belong - be it a community, a city, a country, a continent or elsewhere - will affect the ways in which the world operates and the borders that we construct.
Moore’s Law states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months - something which has held true for approximately the past 50 years. It’s evidence of how change can occur at a sharp, multiplying rate, rather than in a linear step-by-step way. With rapid progress expected in upcoming technological domains such as biotech and nanotech, exponential growth of technology and our societies will likely be something humans have to constantly adapt to - potentially altering humanity itself. The technology we use in 10 years’ time may be approximately 1,000 times more powerful than it is today. At the same exponential rate, in 50 years’ time, it’ll be a quadrillion times more advanced than today. It is this anticipated rate of change that leads to a common assumption that machine intelligence will one day totally surpass human intelligence. In a world of constant machine learning, where new technologies build upon old to progress at an ever faster rate, individuals and societies will need to adapt in how they exist to stay fit for the world they live in. Unenhanced humans may struggle to compete in a world in which humans engineer their own evolution to adapt to this exponential change. With so many complex factors to consider, predicting the future is difficult. Change is destined to come not at a linear rate, but exponentially, meaning the future may be dramatically more surprising than humans currently believe.
Information is everywhere. We live in an unprecedented age when much of the information humanity has amassed over millennia is now readily available at the touch of a button. However, despite this prevalence of information, truth often appears more elusive than ever. Humans have all sorts of cognitive biases that limit our ability to interpret information effectively. One of the most important of these is confirmation bias, where we seek the kind of information that supports the ideas we already hold. Technology can exacerbate this failing as algorithms interpret what we like and then feeds us more of it, resulting in the so-called 'echo chamber'. In a world of fake news, this lop-sided grip on reality may already be undermining democracy.
Often it's the pleasure of entertainment that overrides the desire for truth. Image and video content will become ever more manipulable, leaving those with the power to distribute mass-communication able to instantly affect ideas and opinions on a global scale. As we understand human biology and psychology more effectively with ever more potent support from increasingly powerful computers and more sophisticated algorithms, corporations and governments may understand us much better than we understand ourselves. These technologies will soon be embedded within us providing even greater access to our inner world. Our thoughts and desires will not only be more effectively predicted but also potentially engineered. Truth may thus become an increasingly endangered resource, and one that is synthetically constructed as much as it is naturally occurring.
The Earth’s average temperature has been subjected to a long-term rise, that's set to continue. It’s a well-documented feature of our lives, and scientists consider humans to be the key cause of it. Many of the warming changes since the 1950s are unprecedented in their levels compared to historic averages - which correlates to the extraordinary population growth Earth has witnessed in that time, and the various ways in which we now power our lives. Greenhouse gases are at their highest levels for any time in the last 800,000 years. Our human activity is damaging the natural world, with rainforests, wildlife and other living things we share this planet with all at increased risk.
Weather systems, sea levels and carbon dioxide emissions are just some of the topics considered to be instrumental in the global warming debate. Governments, individuals and companies all have a role to play in mitigating the risks of global warming. A notable example of this is how the car industry is changing to meet pollution concerns, with the consumption of electric vehicles set to rise in the generation ahead.
With the world’s population destined to dramatically increase in the century ahead, global warming will continue to be a primary concern for humanity to find an answer to. New technologies provide solutions, but perhaps more important is the need for new behaviours for people to adopt in order to bring positive change.
Hyper objects are massively invisible objects. That is to say, they are so large they are hard to perceive at all. Being human, we can only see things from a certain perspective. Hyper objects are not just about the very big (planets, solar systems etc), but also about systems we cannot perceive easily due to their size and structure. Examples include global warming, the biosphere, the detritus of human activity and the technosystem - that is, the combination of markets, technologies and administrations, which mutates over time as new technologies, legal and social structures co-evolve. It is one of the most potent hyper objects that directs human activity. We tend to think of ourselves as individuals who can employ free will in making decisions. But the reality is the technosystem, and how it functions, directly affects so many of our decisions. Artificial intelligence is an important emerging property of the technosystem with the long-term risk being that humans having less agency in determining how our social structures function at the grand scale. The danger is that people will have less and less power to direct our own future as we cede more control to algorithms and the logics of markets, which have been shown unable to deal with the threats of other hyper objects such as global warming and pollution. In order to improve the morality of the technosystem we must first attempt to understand it which is increasingly difficult to do.
The Intelligence Explosion denotes the moment Artificial Intelligence reaches human level capacities and soon after far outstrips it. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘The Singularity’, a term borrowed from physics referring to an event horizon where the rules of physics break down. The idea is that anything that happens after this point is fundamentally unknowable as the introduction of a superintelligent force into existence offers possibilities that exceed our imagination, let alone our understanding. Exponential growth in computing technologies points to this eventuality, though there is little consensus on when it may happen. Some AI experts think it is just a decade or two away, others believe it will never occur. There is even less certainty over what will follow. It could mean extinction for human beings: the superintelligence need not be evil or misanthropic, it may just have a better use for our atoms. Perhaps it will act as a benevolent dictator enabling us to usher in an age of radical abundance. We may even merge with the suprintelligence with Brain to Computer Interfaces (BCIs) to form some kind of hive mind or other transhuman entity. It may enable our consciousness to vastly expand and to exist in non-biological substrates allowing almost total morphological freedom. Though trying to hitch a ride on the back of a superintelligent AI may be like trying to board a train that’s travelling at 300 miles per hour.
The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics could lead to many jobs becoming automated. Great opportunities or significant problems may follow. A lot depends on whether the changes constitute humans being freed from the rigours of arduous or tedious labour or whether it will be business that becomes emancipated from the vagaries and expense of human endeavours. Will this be ‘funemployment’ or unemployment? If few or no jobs exist, how will the economy function and how will most people survive? Many could be expelled from the economic system and left destitute. Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services are two potential solutions, however, with no jobs there would be little prospect of social mobility. Those who own the resources (AI, data and robotics) could gain an absolute grip on wealth and power – a super elite. Also can humans maintain dignity and find meaning in their lives if they serve no economic purpose? It is possible that our social roles will provide more than enough meaning, whilst technologies may provide us with an abundance of material wealth and entertainment too, but this will depend on the social structures we create in such a world. Certainly the prospect of joblessness opens myriad utopian and dystopian possibilities.
We tend to attribute moral value to those we consider to be our kin. Determining who or what falls inside this circle of moral responsibility, and to what extent our responsibility should stretch, will be key questions in the future. Radical technologies open up the possibility of species diversion (some humans becoming trans- and posthuman) and huge social inequities. Will super-elites see under-privileged (perhaps unmodified) humans as kin to be protected or as a threat to their dominance and thus to be eradicated? Likewise, how will humanity view animals and other non-human forms of nature? Will they be perceived as our kin, part of the wider eco-system to which humans belong and therefore worthy of equal protection? Or will they be perceived as a resource to be used and an unruly force to be dominated through ever more powerful tools and processes? ‘Black sky thinking’ advocates the latter, arguing we should accept serious degradation of planet Earth in our quest to dominate the skies through space colonization and human enhancement. Ecological thinking argues for a less ‘anthropocentric’ (human-centred) conception of human beings – where we are kin to and dependent on Nature – thus our attitude should be one of deep reverence, not domination.
Immortality is just around the corner. That’s the claim some scientists are making. Converging advances in biotechnology (through gene editing and stem cell technologies for example), nanotechnology (repairing the body through atomically precise engineering) and the more speculative ideas of fusing with super-intelligent machines using brain to computer interfaces (BCIs) or potentially downloading digital copies of our consciousness, all offer potential paths to hugely increasing our lifespans – perhaps indefinitely. Cryonics suggests freezing our expired bodies soon after death until these and other technologies are advanced enough to bring us back to life and turn back our biological clocks. Despite dramatic increases in average human life spans in the last 150 years or so (rising from about 30 to 70), so far there has been no advances in extending the longest lives – humans appear to have a maximum life span of about 125 years. Until this figure gets consistently breached, the possibility of significant life extension remains unproven. But maybe that will change in the not too distant future, after all, we have already significantly extended the life-spans of other animals using biotechnology and other methods in laboratories, suggesting the potentiality maybe closer than we tend to think. Even people alive today can legitimately hold some hope of living for centuries or more.
Myths are not simply stories that aren’t true. Myths are the basis for culture – we as humans simply don’t know enough about our existence to create elaborate, coherent social systems based on facts alone. We require myths to fill in the rest. Some forms of knowledge are empirical – they can be tested scientifically. Other aspects are more qualitative and do not have any final answer – such as what does it mean to be good? There is no privileged position from which to fuse these two types of knowledge – science and experience, facts and values – we require myths to help us integrate these forms of knowledge. Myths can be very powerful, because whilst they may not necessarily be true, they certainly help to shape what becomes true in the future. Human myths are one of the most influential factors in shaping our world. One of the most important myths relating to the future will be about ourselves. What does it mean to be human? We simply don’t have the knowledge to answer that question and so will have to tell ourselves stories which may shape what we become. Do we want to define ourselves by moral aspects of our nature or by our capabilities. In other words do we want to become creatures that are benevolent, kind, caring, empathetic and altruistic? Or do we simply want to become more powerful – to control nature ever more towards our own ends. The latter aims require a very different set of tendencies and traits than the former and are likely to lead to a very different kind of future human, or posthuman entity.
Nanotechnology is the ability to engineer materials at a microscopic level, with world-changing implications. Coming from the Greek term meaning ‘dwarf’, a Nano is measured as one billionth of a metre. That’s the ridiculously minute scale this technology could work at - enabling atomically precise manufacturing of objects to create new products and new ways of life. This technology could enable the construction of any object, building something precisely at a molecular level, fusing together atoms in any combination possible to design. It could produce a radical abundance of objects, materials, foods, jewels and other items into the world, and all potentially at low cost. Considering the process the other way, nanotechnology could enable the breaking down of any material, such as rock, in order to use its atoms in another way. Every living and man-made thing could be created new or re-purposed in this way, transforming our environments on Earth and beyond.
Nanotechnology has profound implications for the human body, with nanobots acting as mechanical surgeons acting within you any second of the day. These autonomous, microscopic robots could be inserted into someone’s blood vessels, investigate malfunctioning organs in your body and instantly fix them. The medical applications of this technology have the potential to eradicate injury and disease, but would require people to be comfortable with relinquishing control of their bodies to miniscule robots acting inside them.
There a number of scenarios modeled by astrophysicists which culminate in inert meaninglessness as far as humans are concerned. From the Big Crunch to the Big Chill (the dissipation of all energy), they indicate the universe will die and all trace of our existence will go with it. It is not just humanity, but the universe that is mortal. Perhaps though this can galvanise humanity or even provide legitimacy for humankind’s Promethan aims. Should we allow good and evil to have no ultimate meaning on the cosmic scale? Or should the ultimate aim of humanity be to stave off the death of the universe, perhaps create new universes. Could artificial cosmogenesis play a role in making the universe itself immortal or replaceable? It should be noted though that all this is just theory. Our universe may just be one of many multiverses, some have even argued we ourselves are an example of artificial cosmogenesis (we are a computer simulation). What this seems to suggest is at the deepest metaphysical level we still understand very little about the nature of reality. There are also an ever expanding host of existential threats facing humanity right. Perhaps this last point dictates that our aims should be directed to preventing our own oblivion and that of the universe at large. We have a few billion years to deal with the bigger problem of entropy.
The panopticon is a prison in which inmates constantly feel like they are being watched. Panopticism is a social theory that builds on this idea. Surveillance in modern society has developed to such an extent that some argue we already live in a superpanopticon. The proliferation of security cameras, and troves of digital data that record much of our daily activity is already extremely pervasive. However, technological development would suggest this may be the tip of the iceberg. And there could be very good reasons to hugely increase surveillence in the future. Radical technological development makes the world potentially very vulnerable to attack. If our tools develop exponentially, then that includes our weapons. If information is abundant and highly accessible then it could be very difficult to prevent the accessibility of radically potent weapons. Anyone could cause grave damage at any time. Unless, that is, everyone is constantly prevented from doing so. One way of achieving this is by making sure people’s intentions are constantly monitored. Various technological developments open up the potential for surveillance on a mass scale. Of course, this means the end to privacy, and indeed civil liberties as we understand them. Perhaps if everyone is under permanent surveillance through the all encompassing and interconnected technologies that may come to dominant our social world, then new cultural norms and expectations could render these ideas less monstrous than they may at first appear. Coveillence would mean we constantly monitor each other. A threat comes from the possibility of a small group being exempt from the vagaries of a panoptic society, who would then have unprecedented levels of power and control.
The rapid advances within information technology are testament to our power over quantifiable information such as digital data. But such advance and control inspires a desire to make all of reality like this. And indeed, there is a strong cultural turn in that direction. Conceptualising humanity and nature as algorithms will provide us with incredible new technological powers. Indeed the ‘internet of things’ aims to join up the material world into an interconnected web that can more easily communicate. Through biometric sensors, nanobots, brain-computer interfaces and other innovations we can be part of this ever communicating web of information ourselves. Already our mobile phones and internet activity provides reams of data on each of us that are analysed by artificial intelligence to provide companies with a better understanding of our desires, and thus greater efficiency in marketing products and services. Now even ideologies are more effectively sold to us through an understanding or our biases, fears and wants. Increasingly the human sciences conceptualise humans and other natural phenomena as biological algorithms. Humans thus conceived are reducible to their material constituent parts. Perhaps, even the most fundamental material properties of which we are comprised are not even relevant – if a human is thought of as a processor of information, and information is conceived of as a bodiless entity, an essence, then the human being disappears all together.
Humans are consuming earth’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. As the global population grows, predicted to be over 9 billion by 2050, so too will the disparity between the rate of our consumption and the finite resources available to us. We need resources to live, but how we get and use them is for us to define. From minerals to fuels, wood to air, the way in which we consume resources may require drastic change. Water is one of Earth’s most important natural resources. Its agricultural, industrial, household, recreational, and many more, uses mean that it is essential to how we survive everyday life. And, unlike oil, there is no substitute for it. Our current lifestyles, and the industries that sit behind them, are so ingrained in how our economies function that it will require major changes – individually and collectively – to ensure our species can prosper as our population grows. We must either consume less, or differently. This could mean anything from more local living, with vertical farming in our communities, to new economic models, incorporating for example the concept of a circular economy where one company’s waste is another’s raw material. Or it could mean creating new technologies that are more beneficial for earth’s natural resources – and for humans to accept them in our everyday lives. Examples of this include driving electric cars (reducing our dependence on liquid fuel) and eating lab-grown meat (reducing our dependence on agriculture). Consuming differently may also take us beyond this planet. New discoveries of natural resources elsewhere in our solar system, such as through asteroid mining or space-based solar power, may preserve Earth’s resources – but would further extend the destructive impact human activity causes.
One day, Earth may not be home. Through investment from NASA and private organisations, the long-mooted ‘life on Mars’ is becoming ever closer to reality, meaning humans having the rocket capability and technology to permanently inhabit far-flung reaches of our solar system in the centuries ahead. The speed at which this happens is dependent on many factors, none more so than the pure scale of the distances involved, and corresponding costs. Some see it as an essential step in how humans can safeguard their existence should natural or man-made disaster destroy civilisation on Earth. The next giant leap for mankind to satisfy our instinctive curiosity for new frontiers. The prospect of terraforming other planets to suit human needs concerns many others - that we’d simply be extending our colonial instincts into space, taking war, social inequality and other human foibles onto places that our bodies and minds weren’t made for. There are huge obstacles to how humans could live elsewhere in the universe, let alone be self-sufficient and self-governing. But rapid technological progress is edging us closer to this possibility. Robots or machines could be sent as explorers to test the survival prospects for human life elsewhere in space, and assess the availability of additional resources - including the inter-planetary harnessing of solar power - to enable the expansion of human society. Genetic engineering could produce new functions for humans to be able to exist comfortably outside of Earth’s atmosphere, such as protecting us from cosmic radiation. One day, our descendants may live far away from Earth - potentially on exoplanets like Epsilon Eirdani b, Gilese 674 b and Gilese 581 d. But would the civilisations they live in find a solution to humanity’s destructive tendencies, and create a more harmonious and equal society?
Transhumanism is the idea of self-directed human evolution – using technologies to enhance human capabilities – both mental and physical. The limitations of the human condition are immediately obvious – we are fragile mortal beings with little conception of the meaning of our own fleeting existence. We have a consciousness that allows us to love, to imagine, to desire, to rationalise and yet we are bounded by numerous physical and intellectual constraints. Dreams of everlasting life, the ability to fly, or the means to predict our fate have long been the stuff of legend (eg. Gilgamesh, Icarus and the Oracle at Delphi). The difference is that now we have the scientific and technological understanding that is putting these potentialities on the cusp of reality. The NBIC suite of converging technologies (nano-, bio-, info- and cognitive science) are giving rise to radical possibilities. Morphological freedom is the idea of taking on new physical forms. Artificial intelligence is rapidly improving and with the development of brain-computer-interfaces some argue our only hope of staying ahead of machine intelligence is to fuse with it. Others argue the future of humanity lies in creating human consciousness in digital form which will allow for the mind to travel between different physical bodies – perhaps with infinite plasticity in the form of tiny nanobot swarms. But will everyone have access to such radical technologies? If not could species divergence occur where we have humans and superhumans living side by side competing for resources?
UP / DOWN POLITICS
The traditional right/left political dichotomy is increasingly inapt for capturing the range of political opinion in these fractured times. Some have suggested the right/left dichotomy needs to be broken down into cultural (liberal v conservative) and economic (social democratic v laissez faire); but even this seems deeply inadequate to capture the political pathologies of the current day. Some futurist thinkers are beginning to see our attitude to technology and nature as integral to the political landscape of the future. They argue for an up/down dichotomy in addition to or perhaps even instead of the right/left conceptualization. Up is seen as being technologically Utopian – often Up-wingers will embrace concepts such as transhumanism and strongly believe technology can solve other problems which currently face humanity such as resource depletion and environmental degradation. Down-wingers meanwhile tend to place more emphasis on the importance of the conservation of nature and sustainable ways of living. They tend to conceptualise human rationality as limited and emphasise the unpredictability and unforeseen side-effects of the impacts of technology. As such in their view, the ever increasing power technology enables humans to wield is likely to further the dangerous aspects of human nature: the narcissism, hubris, naivety, unending quest for power, and misplaced sense of importance, ultimately leading to catastrophe. Up-wingers advocate the technologisation of every aspect of nature including human nature. Whereas down-wingers advocate a reconceptualisation of the human in more modest terms – embedded in and dependent on a wider nature, where any attempt to dominate nature is self-contradictory as it involves the domination of the self – the victor belongs to the spoils.
Most commonly used today for entertainment and education purposes - such as in gaming, healthcare and warfare situation planning - virtual reality has the potential to enrich human experience, in a way that’s radically different to the real world. These simulated worlds could one day see humans live, love and work predominantly in a virtual existence, rather than IRL. Improvements in hardware should remove some of the physical barriers to how people currently experience virtual reality. Instead of needing to put on headsets, such as VR glasses, nanotechnology may be seamlessly integrated into us, with electron inputs and outputs in our brains enabling virtual experiences at any time. The software is also likely to radically improve, with virtual reality becoming more physical and sensory oriented, not just visual and auditory. It could transform our notion of distances, bringing us closer to the people we love most. The experiences would be as realistic to the senses as actual reality.
Humans create war. It’s an unedifying truth of our time on planet Earth, and one that is destined to continue in the future. Technological progress is largely funded for defence purposes, and it is this technology that is re-shaping how war will take place tomorrow onwards. On the front-line, this could mean machine robots, battling without a human-in-the-loop decision maker. Advancements in weaponry mean that military combat in future will likely include missiles travelling at hypersonic speeds, fly-sized drones able to target individual opponents, and biowarfare - the weaponizing of diseases to be spread at scale across populations. This potential for enemies to hack bodies and trigger gene mutations risks civilian casualties without a shot being fired. And that’s to mention nothing of the nuclear option. Through the soft power of cyber technology, individuals, organisations and states have the potential to hack societal systems for their own purposes, disrupting industries that underpin our daily lives. With urban populations set to keep expanding, cities will become super-intelligent hotspots with buildings and objects able to see, hear, think and communicate to aid intelligence-gathering and real-time conflict on the streets where we live and work. Beyond Earth, space may become a new frontier for humans to create war in - with dominance in space having defence implications on earth. Should our species colonise other planets, humanity’s track record suggests war will follow.
Xenophobia seems to be on the rise in the Western world. Increasingly far right governments are being elected, and hatred against minority groups and migrants is commonly used to mobilize voters. However, this may all be the tip of the iceberg as xenophobia could come to play a more significant role in the future. As we have seen transhumanism raises the possibility of humans taking on a variety of forms. Dehumanisation – the practice of undermining the humanity of a different group – is a common theme in genocide studies. As the concept of the human becomes increasingly fractured through technological changes to human beings, there is increasing scope for such thinking. Species diversion – that is humans effectively splitting into different species dependent on the technological enhancements used by an individual – potentially gives rise to new forms of xenophobic practices. At the same time, inequalities between groups could lead to social conflicts which may draw upon these differences to create and exacerbate tensions much like the tactics of far right groups now, but with much higher stakes. Environmental degradation and the impacts of automation on the economy could also leave certain groups outside of the bubble of progress. A significant underclass could develop as a result which could also fuel ideas and expressions of xenophobia. At the extreme end of possibilities this confluence of factors could have significant genocidal implications in the future.
The radical technological revolution we're about to experience may offer humans greater possibilities of self-determination and self-expression, and even personally tailored Utopias. The idea of morphological freedom opens up the prospect of humans taking on new bodily forms in the future. This may also help to break down constraining social notions such as gender and race which may become obsolete or at least passé as different versions of being human become thinkable. The notion of radical abundance opens up seemingly endless potentialities for individuals in a post-scarcity world to pursue idyllic lifestyles of self-actualization. However, even in a world of radical abundance some forms of scarcity would remain. Not everyone can own a chalet on the slopes of St Anton, or a mansion on the French Riviera. If any form of scarcity endures, competition is likely to persist too, and radical technologies seem to suggest if inequalities exist at all they may become extreme. As such a personalized utopia for everyone may only be a possibility in virtual reality. Emerging from three hundred years of liberalism and capitalism the pursuit of individualistic Utopian ideas are at the forefront of much futurist thinking. However, new technologies also undermine many of the assumptions at the heart of liberalism. After all, whilst new hopes of fulfilling human dreams emerge, methods of influencing them also arise. Our momentary desires have never been expressions of an entirely free will, but dependent on multiple factors such as our genes, our cultures and even the bacteria in our guts. Radical technologies raise the prospect not just of interpreting these desires more effectively but also of influencing and even determining them.
All of the processes, structures and technologies discussed in this A-Z are already in existence, albeit some in a relatively nascent form. Given our notion of complexity it would be misguided to say whether oblivion or God-like powers is what lies in store, or even that such an extreme outcome as one of these two is where we are imminently headed. But there seems little doubt that very significant changes to our social, environmental, economic and political reality are afoot. We are very likely to be one of the last generations of humans as we currently understand them. We have very little time to help shape the future. Already there are powerful structural forces existent that limit human agency and inhibit our chances of changing the world for the better. Our lived reality is a process of constant change and so the idea of Utopia as a final destination, rather than a temporary state, is highly dubious. That said, positive visions of the future and pragmatic optimism is necessary to guide change for the better as long as it is coupled with a sober, nuanced understanding of complexity and the myriad dangers we are facing. Most of all, it is important to recognise that we must meet very real ethical challenges as well as technical ones and if we allow a purely technical mindset to direct our future, it is unlikely to be a bright one. We need to ask ‘why’ as well as ‘how’ and ‘when’ in shaping our future and there is very little time to do this.