Caught between enjoyment of prosperity and fear of the future – Some optimism at the beginning of 2019
Looking at the collective state of mind of modernity we witness an all too strange paradox: More and more people are living in incomparable comfort, in almost total safety, in best health all the way into old age, and are enjoying a living comfort that only a few generations ago was regarded as hopelessly utopian. Numerous indicators of human quality of life on this planet constantly point in only one direction: upwards. At the same time, the vast majority of people think: The state of the world is bad, and it is getting worse.According to a survey of Ipsosonly 17% of the Germans have a positive and optimistic outlook on the New Year 2019. Many imaginea future in which everything we know gets destroyed, or even humanity as a whole is wiped out: We are afraid and pessimistic and at the same time live better than ever before. How does this fit together?
A sober glimpse at what lies ahead of us reveals: It is much more likely that we will defeat cancer than that a killer virus will defeat us, rather there will be no war at all than a military nuclear destruction of the world, and the global victory over hunger is a much more realistic scenario than the relapse into mass poverty. But dowe not read again and again about all the bad developments in the world? „New Killer Virus from Africa“, „Downtown Robbery „, or „The level of high school education keeps dropping“ is what we read on the cover of the daily newspapers almost every other day. In contrast, we never see headlines like „Fewer people died of malaria“ (or typhoid fever, yellow fever, or other diseases), „Life expectancy increased“, „Child mortality has been declining for years“, „Deaths in childbed drops to almost zero“, „Fewer and fewer people die of hunger“ (or alternatively, accidents at work, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, executions and suicides), „Fewer and fewer accidents with oil tankers on the oceans“, or „Young people around the world know more today than any generation before them“. And this despite the fact that the latter headlines reflect the state and developments in our world far better than the former.
Entirely ironic it becomes when we consider who is regarded as „guilty“ of the expected deterioration or destruction of our living conditions: it is scientific and technological progress and thus precisely the force that made it possible for us to live today in a society that has long surpassed almost any past scenario of hope for a utopian paradise. And what most people do not even have on their radar screen yet: We are at the beginning of an even more breathtaking technological development than what we have experienced in the last 20 years. Anyone who claims that the future in 2045 resembles the picture drawn in well-known science fiction novels is most probably wrong. However, those who believe that it does not resemble that of science fiction novels are definitely wrong.
In my book Superpower Science (2017) I showed that future technologies will not only change the nature around us, as they have done in the past 250 years, but will also transform man himself. A fundamental change in our biology, our psyche and perception, our consciousness, and our entire identity is already emerging. How we deal with these developments and shape their scope determines the future of humanity as well as our individual freedom.
The reason many people are afraid of the future is because they believe that technological progress, in all its potency, is an autonomous force that simply works without us being able to change anything about it. We are thus irreparably exposed to its developments. But are we really? Are we really just passive spectators or sufferers who new technologies simply roll over? I do not believe so. Our future is not in any way predestined. We can shape it ourselves, and this for the better of us all.
However, if we want to be part of such an active shaping of our future (and we should aim to be!) three things are required:
- The knowledge what the technology changes areall about
- The motivation, courage and the readiness for creative engagement
- Intellectual, philosophical and spiritual guidelines
In view of the impending possibilities and the unprecedented bifurcation immediately ahead of us, these qualities are needed more than ever before. Because we have powerful opponents: Companies such as Google, Facebook, IBM, Novartis, or Amazon do not necessarily decide for the best benefit of public welfare when it comes to the development and use of quantum computers, a higher artificial intelligence, or new tools for the manipulation of our genetic makeup; oil companies certainly do not decide in the best interest of all of us when dealing with climate-damaging CO2 emissions. These companies are always and exclusively concerned with the optimization of their own profit. Already are private companies trying to design the principles according to which our society should function, instead of those being the result of a democratic process. Facebook for example calls its mission „to develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us „. And has Amazon not already massively changed the way we consume? But should the return prospects of technology investors, the ideology of Silicon Valley transhumanists and the capitalist logic of exploitation really decide the future of all of us?
In addition to knowledge about science and technologies and the willingness and courage to get involved (points one and two above), of utmost importance is also point three: Which principles and goals should guide us in developing future technologies? Here, a spiritual dimension comes into play, as we need a clear mental and intellectual orientation. What used to be the reference to God and the belief in a single external truth must today be an inner spiritual quality, a state of our consciousness that aligns our will to
- not being satisfied with simple answers, but also wanting to understand complicated relationships,
- strengthening our desire for knowledge and to question given truths over and over again,
- orienting our thoughts and actions towards intellectual and ethical integrity.
Many people feel that something important is happening, that technological change is redefining the rules of our life and loving together, perhaps even creating a new human being. This feeling, without knowing exactly what is happening, is frightening and blocks our thinking. Eventually, a millions of years old reflex takes over: retreat and flight. People withdraw to the traditional, they long for the „good old days“ in which everything was so safe, clear and unambiguous (as if life in the 1950s was so great and simple). They thus emphasize the divide between peoples and ethnicities instead of recognizing universal human commonalities (as if Germany, France, or even the United States, or even Europe and America, could solve all the problems in today’s world). They seek solutions in an authoritarian government (which, however, has long since lost its authority and control over the developments). Around us, scientists make the most incredible technologies possible, and we find ourselves in a bubble, in which we are locked up in a world of yesterday, struggling to even perceive and accept these innovations, let alone see what they mean to us.
Instead of pursuing irrational impulses, conjuring up good old times with dull slogans, upholding particular values and cultural assets and sealing ourselves off from everything new and foreign, we should recognize: Only in global interaction, with the help of the spiritual and ethical potential of all people on this planet will we be able to master the challenges posed to us by technological change. This requires intellectual curiosity, mental openness and a willingness to mutually seek the best paths together. Such an attitude will eventually also dissolve the fear of technological progress, and even turn it into enthusiasm for its possibilities. Not much is needed to avert the negative developments propagated by all sides, to humanely shape technological progress and, with its help, to create a true paradise on earth for all people.