Daring more future – How we all benefit from technical progress

An amazing contradiction shapes our time. More and more people live a life with highest comfort, in almost total safety and with an unprecedented level of health into old age. At the same time, most people think that the world is in a bad state and that it is getting worse. One could say: heaven and hell characterize our modern lives at the same penetrating each other in the here and now. And there is yet another paradox built on top of this contradiction: The same trigger is responsible for both scenarios – scientific and technological progress. It ensures that today we live in a society that has long surpassed all hopes for a paradise humans shared in the past. But it is also the reason why we look to the future with greatest concern. We are holding a comfortable but blind belief in technology, we enjoy the luxury of cars, computer tomography and high tech sewage disposal, we trust in the functioning of smartphones, digital data communication and antibiotics, and at the same time we fear and demonize the technological progress per se.

There is much discussion about future technologies, but few know how much they will shake us up. „We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run,“ as American researcher and Stanford Professor Roy Amara put it already in the 1970s. Hardly anyone is aware of the fact that even today

  • New genetic engineering methods enable bio-engineers to manipulate eye color, body size and perhaps soon human intelligence.
  • Robots as big as viruses (so-called nanobots) can be used in living organisms, for example to fight cancer cells or administer drugs.
  • Medical technology enables paraplegics go again.
  • Robots can be controlled by thoughts alone.
  • In animal experiments brains can be interconnected so that they act like a single organ of thought.
  • Living bacteria are produced 100 percent artificially.
  • Meat is printed on 3D printers.
  • Quantum computers are being constructed the computing power of which is so immense that they will revolutionize drug development just as much as secret services, chemical researchand the architecture of finance.

Over the last 250 years science and technology have profoundly changed mankind’s environment and living conditions, and in many cases we are still struggling to adapt to and cope with these changes. But the biological and psycho-spiritual foundation of ourselves has remained largely untouched. But now, for the first time in history, man himself becomes the subject of technological development. In the dynamics of progress we are at a point where bio-, gene-, quantum- and neuro-technologies transform man and human civilization in ways that were previously unimaginable and decisively change our image of ourselves and man as well as the rules of our lives and living together. So not only is there another industrial revolution waiting for us, of which there have already been a few, but we must prepare ourselves for a first revolutionem humanam, a revolution in our being human itself, a „revolution“ of what makes us human in our innermost being and what we define ourselves as. This „human crisis“ determines our future as human beings; it is more urgent, more revolutionary and more threatening than even climate change or overpopulation.

At the same time, the digital revolution attacks the immune system of our democracy and confuses its locating system for facts and fiction. Our data in the Internet is used to shape political opinions and manipulate our opinions. We thus become victims of our numerous cognitive distortions that have long been known in psychological research. These are not good conditions to approach the human crisis. We thus must ask: Who or which part of our society is best entrusted with the task of taking the necessary decisions to cope with the human crisis? Various candidates are available:

  • the scientific community
  • the political leadership
  • Members of churches and other religious communities
  • Culture creators/intellectuals
  • Journalists
  • Representatives of the economy/free market

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that none of these social actors will be able to shape technological progress to the best of all on their own. Scientists can hardly control technological progress themselves, politics acts too slowly, the churches are too dogmatic, journalists are overburdened, those engaged in culture tend to admonish rather than shape things, and entrepreneurs rush ahead, but act too opportunistically only according to their own (financial) benefit. Rather, there is no way around an alliance of all social forces. The entire society, not individual institutions, stakeholders, experts or spokespersons must decide what we want and where we want to go. For this we need an exchange of interests, a constructive dialogue of arguments and the inclusion of many different opinions. In other words: We need a reflection on a common democratic culture. The greatest possible happiness for all people is achieved when as many different creative forces as possible strive to balance interests, stability and sustainability. And this is only possible in an open, democratic society.

For this to happen in a democratic consensus, instead of asking for an omnipotent authority to do everything, we have to start with ourselves. Each of us must recognize our cognitive distortions, our everyday self-deceptions and our own intellectual dishonesty as far as possible and try to minimize them. We all have the mission to inform, exchange, engage and become mindful and active. At present, it seems that the investors in technology, the ideology of the Silicon Valley transhumanists and, more generally, the capitalist logic of exploitation are still deciding our future and degrading us to passive spectators or sufferers. If we do not want the new technologies to just roll over us and few make the decisions that affect us all, then each of us must participate in the active positive shaping of our future in the coming decades. Three things are needed for this:

  1. to know what the current technological developments entail,
  2. motivation, courage and the readiness for creative engagement,
  3. intellectual, philosophical and spiritual guidelines.

First encouraging steps have already been taken. One example we were able to follow quite recently: Without much fuss about it, business leaders of the US economy declared an ideological revolution: the departure from the motto of „shareholder value“. They are thus breaking with decades of corporate orthodoxy regarding the goal of corporate management. Companies should no longer, contrarian to whatfor decades has been preached in business schools around the world, only represent the interests of shareholders. Instead, they should now also invest in their employees, protect the environment and treat their business partners fairly and ethically.

How the human crisis can be overcome and what is required of everyone for that is the subject of my new book „Daring more future“ (“German original: “Mehr Zukunft wagen”¸https://www.randomhouse.de/Buch/Mehr-Zukunft-wagen/Lars-Jaeger/Guetersloher-Verlagshaus/e558875.rhd). It takes the reader on a journey into a new, positive social utopia. On this journey he or she will first get to know the dystopias that determine much of modern thinking in the face of rapid technological change. The second part then illuminates the possibilities offered to us by this change. It looks at the ways in which we can avert the negative developments propagated on all sides, humanely shape technological progress and, with its help, create a true paradise on earth for all human beings.

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