The Problems of the future

Looking ahead into the future, it is not Technology that we have to fear…

Often did I write about the future bearing new, unknown problems of unprecedented difficulty and scale. From Climate Change and overpopulation to malnutrition and disease. A globalized and interconnected world transports and scales one small incident to the whole globe within days, thus overwhelming most of us by the sheer amount of “ugliness” and “evil” that is around.

It is true. We do face big problem. We will be put in a place where there is no more steering away and adapting slowly. There will be a wall and we will have to climb it.

Although this might sound very pessimistic I came to acquire a positive attitude towards the future in the past few weeks. The core of all the information that led me to this understanding is a curve. A simple graph: The exponential growth of technology.

Where for most the mere mentioning of a technology-future comes with a slightly bitter taste, a rational analyzation will show us: It is not technology that we have to fear. 
 
Technology will solve our energy problems with atomic fusion reactors, and thus once and for all put climate change to the history books. Technology will cure biological disease, so that in a century or so only historian will use the word. Technology will overcome scarcity through its ever increasing run for efficiency and sustainability. Technology will be our future, there is no way around it. It is, I believe, just a matter of time. Or has technology ever stopped advancing? Has it stopped its progress at moral boundaries? Has it stopped at the eco-boundaries of our planet? What sounds like a horrible prophecy, can in fact be the solution for all our problems. Because ever since the industrial revolution technology only knows one way: UP — and ever faster so.

Imagining such a future comes with many reasonable concerns. Tech will take my job, and everyone else’s too. By the way concentrating the worlds wealth in the hands of a few people in the process. Artificial Intelligence will grow stronger than the human intellect, potentially bringing up a fight for the survival of our species. These scenarios are endless. With human expansion into unknown fields, arises fear.

The harshest critique and resistance comes from those, who fear their jobs. Those who fear that the “normal” people will be left behind in the accelerating development. Their concerns are valid, their fear is real. But the problem here, lies not in Technology itself. Although technology is reinforcing the symptoms, the core of the malaise has to be traced back to the way our society, our economy and our world works.

We live in a society, where only more or less direct labor is paid for. It sounds about right, that he who actually does the work, gets paid for it, right? It’s deeply ingrained into the way we think and plan our lives. Spend your young years to learn something, that will pay for your expenses later. Find safe employment and don’t take risks, for losing your job will make you plummet down the social ladder. 
No wonder, that in such a world, the people fear technology’s progress into factories and businesses all around the globe. Because, when robots and computers do virtually all productive, generative and even partly creative work, who gets paid for it?

Capitalism would suggest, the owner gets paid, since he provided the needed capital. If that level of advancement is reached and our system has not adapted, we will see a tremendous shift in our society, forced upon us through apocalyptic levels of inequality.

This and many other examples show, that our current cultural, financial and economic system cannot accommodate the technological future we will inevitably face.

It is true that our form of society has designed the development of Tech in the beginning. We nurtured it through the first few decades or even centuries of “childhood”, just to see ourselves being left behind by our own offspring.

In 1965 Gordon Moore, later co-founder of the chip-producer Intel, mentioned something that would become a mysterious prophecy in the world of computer technology. In a whitepaper he states that the computing power achievable with the same size of chip is going to double every year, or every two years (from 1975). Up to now, his prediction was frightening accurate and over time his assumption became a “law”, widely accepted as the rate of change we should base our business plans on. Now, without going into too much detail, what Moore came up with back then describe an exponential curve. 
 
Exponential curves have the characteristic to grow somewhat “slow” in the beginning, until they hit the “knee” of the graph. Up to now, the linear thinking of our society, was able to accommodate the curve, with minor changes and interference, but analyzing the real graphs of technological development from the 16th century up to today (applying Moore’s Law to the past and to any other technology as well), we see that we just passed that knee, which explains why we experienced some 80–90% of all economic growth — ever — in the last 50 years.

A close look into the current “high-tech” sector shows, that this curve is not about to level out to a linear trend line anytime soon. In fact, it is about to explode to unprecedented levels. Crushing every linear capability for adaption of our society in the process. 
If we accept that technology is the future, we must also accept that this future requires massive change. Just imagine what our own “planning” would look like if you knew and believed, that the state of development doubles every other year.

A way of thinking we do not naturally apply, but we better learn to, quickly.