It's almost impossible to view the news anymore without seeing something negative related to global warming, overpopulation or environmental degradation of the planet. The facts speak for themselves. Pollution is rampant in many cities. Entire forests are being cut down. And the human species is adding over 200,000 new people a day to the world. Environmental scientists have warned for years that the human race is dramatically affecting the planet and its ecosystems. Humans are changing the climate of Earth, consuming all its finite resources, and causing the disappearance of over 10,000 species a year.
Despite this, a growing number of futurists, many who are transhumanists -- people who aim to move beyond the human being using science and technology -- aren't worried. While New York City, Boston and Miami may be partially underwater by 2100, many futurists don't plan to be around in the flesh by then. And if they are, they'll have the technology to walk on water. In fact, many futurists believe that before the end of this century, they will become cyborgs, sentient robots, virtual avatars living inside computers, or space travelers journeying on starships in far-off solar systems.
This sounds like science fiction to the general public. However, imagine if you had told someone in 1914 that in 2014 much of the world's population would have access to making video conference calls on handheld wireless devices to people on the other side of the planet. No one would've believed you. After all, how could arrangements of radio waves travel almost instantaneously around the planet and perfectly mirror multiple conversations on the screen of a tiny handheld machine?
What many environmentalists, journalists and politicians fail to consider when assessing the future is how quickly technological innovation is growing. The future is coming much faster than people realize.
"According to Moore's Law," says Kevin Russell, a futurist and Executive Director of the online magazine Serious Wonder, "the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every 18-24 months. Technological advancements generally evolve at the same speed too. The improvement is exponential."
While Moore's Law may not hold out to be true indefinitely and cannot be used to address all aspects of technological growth, the point that tech innovation is soon to be at Olympic-like speed is well-noted.
As mammals with brains that haven't biologically evolved much in the last 100,000 years, it's hard for many of us to fathom what exponential scientific and technological growth really means. Our brains are wired to perceive life as it occurs, moment to moment. We're very good at recognizing and jumping away from a poisonous snake in the grass, but not so good at understanding choices and their consequences that take place over a quarter-century. Nonetheless, graphs that chart scientific progress do not lie. We are entering a phase where our technological innovation will spike and continue until we likely reach a Singularity.
This spike of technological growth will bring about a paradigm shift in human existence. Globally, there are dozens of companies and universities working on how to control robotic limbs and parts with brain waves. Already, the U.S. military is successfully experimenting with mind-controlled fighter jets. Within a few years, humans will begin attempting to download their first thoughts into computers. Soon after, a software interface will bring to life our authentic virtual personalities. Eventually, especially with the help of artificial intelligence, we will complete a full upload of our brains, and our minds and its thoughts will freely move in and out of machines. We will be digital avatars of our biological selves.
All this begs the question: Will this new phase of human existence require as many resources from the planet as we are currently using? Will we continue to eat food? Breathe air? Depend on water? Procreate? The answer is probably not. There is a time coming in this century when populations of humans will no longer be so dependent on continued usage of the Earth's finite bounty. Achieving a sustainable harmony with nature, while politically correct in today's world, may quickly lose relevance. The fact that so many people are worried about using up all the planet's fossil fuels will soon become silly.
Many environmental and social scientists should realize that forecasts looking forward 50 years are likely to be embarrassingly wrong if they're only focusing on humans. In the future, many people will be transhuman. Entire new forms of being will be created to fulfill needs and desires of our advancing species. To make accurate forecasts, a transhumanist perspective -- not a Homo sapiens one -- will be necessary. The entire population of the world and all its thoughts, experiences, and forms may one day fit into something the size of Stanley Kubrick's black monolith in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. That is where we're heading and how dramatically the species will change.
Until then, the real dangers of human civilization lurk in those who want to hinder or over-regulate progress. Science and technology have brought us a far better world, scoring numerous victories for humanity. Globally, democracy is more widespread than ever, poverty is declining, and the species is healthier and living longer according to various recent reports by the United Nations.
There are probably zero futurists who feel good about damaging our beautiful planet. However, many of them realize that the benefit of the species' rapid evolutionary ascent outweighs the harm progress is causing to Earth. Our planet is strong; it can handle climate change and an expanding human population while our species prepares for the transhumanist age. The evolutionary outcome of humanity will be better for turning a blind eye on Mother Earth. Exponential technological growth, increased prosperity from globalization, and maintaining world peace are the critical issues of the future, not global warming, overpopulation or environmental degradation.
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