Future Day: 2015 To 2045
The future is not what it used to be. The future used to be something for experts to predict. The future used to be something that everyone should prepare for. But the future is now something for us all to imagine and realise together. A new futures studies has evolved over the last few decades to move us away from forecasting and risk assessment towards an open invitation to envision and co-create alternative worlds.
Ākāśa Innovation welcomed this invitation with our first Future Day on March 7th. Six years after Nick Moraitis created the concept in Australia, events are now held across three continents. Here in London, we gathered as fourteen people from nine countries at Impact Hub Islington to share ideas about the world in 2045. Specifically, we looked at how we might be working for peace, poverty eradication and global citizenship over the coming thirty years.
All of our participants are already committed to offering their own unique contribution to building a better world, so our conversation promised plenty of positivity. However, this would not be a simple exercise in imagining new utopias. The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, warned that there could be no hope for a beautiful world unless we remain vigilant of monstrous ones. Sometimes the futures we follow threaten to turn around and confront us with menace. So our task for the day was to explore how to work for social change over the next three decades alongside the development of three emerging technologies: artificial intelligence, biotechnology and human augmentation.
Artificial intelligence is under more scrutiny after recent warnings from prominent figures like Professor Stephen Hawking that it could “spell the end of the human race”. The singularity is the name for the all-important moment when artificial intelligence advances beyond our own. This should not be feared, according to the technophiles like Ray Kurzweil.The breakthrough will bring the next step in the evolution of the planet, as machines learn to improve themselves and create unimaginable technologies. The possibilities that emerge with the development of artificial intelligence brought mixed responses from our diverse group. Although everyone could recognise the potential for new solutions to the global crises we are struggling to address, more hesitant participants highlighted the need to remain alert to all of the risks. There might be no chance to learn from errors, so most of the group favoured the precautionary principle that would place the burden of proof on scientists developing artificial intelligence to demonstrate it would not be harmful to people and planet.
The advances in biotechnology also divided opinion. The entire group acknowledged the benefits they could bring to global health. The mapping of the human genome and the ability to create synthetic DNA has already opened up possibilities for experimental therapies to help the millions of people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But there was a general unease among the group with the potential for powerful actors to use biotechnologies to manipulate the building blocks of life. A clear majority called for immediate steps towards regulation and agreed that we are less in need of new solutions to the challenges we face in the coming decades than the political will to implement our current solutions.
There was a more positive reception for the innovation in virtual technologies that promise a new era of human augmentation. The group discussed the problems that mobile technologies are now creating for individual wellbeing and social relations, but there was also recognition that we have learned to continually extend our bodies over generations, first with simple tools fashioned from our surroundings and then with increasing complexity and reach in the mechanical and electronic ages. There was a general interest in technologies introducing augmented realities, where users can access virtual data from the Internet superimposed upon our real environment. Advances in immersive virtual realities offered even more appeal as possibilities emerge for new spaces, in which to experience the lives of others. The ability to share our real worlds and dreams could be an important step forward in co-creating a better world.
Our Future Day seemed to show a shared sense of the world we want to head towards, but the conversation also revealed a broad spectrum of opinion on the paths we will need to take. There was a clear agreement in the need for more conversations about significant technological developments and their impact on our work for social and environmental change. “The future influences the present just as much as the past,” declared the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. The way in which we envision alternative futures can shape the steps we take today to realise the world we want. Coming together to share thoughts and listen to diverse ideas must be an important element of this way. If we extend further invitations to imagine new worlds together then surely the future itself has a future.