The pace of technological change is growing exponentially. It took us 4600 years to get from the abacus to the iPad and in twenty more, it's likely we will be as far ahead of the iPad as the iPad is ahead of the abacus. We have mapped the genome, a multi-billion bit document inside of your cells. We are building machines at the molecular level. Technology isn’t growing a little each year; it is rocketing upward at a pace we cannot even understand. This article proposes that at this continued pace of technological advancement, we will soon have a world free of hunger, disease, poverty and even war.
For people who like to keep up with current events, the last few months have been pretty depressing. Sure, there have been a few bright spots, such as dictators toppling around the world, but all in all, pretty much everyone agrees we have had a bit of a rough patch.
Being constantly immersed in current events as we are in the Internet age, it is easy to get caught up in the prevailing pessimism of our day and start to lose hope in a better tomorrow.
Yet I think we have arrived at the most propitious moment in history, an inflection point where things are about to get dramatically better for everyone on the planet.
How can I say this? Is this just some kind of syrupy optimism? A hope without any real basis and thus only a wish? No. It is true that I am an optimist, but there are two kinds of optimists: ones who hope the future will be better and ones who conclude it will be. I am most assuredly of the latter type.
First, consider the past. Across all of our history, we see life getting better for more and more people. Humanity has almost universally believed the future would be great. And get this – they were right! They may have missed on the specifics (the proverbial jet-pack and flying cars) but they were dead-on the substance. The future is better than the past. Not just a little better, but gloriously and fantastically better. Whether you are rich or poor, live in the developed or undeveloped world, life today is better and easier than it was a century ago.
By virtually any measure you want to name, the present is better than the past. Life expectancy in any part of the world. Infant mortality. Disease. Hours of leisure. Access to education. Equality. Self-rule. Opportunity. Rule of law. Wealth. Comfort. Technology. Access to information. Medical care. And yes, even the environment.
Now, I am not saying we live in a utopia or that the world is not full of extreme (and unacceptable) want and misery. I am making a simple statement - that life is better now than it has ever been. The optimists, thus far, have been right.
Think of what we have accomplished. In most of the world, we have ended institutional slavery, raised the legal status of women, ended legalized racial discrimination, expanded self-rule, placed limits on government power, ended torture as entertainment, expanded human rights, eliminated debtors prisons, expanded due process, stigmatized child labor, and achieved hundreds more meaningful accomplishments that have led to better lives for more people.
But that is all in the past. What about now? Why do I maintain that the future will be even greater?
Consider technology. The pace of technological change is growing exponentially. It took us 4600 years to get from the abacus to the iPad and I think that in twenty more, what we will have will be as far ahead of the iPad as the iPad is ahead of the abacus. We have mapped the genome, a multi-billion bit document inside of your cells. We are building machines at the molecular level. Technology isn’t growing a little each year; it is rocketing upward at a pace we cannot even understand.
So why is this good? Consider this: Disease is a technical problem and thus has a technical solution. Poverty is a technical problem. Hunger is a technical problem.
Pollution? Technical problem. Clean and unlimited energy? Technical. Clean water? Technical. As the compounding effects of technological advance kick into high gear, these problems will be solved forever. All disease will be eliminated, just like we have eliminated Smallpox. All hunger will be eliminated.
This is not to say that technology will solve all of our problems. There are many problems that it can’t solve. It is not to say that the future will be a utopia. It won’t. We will still have many challenges. But the greatest scourges of humanity will disappear.
This radically different future is hard to see, for it is not a straight-line extension of a current trend. It is a non-linear extension. In the short term, the world does indeed move along in a pretty predictable straight-line, so that is how we tend to look at the future. But in the long run, history doesn’t advance like that. History is full of discontinuous events that look, in retrospect, completely unpredictable. But they are predictable if one is willing not to see the world of tomorrow as a straight-line extension of today.
We will have a world without hunger, disease, poverty and even war. It may sound impossible, but it will happen.