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The Looming Disasters of Immaturity

William Halal is a Futurist whose work I have followed for some years. He is a professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and Innovation at George Washington University in Washington DC. Mr. Halal authored an article in The Futurist magazine’s March/April issue, which says: “Technological, economic, and political projections make it clear that the world must mature if it is to survive. The crisis of maturity may not prove catastrophic if acted upon in time, but a major turning point seems inevitable as the multiple threats of worldwide industrialization, energy shortages, climate change, environment collapse, nuclear holocaust, spreading terrorism, global conflict, and other unknown crises reach critical levels about 2020.”

In the Futurist article, Halal describes the results of a survey by TechCast of 100 experts in the fields of Energy, Information Technology, Manufacturing & Robotics, Commerce, Medicine & Biogenetics, Transportation, and Space. Based on the results, he offers several pages of observations and prognostications. While I would disagree with Halal on some points (related primarily to “climate change” and “environment collapse”), he makes several salient points in other areas. Examples that he offers include the near collapse of the global banking system in 2008, the unlikely prospect that nuclear weapons controls from the Cold War era can be effective in a world where nuclear weapons have become so prolific, and the incredibly destructive power that terrorism has brought to bear as a result of readily available technology.

I think he is also perhaps reaching a little in this article by projecting the arrival of “global consciousness” in 2030. (Global consciousness in this context is described by Halal as “the next step in this [human] evolutionary process.”) He anticipates that this will occur as the culmination of strategic planning, dialogue, collaborative problem solving, diplomacy, conflict resolution, ceremonies, mediation, prayer, and other yet unknown technologies of consciousness”. Halal says that recent forecasts project that “routine human thought should increasingly be automated by far more sophisticated IT networks, a second generation of more powerful computers, smart robots that think and talk, and other forms of artificial intelligence that approach human skills.”

The upshot for Halal is that between 2020 and 2030, “….we will move up another level on the evolutionary hierarchy to address global challenges that seem overwhelming.” Holy cow. After “millions of years of evolution”, the next generation of software and hardware is going to move us all up a rung! Isn’t it a great coincidence that we are the generation to be right here on the cusp of such a monumental event? I have to admit that I am skeptical. Halal also describes the thinking of Strobe Talbott and others who advocate for global governance, using terms like “emerging global order”, saying, “The tough challenge of shaping global consciousness lies ahead.”

Some of the specific developments called out in the TechCast survey include:

  • By 2020: Pervasive networks, mass customization, virtual education, Designed materials, optical computers, precision farming, space tourism, telemedicine, and aquaculture.
  • By 2030: Artificial organs, smart robots, genetic food, desalination, biocomputing, quantum computing, a cure for cancer, automated highways, a moon base, and hypersonic planes.
  • By 2040: Life extension (see my blog on Transhumanism), humans on Mars, maglev trains, nuclear fusion, interstellar travel, and first contact with alien life. (These last two are right on the end of 2040.)

I sympathize with Halal’s view that the world may well stumble across technologies that we are ill prepared to understand and even less prepared to control. Certainly when we have seen technologies like the ability to split the atom come along, it changed everything. In that case, the technology escaped allied control and only the idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD) held it in check for decades. Now the barriers to entry in a market where dirty bombs are relatively easy to acquire, transport, and detonate changes everything.

Recently, the internet provided unprecedented opportunities for people to communicate and learn, but as the technology became ubiquitous, it also provided unprecedented opportunities for identity theft and fraud. Future technologies that enable human beings to essentially merge with computers through implants, jacking up capabilities in technologies in a manner similar to the development of the atomic bomb but with much wider accessibility, pose profound and unprecedented risk to all of mankind. With unprecedented opportunity and capability comes unprecedented risk. I am praying that all of us have the judgment – or as Halal describes it, the maturity – to handle the new opportunities in responsible ways and do no harm with them; but that would be a first for mankind.

What do you think?

One Response to “The Looming Disasters of Immaturity”

  1. Marie Luft says:

    I have come to the conclusion that we needed some futuristic approach around the 1970s when computers were becoming commonplace. Now we can see it, when everything is coming down around our ears, but maybe there was a futurist then that we just didn’t listen to anyway….. I think we need that “global conciousness” now.

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