Will Technology create a Wiser World?

Science & Technology — POSTED BY Cosmo on November 25, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Technology will transform human life and force us to transform the way we think and live.

Are you worried about where the world is headed? Does news of climate change, energy crises, food shortages, and war alarm you? Fear not, says George Washington University management professor William E. Halal. The world is just going through a phase.

From Futurist Magazine

In his latest book, Technology’s Promise, Halal assures us that our present troubles will find resolution when a “crisis of maturity” — probably around 2030 — forces the global community to grow up.

“Things look especially bleak today because that’s the normal situation facing any system struggling through maturity — a teenager, a nation, or a global civilization,” Halal writes.

Halal foresees technological breakthroughs profoundly altering human life in the three decades ahead. Renewable energy will replace oil, and societies will universally recognize the benefits of ecologically safe living. Computer power will become cheap and infinite. Speech-recognition computers will become common in homes, as will robots that serve as helpers and caregivers. Travel across the globe will take three hours instead of 30. Industrialization may spread to most developing nations: In 2030, as many as 5 billion people will be living at modern levels, and worldwide resource consumption may have increased three- to fivefold. Nanotechnology and synthesis of new materials may make an abundance of creature comforts available to the world’s poorest. A permanent lunar colony will serve as a “spaceport” for the “coming wave of space pioneers.”

Halal bases his forecasts on the TechCast Project, which he launched at his company, TechCast LLC. The project forecasts technological breakthroughs by scanning literature and surveying 100 tech experts around the world for when they expect given innovations to take place. TechCast has used this forecasting method for 15 years, and Halal says that the technologies arrive, on average, within three years of the forecast.

TechCast’s bold projections are all plausible, Halal says, because of the ongoing “virtuous cycle” of information technology, knowledge, and innovation: As computer systems’ power to process and store information improves, our ability to acquire knowledge improves. More knowledge enables greater innovation and, in turn, even more advances in computer systems, ad infinitum.

“The world is changing so much and so quickly that most people do not grasp what we are getting into,” Halal writes.

But new gadgets will not solve old problems such as environmental degradation and intercultural conflict; they might even make things worse. Heightened resource consumption will lead to heightened pollution. While new materials may become abundant, necessities such as oil and water will become scarce. And increased travel will breed new cultural clashes. Halal notes:

The transition to a global order of 9 billion people demanding modern lifestyles will require a fundamental change in consciousness — or the collapse of an ecosystem, climate change, nuclear war between nations, and other megadisasters will serve to prod us along.

Halal forecasts, optimistically, that the “2030 Crisis of Maturity” will be resolved in the following decades. The Information Age will end and the Age of Consciousness will commence, he predicts. Governments will discard their weapons stockpiles. Religious leaders will amend their sectarian quarrels. Corporations will commit to environmentally friendly practices. Institutions of all kinds will become more responsive to societal needs as management democratizes: Executives will no longer rule from the top, but work collaboratively with employees, other associations, customers, and the public. The turbulent times will cease by 2050, and the world will become a global community that is more democratic, connected, and equitable than ever before.

Some of Halal’s conclusions may be debatable, but his portrayal of the vast range of opportunities that lie ahead and the values by which we can maximize them commands unequivocal admiration and respect. He presents us with much to look forward to in the decades ahead. — Rick Docksai

Summary of Halal’s Scenarios

2010: The World Online. The decade should continue to focus on intelligent advances in information systems and e-commerce. The world in 2010 is almost certain to be smarter, faster, and fully wired, setting the stage for the breakthroughs to come.

2020: High-Tech Arrives. This decisive period should see major breakthroughs in high tech. Green business, alternative energy, and other practices are likely to ensure ecological sustainability. AI should permeate life, and the next generation of quantum/optical computing will permit huge advances in telemedicine, virtual education, and e-government. Biotech should mature, providing personalized medicine, genetic therapy, cancer cures, and other advanced health care.

2030: Crisis of Maturity. Industrialization will reach most developing nations at this point, with as many as 5 billion people living at modern levels of consumption. Although technological powers will be vast, intercultural conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and threats of environmental collapse are likely to grow into such challenges that they force a global shift in consciousness.

2040-2050: Global Order. Civilization has withstood the Fall of Rome, World Wars I and II, and threats of nuclear holocaust, and it will probably survive globalization. The challenges facing civilization are likely to be resolved to form a modernized, fairly harmonious globe, somewhat like a far larger and more diverse version of the United States or European Union. Local wars, ecological disasters, and other mishaps will continue, of course, but limited to the normal dysfunctions of any social system.

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