Talk with ten different supposed authorities or futurists about where the world is headed and you will get at a minimum thirty or more scenarios. One of the reasons behind this odd little phenomenon is that many of them will answer claiming the world will be either ‘A’ or possibly ‘B’ while others will simply claim it will be ‘A’ unless such and such otherwise it will be ‘not A’ just to assure that their answers are complete and guaranteed to be more accurate. Unfortunately we will likely not be much different because there are a small number of factors which will decide both the eventual near future and the pace at which an inevitable future will arrive. First off let us discuss the eventual path mankind will take with the sole proviso being that man does not self-destruct in the mean time. One of the principle observations which stand as a driving force behind the predictions from numerous futurists is Moore’s Law which noted that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. There is an obvious limiting factor which will eventually cause reality to conflict with this postulate, namely that molecules and atoms of silicon and germanium, the two elements currently utilized to manufacture the wafers for ICs, have a set size and nothing will ever be made smaller than this size. Thus we know that there eventually will be an end point beyond which progress will depend on some new dimension. This point is still well into the future, so we will continue to have the capability to produce more complex, faster, more energy efficient integrated circuits which will further expand the scope and capabilities of the hardware engineers and programmers will have at their disposal and also the price and size of memory modules and devices will also continue to shrink in size while increasing in capabilities. This allows the limit of the capabilities of our systems, be they robotic, calculative, measuring, artificial intelligence or any other performance oriented components or units to similarly increase in capability limited solely by the development of software to drive them. When one also includes the possible advances in Physics, Chemistry, and to an extent also discoveries in biology, especially bioengineering, then there may even be other hard to imagine, let alone measurable, advances made. One such example would be the introduction of a truly functioning and easily programmable quantum computer. All of this simply provides a backdrop with which to measure the full extent to which progress can expand and develop in order for there to be related advances in our societies and affect our way of life.
One way of measuring the advancement of mankind over the ages is to formulate a chart which maps the speed it would take for somebody to go from New York to Paris and then on to Rome. In 1700 one would be talking about close to a whole year to make such a voyage. In 1800 the same voyage would take a matter of many months. By 1900 we would shorten that voyage to around six to ten weeks depending on variables. Go to 1950 and the same trip, trip now and not voyage as even the terminology would have changed, would take merely days and not even a whole week. It would be possible with some planning to complete this trip in less than two full days. Now go on this trip in 2000 and the whole thing would take a matter of hours. And today that trip is not that much quicker than it was twelve years ago but the jet aircraft we would be taking carry more people further and slightly faster on less fuel and the number of choices one has to choose from would make covering this exact trip something that could be done in hours even if one had not made plans and found such a trip required on no notice. And if we were actually measuring the fastest possible available way of covering this trip, if all one must do is cover these distances then the astronauts in the ISS (International Space Station) have been making this trip in a very short, likely under an hour, multiple times every single day for the last few years. The real point of this demonstration is that the same or a similar equation also represents the number of people who can be fed per acre of farmland. Without the advances in crops and animal raising for food such as bioengineered crops and cattle and modern fertilizers, irrigation, and just managing all the individual needs of the farm tailoring everything on an as needed basis as revealed via scans made by UAVs (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) with cameras and other high-tech sensors has increased yields even further as well as allowed herd management and tracking and finding any stray cattle which also helps to minimize losses. Without many of these advances we would have actually had much of the world starving exactly as was predicted to occur in the early seventies where it was supposed to strike us by the late seventies. Obviously, if you have been to a modern supermarket, we have sufficient food to feed the world with the only real problem being distribution and poverty. Hopefully these are problems which will soon be unpleasant memories and not problems still faced anywhere in our future world.
The future becoming a place of abundance and free from want is an eventuality which will come to be. Those who are pushing for it to come immediately may have their hearts in the right place, but the immediate problem is more due to politics, people, hatreds, fears, and other items from mankind’s darker side. These are the types of hurdles which will most affect whether or not our societies develop into something more altruistic and benevolent or whether malevolence, hatred and violence will continue to plague much of mankind. One of my barometers as to how the world is coping and advancing beyond its darker and more limiting inclinations is to look to Europe and gauge the level of trust, interdependency, mutual reliance, interscene violence, and general moods. Before World War I the levels of cooperation, unity, interdependence, and peace were virtually nonexistent. The common state was one of aggression, violence, distrust, and lacking in most areas of cooperation. After World War I Europe entered a brief period of relative calm with one troublesome situation which was of their own designs. The imposition of overly harsh punishments placed on Germany was the eventual cause of the nationalistic militarism which came with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. This led directly to World War II and all the great conflagrations from Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Granted, all of the violence did not directly result from Germany and a large portion was caused by Japan, but the Eurocentric violence was caused fairly directly by Germany. Since World War II and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and their satellite governments, Europe has attempted and succeeded until recently in generating large amounts of cooperation between most of the European nations. Due to some nations’ internal political structures and cultures having a more expansive societal security net which allowed for what was a heavily dependent citizenry by comparison with the countries with a stronger work ethic and laws with less generous benefits offered governmental economic stabilities radically differed under pressure. This has led to recent problems as these differences were magnified by the recent worldwide economic problems. This now stands ready to tear at most of the cooperative financial agreements which are the skeletal structure that supports the body of the European Union. If the world economy does not pick up steam and become more vigorous, then it is more likely that these problems between the separate nations of the European Union will only grow worse and eventually destroy the EU. Once that eventuality takes place we can expect Europe to return to the natural tendencies which have plagued Europe for centuries. The then almost unavoidable and inevitable conflagration will begin with strong nationalist themes forming amongst the unemployed and least wealthy who will be unable to afford a decent standard of living and likely find their families hungry and under threats caused by fiscal problems resulting from high inflation making the currencies worthless. This will be the result of these countries being expelled from the EU and no longer allowed to use the Euro as their currency and their former currency will lose value against the Euro until it reaches a stable level of worth. This will isolate each of these countries as their currency will be so devalued against the Euro that they will be unable to afford anything imported and will be completely reliant on domestic goods. The other side of the problem is the domestic goods will garner a higher price if exported rather than sold domestically and the outside world will be able to buy virtually anything and everything produced within the newly EU outcast nations. Eventually such trade will bring these countries’ economies back to health provided that none of them decide that war would be a faster route to recover their lost economic stability. European history has shown that during economic upheavals the populations tend to turn xenophobic and nationalistic while also favoring militarism. This had kept Europe in a near constant state of wars for centuries and the world may see this return. If that occurs, then who knows what will result.
The other threat to a promising future of technical genius and great developments will be the less developed nations who are now at the cusp of nuclear abilities. Almost any nation which wishes to invest in the development of nuclear weaponry will have the technical ability to do so and would only be limited by lack of natural resources. Obviously, lack of natural resources is simply a matter of purchasing power and the wherewithal to open clandestine trading to acquire the uranium or other fissile materials. If North Korea can find the available resources necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon under the sanctions and embargoes placed on them, then any nation has the capability of gathering the tools, expertise, and other materials to do the same. The development of a sufficient ability in rocket development to design a relatively efficient and able rocket delivery system would also not pose an insurmountable problem. Such a spread of nuclear weapons giving a number of countries possession of deliverable nuclear weapons stores and their not having the relative inhibitions, which almost if not all the current nuclear powers possess against using such weapons, then without such cautions they might be tempted more easily into their use. Such a situation could very easily escalate and eventually cause widespread devastation on a scale never before witnessed. This is another scenario which would at best delay a technical age of plenty and permanent lack of want which could lead to an end of mankind’s violence against his fellow men. That is the race we face, which comes first, all of mankind attaining a level of technical advances and improvements which remove any areas of serious want and mankind entering a new era or mankind falling prey to our evil and darker side and causing an end to any society, not just our advanced society. This race is one where the first nations who cross the line which divides human society from their warlike past into a pacifistic future cannot simply continue on as if everything is just fine waiting for the rest of the world to reach a similar point of development. Upon attaining such advancement they would be best served to do whatever was necessary in order to speed the rest of mankind enabling them to also reach such a point. Unfortunately, changing their societal norms will take far more than simple technological advancement, it will take sociological advancement, something almost as intangible as a wisp of smoke and just as easily brushed aside by the slightest waves of violence. So, which will win? Sorry, you are going to have to tell me as I have my fears and hopes but no knowledge which will triumph in the end.
Beyond the Cusp