No matter what your vision of humanity’s future may be, it’s quite an intriguing thing to think about for those of us stuck in the present. We humans are mesmerized by the endless possibilities the future holds, and I for one love to think about what human history may look like in a hundred years or a thousand years. If you look at the advancements of the last century or so, there seems to be no limit to what we may achieve in the future.
Things like interstellar voyaging and time travel are interesting ideas, but they are not essential (at least not yet) to the progression of our civilization; in any case they are significantly out of reach based on our current technology. There are some technological advancements, however, that are perhaps more within our grasp that could be integral in driving humanity into the future. I believe these three technological advancements could not only bring our global community to a higher level of social evolution but open up even greater possibilities for the future.
1. Climate control and world engineering
Now that the vast majority of stubborn dissidents have accepted that global warming exists, we have the support and resources to begin looking at long-term solutions to this problem. Yes, there are still myriad detractors who continue to deny that humans are in any way responsible for climate change and don’t fully support a green solution, but I’m not sure this makes a huge difference in the long run. The US and other highly developed countries could feasibly make great progress in the next few decades by reducing emissions, but we have no control over densely populated developing countries like China and India, or the possible future industrialization of Central Africa. Reducing greenhouse gases is a great first step, but it’s simply not practical enough to be a permanent solution, nor does it solve possible future climate issues that are unrelated to pollution.
What we need (as some scientists are already proposing) is a way to not only have an effect on the Earth’s climate, but to control it completely.
It starts with technology that can at first halt the advancement of global warming. For example, we could send floating machines into the atmosphere that can collect or remove greenhouse gases around the Earth. Eventually this technology would lead to the ability to reverse climate change, ultimately culminating in our ability to control first the temperature of the Earth and eventually the weather and overall climate. This would lead to the ability to control natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes and help us overcome rarer events like supervolcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts or nuclear winter. Someday we may become so adept at climate control that terraforming (turning a barren world like Mars into a world habitable by terrestrial life) becomes a simple task, which brings me to…
2. Expanding humanity beyond Earth
We’ve made a lot of achievements in space exploration in the last half-century; we’ve put humans on our moon, established a semi-permanent space station, and sent human-made objects across our solar system and recently out into interstellar space. After all that, though, we still remain confined to our home planet. It’s time to change that.
I don’t necessarily think Lunar and Martian colonies will be a solution to looming overpopulation–at least not directly (though this is possible). They could serve as more of a refuge if things get too bad here. If our self-destructing tendencies lead us to a global cataclysm, for instance, a terraformed Mars could be a place for survivors to start over, learning from the past. If there are no survivors, human colonists around the solar system can preserve the culture and history of Earth so that we don’t have to fade into the dust.
Expansion could start with a small, perhaps fully automated base on the Moon. The purpose of this base would be refueling ships leaving Earth destined for much farther journeys. This makes it significantly easier to get mining ships to the asteroids (something that is already being planned) and possibly reduces the cost of such missions, encouraging more financial backers to get behind them. Assuming we are sending human miners, it’s only a matter of time before we build temporary mining colonies on the larger and nearer asteroids for long-term jobs. What we learn from the Moon and asteroid bases we can apply to Mars colonization and, with the advancements we make in climate control on Earth, we can hopefully begin turning Mars into our lush, green sister-planet.
3. Human-computer integration and social evolution
This last one, which I feel is most important, sort of joins technology with a broader idea. The reason I feel this is so important is because it deals with our evolution as a society, more specifically how we move on from being a bunch of violent hairless apes on a rock and go up the evolutionary chain to a higher form of sentience. We could wait for nature to take its course, but there’s no guarantee we can go that long without destroying ourselves. Perhaps it is natural for intelligent life to reach a point where it has to take evolution into it’s own hands or risk dying out. Perhaps we’ve reached a point beyond which our evolution must happen as a society rather than individuals. Regardless, I think the way we can do this starts with a technology we already have: computers.
The first step will be getting computer chips even more ingrained in our daily lives than they already are. Pretty much anything electronic is computerized nowadays; in the near future this could expand to things like houses, roads, doors, and clothing. Virtually everything we interact with could someday mutually interact with us and other objects. Just imagine: the shirt you wear while jogging detects your sweat level and core temperature and relays this data to your house, which then turns on the AC through the vent closest to the front door and brings the temperature down to an optimum level by the time you enter then turns the shower on so the water is just the right temperature by the time you get there.
Then again, computers won’t always get it right going off raw data, which is why they will eventually be able to read signals from our brains, allowing us to control computerized technology with our minds. This brain-computer integration is what leads to the technological explosion that could spur on our evolution.
If we can control computers with our thoughts (which we already can, though it’s far from perfect), then it is logical to assume computers will soon be able to “read” human thoughts; and if computers are in everything we interact with, perhaps they can help us control some of our more primitive, less socially productive behavior. For instance, if a person is in a particularly bad temper and is likely to get into trouble his house, reading his thoughts, can seal all doors and windows and prevent him from ending up with an assault charge. Cars could sense when a driver is inebriated or not at full mental capacity and go into a forced auto-drive mode.
The mind-reading computers won’t be able to prevent all of our mistakes, which is why we could ultimately put them inside our brains. These neural implants could regulate the flow of chemicals in our brains, keeping us from losing control and making mistakes. The implants could also dampen impulses so that we don’t give in to our baser desires without thinking about the consequences. Our integration with computers could do what laws and punishment haven’t quite been able to achieve yet: keep us from making impulsive decisions that have a negative effect on society.
The point is, our inability to be rational all the time and think about (not to mention care about) how our actions affect everyone around us is holding society back. Mistakes may make us human, but with the right technology perhaps someday we can be better than human.