Are you ready for the Golden Age of Humanity?

An ambitiously optimistic vision for the future of humanity

Humanity needs a more ambitious and active kind of optimism if we are to fulfill our potential as a species- to become a civilization of learners and creators.

Between self-satisfied optimists and professional protesters.

Alice (16) nods with approval when watching Greta addressing the UN with the words “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction” ending with an anger filled “How dare you!”. It´s not just Greta, most articles she reads and the videos she watches fill her with fear and desperation about the future. It seems like a truly bad time to be born. The environment is collapsing, and inequality is rising. Technology is more of a threat rather than an opportunity. Machines and AI will take away jobs and cause extinction. Even Tech-Guru Elon Musk seems to be frightened, calling Artificial Intelligence humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and comparing it to “summoning the demon.” [1] There is a fear that the apocalypse is approaching, and only dramatic sacrifices can save humanity.

Yet there is another view, hidden in plain sight, getting much less media coverage. According to Prof. Pinker “the world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of well-being, but almost no one knows about it.” [2]   The Humanist-Optimist camp is led by technophiles, who believe that there are technological solutions to most problems and dream of a future where machines do all the tedious tasks, leaving humans to pursue their dreams and hobbies.

This group regards environmental or economic problems as natural challenges that humanity will overcome over time. Progress might not be even but is undeniably happening. The feeling is that there is no need to worry about the future, as human ingenuity will be able to solve all problems. Humanity is on track, and there is no sense of urgency to reform.

Optimism does not need to result in complacency.

The choice today seems to be between self-satisfied optimists and professional protesters. However, optimism does not need to result in complacency. One can believe in a positive future but still recognize systemic weaknesses that threaten sustainable progress.  For instance, when the OECD PISA test exposed the dismal performance of worldwide education systems, optimists remained silent. The PISA test showed that only one in ten students could separate fact from opinion. Similarly, only 10% of test-takers were capable of mathematical or scientific thinking. Even worse- the results have been deteriorating in most advanced economies. [3] In addition to this education system failure, Humanity also has a leadership crisis, with politicians being the least respected profession in the Western world. [4] It is extremely difficult to attract decent and capable people to politics, yet there is no sense of urgency on how to fix this problem.

Arguably the most serious flaw of the optimist camp is its failure to provide a compelling future vision for humanity. Most are too satisfied with humanity´s past progress and are devoid of any meaningful ambition. They see the future as a continuation of today, with only incremental improvements. Techno-optimists have some ambition, but the best that they can come up with is a world of idle and entitled hobbyists who are dependent on government handouts. They imagine a small elite getting things done using robots and AIs, while the rest of us consume media or play computer games.  A life without real work might sound promising at first, but research shows the importance of work for human happiness. [5] The most satisfied people are not those who don´t work, but those who do meaningful work.

Vision: a civilization of learners and creators.

What could be a better alternative? My vision for the future of humanity is a world full of learners and creators. While machines take over repetitive and tedious tasks, we experiment and innovate. Consequently, everyone has jobs that are meaningful to them: work that reflects their own uniqueness, helping them to fulfill their destiny as shapers of realities, both in the physical and virtual worlds.

In this new world resources are abundant thanks to an almost completely circular global economy. There is no waste, almost everything is recycled and reused. Nature flourishes, as new technologies decrease our dependence on it. Consumption has long lost its appeal, replaced by an ongoing passion for learning. Politics is a sacred duty, and we are led by the best that society can offer. In summary, I dream of a society of learners, living in harmony with nature while moving beyond its constraints.

This is a dream for now but could become a reality soon. Everything described above is possible by the end of this century. The biggest challenge ahead is that most people do not believe in it. For instance, even diehard socialists seem incapable of imagining a world where everyone can have meaningful jobs. This is because they expect the share of people without any talent or sufficient intelligence to remain high even in the future. This is elitist thinking, but unfortunately it is shared by many intellectuals.

Existing trends do not support such pessimistic expectations. Throughout history, the share of people who earn their living with intellectual or creative jobs has increased significantly. We were all farmers once, but today jobs have a much higher variety and offer more fulfillment. With the right education system, more talents can be found and nurtured. Even intelligence does not need to remain fixed as training and technology could dramatically extend our natural potential.

Similarly, making the economy sustainable or improving the image of politics is certainly possible. Once we fix the education system, a society of learners will be innovative and sensible enough to overcome all challenges.

The first step towards this vision

How can we implement this vision? Our priority now should be to counter those who poison humanity with negativity or sedate them into complacency. Young people need hope and a worthwhile cause for their energy. Saving the world from environmental collapse is critical but not sufficient. Meaningful jobs for everyone, resource abundance, flourishing nature, and much more is possible. A new golden age of Humanity is just around the corner but only if we take a few steps in the right direction.

Imagine a world where Alice and her friends protest in favor of fundamental reforms in education, work, and politics. Filled with optimism and hope, fighting for a much better future. Imagine what humanity can achieve with such a wave of constructive activism.

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References

 [1] https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/11/2/18053418/elon-musk-artificial-intelligence-google-deepmind-openai

[2] https://www.52-insights.com/interview-politics-enlightenment-steven-pinker-why-our-world-is-getting-better/

[3] https://www.oecd.org/pisa/Combined_Executive_Summaries_PISA_2018.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/sep/15/polls.politics

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/