Welcome To The Future

Modern, high-energy, high-tech society really is something to marvel at. Today, we can use artificially intelligent machines to manufacture convincing DeepFakes of politicians and celebrities doing or saying things they didn't. Social media apps are used by billions of people--a level of access that puts them in the august company of institutions like the Catholic Church. What's more, these apps can--and have--influence political action by pulling psychological strings in users' minds, and thereby potentially changing the outcome of international relations and elections. All of human knowledge is accessible to even the poorest villagers, at the tap of a fingertip. Software that started as a web crawler became a search engine and then the planet's de-facto arbiter of truth.

The difficult moral quanderies philosphers toyed with decades ago as mere hypotheticals are now coming to pass. We are living in the future.

We send goods created locally 10,000 miles across the world because it is cheaper to have them refined there and transported all the way back than to process them locally. And we still get those goods on our doorstep, exactly when we want them. It has been many decades since a conflict on the scale of those seen in the early 20th century, with a few lines of code now able to wreak more havoc on nations than armies of men in ages past. Despite living in a vastly more connected and globalized world than ever before, a terrifyingly infectious pandemic has killed less people in many months than cigarettes or car crashes. We have robots stacking shelves in titanic warehouses, welding parts, and helping construct buildings.

For such an advanced civilisation, we are curiously blind in places. In the most advanced nation on the planet, public infrastructure is crumbling. Up to a quarter of roads and bridges are rated unsafe because there isn't enough money to maintain them. Improvements in life expectancy are plateauing, and our grandchildren will suffer under the weight of our environmental negligence. The democracies that have brought unprecedented human literacy and social equality are the very same systems that incentivise politicans to please swing voters in the short term, at the expense of significant, irreversable environmental damage in the long-term. The average member of the American public struggles to multiply single-digit numbers, tell the difference between a country and a continent, or paraphrase a simple argument. And they're overweight. Almost half the American public doesn't "believe" in evolution, and most people who do can't explain what it is!

We are living in the future, yes, but we have not yet fully escaped our past. I wonder what 2120 will look like. I suspect less different than many think.