Since the mid-Eighteenth Century, humanity has witnessed significant technological advances at an ever-increasing rate. Coal production, refinement, and consumption led to innovations in steam power to energise factories, allowing mass production techniques, and the use of large labour groups, both skilled and unskilled. In the Nineteenth Century and beyond, innovations in construction, transportation, and communication brought further change. The internal combustion engine gave freedom of travel to a great many and airline travel opened more opportunities. Jet engines soon followed, and the Twentieth Century saw the development of biotechnology, transistor and silicone chip technology, as well as computers, cellphones, military hardware, and the space race. Now, in the Twenty-first Century we find ourselves on the precipice of ever greater advancement as we look toward autonomous vehicles, ever more intelligent Artificial Intelligences (AI), reusable rockets, CRISPR biotechnology with the potential to write our own genome and guide our evolution as a species, quantum computing, better ways to charge batteries and store electricity, and the possibility of sustainable fusion energy. All of this has happened in a very short-time span when we consider that humans have only been on the earth for less than 200,000 years.
So, it is not surprising that the average person believes that we are in a logarithmic growth phase of technology. Who could doubt that warp engines and time travel are only years away? If indeed technology is still accelerating at an ever-advancing pace, we should expect to colonise not only the moon and Mars, but also the exoplanets orbiting the Alpha Centauri and Sirius stars.
But is technology on an ever-advancing, logarithmic growth path? Some suggest that this technological growth has been slow for more than a decade while organisations such as the United Nations are asking questions and seeking to determine how long such growth can continue. Certainly, there are many things that can slow the growth. Some of the larger influences include climate change due to human impact, wars, natural disasters such as pandemics, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and severe weather.
When we trust that we are in logarithmic technological growth, we can believe that anything is possible. We can believe in faster-than-light travel, anti-gravity devices, instant charging of large battery capacities, small self-contained energy generators attached to our belt, and even time travel. Yet, when we consider that there have been slow downs in growth (why has it taken so long to return to the moon?), we become a little more practical about what might yet be achievable in the current century. It does not seem that this growth can continue unimpeded. The very nature of economic supply and demand factors means that we may run out of either supply or demand or both. What of the finite resources of the planet we call home? How long before it is completely depleted? Can we supplement such resources with those of the moon, asteroids, or other planets before we run out of resources or labour? Could another greater world-wide pandemic bring humans close to extinction?
Perhaps it is time to consider a path of measured technological growth. What priorities might we like to see? Is human health and protection from extinction our highest goal? Will science alone save us or do we need the poets, priests, and prophets to remind us of the truly important relationships of this world? What about the importance of ethics? If it is possible to do something and advance our science, ought we consider whether we should make the advance? The world is filled with innovators who wish they could put the genie back in the bottle. When might we put stoppers in the bottles of the future? Who or what will guide us in our headlong quest? Do we already have the ethical, spiritual, and philosophical tools at the ready; or should we be looking for more?
I hope you didn’t come to this blog to receive a full sweep of answers to such questions, for you will be sadly disappointed. The answers are out there, just like the X-Files intro always said (okay, that was “the truth is out there”). Perhaps we are not yet mature enough as a species to hear the voice of truth. Let us pause and listen for a minute. Did you hear the voice of truth? If not, maybe we should listen again until we hear it loud and clear. The future of our children and grandchildren depends on us having ears to hear.