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5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Future

2015 January 7
by Greg Satell

As we enter the year 2015, it seems like the headlines have never been worse.  A conflict in Ukraine has sparked a new Cold War between Russia and the west.  Deadly terrorist groups like ISIL and Boko Haram threaten entire states.  The Ebola outbreak threatened to become a global pandemic.

And economically, except for the US—which just reported 5% GDP growth for the 3rd quarter and appears to be taking off—the rest of the developed world, including Japan and the EU, still remains mired in recession.  It almost seems like we might never get back on track.

Yet still, despite these data points, we’re doing pretty well.  While the problems we face have never been greater, our capacity to meet challenges is outpacing them.  That might not grab headlines (for example, the decline of Ebola received far less coverage than its rise), but, in the end, it’s what really matters.  Here’s why we can be optimistic about the future in 2015.

1. There Will Be Less Poverty And War

Although the developed world has been sluggish lately, global incomes are on a steep upward trend.  The World Bank reports that extreme poverty has declined by 43% since 1990.  This had led to other positive trends, such as increased global life expectancy and ever expanding Internet penetration.

That’s not all, as Steven Pinker shows in a recent article in Slate, violence is also in decline.  We have fewer wars that are less deadly than ever before.  Genocides are way down as are homicides generally.  Even other types of violent crime, like rape and violence against children are falling (except school shootings in the US, which are up).

Not all the news is good.  Income inequality in developed countries is rising at an alarming rate.  The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report shows a number of looming challenges, such as food and water shortages and increased access to deadly weapons, but it also makes clear that these too can be met, with effective action.

2. Our Technology Will Become A Million Times More Powerful

Ten years ago, the world was very different.  In 2004, Google was still relatively new and just had its IPO.  There were iPods, but no iPhone and no real mobile Internet.  A 42 inch flat screen TV would cost you $4000.  There was no social media, no cloud and very few location based services.  Life was recognizable,but certainly not the same.

Twenty years ago there was no commercial Web.  Even simple mobile phones were expensive, relatively rare and so big that we mostly kept them in our cars.  We listened to music on CD’s and had very little personal technology.  It’s hard to imagine a present day millennial living in 1994.

In very much the same way, life today will look very different in the not-too-distant future.  By 2030, our technology will be a thousand times more powerful and by 2045, it will be a million times more powerful.  Things that seem futuristic today, like virtual reality, will be old hat by then.

Another difference is that for the past generation most of the progress has been confined to information technology, but now the world of bits has begun to invade the world of atoms.  We will are beginning to see similar trends in manufacturing, healthcare and, perhaps most importantly, energy.

3. We Are Likely To Solve Climate Change

Climate change represents the greatest challenge humans have ever faced.  Scientists have estimated that the environment is degrading at the fastest pace in 300 million years.  The consequences may be dire.  As the journal Nature reports, we will likely see higher temperatures, rising sea levels, food and water shortages, and heavy economic impacts.

Yet even here, we are beginning to see progress.  A recent report by Citibank sees the cost of renewables falling so fast that the boom in shale gas will likely be merely a bridge technology.  Solar energy will hit general grid parity by 2020 and will fall below the price of fossil fuels after that.  By 2030, it could be half the price of coal.

It looks like these trends will accelerate.  The US and China signed a historic deal on carbon.  President Obama’s CAFE standards have already increased mileage requirements and fuel efficiency is set to nearly double by 2025.  New EPA regulations on power plants will reduce emissions by as much as 30%.

We’re already starting to see the effect of improved energy technology.  Carbon emissions in the US and the EU have already begun to fall.  While there’s still a long way to go—many believe we need to achieve zero emissions by 2050—at least we’re starting to make some serious progress.

4. Our Kids Will Become Super Intelligent Beings

Kids today can seem a bit odd.  They listen to strange music, cover themselves in tattoos and piercings, call us “brah” and think we care about how they like to “roll.”  Instead of carrying around books and learning multiplication tables, they take computers to class and have technology do the work for them.  It can make you fear for the future.

Yet our kids are actually a lot smarter than we are.  On average, intelligence increases by about 3% per decade, so the little snots you see jabbing at their mobile phones are actually about 10% smarter than when my brothers and I were growing up.  Back then, we would watch Tom & Jerry and then chase each other around the house with hammers.

What’s more, an average kid with a smartphone today has more access to information than even a genius working in a research lab a generation ago.  So with increased intelligence, along with the ability to collaborate with machines—which, as I noted above, are getting exponentially more powerful—our kids will truly be superintelligent compared to us.

The one catch is that our education system is poorly equipped to develop them.  Kids today need to learn different skills than we did.  Rather than rote memorization of facts and arithmetic, they will need to be able to work effectively in a team, focus on the math of systems rather than calculus and develop a working knowledge of logic.

So don’t judge today’s youth by the standards of yesterday.  We need to prepare them for the challenges of tomorrow.

5. The Search For Intelligence

In 1971, NASA made a proposal to start looking for intelligent life in the universe.  At a cost of more than $10 billion, Congress balked.  We have enough trouble dealing with aliens from other countries, so I guess it’s not surprising that they didn’t find room in the budget for aliens from other planets.

Yet the idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  As Michio Kaku reports in his new book, The Future of the Mind, there are likely thousands of earth-like planets in the universe that could support life similar to ours (two were identified just this past year).  So the odds are that we will find extraterrestrial life sometime this century.

And while governments have mostly balked, the private sector has kicked in about $5 million per year for SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  Millions of ordinary people also help power the effort by allowing scientists to use their computers during downtime by way of the SETI@home program.

Unfortunately, even if we do find aliens, it will likely take thousands of years to communicate with them, because of the great distances involved.  Still, in an age where we can’t seem to see beyond the next quarter’s plan or the next year’s budget, the fact that we’re actively engaged in a collective project that may take millennia to bear fruit gives me hope.

Maybe we’re not so bad after all…

– Greg

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Kuldip Singh permalink
    January 10, 2015

    A sixth reason to be optimistic.

    A Spiritual revolution is under way.

    Interestingly enough, both these articles appeared a few days apart.

    From the article –

    “Islam came to free people. Islam didn’t come to put them in jail,” she said. “And the government uses it to put people in jail and under their control. So they control us by Islam…. That makes a lot of people not even want Islam.”
    She resents the encompassing role that Saudi religious authorities have claimed and prefers the Tunisian model, in which there is a greater separation of mosque and state. “If anyone wants to be an infidel, it’s up to him. If he wants to be atheist, it’s up to him,” she said.

    And also,

    “My main idea is that we cannot build a society without focusing on the basic
    values we have,” said Abdulkareem. At the moment, he says, Saudi Arabia puts
    security above justice — and this is the foundation of the kingdom’s problems.
    “We need to have justice above security,” he said. “This is the most important
    theory that we need to change in our Islamic traditions and preaching…. The first
    thing we need to focus on is that justice is above security.”

    Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam

    Meanwhile in the Christian religion,
    Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull | TIME

    People are beginning to question the status quo.

    Once you transcend religion, you are into Spirituality.
    In Spirituality, you are beyond the debates of eating beef, pork what have you.
    In Spirituality, you only see intense love amongst all peoples.
    Truly Spiritual leaders have no love for power. They however certainly know to use the power of love.

    In their own ways, all religions pray “Thy Will, be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”
    When the Almighty establishes His Will on Earth, folks like Goldman Sachs and their ilk will regret their actions.

    A current example of a Spiritual leader is Pope Francis. If I remember correctly,
    Cardinal Bergoglio was not a front runner for the Papacy. I am certain TPTB must be
    wondering how Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope.

    Other religions too will have Spiritual leaders take the reins. It is just a matter of time.

    “Many years ago, I asked my Spiritual Master, “All the chaos in this world, who is responsible for it?”
    The Master replied,”2 classes of people who live by the principle of divide and rule. One is politicians and the other preachers.”
    We need to find people who are neither politicians nor preachers to run this World. These leaders would have to be truly Spiritual Leaders.

    I posted the following comment in April 2012.
    A few years ago, when 2012 was trending, on a Financial blog, somebody asked, “Will the world come to an end in 2012?” The blogger replied, “No, the world will not come to an end in 2012, but the world as we know it will cease to exist.”
    I take this to mean that wars, religious bigotry, hatred, suffering etc will come to an end.

    We are seeing the beginning of the end of falsehood and the commencement of the age of righteousness.
    Short term there will be pain. Long term –There will be peace on earth and goodwill towards all mankind.
    The future of Planet Earth is indeed very bright.

    A New World Order is being created. This World Order will be led by truly Spiritual
    Leaders. These leaders cannot be intimidated or bought. These leaders will bring about
    the change in thinking needed to sort out the problems the World is currently facing.

  2. January 10, 2015

    Thanks for sharing Kuldip.

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