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Future Generations: Climate Victims or High-Tech Geniuses?

Some people feel we should take immediate and dramatic steps to reduce the alleged effects global warming will have on the planet 50 to 100 years hence. But predicting the future is a tricky business.

Fifty years ago there were no personal computers, cell phones, BlackBerrys, digital cameras, or GPS devices. E-mail, web pages, eBay, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube hadn't been invented yet. Google itself is only 11 years old.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of a small number of people who, in recent decades, has predicted technological advances with a high degree of accuracy. Below are two quotes from his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near:
"Computers started out as large, remote machines in air-conditioned rooms tended by white-coated technicians. They moved onto our desks, then under our arms, and now into our pockets. Soon, we'll routinely put them inside our bodies and brains. By the 2030s we will become more non-biological than biological." (p. 309, hardcover edition)

"[W]hat would 1,000 scientists, each 1,000 times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating 1,000 times faster than contemporary humans...accomplish?" (p. 24, hardcover)

It's almost certain that, 50 years from now, humanity will be better prepared to address climate change than is anyone alive today. Not only will future generations be smarter than we are, but five more decades of technological innovation will equip them with tools we haven't yet dreamed of.

Similarly, in early 2009, futurist Juan Enriquez delivered a startling speech at a TED conference. Titled: Beyond the crisis: mindboggling science and the arrival of Homo evolutis, this 20-minute address doesn't mention global warming.

Rather, after commenting on the financial crisis of early 2009, it previews the profound biological and technological developments waiting for us just around the corner. Human abilities - starting with eyesight, hearing, and physical achievement - will be profoundly more advanced in just a few decades.

Should the worst fears of folks like Al Gore turn out to be true, tomorrow's scientists won't be helpless bystanders.

Visit TED.com for intellectually stimulating videos on a wide range of topics.

[last edit: Sept. 2009]

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