Friday, 26 May 2017

The Future Of Humanity

Poul Anderson's works of futuristic sf project every possible fate for humanity:

early extinction in a dystopian short story;
gradual recovery from various kinds of disasters;
proliferation through the galaxy in several future histories;
unemployment and redundancy in some high tech futures;
replacement by Artificial Intelligences in a later novel.

James Blish addressed the future of human beings in a high-energy civilization here and in his second Jack Loftus novel where, again, most people are unemployed but are well provided for although they are denied the rights to vote and to procreate! (That will reduce the population quickly, surely? Are such drastic measures either feasible or desirable?)

It seems to me that the question, "What can the bulk of the population do in a high tech economy?" is wrongly put. Surely the question should be: How can society as a whole use enhanced technology to realize the full potential of each of its members? We stand on the threshold of Utopia yet fear a dystopia because we have not adjusted our thinking yet. (I think.)

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Early extinction of the human race? I think you had Anderson's "Murphy's Hall" in mind here. One of his grimmer tales indeed!

And of course I would prefer "proliferation" thru out the galaxy, whether by STL or FTL means.

I would have sharpened your "unemployment and redundancy" comment by adding something like "ennui and existential despair."

And mankind being replaced by AIs, as seen in GENESIS, doesn't seem much better than what we see in "Murphy's Hall."

I still think you gloss over too quickly the problems we will very likely face in any "post scarcity" economy. Such as mass "unemployment and redundancy." It's all very well to vaguely say society as a whole should use enhanced technology to enable everyone to realize their full potential. The problem is that NOT EVERYONE will be equally talented or even merely intellectually minded. I don't think many, many people will care about philosophy and the arts (altho I hope I will be proven wrong).

While advanced technology might give us some of "citizen's credit" sufficient for decent comfort, I have to argue that man does not live by bread alone. If a carpenter or plumber who had taken satisfaction in doing that kind of work well is no longer needed, what then? Unless such person also had additional or unexpected interests, I see them as too likely to suffer from despair, boredom, ennui in a post scarcity economy. Poul Anderson touched on such ideas as early as "Quixote And The Windmill."

I have argued that one way of avoiding or easing such problems as described above would be if mankind had a frontier, other planets where people unhappy on Earth could settle and have a chance of doing work they find satisfactory. Because I think, given a FTL drive, many colonial would not or could not use the most advanced technology right away, so many colonists would still be able to take satisfaction in doing even "primitive" kinds of work.

Also, if there was a frontier, I think that would greatly relieve the strain and stress in a post scarcity economy of what to do about bored, unhappy, frustrated, increasingly angry people. A frontier would act as a safety valve for Earth giving the most unhappy people options.

Something like what we see in "Quixote and The Windmill" and GENESIS might have happened in the Technic Civilization series if no FTL drive had been invented.