If you’ve been reading this series over the past few days, you might be under the impression that I’m a nihilist who thinks the world is doomed no matter what we do. I wouldn’t blame you for this assessment of my views – I’ve spent three straight days ranting about how society is unwilling to address some of the biggest challenges we will face in the coming years.
But despite all my gloom and doom talk, I’m actually quite optimistic about our future for one simple reason: I have endless faith in human potential. The human brain is immensely powerful. Countless times throughout the course of human history, brilliant minds have stepped up to the plate during our darkest hours, delivering innovative solutions to problems that had once seemed insurmountable.
That being said, we can’t just sit back and expect some super-genius to come along and fix all of our problems – it simply doesn’t work that way. If we want our brightest minds to be working on problems like climate change, automation and human enhancement, then we have to start treating these issues as real and present challenges.
Sometimes, this will mean challenging our most deeply held beliefs. Take human enhancement, for example. One of the most fundamental beliefs of modern liberal societies (like America) is the idea that individuals ought to be free to live their lives in whatever way they see fit. But does that freedom include the right to artificially enhance your body and mind to whatever extent you please?
Almost everyone would agree that protecting individual freedoms is an important objective, but I think most people would also agree that limiting these freedoms is better than allowing the, “creation of a new class of enhanced persons who could outwit, outplay, and outlast “normal” or unenhanced persons for jobs, in schools, at sporting contests, and so on.” (Excerpt from Ethics of Human Enhancement: An Executive Summary)
Sometimes, addressing these issues will mean making personal sacrifices – ones that might seem pointless in the grand scheme of things. Would you be willing to pay more for your electricity to guarantee that it came from a clean energy source? Would you be willing to ration your water use to help stave off drought? Would you be willing to take public transportation to reduce your carbon footprint? Many of the habits we have grown accustomed to are simply unsustainable if we really want to slow the progress of climate change. Are we willing to give up some of our everyday comforts for the greater good? Only time will tell.
More likely than not, it will also mean taking a very hard look at wealth inequality. This is obvious when considering the future of automation, which will likely displace a large proportion of the human workforce in the coming decades. But questions of wealth disparity also come into play when discussing issues like enhancement. If (or when) science discovers a way to stop the process of aging, for example, it’s likely that the drug or technology will be extremely expensive. I assume that most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of only the super-rich having access to anti-aging methods, but that’s exactly what will happen if we fail to plan ahead.
When it all comes down to it though, the bottom line is that we have to treat these issues as priorities if we truly want to resolve them.
Instead of trying to convince millennials to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents (go to college, get a degree, find a good job, settle down and live happily ever after), we need to be educating them about the challenges of the future and motivating them to work on finding solutions. Instead of giving billions of dollars in subsidies to giant corporations like Boeing, Intel and General Motors, we need to be increasing federal funding for education and scientific research.
And most importantly, instead of pretending like these issues aren’t real, we need to acknowledge them and accept them. Only then can we start talking about the best way to move forward.
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a four-part series about the challenges facing millennials as we look ahead into the future.
Check out “Part I: The Inevitability of Climate Change” here.
Check out “Part II: Technology, Automation and the Obsolete Human Worker” here.
Check out “Part III: The Wild World of Human Enhancement” here.