The wide-ranging consensus is that, indeed, there are rationales which support being hopeful about the future even amid some valid, worrying concerns. In this regard, technology, portrayed as a bogeyman in the previous article about worries for the future, is seen here to be a positive going forward. This article, then, will explore not only hopeful technological applications but other reasons for hope such as the exuberance of the young, and human ingenuity in general—not to mention our kindness and compassion.
Our Basic “Goodness” Will Prevail
Thus, the overarching theme manifested in experts’ reasons to be hopeful revolves around these human characteristics which are present throughout human history and are especially in evidence at times of crisis. Virtues such as human kindness and compassion, human ingenuity, and humans’ propensity for finding the appropriate answers for vexing problems highlight the main reasons for optimism. That is not to deny the role of our primeval instincts and subsequent actions to ensure the survival of our species.
Good News Goes Unreported
A view of why we should be optimistic not expressed by experts in the Motherboard piece but that I offer here is a simple fact that things aren’t as bad as they’re frequently portrayed. The 24/7 media appetite to fill space and which, BTW, favors the negative and salacious over positive news obscures important positive stories—or ignores them. By many measures, the world is a better place to live than 100 years ago, 50 years ago—even 20 years ago.
This is not to say, by any stretch, that everyone has it equally as good or that we shouldn’t try to do better. Bill Gates weighed in on the topic: “Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental–and not usually deemed newsworthy. A video of a building on fire generates lots of views, but not many people would click on the headline ‘Fewer buildings burned down this year.” This is, of course, a good insight as bleeding and tears evoke strong emotions.
Were You Aware?
Because of the propensity to favor bad news over the good, good news that often goes unreported or is relegated to the “back pages”, such as:
- Since 1990 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been cut in half, saving 122 million young lives.
- In the same period, the fraction of people living in extreme poverty has gone from about 40 percent to about 10 percent.
- More than 90 percent of children now attend primary school worldwide.
- Women now make up more than a fifth of members of parliaments around the world.
This is only a small sampling of the facts that might inspire optimism amid the steady drumbeat of negative news. Sure, there is much work still to be done but these facts demonstrate what has been accomplished in only a couple of decades. Doesn’t that ignite a spark of hope in you? Now let’s examine some other areas in which experts express hope:
Unlike Doomsayers, “Hopers” Champion Tech’s Potential For Good
Technology run amok (especially feared is an unbridled AI) was a great cause to worry for many in Part 1. Many experts, though, in the “hope camp” feel the opposite. Technology presents that “The possibility of computing and robotics will lead to a day where there are no more disasters—because disasters can be predicted and prepared for and because the response and recovery are immediate and seamless.”—Dr. Robin Murphy, professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University.
When worrying thoughts occur about robots doing our bidding and taking over our thoughts and our lives as a bad thing, think about the other potentials for AI. Chances are, you may know of someone who received an erroneous diagnosis from a doctor. Humans can make mistakes—often because they might be predisposed to looking for a certain ailment based on their limited human intellect. Now, think about how AI and its non-prejudicial “thinking” and limitless information capacity could render more correct, more objective diagnoses. It may change your perception of AI—especially if your thinking was negatively inclined.
Technological advances, too, portend greater and better access to basic services like education, healthcare, mobility, and security for the emerging middle class across countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Cheaper and more efficient infrastructure will be driven by artificial intelligence and the proliferation of the mobile phone, and it empowers young people to learn, innovate, and build a better future for themselves.
The Younger Generation and Technology
Akin to this is how differently (better?) the young people interact with technology. They possess extraordinary potential and lack fear of huge challenges—maybe because they haven’t yet cultivated the fear of failure that inhibits so many of us from achieving our potential. They are neither bedevilled nor deterred by past failures and are more comfortable with complexity than many of their elders.
“The next generation is neither afraid of nor in awe of digital technologies, and better equipped than past generations (including most of our current political establishment) to make good use of them, be skeptical of and interested in, rather than complacent or frantic about, the companies behind them. It faces the question of how we make sure technological progress also delivers broad-based public benefits.”—Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, professor of political communication at the University of Oxford, and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics
The Human Factor
While acknowledging the dangers to the planet brought about by climate change, a consensus grew that we humans possess the will and the ingenuity to tackle problems in a way that species lacking our intelligence were unable to—for example, the dinosaurs and the asteroid explosion. ”The same drive that pushes us to explore our Earth, to head into space, and to think about the Cosmos, has given us the brainpower to survive”, —Alexandra Cousteau, explorer, environmental activist, and filmmaker, Germany
The incontrovertible truth is that we humans demonstrate our very best attributes when tragedy occurs—when things are darkest. These traits are on display every day in the work of NGOs and other such organizations which are attacking problems daily at the grassroots level. Our depth of compassion will compel us to keep trying to make things better no matter how incrementally.
The Sky Hasn’t Fallen Yet And Probably Won’t
Leave it to an academic-an archaeologist as opposed to a techie to put things in perspective and also place an exclamation point on the hope versus worry discussion:
“Being an archaeologist often helps me to lean back, take a deep breath, and relax. Civilization‘s end has been announced so often, but happened (although, subjectively, it did from time to time) rather rarely. So, I‘m honestly not too alarmed about the future. Yes, it looks a bit cloudy right now, but I‘ve also got hopes about our species’ urge to survive. Culture finds a way (to paraphrase a well- known movie tagline). It‘s almost like this old joke about the optimist who thinks that we live in the best of all worlds. And the pessimist, who‘s afraid that this is true. It‘s up to you and me to make the place a more comfortable one.” —Jens Notroff, archaeologist at German Archaeological Institute.
And a better one! We will find a way to tackle the challenges facing us– we always have and always will. We just have to refuse to get caught up in the hope and despair debate and just do what we do best—that is to act, rather than whine and fret.