What Worries Experts Most About the Future?

Experts predict future problems

As 2019 starts, it might be a good time to take stock of things that are worrying people and, conversely, are encouraging them about the future. But not just any ordinary folk. In the article that my piece is based on, experts in their fields weighed in on what they most feared (Part1) and what gave them hope for the future of our planet and the human race.

Digital, Internet, and artificial intelligence are upon us and will transform entire societies. If not handled properly, humanity may be adversely affected.

Can more science and more technology solve the world’s problems which may be social and cultural at the core? Maybe not. But equally or more dangerous is the glorification of the anti-science stance for political gain by many populist, nationalistic factions.

There is a deep-seated fear that governments and other traditionally reliable sources of information (fake news?)will continue to intentionally mislead people about scientific findings, and therefore prevent policy-makers from doing what is ultimately better for humanity.

We are in a period in which technological changes are occurring more rapidly than our society can adapt.

We may rue the day that we trust software to make big life-or-death decisions such as, but not limited to: disease diagnosis, war, car braking without the appropriate amount of human oversight.

“The entirety of our computing infrastructure, including all of our finance and health systems, is an insecure, untrustworthy mess”, Chetan Nayak, director of Station Q, Microsoft Quantum and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara

The fact that the future doesn‘t need humans.

AI’s implications for society and the economy, and its potential to be misused in many ways. I sometimes wonder if anyone understands the threats AI will pose.

Automation is likely to upend wages, jobs, and entire industries on an unprecedented scale, but lawmakers seem unwilling to acknowledge the problem

The lack of rational policy-making about artificial intelligence and unmanned systems.

don’t think humans as a species are cognitively fit to really grasp the threat we’re currently faced with; our brains simply aren‘t built for it. Presented with something that overwhelmingly big, they go into crisis mode and shuffle the problem into a dusty back file, to be dealt with at a later date.

Consensus on Climate Change, Not  All Agree On Focus

Some experts cite the slow progress in tackling the biggest threat—climate change- as their greatest worry. It might not surprise you that there is a predominant concern over global temperatures rising and the resultant change in sea levels and sea temperatures. In that context, how will we handle the inevitable mass migration and feeding some 9-10 billion people?

This dominates space in the media and politicians fancy (for their own partisan purposes?) It has been suggested that the cost of reducing global temperatures just a few degrees will carry a $150 trillion price-tag. This, to tackle a problem that may result in “only” $50 trillion damage. Could it be that there is a boatload of money to be made in environmental cottage industries which will trickle down to the politicians?

Further, this may be the type of pie-in-the-sky problem that politicians love to keep forever on the burner as they continually kick the can down the road? Are also succumbing to the lure of the money to be made in offering simplistic (unrealistically?) solutions for complex problems which have no simple solution?

Some Challenges Seem Simpler. Where’s The Political Will?

Flying over the Pacific Ocean one can see a floating garbage patch the size of the U.S. state of Texas. Each year we dump 8 billion tons of garbage—mainly plastics—into our oceans. And cruise ships dump another million tons of raw sewage annually into this sea soup.  “

A huge worry is “the fact that someday soon we may have more plastic than fish in our oceans, and that business as usual puts us on track to trigger the sixth mass extinction of life on our planet. Quick reminder—the last mass extinction was a caused by a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid that struck our planet with the energy equivalent to over a million nuclear bombs. We (humans) are the new asteroid.” —Douglas McCauley, associate professor of marine science at the University of California, Santa Barbara

The Paradox Of Rampant Fear

In the article, many rightly expressed fear for what the future holds. One opinion seems to proffer that, paradoxically, it is fear which is holding us back and keeping us from adequately solving or at least addressing the problems facing us. It, among other things corrodes the trust between competing factions on all future-related issues—climate change among them.

“What worries me the most is the surrendering of our imaginations—our creativity, our wonderful human capacity to work together, to negotiate and argue and brainstorm— on the altar of Fear. Fear has its uses—it can help us know ourselves better, solve problems, work things out—but Fear as master is dangerous. Fear sees enemies everywhere. It undermines trust; it shrivels the imagination. We are in danger of succumbing to the lure of simplistic and dangerous “solutions” touted by powerful people with atrophied empathy. As a physicist currently working on a transdisciplinary understanding of climate change, and as a science fiction writer, I have stared into some of the possible future permutations of our global moment, and I have seen hell.” —Vandana Singh, science fiction author and professor in the department of Physics and Earth Science at Framingham State University

Truth and Trust Required

Be that as it may, there is a deep-seated fear among experts that governments and other purportedly reliable sources of information (fake news?( will continue to intentionally mislead people about scientific findings, and therefore prevent policy-makers from doing what is ultimately better for humanity. So, at the heart of future problem solving may be the fear that the technology that will advance us may be predicated on false information. In that case, the fake news theories bandied about these days will seem like small potatoes by comparison.

Next time, Part II will present the hopes that experts have for the future.

This article was based on one appearing recently in: (https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/yw755b/we-asked-105-experts-what-worries-them-most-about-the-future)

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