Saturday, January 24, 2009

the future

Listening to Quirks and Quarks on CBC radio this morning, I was struck by how the host Bob McDonald casually comments on the steadily approaching environmental calamity. In one segment he refers to the collapse of honey-bee populations in North America as a "canary in the coal mine" for general environmental health, and in another he interviews a scientist discussing a study showing that climate change is killing our forests.

It occurs to me how often I swing from optimism to pessimism and back again when thinking about the future, depending on which kind of scientist I was most recently listening to. For example, last night I got excited about a TED Talk by a geneticist who claims that with more research we can: "solve our energy problems, reduce CO2, clean up our oceans and make better wine," and then suggests: "stay healthy for another 20 years and you'll see 150 maybe 300." Here's the talk:

In another, even more far-out Ted Talk, a futurist discusses the past 5000 days of the Internet and predicts the very sci-fi world of the next 5000. For example, the web seems to be on course to developing into one giant, integrated machine surpassing the human brain in complexity:

I think a lot of us live with a cognitive dissonance where we believe, on the one hand, society is moving towards some kind of technological utopia and, on the other, a Mad-Max type post-apocalyptic hell following complete environmental collapse. I think the balance between technological optimism and environmental pessimism are key parts of my generation. We waver between hope and excitement and a "what's the point, the world's fucked anyway," attitude. I suppose in the end it'll just come down to timing.

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