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Technology Benefiting Humanity
Jerome Clayton Glenn
"It is now generally accepted that, with the end of the Cold War, old ideological divisions are mostly over. But a more intractable division is taking hold, this time based on technology. A small part of the globe, accounting for about 15% of the earth’s population, provides nearly all of the world’s technology innovations. A second part, perhaps half of the world’s population, is able to absorb and adopt these technologies. The remainder, around a third of the world’s population, over 2 billion people, caught in a poverty gap, is technologically disconnected. I call on rich countries to recognize and to respond, in order to create the chances for many of the technologically excluded regions to become technological adopters and to join in the benefits of globalization.”
Rexhep Meidani, President
Introduction: Global Challenges for Technology
The mind creates technology to free itself to invent the future. We were not so aware of this in the past. Then, technology solved problems. Today it still solves problems, but it also creates opportunities inconceivable by most in the recent past. Just ten years ago, the term “Internet” was unknown. Today, it has become the fastest growing and most pervasive technological influence in the history of civilization. Increasingly, we will invent the future by design rather than responding to circumstance.
So, the question of how humanity HAS benefited from technology is quite different than how it WILL benefit humanity. The questions: “What kind of future do we want and what do we want to become in that future,” seemed hopelessly romantic, and still does for much of the low technology world. But to the high technology world it is the only question worth asking. Yet because we now know that we have the ability to make the future better, the pressure is on, and many may feel insecure about their ability to make the right decisions. Failure to improve the human condition has fewer acceptable excuses. Mistakes in one locale are known quickly and worldwide. The potential misuse of technologies is constantly in the news. Scientific sovereignty is questioned. Economic globalization is protested. There is a sense that we may not be using technology to benefit humanity.
The interdependence of economic growth and technological innovation has been the most significant engine of change for the last 200 years, but unless we improve our financial, economic, environmental, and social behavior, the next 200 years could be difficult. Population is growing fastest where people can least afford the necessities of life. Although the world economy has grown from $5 trillion to $30 trillion over the last 50 years, the number of people who live on $1-2 a day could grow from 2 billion to 4 billion within the next 25 years. Water tables are falling in every continent. Infectious diseases cause thirty percent of all deaths, and scores of new ones have no cures, while older diseases have developed drug resistance.
Old ethnic conflicts and new forms of terrorism are increasingly destructive, widespread, and difficult to prevent. New forms of chemical, biological, and information warfare weapons are easy for smaller groups to use. There are 21.5 million refugees and other people of concern to the United Nations’High Commissioner on Refugees. With $1.5 trillion income per year, transnational organized crime can buy the talent and technology to open even more sophisticated global enterprises with new kinds of illegal businesses.
An additional 3 billion people will be added to the world’s population over the next 50 years, and with increasing economic growth and urban concentration, energy requirements could easily triple. Without fundamental changes in energy production, consumption patterns, and distribution (especially of electricity), serious environmental and social problems seem inevitable.1
These are the kinds of threats that make many believe that technology is not benefiting humanity or that it is not focused on the right issues.
The Millennium Project
Identifying the Issues
To identify the right issues, the Millennium Project conducted a two-round questionnaire among several hundred leaders in science and technology around the world. More than 50% of the international panel considered the following either of overwhelming importance or extremely important to benefit humanity over the next 25 years (listed in rank order):2
1. Commercial availability of a cheap, efficient, environmentally benign, non-nuclear fission and non-fossil fuel means of generating base-load electricity, competitive in price with today’s fossil fuels.
2. Providing methods for providing inexpensive medical treatment for poor people.
3. Simple, inexpensive, effective medicines and corresponding delivery systems to treat widespread diseases and epidemics.
4. Climate change—understanding and solutions.
5. Preserving biological and cultural diversity.
6. Techniques for improving wastewater treatment,village sanitation, and urban and rural water availability (in addition to water desalination).
7. Improving the efficiency of water use in agriculture by 75%.
8. Improvements in early detection and tracking systems of pandemics.
9. Techniques for decreasing soil and coastal areas erosion.
10. Understanding the nature of living matter.
11. Efficient energy storage systems including, for example, spinning wheels, gravitational energy, chemical energy, direct electric energy (cryogen magnets, plasma or ball lightning), hydrogen storage, fuel cells, and developing inexpensive lightweight batteries with a power density comparable to gasoline, with little capacity loss over thousands of charge-discharge cycles, that can be completely and efficiently recycled.
12. Better procedures to manage the hydrographicwatersheds, especially international ones.
13. Cheap, efficient means for providing potable water from salt or brackish sources at prices comparable to naturally available water in quantities sufficient to ease global water issues.
14. Techniques for improving agriculture, foods, forestry, and livestock production.
15. Developing an efficient, inexpensive (e.g. photochemical) process to produce hydrogen from water.
16. Advanced computation and artificial intelligence.
17. Advanced accurate forecasting and planning methods to improve efficiency and integration of large technological systems and enterprises.
18. Climate control.
19. Low-energy travel means (e.g. zeppelins and all-electric vehicles).
20. Commercial utilization of desert areas, preparation for biological life and cultivation.
21. Pursuing deeper psychological and socio-bio-logical research concerning the nature of violence and aggressive behavior.
22. Reaching deeper understanding of the quantum foundations of physics.
23. Nanofiltering devices for water purification and recycling in households.
24. Demonstration of the possibility of an environmentally, economically, and culturally sustainable city of at least 1 million people.
Studying the Implications
Over the coming year, the Millennium Project will study the management implications of future sci ence and technology issues to better understand the needs for organizational and institutional change. Technology research, as well as development manage ment and policy, in both the public and private sec tors will require innovations for their own processes to respond to increasing complexity. For example, how can we manage the research and development syner gies of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and computa tional intelligence? Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems has questioned the ability to manage the development of nanotechnology while preventing the world from turn ing into a gray goo. This raises the question of scien tific sovereignty: what are the circumstances and un- der whose authority can intervention in research and development occur within and across national bound- aries? Is a global technology forecasting and assess ment organization inevitable? Innovations will be necessary to reduce the chasm between scientists and decision makers within the context of increasing in formation overload and information quality and au- thenticity. The line between private versus public and between national and international technology R&D is increasingly blurred. How can science and technol ogy managers respond to the forces of globalization, competitiveness, and talent migration? Not only do we need to reinforce technology benefiting humanity, we need innovations in the process of managing the creation of such technology.
The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University has done these and other global assessments of the future. The Project is a globally decentralized think tank of over 1000 futurists, business planners, scholars, scientists, policy advisors, and decision makers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, universities, and NGOs in over 50 countries. “Nodes,” or groups of individuals and institutions in eleven locations around the world, interconnect local and global perspectives via translated questionnaires and interviews.
Over the last five years, the Millennium Project used this network to identify and study issues, opportunities, and actions. These have been further synthesized to 15 Global Challenges humanity faces at the millennium listed below. Technological innovations can contribute to each of these:
Answers to these questions have been identified and judged by the Millennium Project participants. A range of their views is included with each action.3 For example, in response to Global Challenge 14: “How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?” action 14.12 suggested to “Offer substantial prizes for the achievement of breakthroughs that have global significance.” The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University is very pleased that The Tech Museum of Innovation has taken on this action in such an imaginative way.
A distillation of some of the previous views on the idea of such an awards program included: “A Nobel Prize for applied research would be useful. The current Nobel Prizes are awarded very late in one’s career. More contemporary prizes might give incentives to the next generation. Prizes might also be given for achievements or breakthroughs at global, regional, and national levels. Cooperative behavior and efforts at sharing techniques with colleagues should be considered. These prizes could be connected not only with some achievements but also with the contribution of the scientist to the development of a field of knowledge. Local prizes in developing countries would also be helpful. There is the Kharazmi Prize that has attracted attention in developing countries. For many the peer recognition is more important than the amount of money. Although prizes may not stimulate science and engineering, they are great devices for bringing science to public attention....”
So what kinds of future technologies might get The Tech Museum Awards in 2010 or 2025?
1. Stem cells from cows and fish that produced muscle tissue without growing the complete animal to produce protein foods, thus reducing adverse environmental impacts in the cattle and fishing industries?
2. New transceivers that made rural micro-enterprises flourish in developing countries whose primary income is via e-commerce?
3. Robotic, environmental agricultural in the Sahel, making Africa a food exporting region?
4. Beamed energy from areas of high-energy sources to mega cities augmented by solar power satellites that supply much of the world’s electricity needs without producing greenhouse gases or nuclear waste?
5. Personalized food that increases mental performance?
6. Biochips for human connectivity that increased collective intelligence?
7. Nanotechnology that reduced pollution and raised the living standards of the poor, by reducing input per unit of production and distribution?
Technology and Human Potential
Some argue that desired futures are made by political/economic policy, while others assert that fundamental change is only possible when human behavior changes. Yet it is technology that can change both the very nature of our policy choices and can reinforce the best of human nature. Technology eliminated enough toil, famine, pestilence, and disease to enable the emergence of modern civilization. Technology is increasingly automating the support systems for civilization freeing up even more human potential to create a new kind of civilization that is merging mind and machine. So, what new future is emerging from the information revolution? And how might the technologies of this future civilization benefit humanity?
We will be as integrated with technology as technology will be integrated with consciousness. Distinctions between humans and machines will blur. When that actually happens, probably sometime in the mid-21st century, we will have a world renaissance that could properly be called the Conscious Technology Civilization.4
The leading indicators of this post-Information Age are already with us. The whole thrust of cyborg advances is to take the best of our external technology, miniaturize it, and then make it part of our bodies from walkmans to artificial hearts. Simultaneously, the whole thrust of advances in elec-tronics/photonics is to take the best of our consciousness, simulate it in computer programs, and make it part of our environment. This is making inanimate objects immediately responsive to our thoughts. Our whole environment will seem to change from dumb matter to one of conscious partnership as we tell our telephones to phone home, our lights to turn off, and our music to turn on.
At the same time that humans are becoming more technology-like with the internalization of technology, technology is becoming more human-like with the advent of voice recognition, voice synthesis, and intelligent computer programming. When these two directions cross over into one, conscious technology will emerge. As people and intelligent technology be come an interrelated whole, the age-old dreams of the oneness of humanity and making the world work for everyone becomes possible. The time from thought to action to feedback to new thought will shrink to near simultaneity increasing our collective intelligence.
Human consciousness and technology have always evolved together. They are two sides of the same coin of humanity. Technology is a mirror of consciousness. Looking into this mirror changes our consciousness. Our consciousness (awareness of awareness) changes when looking though a microscope and telescope or a facemask under water or an astronaut’s helmet on the Moon. Changed consciousness conceives innovations leading to still more advanced technology.
The greatest masterpiece of Chopin played by the greatest pianist of our age fails miserably if the piano tuner improperly adjusted the strings. A virtuoso performance requires the proper state of consciousness by the pianist and the proper tuning of the instrument. The key is the proper relationship between consciousness and technology. Arthur Rubinstein spoke of his memorable performances as if he and the piano merged as a single expression of the composer. In a similar manner, the performance of civilization could be understood as the relationship of a people’s consciousness and their technology.
Many of the building blocks of conscious-technology were developed in Silicon Valley and are enshrined in The Tech Museum. I trust that many of the future innovations that will lead to our next age will receive their first world recognition here at the Technology Benefiting Humanity awards program of The Tech Museum. •
1 This and the previous two paragraphs were drawn from the executive summary with permission by the publisher of Jerome C. Glenn and Theordore J. Gordon. 2001. 2001 State of the Future, Washington, D.C. American Council for the United Nations University.
2 Research supported by U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science and published in Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon. 2001. 2001 State of the Future, Washington, D.C. American Council for the United Nations University.
3 Ibid. CD-ROM section Chapter 1.
4. Jerome Clayton Glenn. 1989. Future Mind. Washington, D.C. Acropolis Books.