Are You Ready for the Future?

As a futurist, I see the world as it could be, not necessarily as it is. I try to keep my goals and visions as free from political motivation and social pressure as I possibly can. There are others like me, similar in nature, in thoughts, in ideals. We are visionaries, innovators, philosophers, and revolutionaries. More than simply dreamers, we are the pioneers of tomorrow. We are futurists, and we will change the world.

Futurists are equal parts scientist and philosopher, hypothesizing and analyzing, questioning and pondering. In a sense, we are Neo-Platonic thought made manifest. While some work toward quantifying the universe, others work to explain our place in it.

Unfortunately, our desire to advance and develop has been hampered many a time, not really so much by governments and laws, but by religious zeal and blind faith. Please understand that I’m not hostile to religion generally. Far from it. For instance, Monseigneur Georges Lemaître, a brilliant physicist and man of faith, was the first to propose the expanding universe theory. How could any red-blooded futurist condemn this innovation?

But here’s the problem. Religious zealotry and progress often collide. They have been constant rivals, as Galileo best illustrates. One man attempted to glorify God’s power by stating (quite boldly) that every star had a planet, and each planet had life. He was branded a heretic, and some wanted him to be burned at the stake. Good grief. Normally, a heretic was killed then burned. This zeal, sadly and unbelievably, still exists today in more benighted political circles, and it is wreaking havoc on America’s intellectual and academic progress.

It bears repeating that religion in and of itself does not have to be an issue, as futurists come from a variety of different theological backgrounds. However, blind obedience to dogmatic ideals can be, well, quite troublesome. According to a Gallup survey, between 40% and 50% of adults in the United States believe that God created modern humans in the last 10,000 years. Geologic evidence suggests that the Earth is roughly 4.8 billion years old. Young Earth Creationists, however, dispute that theory. They actually believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, as suggested by Archbishop James Ussher in the 17th Century. Ussher postulated that the world was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.

This has led to a blunting of American scientific acumen. In the early 20th Century, some schools in America banned the teaching of evolution, as it conflicted with certain traditional Christian teachings. This eventually led to the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925, in which a school teacher was accused of violating a law that made it illegal to teach evolution. To this day, some religious schools still teach Young Earth Creationism, suggesting that Adam and Eve co-existed with dinosaurs.

This isn’t the only threat with which futurists must contend. In the early 2000s, the United States was selected as a possible location for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a massive particle accelerator used to detect subatomic particles. Its construction would be the first step in an active search for the Higgs Boson (or simply “Higgs”). The Higgs theoretically gives all matter its mass and is a key to the current model of particle physics. Its discovery would indicate that the model is accurate, helping us further unlock the secrets of the universe.

Some fear that scientists are trying to disprove the existence of God. Thus, efforts were made to block the collider in America. Several “scientists” suggested that micro-black holes could form, sucking the Earth into a singularity of doom. Such notions are ludicrous, and although a micro-black hole could form – at least in theory – it would soon evaporate, ripped apart by Earth’s own relatively massive gravitational well. Unfortunately, the damage was done. Rather than face protests and endless legal battles, the decision was made to build the LHC in France. CERN, a “European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers . . . probing the fundamental structure of the universe,” observed the Higgs boson on July 4th, 2012, and America’s opportunity for scientific prestige went up in smoke.

Futurists are not just interested in space, matter, and energy. We are also interested in the human condition. Many a novel has been written about cyborgs, entities that are part machine. Recent advances in prosthetics are transforming fantasy into reality. Hugh Herr, an assistant professor at MIT, developed a new set of prosthetic limbs that enable the user to move normally. Meanwhile DARPA is continuing work on prosthetic arms, improving their complexity with each new design.

Work is even being done to integrate computer systems with the human body. Currently, these technologies are being developed for disabled veterans and civilians. However, as the systems improve, ordinary citizens will be able to replace organic components with cybernetic ones. Japanese author Masamune Shirow referred to this process as “cyberization” in his groundbreaking series Ghost in the Shell. As more and more people opt for cyberization, many philosophical issues will be raised. Futurists, however, are already asking these important questions.

For some, the singularity of man and machine will no doubt be a frightening occurrence. Theologically, where will these cyborgs fit in? Should they be treated as men with souls, or as soul-less machines? Some may think cyberization deprives us of our mortality, and thus our humanity. According to Genesis, God created man in his own image, and therefore, cyberization could be viewed as blasphemous desecration of God’s work. Alas, these questions may never be answered. However, futurists will continue to ask, and continue to work towards the Singularity.

Though cyborgs and androids are exciting, futurists also ponder biology. Genetics offer excellent material for futurists, from Gene Rodenberry to Stan Lee. Already, the human genome has been fully mapped, along with several other species. This has opened the door for even more detailed genetic engineering. Breeders have been doing this for thousands of years, selecting desirable traits and breeding specifically for this trait.

Now, humans can do the same, selecting traits from two parents and creating a child with those traits. For example, a couple might want a daughter with her father’s hair color and mother’s eyes, but without the markers for diabetes. These “designer babies” are a very real possibility, especially with in-vitro fertilization an accepted method of conception. In-vitro fertilization involves injecting a sperm cell into an egg, then re-introducing it into the mother’s uterus.

Stem cell research has also advanced in the last ten years. Just a few years ago, a team of researchers in Japan created mice from sperm and eggs grown from stem cells. Imagine a world where organ donors are no longer needed, as new organs can be grown from a patient’s own cells. Rejection would no longer be an issue, freeing the patient from medications, reducing medical costs.

Even more astounding is the possibility for genetic augmentation – the deliberate alteration of a person’s genes through splicing. Though science fiction today, it could very well be science fact tomorrow. Imagine soldiers who can re-grow limbs like an octopus, or divers who can shunt more oxygen to their brains like a crocodile. Sadly, some view this as blasphemous, accusing researchers of “playing God.” I assure you, we do not have a God complex, but are instead investigating the potential steps human evolution could take.

As futurists, we offer our vision of the future to anyone willing to join us in our studies, but more than that, we work to make the future a manageable reality. Someone must.