Technology has been transforming our world for thousands of years. Scientific and technological revolutions have shaped the course of history. However, the pace of change today is accelerating dramatically. We have entered into an era of ‘hyper-change…on a global scale and at a speed with no precedent in human history’. Technological progress has become so rapid that it is outpacing our ability to deliberate and act prudently. Our legal system and ethicists cannot keep up new technologies. It is unclear what the world will be like at the end of this century and beyond. We are on the verge of technological advances that will radically redefine what it means to be human, at the threshold of a monumental evolutionary change.
Where life is concerned, there are only two points on a cosmic axis of time: There is the appearance of life, 4 billion years ago, and there is us, at the point we are arriving at today, with the ability to engineer life. For a billion years life developed on the basis of the logic of natural selection. Suddenly we have changed the disc. Humans are now able to bypass a foundational law of biology. We will be freeing our species from the course of natural selection and engineer ourselves into an era of supernatural selection.
A critical moment has arrived, the Current Crisis of the Humanities. We are at a crossroads where no one has gone before. However, before we can arrive at the sci-fi thriller of the future, we must be practical and understand the moment. There is no doubt a crisis atmosphere, we are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of cutbacks, criticisms, and unprecedented challenges. The growing dominance of technology in the global economy creates the impression that humanities courses are impractical and unimportant.
The components of the current crises of the humanities are nothing new. We humans have faced pivotal, existential problems before. But the challenges we face at this point in time are unprecedented, monumental, and daunting. The stakes have never been higher, as our future depends on it. On the other hand the potential is there for a glorious future. But are we sufficiently wise to make such fateful moves? The forces that drive the technology revolution will not pause for our moral reflection and wisdom to catch up. We are moving into uncharted waters, without a paddle, plan, strategy, or policy for stability and guidance. Is there a way to access our collective wisdom on the best ways to navigate in unpredictable rapids? Can people communicate, cooperate, and work as teams to help avoid or solve our mutual problems? The technological revolution is increasingly a decentralized, competitive process. There is little chance of attaining cooperation or creating rules or regulations that all will follow. Nations, corporations, and super-empowered individuals are likely to follow their own perceived interests. Moral rhetoric is often manipulated to conceal the political and economic interests of the strong or unscrupulous. For all the well intentioned people sincerely dedicated to improving the world, aiding the needy, laboring to cure diseases and help people overcome disabilities, the technology revolution will also be driven by fear, insecurity and war, competition and profit, ego and pride.
Are we locked into a Greek tragedy, replete with impending danger and doom, brought on by hubris? Can we somehow manage to make the right decisions and move safely through the perilous transition to a better future? Can we improve our critical thinking skills and preserve the art of thinking slow, in a world that increasingly emphasizes thinking fast? What will it take to maintain our humanity in a radically different future? We need to prepare now so as to be readier to face these questions. The crises and the decisions that people make have the potential to reverse the longstanding trajectory of human progress or worse, lead to major catastrophe. These crises are a matter of concern for all of humankind—and will be for the indefinite future. No doubt, there will be emerging technologies that can solve serious problems and neutralize or minimize certain dangers. However, some technologies will almost certainly have harmful effects, so we must be exceedingly careful proceeding and quick to recognize bad ideas. We all have an interest in approaching those problems as thoughtfully and intelligently as possible. At the very least, we must make a collective effort to proceed as wisely as we are able. In addition to studying and understanding the technological dimensions of a problem and carefully considering the potential consequences of new technologies. Making the humanities an important component of education and prepare future leaders with the best education we can provide. This calls for technical training as well as education of character. The humanities function as a unifying, international, intercultural source for understanding. They comprise a treasure trove of our collective human experience. Similarly, as technologies emerge that redefine the human being, more people will recognize that the ramifications concern us all.
Fasten your seat belt. The road ahead will be bumpy and full of potholes. Be hopeful that we actually are racing into a better century. As we gain successes in improving technologies, we must not lose sight of our keenest skills, creativity, of our friendship, kinship, empathy, love, and our individuality