What the Future Needs

Brenda Cooper @ 12-01-2011

I just finished doing my predictions for 2011 over on my website. I find them a little depressing because even though some of them are good, we are not giving the future the things it needs most from us. For example, I’m not predicting great strides in alternative energy or kindness to the climate in the next year. Nor am I predicting great strides forward in government, at least not here in the US. Maybe the shooting of Rep. Giffords will calm down our nasty rhetoric. I suspect that time will erase the horror and we will keep on talking entrenched sound bites instead of actually listening. I hope not; see Paul’s excellent post. If anything, the tragedy illustrates why I decided to devote this month’s columns to a few of the things the future needs us to focus on now:

The future needs better world governance. Not government – that’s way too scary. Besides, there’s no one government today I’d want to subject the whole world to. But we have a lot of world-sized problems that we need to tackle, while respecting regional needs. Meaning use the golden rule: If a country has an autocratic or a democratic state, fine. We don’t all need to be alike. But we need to stop messing up each other’s air and water. We need world governance to address specific and linked world-scale challenges like climate change and shifts in energy use and production and ocean health. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to craft a model, but I’m sure it needs certain things. Carrots and sticks. Measures. Very specific and very difficult goals. Most importantly, good leadership. Leadership that will be followed for hope rather than that leads through fear or forces through economic punishments. No, I have no idea where this is going to come from.

We need order. We have a lot of failed and failing states. We have places where assassination is normal and where terrorism is normal and where governments have almost no control. We need enough government to promote order and communication. Everywhere. We are crowding a single planet, and massive civil disorder damages us all.

The future needs respect for life. In a way, this also gets at the same issues of climate change, energy, and ocean health. When we protect a species or a bit of land or a bit of the ocean, or even a class of people based on whatever silly thing they’ve been deemed “less” because of, we get great unintended consequences. Maybe a world-wide attempt to save the polar bears would protect a lot of habitat for us for the future. If I could pick just one, I’d pick coral reefs. What if we all decided – every country with a coastline – to protect reefs? To really do that, you’d have to deal with ocean temperature and acidification and pollution and a host of other things. You’d end up protecting a lot of species and foodstocks.

We need to get with it on religious tolerance. Nearly every religion is revered and vilified in different parts of the world. Christians are killed for being Christians and Muslims for being Muslims and let’s not even talk about what the world has done to the Jews. We still fight wars over this. Religions are either at the root or used as excuses for many of the world’s atrocities and almost all of the terrorism. The longer I live, the more convinced I am of two things: there is beauty and grace for the human heart at the center of almost all beliefs, and frankly, and none of them are “right.” Most beliefs (even science) deal with the unknowable, which is exactly that. Unknowable. Beliefs are not truths and humans should decide it’s okay be awed and curious.

We need brave innovation. Given the population pressures, the likely significant affects of climate change and the mass movement of people into cities, we need better technology. Sure, we’re already getting so much tech so fast it feels like we’re drowning in it some days. But we need more ideas, more improvements, more ways to get people competing to make our communities work better. Global-scale Ansari X-Prize competitions to develop the tools to save the coral reefs or to feed the hungry or shake off our addiction to petroleum. The best design seems to arise out of a chaotic and competitive environment with reward systems (we need civil order but competitive chaos – good chaos). That’s because we’re human, and most humans thrive on challenge, on new problems, and on fresh ideas. We are an innovative bunch: let’s use that.

We need to protect and expand cheap and constant connection to the internet. This means more projects to provide broadband, and diligent protection of network neutrality (which is severely threatened right now, at least in the United States). The internet is the most powerful tool for transparency, innovation, education, health care, service delivery, and even motivation in the world. It needs to be and become freely available for both consumption and creation of ideas and conversations and entertainment and products and….well, you get the idea.

We need to the ability to get off this planet. We are wired to explore, to become, to grow. I’ve heard some people say we shouldn’t go anywhere else until we get our act together here. Maybe we need to face new challenges on a new frontier to grow and take the next steps for humanity. After all, at what point do you realize you know enough to go out into or past the solar system? When everybody is peaceful and perfect? We aren’t a race that creates utopias, and if we wait for that, we’ll simply die off. There’s a lot of science and engineering between here and there, but the future most of us in the science fiction community envision needs us to keep working on the innovation and business models that will eventually get some of us away from Earth.

So…those are my January thoughts for 2011. Our choices now create the future, and right at this moment there is no other time I would rather live in, except maybe the future. I want to be able to say the same thing 2050.


Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Wings of Creation, is out now from Tor Books. For more information, see her website!

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2 Responses to “What the Future Needs”

  1. Malcolm Reeve says:

    I love all that the internet has given us but Im worried that with more and more information migrating to the cloud, what happens if we have a disaster. If we cant get to the internet, how do we fix our car, our water treatment plant or restart the electricity generating system. We need backups…

  2. David Bolton says:

    I think sometimes we are buying into some technologies for technologies sake and loosing track of what we realy need. We introduce technology to make life easier, more efficent and safer not because we just want them.

    We need to stop sometimes and think about what we want to end up with.