An Optimist’s Tour of the Future

I have just read Mark Stevenson’s An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. It is a series of interviews with futurologists, scientists working on cutting edge technologies, and a few other random people.

There were some quite interesting interviews, but overall it was a bit disappointing.

I thought the robotics section was disappointing, and the stuff on the Internet was a bit trite.

The climate change section was strange, but quite intereresting. The main solution to climate change seemed to be a change in the way Australians pen their sheep.

I have a very optimistic view of the future. I think biotech, medical technology and nanotechnology will progress exponentially.

I don’t think climate change will have any great effect on the trend for longer life expectancy, better nutrition, better education and less poverty. There are dozens of technologies being developed that together will solve the climate change problem. Better knowledge and spread of best practice in food production will play a big part, not only in fixing climate change, but also in feeding the world.

Solar power is a technology that has the potential to grow exponentially. I think electric cars will take over in the next few decades and we will see exponential growth in their numbers.

The world population is very likely to stabilise at below 10 billion and start falling in the second half on the century. With a declining population, and most people living in cities, we should then be able to reverse the decreasing biodiversity trend.

I am not so convinced about exponential progress in Artificial Intelligence and robotics. I think self-driving cars and the robotic spin-offs from that will result in faster progress in robotics. There will also be spin-offs from the fast growing military use of robotics.

I think the best hope for faster progress in Artificial Intelligence is understanding how the brain works. Progress on this is fast and growing exponentially. The whole area of neuroscience and neural interfaces in particular, is very exciting. This was not really mentioned in the book.

I very much hope that democracy spreads fast to the remaining authorative regimes in the world, and reduces the demand for military spending, but this is hard to predict.

I would like to societies in the developed world have a much more equal income distribution, but unfortunately the trend seems to be in the opposite direction at the moment in countries such as the USA and the UK.

I would very much like to see an increase in rationality and a fast decline in religion, but again the trend in many areas of the world is not in this direction.

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