April 8, 2019

RICHARD FERNANDEZ: You never hear the one that gets you.

Our expectations of the future are set by the past. When Stephen Hawking died in 2018 his final warning to humanity was to beware artificial intelligence, climate change and a meteor strike from outer space. Although these are now familiar terms no newspaper editor before 1970 would have heard of them. Until the early 1980s global warming fears did not exist: it was global cooling the press warned about. The now familiar dinosaur killing Chicxulub impact crater was only found in 1978 by “geophysicists Glen Penfield and Antonio Camargo … as part of an airborne magnetic survey of the Gulf of Mexico north of the Yucatán peninsula”. Fears of runaway AI only became mainstream in the 21st century. None of these fears are more than 40 years old.

If Stephen Hawking time traveled to whisper his final warning to Albert Einstein the 20th century genius would probably not have had a clue what the 21st century physicist was talking about. . . .

Maybe governments shouldn’t embark on 50 year plans given the revelatory power of new information. While people can’t help but express the future in terms of the past it is more than likely that politicians who embark on huge programs based on multi decade predictions will be sorely disappointed. It’s entirely probable we’ve never even heard of whatever will worry the world of 2080. Tomorrow, like the Russian sky, is full of surprises.

That Chinese one-child policy hasn’t worked out so well.

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