John Bittleston


WOULD mankind have done better if our forecasting had been more accurate? Would we have taken steps to avoid climate disruption by imposing criteria on technological change that would have slowed it?

Would our handling of capitalism have been smarter if we had predicted the forces we were releasing, even if our control of it had made us poorer?

What is certain is that the forecasters would have been (in some cases, were) burnt at the stake. We dislike people telling us the truth, preferring to be lulled into a false sense of security rather than face the dragon.

In the past, the consequences of our behaviour, even when clearly seen by a few, materialised slowly. We now know that survival of the human species is threatened in its present form within a single lifetime.

That should concentrate the collective mind. The moral nature of human beings is unlikely to change significantly.

The good and bad, the yin and yang will probably be there as long as we have free will to decide between selfish and collective options.

When that freedom is lost, our behaviour will be controlled by whoever is in charge of the apparatus running our brains. As we know, that apparatus - the wholly artificial brain - will be with us within 10 years.

Many are already worried by the consequences of the advanced computer and its contribution to the recent failure of the world's financial system. Computer-programmed stock market and money market trading were partly responsible for what happened. How is the computer going to deal with the after-effects of money-printing - the apparent, if facile, solution to finance gone mad?

A sentient, or at least semi-sentient, robot will follow within 10 years of the wholly artificial brain, allowing us, if we wish, to become physically and brain-sustainably immortal.

Since immortals never die, there will be increasing demand for the limited resources of the planet, depending, of course, on robot maintenance needs. It is even possible there will be reduced demand for the planet's fruits since robots will probably not need to eat or reproduce and their entertainment may exist wholly and cheaply in a virtual world.

Most people either refute these forecasts or declare, unhelpfully, they would rather die. Experience suggests they are wrong about both these attitudes.

The exponential rate of technological development is staggering.

Almost within my lifetime, we have gone from Charles Lindbergh's first flight across the Atlantic to Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon.

And there is repeated evidence that when it comes to the crunch, we would prefer to survive in the world we know, however changed, than head into an unknown existence, however deeply believed in. That would be even truer if pain, disease and ignorance were abolished.

What do we need to do to ensure that the species succeeding us, and which will have many of our characteristics, is more fulfilled and happier than we are collectively today?

Fulfilment and happiness are the two basic criteria for a satisfactory life. But exhortation to behave better has a poor record of success since one rotten apple still contaminates the whole barrel.

The brilliance that led to the Industrial Revolution, then to Slave Liberation and more recently to the Communications Revolution must now lead to the Creative Revolution. That is the next intellectual step in man's existence. The human ability to think is still, for all its successes, hugely undeveloped.

Thought that has been channelled to enhancing and prolonging life must now be devoted to understanding what makes life worthwhile. In my next article, I shall explore how this might happen and what will be its effect on business.

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com.

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 07-Sep-2009

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