May 15, 2016


We're living in an age full of possibilities. So why do so many of us feel like losers? (Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna, 15 May 2016, The Guardian)

If you could choose to be reborn at any moment in history, you should choose right now.

Why? Take life expectancy. It has risen by more in the past 50 years than in the previous 1,000. Or take incomes. For the first time in history, poverty is declining amid rapid population growth. When the Berlin Wall fell, two-fifths of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Now it's one-eighth.

Or take education. In just over a generation, 3 billion more literate brains have joined the human race. And thanks largely to the rapid expansion of higher learning in China and India, the number of people alive now with an advanced degree exceeds the total number of degrees ever awarded prior to 1980.

With a few tragic exceptions, a child born almost anywhere today can expect to grow up healthier, wealthier and smarter than at any other time in history. And more connected, thanks principally to a quartet of big events: the end of the cold war; waves of democratisation across Latin America, much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; China's emergence from autarky; and, of central significance, the advent of the internet.

These conditions create an ideal habitat for ideas and genius to flourish, and that flourishing is well under way. The final reason why, if you could choose to be reborn at any moment in history, you should choose now, is that science and technology - jolted by humanity's sharp jump in cognitive resources - has never been closer to flipping our basic condition from scarcity to abundance.

Existing computing technologies already flood us with abundant data; quantum computing holds the promise of abundant information processing. Autonomous machines supply abundant routine work; one day, artificial intelligence may supply abundant cognition. Genetic medicine may offer pathways to abundant health. Materials science, synthetic biology and nanotechnology may soon yield abundant clean energy.

Our dense connectedness is helping to realise all these promises faster. In every field, from astronomy to zoology, discovery is now a 24/7 global effort. Meanwhile, outside the lab, millions more volunteers tackle thousands of giant-scale "citizen science" projects that would not otherwise be feasible: helping to map the 86bn neurons in the human brain, cataloguing Africa's fauna from millions of hours of camera footage, or sifting through petabytes of data from the Large Hadron Collider.

We live in a moment packed with new possibilities, and we've never been better equipped to seize them.

Posted by at May 15, 2016 8:58 AM