The future is here

By Razib Khan | January 17, 2012 12:26 pm

Believe it or not I am probably mildly skeptical about the possibilities for the 21st century as a canvas for human flourishing. That is one reason I like to emphasize the positive, because it is important for me to not get caught up in my own bias. Over the last two human generations (50 years) mean world life expectancy has gone from ~53 to ~69. This is easy for me forget concretely because I come from a relatively long lived family. Though all were born in British India and died in Bangladesh my grandparents lived to ages of 75, 100, 80, and 80. My grandparent who died at the age of 75 still lived 25 years longer than life expectancy in Bangladesh in the year he died.

Today I see a headline in The New York Times, Majority of Chinese Now Live in Cities. For some reason I was prompted to look up the Wikipedia entry for Shenzhen, a city of 350,000 in 1982, which is now at 10 million. The image below of Shenzhen captures for me the poignant banality of the future present. One the one hand it is nothing special, a typical “world city” skyline. But there is also an aspect redolent of the soft focus depictions of the cities of the future in the children’s books I would read in the 1980s. The photo is proof of nothing. Rather, it is an illustration of fact.


Image credit: Wikipedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
MORE ABOUT: Futurism, Shenzhen
  • Tex

    We are probably closer to doom than we might think.
    Look at the Doomsday Argument, it will be vaild for a lot of people. Since there is no possibilty of Space Migration, the number of humans who have ever lived will be finite. We are now at roughly 100 Billions. Its unlikely there will be another 100 Billion.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_argument

  • dave chamberlin

    I don’t buy the worst case scenario of the black swan arguments as a likely probability, but I do think the 21st century will be really rough for all those poor folks living in those parts of the world projected (by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to have rising food costs reach the average national income. We have one foot out of the Malthusian trap and the other sliding back in. It is a cold comment to state that if humanity is too stupid to voluntarily limit it’s population then it will be done by events we don’t control. Doom, no. Third world countries swept up into mayhem? We are on course for that. I’m not worried about China, it’s Africa and the Middle East where the shit is on a collision course with the proverbial fan.

  • Justin Giancola

    “That is one reason I
    like to emphasize the positive, because it is
    important for me to not get caught up in my own
    bias.”

    right on.

  • Insightful

    #2, in America the standard of living is declining as well. Wages have not kept pace since 1973, etc. This is real talk. Young adults and kids coming up behind them are not as likely to be as prosperous as your generation (baby boomers). If you have grandkids, their future (although still better than a third worlder) remains uncertain as well.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html Mustapha Mond

    Razib writes:
    “That is one reason I like to emphasize the positive”

    …and Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers sing:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7ofC_8v38s

  • Chris T

    1: One major problem with the Doomsday argument is definitional. What constitutes a human? Why only include humans and not all evolutionary ancestors or descendents?

    To me, the current general trend of life improving for people globally is likely to hold over the course of the century, but with plenty of noise. Basically we’ll do what we’ve always done – somehow muddle through.

  • Joseph

    #4, the supposed decline of American wages in recent decades has nothing to do with the conversation going on here. It may be, in your mind, part of the big scary picture of what’s to come, but it’s actually unrelated.

  • http://infoproc.blogspot.com steve hsu

    This wacky building is in Shenzhen (the outskirts), near BGI.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/01/futurismo.html

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html Mustapha Mond

    What’s so wacky about a cantilever?

  • Scott

    Mean life expectancy will plateau, but the variance around the mean will shrink.

  • Doug1

    David Chamberlin—

    I don’t buy the worst case scenario of the black swan arguments as a likely probability, but I do think the 21st century will be really rough for all those poor folks living in those parts of the world projected (by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to have rising food costs reach the average national income. We have one foot out of the Malthusian trap and the other sliding back in. It is a cold comment to state that if humanity is too stupid to voluntarily limit it’s population then it will be done by events we don’t control. Doom, no. Third world countries swept up into mayhem? We are on course for that. I’m not worried about China, it’s Africa and the Middle East where the shit is on a collision course with the proverbial fan.

    If the West withdrew its food and other aid to Africa now, there’d be tens of millions who’d starve or die from diseases and warfare exacerbated by malnutrition, over a period of time. Governments all over Europe are struggling to reduce their deficits and avoid piling on higher debt to GDP ratios, which GDP is seen to be growing slowly over and extended period, and to actually shrink there this year. We should be struggling to do that, but aren’t much yet.

  • Doug1

    Japan has almost a 200% debt to GDP ratio so it’s not going to be giving tons more aid to the third world.

  • dave chamberlin

    @Doug
    Debt ratio in the first world is one of the most important factors to prevent the third world starvation/chaos scenario which I believe is likely in the 21st century. But long term-big picture, believe it or not, I am an optimist. Most parts of the world have done a spectacularly good job of birth contol. Mexico in one generation has gone from 6 kids per couple to 2.3.(head on over to Hans Roslings http://www.gapminder. org for some spectacular statistical presentations) Long term- big picture I have to think that better brains got us to where we are and better brains will get us to where we are going. We may be only a century or less away from fixing stupid, a singularity scenario I am rooting for. We are going to have to be complete fuck ups to not increase peace, prosperity, and planned parenthood long term.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    The Doomsday Argument is only about births, not deaths. If we get radical life extension, society becomes one of youthful post-mortals, and the birth rate drops to near zero; that would actually fit the Doomsday Argument.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »