Some of the biggest societal and existential concerns going forward and trying to solve them.
The three future worries I’m going to discuss this week are:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Climate Change/Environmental damage
There are associated issues that simultaneously exist alongside and/or as a result of the aforementioned which are, but are not limited to; energy crisis, food sources, employment and inflation.
However, this isn’t going to be a massive lecture with a morally condescending pointed finger nor a stat-riddled snooze fest. No, I feel what needs discerning, emphasising and what ultimate all of the above fall under, is macro-level and micro-level problems – individual responsibility and societal-level concerns. The approach and appraisal of the problems is just as important as action, but everyone wants to skip steps and then wonder why we’re all suffering salmonella from underdone chicken.
“I don’t have Putin’s direct line to call him up and say, ‘please don’t use your nuclear weapons’ – I don’t even speak Russian.”
The above is obviously a tongue-in-cheek example, but it’s very easy for individuals to feel powerless when it comes to affecting grand-scale problems. Essentially, this is why we have democratically elected representatives, who we’ve delegated responsibility to govern in our place. This, however, does not assuage our own individual responsibility through direct and indirect actions. Although, animosity and anxiety directed towards governments, organisations and corporations for poor, wrong or inaction is at an all-time high.
“A good question to ask is: Just what am I responsible for? And to whom?”
I think it’s easy for people nowadays to get caught up trying to do too many things or too much and thus either result in indecision/doing nothing or they are overwhelmed and anxious and unable to cope. What’s required is to reduce your scope and reduce your damn burden until it’s manageable. You take care of what is immediately affecting you and then you move outward. Paying for your mum’s cancer treatment I imagine would take precedence over putting solar panels on your roof. Working out how to leave your soul-destroying job and where to go and yet still make rent/mortgage payments, Mr Zuckerberg & Co’s invasion into your life kind of takes a backseat. Maybe spending more time with your partner than keeping up with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war might be a good thing for your relationship.
“Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” – Morpheus, The Matrix
AI does many wonderful things for us, but not all are “The Keymaker” and some are “The Merovingian”, but thankfully there are usually enough “Seraphs” to keep us safe. Enough with The Matrix analogies, AI is being used in new and innovative ways to invade our privacy and with surveillance – just how much security, protection and monitoring do we need? In a number of areas the technology is advancing faster than our understanding to regulate and put safeguards in. Our ethical considerations are being encoded into these AI systems so we best get them right. AI is also coming for a lot of people’s jobs especially in hospitality, retail and logistics with automation set to put millions out of work in the coming years – and no, it’s not as simple as “we’ll just retrain them” as they like to make it out to be. Will your driverless car kill you instead of running down a group of children? How long before we’re not even allowed to drive cars?
Moving on to the issue of Climate Change, the one thing I find that makes it unhelpful in getting the point across is that it’s a bit vague and broad/all-encompassing. I always try and specify what environmental damage or event is occurring; soil/vegetation/deforestation (insert area), coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, rising sea levels due to polar ice caps melting, carbon emissions increasing global air temperatures etc. I return to my earlier point about appropriate approach and appraisal and not just (wanting) action. Shouting “I want climate change action”, either online or in the street, may win you brownie points with your friends or on social media, but in reality it doesn’t achieve as much as contacting your local MP or discussing with your boss or better yet, what you can do around your own home. Are you recycling and “green” wasting what you can? Are you minimising your water wastage and electricity use? Is your house and surrounding area fire safe? It’s not about living like a caveman, just control what you can control. If it’s further up the chain, find the appropriate authority and get in contact with them. It may not be as immediately emotionally satisfying, but it’s far more practical. Our food and water sources are being greatly affected by these shifts, along with our energy supplies…which brings us to….
The nuclear question, both in terms of an energy source and as a weapon of war, is a double-edge sword. It has the capability of providing huge amounts of power from a limited resource (unlike comparative energy sources) while maintaining the possibility of the complete annihilation of the human race along with catastrophic environmental damage for thousands of years. So, the choice is yours ladies and gentlemen! It’s a lot like comparing a car crash and a plane crash, yes one happens a lot less frequently, but when it does go wrong the impact is far greater. Approximately one third of the world’s energy requirements is taken care of by nuclear energy and a significant amount of Europe’s needs are provided by Russia – who is not really most people’s friend right now (I explored the ethical dilemmas in our trading partners in more depth here). The main issues have always been what to do with the waste and that the reactors take so long to build, usually going over budget. Also, take the recent AUKUS nuclear submarine deal between the US, UK and AUS which is set to cost us $368bn until we can start making our own by 2040 (allegedly). We’ll be having ex-US subs in the region of China…and I’m not entirely sure how well that’s going to go down with our major trading partner.
Ethical issues are aplenty, on the micro and macro levels, but a good general rule is that daily routines are usually more important than large-scale changes. It’s like a gym session – you don’t bench press 150kg first go – and if you tried I guaranteed you’d give up and go back to your ways. Now, this is fine on an individual level, but what’s the point in being an avid recycler if your local council combines it all in one rubbish tip?
I don’t know if it was by chance, but I was, ironically, writing this to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds. The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one…but what are our chance of getting to Mars? In the spirit of man there must something worth living, fighting and even worth dying for. In the event of nuclear war we’ll start all over again in a brave new world underground.
What can I do? You can ask that question despairingly or courageously. The answer lies in the integrity of the individual.