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  • Ian Wells

Q2: Are we smart enough at tech to save the world?

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Before attending the Christchurch NZ Singularity U, I hoped to get 9 questions answered. Here is my answer to Question 2

Q2: It hurts my head to think about planetary environmental limits at the same time as thinking about exponential tech growth. How do I reconcile the realities of exponential growth with hard planetary limits?

Answer: Despite the creativity and enthusiasm at the SingularityU,  I still don't get how to hold both world views in my head as the same time. Both futures are entirely plausible. But I suffer from cognitive dissonance when trying to hold the both world futures in my head at the same time. World 1 is the world of tech, World 2 is the real world - our planet and ecosystems.

In my world 1 of tech, I see us charging inevitably into this exponential future, riding the Moore’s Law curve up and to the right, faster and faster. This world future gives hope via our imagination and our amazing information-wrangling tools. This world future is unintuitive and to many, unexpected. Hence Singularity U education is so important The world of tech posits a future of abundance, not scarcity. And a rethink of many things part of our NZ life, such as jobs, food, and even the human condition. But this future is critically missing some things, like a decision making process ( who decides what tech we get?), a way to keep New Zealanders comfortable with such change (who exactly wants to change our lives?) and the lack of comprehensive human focused ethics in our tech ( what are the new human rights assumptions coded into these new systems?)

World 2 is the natural world. We are charging full bore into a future of inconvenient planetary limits, climate change, CO2 buildup, loss of biodiversity, loss of environmental health. People who have looked into planetary health and limits are deeply concerned about the world we are uncontrollably terraforming for our children. Agencies world wide have been working on these problems for decades. I am endlessly impressed with every person working on these issues because they are so hard and so important. Addressing climate change and similar planetary environmental limits is so hard in fact, this type of problem has its own name: “wicked problems”.

Is it possible to embrace the hope of exponential growth potential while avoiding the harsh reality of hard planetary limits? Could we in New Zealand build a future that that acknowledges best of both world futures? Perhaps there is a third option future that encompasses the hope of exponential information growth with the reality of our physical planetary limits.

World 1 makes me happy and motivated.

World 2 makes me sad and worried.

I, and many many others,  hope for ways to apply World 1 thinking to World 2 problems. The problem that the nature of solving World 1 problems is completely different than “solving” wicked problems of World 2, and that’s why the 2 worlds don’t fit.  There is no app for Climate Change, there is no app for loss of biodiversity. Something else is need. 

However there are intriguing areas of commonality.

More on this on my answer to Question 5

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