An international team of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute is exploring global threats to humanity and their predictions may surprise you.
Not on the list of likely dooms day threats are pandemics, natural disasters, asteroids, super-volcanic eruptions, nuclear war and even terrorist attacks. While all the above might cause catastrophic loss of life, humanity is likely to survive these risks because we have a track record of already doing so.
These scientists believe we are entering an era of synthetic biology, nanotechnology and machine intelligence that is hurling us into the territory of the unintended and unpredictable.
There are upsides with every new technology, but there are also risks, they say. This group believes we are developing and experimenting with things that could go wrong in profound ways.
Computer systems, artificial intelligence and powerful technologies must be examined carefully, note the researchers, because they could easily overtake our capacity to control possible consequences.
The Future of Humanity project is part of a trend toward focusing research on big questions. The institute was launched by the Oxford Martin School, which brings together academics from across different fields with the aim of tackling the most “pressing global challenges.” They argue in a research paper, Existential Risk as a Global Priority, that international policymakers must pay serious attention to the reality of species-obliterating risks.
At this year’s World Futures Society conference in Chicago, some 75 futurists discussed how colleges can better meet the needs of tomorrow’s students. Their starting point was research completed by Gensler which conducted a smartphone survey of 250 college students from more than 100 institutions. The study looked into the experiences and preferences of today’s students when it comes to campus spaces — classrooms, study areas, lecture halls and other gathering spots. Gensler’s Changing Course research found that most campus spaces are not working. Lecture halls received a 19% satisfaction rating.
With regard to space usage and design, the futurists recommended a focus on flexibility — where spaces and furniture allow for rapid adaptation and creative, collaborative experiences. The futurists also cited the need for gamification of learning and physical space, where learning is more fun and relevant (e.g. Studio 805, MIT Media Lab, 1871). Since technology is everywhere today, the futurists also advised campus designers to create spaces that provide learning opportunities that take advantage of the cloud environment and don’t feel too tech heavy.
We reported on the Mars One project a couple of issues back and wanted to update readers on its current status. The plan is still to send 4 colonists on a one-way trip to the Red Planet in 2022. And so far, 78,000 human Earthlings have applied as volunteers — 80% men and 20% women.
Bas Lansdorp, the CEO of Mars One, met with 50 Mars One applicants in early August at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to watch a screening of a new film, One Way Astronaut , available online as a pay-per-view. Lansdorp is hoping to find advertisers and sponsors for a global live reality TV show featuring the colonists, and use proceeds from the film to bank roll the project. In 2016, a communication satellite will be launched to circle Mars in support of subsequent missions. In 2018, a robotic rover will follow to search for the best location for a human settlement. Then, delivery of life support modules for human habitation will begin. A support team of robotic rovers will also be delivered to prepare the habitats for the human crew. The first colonists — 2 men and 2 women — will arrive on Mars in the spring, 2023. A second group will follow in 2025. And we’ll all be watching down here on Earth.
On the Horizon is curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group, email@example.com
- Fashion Just Got a Lot Cooler
At this year’s Wearable Technology Conference in San Francisco, the buzz wasn’t about Google Glass — so last year! It was about the latest in wearable technology — clothing and accessories that incorporate computers and electronics — and the industry surrounding it. Experts believe this sector could grow 500 percent in the next five years. You soon could be wearing synthetic pants that capture body heat to recharge your smartphone, ski goggles that track how much air time you got on your last jump, or pressure-sensing gloves that critique your golf swing. On the way: shirts that monitor your vital signs and mine data from your body then send it via phone, the cloud or the Internet; diapers with wet-sensors that signal parents’ smartphones when a change is necessary; and a product that waterproofs mini electronics and chips, enabling tech-laden clothing to be washable. (http://www.seriouswonder.com/wearable-technology-bend-it-wash-it-wear-it)
- The Future of Making Demystified at London Design Museum
Get hands on at this London museum (link to video below) and see how 3D printers and other technologies are going to change the future of manufacturing, and impact business supply chains and jobs on a global level. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/07/future-here-londons-design-museum?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/vi/newwaysofmaking)
- The Future of Digital Reading
According to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the future of digital reading, eReaders and tablets mark the beginning of a digital transformation of the book industry, but ebooks will not replace the printed book. “Technology may change rapidly, but people’s habits do not,” said researchers. “People will continue to want books to fill their shelves, give as gifts and place at their bedside.” Researchers found that a majority of consumers are still not aware of eReaders and ebooks, or have only vague ideas about them. The study predicted that prices for eReaders will fall, and tablets will take the place of printed magazines and newspapers, especially for men and young adults. They also expect that ebooks will achieve a market share of 22.5% of consumer books by 2015. (http://www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/entertainment-media/pdf/eBooks-Trends-Developments.pdf)