1. How Did We Get Here?
2. Accelerating Innovation
3. A Blind Spot on the Future
4. Where Are We Headed?
5. Facing Reality
6. A Blossoming of Consciousness
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All my life I’ve been fascinated by exponential growth. I first came across it in my math classes at high school and was immediately struck by its implications. The curve of exponential growth not only gets steeper and steeper, it does so forever, leading to mindboggling results. A dollar invested at 10 per cent compound interest per year, would be worth $2.50 after 10 years, $117 after 50 years, and $13,781 after a hundred years. A startling amount. Startling because the human mind finds it difficult to think in terms of exponential change; we are much more accustomed to steady linear change.
I was also keenly interested in the long-term future. Looking at human civilization, I saw that a number of factors were subject to exponential growth—technological development, resource consumption, national economies. If they continued to grow exponentially—and there was every reason to assume they would—we would eventually arrive at situations way beyond what is possible. My teenage mind argued that since “impossible” situations don’t occur, humanity would, sooner or later, experience some major disruptions, and probably within my own lifetime. And now, 60 years later, here we are, facing the catastrophic consequences of unbridled exponential growth.
Recent reports suggest we are in the early stages of the sixth major mass extinction in Earth’s history—this time caused by one of the planet’s own species, rather than by an asteroid impact—and if we don’t change our ways radically, and fast, then we, along with many other species, will become extinct in a century or so. And it is our own fault.
At least, that is the story we usually hear. Here, I propose a new story of human evolution—not the kind of new story that many people are calling for in which personal and social transformation help us avoid major cataclysms and move on to more sustainable ways of living, ensuring our survival. In this radically different new story, there is no long-term future ahead of us.
We are coming to the natural conclusion of our species’ journey, spinning faster and faster into the center of an evolutionary spiral. And, as I will explain, there is no blame for this. It is the inevitable destiny of any intelligent technologically-empowered species.
On the other hand, continued exponential growth means that equivalent amounts of progress will be packed into shorter and shorter intervals. Thus this alternative story does not preclude our achieving as much development in the decades ahead as there has been in the whole of human history so far.