Never, ever bet against progress
Humans are relatively young creatures in the context of our earth and the universe. Homo sapiens has been in existence for 300 000 years, which is minuscule considering that the earth is over 4,5 billion years old. But notwithstanding our youthful existence, humans have achieved incredible progress in all walks of life.
A person travelling back in time to the turn of the 20th century would find that some of richest men on earth such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, JP Morgan or JD Rockefeller did not have even the most ‘basic’ resources: penicillin, commercial flights, Internet, computers and mobile phones. The average human in the developed world lives a life that is superior, longer and healthier than many kings, emperors and chiefs in history. Humans have in time triumphed over some of the greatest threats facing our species, such as war, disease and famine.
It is often said that new technology is nearly indistinguishable from magic. The first mobile phone, commercial flight and computer all arrived with no real fanfare. Yet, centuries on these are just some of the inventions that went on to change how we perceive the world, how we gather information and how we interact as human beings. We are a myopic species and we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on our immediate problems. We find ourselves overwhelmed by geopolitics, economics and environmental issues without realising that we are more informed than ever before given the access of information we now have access to. Our ancestors certainly led much simpler lives.
Without being flippant or dismissing any of our material challenges, our immense progress in the background has largely been ignored, or worse, met with a degree of nonchalance. The sheer scale of our technological advancement would have marvelled the ancient Greeks or Aztecs. For instance, there is now more computing power in the average smartphone than that which was required to put a man on the moon in the 1960s, a mere 60 years ago. Our quantum leap in technological advancement means we can now realistically explore manned flights to Mars (Space X), autonomous vehicles (Waymo/Tesla), immortality (Calico) and sentient artificial intelligence (all the major tech firms).
Our ever-expanding technological expertise provides strong momentum and a myriad of solutions that will enable us to tackle our greatest problems going forward. That said, we need to step back more broadly and analyse our problems through the lens of our technological capability. Furthermore, we need to be bold and seek to address the seemingly impossible challenges that we face. This is a call to dream bigger and to bet that we as a species can keep advancing.
Our focus should be on promoting and investing in new technology to improve our lives in a meaningful way. The challenge of taking us forward lies with each one of us, our organisations, our ideas and our ventures. Pessimism always sounds smarter, but optimism for the future and progress as a species certainly seems like a smarter bet.