Ghost writers, synthetic drugs, fake news, cloning, artificial intelligence, drones, impossible meat, virtual reality. We live in an increasingly virtual world, ignoring the real world around us. Our friends are online, our research digital, even our food processed far beyond the dirt it came from. But the human mind is in a never-ending quest for the new, the provocative, the unreal. To be fair, we seek ways to improve our condition, and in so many ways, we have made great strides.
Taking a look back—on the cusp of 2020 no pun intended—the frontier of human innovation, copycat or otherwise, seems limitless given how far we’ve already come.
Take an example from the not-too-distant past. When my grandmother was born, she did not own an automobile, nor did most people. Even by 1927, less than a hundred years ago, Ford had produced only about 15,000,000 Model T automobiles, for a total US population of 119,035,000.
The invention of the automobile brought unintended changes with its global transformation of travel. Most of us now move heaven and earth, with the assistance of a handy app, fitbit or apple watch to accomplish the recommendation of over 4000 steps daily, which would have been easy for my grandmother. Most children walked to and from school daily. It is not far-fetched to blame the automobile in part for the obesity epidemic. Besides the human cost of health, the automobile has brought a nightmare of air pollution, and a tragic cost of human life due to accidents. If we knew what we know now, what would we have done differently?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my car, and I’m not eager to live without it. But all decisions have consequences. While it is impossible to see confidently into the future at the changes our innovations will make, we probably have a tendency to be more optomistic rather than pessimistic. And maybe to tell ourselves little white lies about our motivations.
I confess, I’m past the age of being on the cutting edge of innovation. I was born in 1958. My children and their children will make our future. But even today I am conscious of a responsibility to promote thoughtful discussions regarding the power we hold in our hands.
Artificial Intelligence is looming as the next game-changer. Perhaps the toothpaste is already out of the tube. Even so, it is never too late to ask important questions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.