Futurist Thomas Frey: A thousand years from now, what is it that the human race will need to have accomplished?
Yes, I realize that this is a huge question and many of you reading this are living paycheck-to-paycheck worrying about who’s going to win the big game this weekend. But if we don’t begin to frame our role of humanity inside a much bigger picture, we are likely to remain in sputter-mode until we eventually do.
I’ll apologize in advance to my Star Trek friends, but the show’s creators missed it completely. Star Fleet’s so-called Prime Directive, their over arching rule of non-interference with other civilizations, is more of a “prime restrictive” than a “prime directive,” and will rank no higher than a sub-point of a sub-point in the future rules of the universe if we ever decide to go down that path.
For decades we’ve been attempting to solve past problems, and it’s easy to become sun-blinded with problems as everywhere we look we see more of them. Cancer, tornadoes, floods, wars, and famine are all reoccurring themes sucking up all our attention.
However, this backward-facing preoccupation we have with problem solving leaves little attention to be paid to the question, “where do we go from here?” Our whack-a-mole approach of beating problems over the head, only to find them springing up again in a different place, has left us in an endless loop.
For this reason I’d like to propose we create a real Prime Directive for all of humanity.
Undoing the Damage Done by Hollywood and TV News
The average person on the street is afraid of the future.
If you ask them about the world ahead, most will instantly jump to topics of disease, war, famine, and natural disasters. At least that’s what they’re willing to talk about.
However, what’s really playing in the back of their heads are the vivid disaster scenes from recent movies that make the twin towers falling on 9/11 seem like a distant blip on their disaster radar.
Witnessing catastrophes like this in full 3D surround-sound intensity has a way of creating indelible imprints on our personality, imprints that are seething with paranoia.
Yes, I still like to be entertained like everyone else, but at what point do we cross the line? At what point does our entertainment blatantly distort the truth in a way that can be harmful to those watching?
As an example, many young people today believe:
- …they can jump out of a car going 40-50 mph, roll a few times, and they’ll be fine.
- …they can punch each other repeatedly in the face and cause no significant damage.
- …someone can get shot once or twice, shrug it off, and keep going.
- …the world is clearly divided between good people and bad people, and its easy to tell them apart.
- …corporations are evil, government is corrupt, and whatever you do is okay as long as you have the right intentions.
Since Hollywood is always looking for people to cast as villains to make their plots more interesting, they’ve also determined that casting the future as evil and foreboding also makes the plots more interesting.
While there are many potential dangers lurking ahead, and many things will indeed go wrong, our near-total obsession with only portraying the dark side of the future leaves us with little understanding of what the upside could be.
Being risk averse is not necessarily bad, but being future averse is.
Framing the Question
Let’s start with one possible scenario: Twenty years from now, the online world has enabled us to live in a far more efficient world, and the amount of money we spend on transportation, energy, education, healthcare, housing, and food drops by 50%. This dropping of expenses frees up tremendous amounts of money that can be spent in other ways.
If we suddenly find ourselves with significantly more money, in what ways should we invest this money to make the world a better place?
Once again, what is our Prime Directive? What are the big things that still need to be accomplished?
Since we currently don’t have any type of established goals or directions for humanity, most of this money will likely be squandered.
Creating the Prime Directive
So what would a “Prime Directive” actually look like?
Since this hasn’t been done before, at least not on any official scale, the effort we begin with will look very crude in comparison to what we end up with.
That said, I envision this to be a fluid guideline, updated periodically, to help focus resources and efforts today around building a better future.
As a starting point, a Prime Directive may include such things as:
- Create inexhaustible supplies of food, water, and breathable air
- Colonize other planets
- Reduce all health issues to something as simple as applying a Band-Aide
- Extend human life indefinitely
- Uncover unlimited sources of renewable energy
- Continually increase the intelligence of humankind
- Find better ways to protect people from natural disasters
- Harness the forces of nature for the betterment of humanity
For those of you reading this, please take a moment to add, subtract, or edit ideas on this list in the comment section below.
Rather than living in a world with people fighting people, the true battles that lie ahead will test us on every conceivable level. On the grandest of scales, we will find ourselves confronted with forces larger than our entire solar system, and on the tiniest of scales, nanotechnology and sub-atomic particles will confound us with challenges we never dreamed could exist. These battles will require far more than brilliant minds, personal tenacity, and military might.
People of tomorrow will need to be prepared for a higher calling. This higher calling will be to pre-empt crises before they occur, anticipate disasters before they happen, and solve some of mankind’s greatest problems, starting with the problem of our own ignorance.
Much like a person walking through a dark forest with a flashlight that illuminates but a short distance ahead, each step forward gives us a new perspective by adding light to what was previously dark. The people of tomorrow will simply need a better flashlight.
Until now, ours has been a dance with the ordinary. History shows us that we are immersed in cycles, systems, and patterns that repeat again and again. Tomorrow’s history books will show us that all patterns are made to be broken, all cycles waiting to be transformed.
Higher education will need to position itself on the bleeding edge of what comes next. We will always need systems for looking backwards to understand where we have come from, but a new breed of visionaries, bestowed with unusual tools for preempting disasters, are destined to become our most esteemed professionals.
Life in the future will not be easy, nor should it be.
Perhaps a simpler way of stating our Prime Directive would be like this: “Preparing humanity for worlds unknown, preparing our minds for thoughts unthinkable, and preparing our resolve for struggles unimaginable.”
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything