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Stranger Than Science Fiction


The World Future Society's annual conference takes a brave look at the culture of tomorrow
 

In a time when most of us are barely keeping up with the present, trying to predict the future might seem like a pastime best left to sci-fi writers. But for the more than nine hundred would-be seers who gathered in Washington, DC, for the World Future Society's July 2004 conference, Creating the Future Now, gazing into our collective crystal ball is serious business. Now in its thirty-fourth year, the annual weekend conference has become a kind of reunion and cross-pollination point for that emerging breed of visionaries, "social architects," "whole systems thinkers," "global change-makers," and good ol' fashioned futurists who have dedicated themselves to helping humanity chart its course into an increasingly unpredictable tomorrow. And to quote Ray Kurzweil quoting Aldous Huxley in the opening plenary, it will indeed be a "brave new world." With animal-free "meat factories" (growing cloned muscle tissue) already in the early planning stages, silicon chips to boost brain power just around the corner, and the promise of eternal (physical) life only decades away, it seems that reality may soon be stranger than even science fiction.

Are human beings ready for that much change? Do we have the moral and ethical foundation to deal with the coming biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence revolutions that will rapidly transform the very definition of what it means to be human? Although such questions were not quite given their due that muggy July weekend, one thing Kurzweil and others did make clear is that hitting our technological brakes is probably not an option, as the very technologies we fear the most are also those from which we have the most to gain. Which leaves the imperative squarely on us to make sure that the values guiding the implementation of those technologies are those born of the better angels of our nature. Now, more than ever, the future is indeed in our hands.



–Craig Hamilton


 

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October–December 2004