From the big past to the future

Ian Morris turns his huge historical scope around, and aims it at the next century.

By 2100 we will see cities with 140 million people. Robots will wage war. Humans, whose bodies have changed more in the last 100 years than in the previous 100,000 will “transcend biology.”

The futurist Ray Kurzweil calls this merger of human and machine intelligence “the Singularity.” Morris suggests that something like that may create new ways of capturing energy, communicating, thinking, fighting, working, loving, aging, and reproducing.

Unless, he says, we never get there. The paradox of development is that it produces forces that can cause catastrophe, if not managed properly. Climate change, Morris says, may be the “ultimate example.” The very fossil fuels that propelled social development upward after 1800 are now causing global warming.

But like earlier periods of climate change, Morris predicts, “this one will not directly cause collapse.” The truly scary thing is how people might react to the weather. Climate change could unleash famine, enormous migrations, disease, and perhaps even nuclear war.

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