Optimism: A Driving Force of Human Evolution

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No, it’s not your imagination. The pace of change is quickening as technological innovations are happening more rapidly. Every new innovation is the result of a combination of previous advances, so progress accelerates as we have more innovations to work with, more creative minds to work with them, and more efficient ways for those creative minds to interact with each other. This means both the quantity and the quality of innovations grow at a combinatorial rate, which is even faster than the exponential progress of computer technology driven by Moore’s Law.
It’s enough to stress you out and make you a little nuts.
girl in field of flowersBut there’s a sunnier side to this go-go-go mentality. And the rapid pace of technological progress. Innovations solve problems and satisfy human desires. Because of technology, fewer people die from disease or hunger; problems, mistakes, and natural disasters are easier to deal with, comfort and leisure time has increased; life spans grow. And these benefits are dispersed throughout the human population. This is truly a marvelous time to be alive, and it is our technology that has brought us to this point. Far from “de-humanizing” us, new technologies free us to be more human—more empathetic, more caring, more joyful, more socially connected with those around us.
Undoubtedly, some people look at the marvels of technology and see only disaster looming. Many of us are predisposed to pay more attention to bad news than to good. If evolution has taught us one thing well, it is that survival depends on being cautious. So in our minds, dangers often register much more vividly than benefits.
But, history has not been kind to pessimists. There have been a large number of them over the years because it isn’t difficult to earn fame and fortune by peddling a compellingly pessimistic view. But none of these pessimists has ever been right, or even close to right. Neither Thomas Robert Malthus nor Paul Ehrlich; who both predicted world starvation. Not Karl Marx, who predicted world revolution. Try to think of a single novelist, philosopher or futurist whose dystopian predictions about the future have actually come true, or even come close to coming true. There aren’t any.
Yes, technology can create problems, but new innovations seem to solve the problems caused by earlier iterations long before they lead to societal disaster, whether these problems arise from a shortage of resources, or a concentration of power and wealth, or environmental destruction.
But while we are optimistic about technology, and properly so, we are not utopians. Human beings will always improve things, solving problems, having new ideas, and creating new wealth. For human society there is no such thing as utopia in the sense of a “perfect” society that can get no better.

This piece originally appeared in the e-book, The Technology of Us. Click here to learn more and download a copy.


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