At a recent lecture to Harvard alumni I was asked how long I expect our technological civilization to survive. My response was based on the fact that we usually find ourselves around the middle part of our lives, as originally argued by Richard Gott.
In the… likely case that we are currently witnessing the adulthood of our technological lifespan, we are likely to survive a few centuries but not much longer. After stating this statistical verdict publicly, I realized what a horrifying forecast it entails. But is our statistical fate inevitable?
There is a silver lining lurking in the background. It involves the possibility that we possess free will and can respond to deteriorating conditions by promoting a longer future than a few centuries. Wise public policy could mitigate the risk from technological catastrophes associated with climate change, self-inflicted pandemics or wars.
It is unclear whether our policy makers will actually respond to the challenges that lie ahead and save us from the above statistical verdict.
As Oscar Wilde noted: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. Here’s hoping for more of us looking up.