Some of you might recall that last December, Big Ideas aired a lecture by John Ibbitson about the collapse of the Laurentian consensus, a historical shift that is remaking the Canadian political landscape. His lecture then became a subject of a discussion on The Agenda, with the participation of Ibbitson himself, Preston Manning, Erna Paris, Andrew Coyne, and John Duffy:
This time the subject for the latest Big Ideas and The Agenda collaboration is the future; future with a capital ”F.” What happened to it? We used to embrace it. If you are a boomer, you still remember the time when the future was a good thing – a very good thing – indeed. We looked forward to it. Not so much today. Fears of global warming, anxiety about robots replacing jobs that used to be manned by flesh-and-blood people, suspicion of science telling us what we don’t want to know, and discomfort with ever-accelerating speeds of change have taken a toll on our collective optimism. Complexity abounds without a good solution in sight.
Enter Robert J. Sawyer, Canada’s best-selling science fiction writer. He accepted an invitation from Big Ideas and the Literary Review of Canada to deliver a lecture about what makes him optimistic about the future. (His talk will air this Saturday and Sunday at 5:00 p.m.) The title of Sawyer's talk is "Humanity 2.0." Another title that could explain the intention behind the lecture could be "Transhumanism for Humanists;" Sawyer attempts to persuade those who have lost their optimism not to be frightened of the future.
In his lecture, Sawyer outlines a world in which we will live much, much longer; some perhaps forever. Artificial intelligence will engineer the world around us, our bodies will be full of wires and chips, or our consciousness will reside in humanoid machines while abundance will reign supreme.
To discuss Robert Sawyer’s views about progress, technology, and the future, The Agenda invited Jesse Hirsh, Madeline Ashby, and James Hughes on the program, along with Sawyer. If everything goes according to plan – I’m writing this before the taping – the panel will have dealt with some of the long list of themes below:
Do we still believe in progress? And, if so, are we willing to pay the price? Is there a better world to hope for? We believed in one through much of human history. Whether we had faith in salvation, or secular hope for equality and justice to become reality, we have believed that there was something in the future worth struggling and hoping for; is this still the case? Do we trust technology to take us there? Do we want to go where technology is taking us? Are we prepared for a future world in which an individual consciousness will be digitizable, copyable, uploadable, and eternal? One in which we'll learn to live in harmony – let us hope – with humanoid machines smarter than us?
For those who do not cherish the idea of a cyborgian future, can they opt for futures in which humans would not need or want to deepen our dependence on machines, nor have to live interminably? How many of us want for progress to stop, or even be reversed? How many think that technological progress that results in nuclear power, decimation of nature, and morality pills for those who are found genetically disadvantaged in the empathy department, are not ideas worth championing? Do we have a choice? If not, how do we then embrace, or at least prepare, ourselves for a cyborgian future?