Chapter 98

The Future of Humanity

NICK BOSTROM

The future of humanity has traditionally been a theological topic. All the major religions have teachings about the ultimate destiny of humanity or the end of the world. Eschatological themes have also been explored by philosophers, including Hegel, Kant and Marx. Science fiction authors, too, have had plenty to say on the subject. Very often, the future has served as a projection screen for our hopes and fears, for entertaining drama, morality tales, and reflections of tendencies in contemporary society. Only rarely is humanity’s future taken seriously as a subject matter on which it is important to try to have factually correct beliefs.

Most important differences between ourselves and our forebears are ultimately related to technology. In the early days of our species, technological progress was slow. Tens of thousands of years would pass without much accumulation. Only within the last couple of hundred years could a person expect to experience significant technological change within her lifetime. Inventor and writer Ray Kurzweil argues that technological development is still accelerating. On the basis of exponential trends in a number of high-tech areas, he predicts a technological “singularity” before the middle of this century (Kurzweil 2005).

Technology in a wide sense (including not only gadgets but also methods, techniques and institution design principles) is the fundamental cause of long-term economic growth. Economic growth ...

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