Posts Tagged ‘Turing lecture’

The T-Generation: can techno-cathedral builders save the planet?

February 21, 2008

Forget the Google generation of today’s teenage social networkers and YouTubers – the future really belongs to the cathedral builders of the recently born Transition Generation. According to Professor James Martin, a futurologist from the University of Oxford, the planet’s future rests on their young shoulders.

Speaking at the British Computer Society’s annual Turing lecture on Tuesday evening, Martin outlined his view of the large-scale problems facing the world in the 21st century and the potential technological solutions. A jammed pack audience heard how the T-Generation will have to be prepared to undertake a series of enormous social, economic and technological changes in order to develop a society which practices what Martin calls ‘eco-affluence’ i.e. one in which people enjoy a good standard of living and a worthwhile life without damaging the environment. This will involve them in enormous projects, many of which, like the church builders of the medieval age, will often take more than one person’s lifetime. They will be digital and eco-technological cathedral builders.

The talk was preceded by the first showing of a film that Martin is the process of making called ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’. This proved to be a devastating, and deeply green, analysis of the world’s problems along the lines of Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’. The film includes a chilling interview with James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory of earth ecology, who argues that the rapidly melting arctic ice shows we have reached the “point of no return” with regard to climate change. Lovelock calculates that, as far as food production is concerned, the carrying capacity of the planet will be reduced to around 500 million humans by end of the century. There are currently more than 6 billion of us.

What are the solutions? This is where I thought things started to go a little awry. There was a long list of what are rapidly becoming the usual suspects: light-weight hydrogen powered cars, solar and wind energy, hydroponics, fusion power, synthetic biology, genetically engineered crops and astonishing new developments in computer technology and data bandwidth.

Although many of these solutions are interesting and promising I thought there was something missing in his analysis. Old fashioned and deeply human things like personal greed, the brittleness of economic systems, general ignorance, vested interests and political weakness are all getting in the way.

And there in lies the true problem. We may have the scientific knowledge and the technology to move to a society based on eco-affluence, but are we capable of making the human investment? After seeing his film one is left deeply wishing the T-Gen all the luck in the world.

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