Science fiction has rarely painted a pretty picture of the marriage between humans and technology in our future. In these far-away fantasy worlds, the story always seems to inevitably end up the same way. Technology ultimately undoing society and eroding humanity.
The human race either advances to the point of creating artificial intelligence that outsmarts and destroys us (James Cameron’s Terminator); or our unquenchable thirst for power, minerals and natural resources creates a barren, apocalyptic wasteland (George Miller’s Mad Max); or through our desire to use technology to alleviate us from having to do our basic everyday tasks, our identity is lost (Disney’s WALL-E).
"through our desire to use technology to alleviate us from having to do our basic everyday tasks, our identity is lost"
MAD MAX FURY ROAD © 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures
So, is the end nigh?
There are of course variations to these stark futuristic stories but the moral typically remains the same: if we rely too heavily on technology, it will destroy us. But in reality, technology may well be the thing that saves us from ourselves.
While there are varying predictions about the world’s population come 2050, most concur the number will be somewhere between 9.5 and 11 billion. And while those numbers are considerable, the most staggering prediction is that 75 per cent of our population will reside in urban areas.
There was a boom in urban planning post-World War II, when cities all over the world were designed to provide easily accessible public transport, health care, education and other day-to-day necessities. But over the course of 100 years (1950 - 2050), the population within these cities is anticipated to rise by 800 per cent. Individuals, families and businesses will have to accommodate to the limited space and reside in smaller areas. A huge amount of planning and innovation will be required to avoid cities descending into chaos. And technology has a huge part to play.
Imagine a city where the demand for natural resources was obsolete. A city where homes, buildings, hospitals, schools and public transport were all powered by solar, wind and other sustainable energies. A city where self-driving vehicles had all but eradicated fatal car accidents. A city where sensor lighting, heating and other electronics limit wasted energy consumption as they are only activated when needed. A society in which wearable devices monitored our health to help reduce disease through early detection and increased awareness of our activity levels. A day in the life of a ‘smart city citizen’ could look almost utopian, depending on your point of view of course.
"It shows a lot of things and it makes you laugh instantly, because you say, 'those things never came to pass!' But often times, it’s just because they over-thought it. The future is much simpler than you think."
HER © 2013 Warner Bros. Pictures
But the technologies mentioned above aren’t futuristic, in fact all of them are a reality right here in 2015. So what precisely does the future hold? It’s a fool’s game to guess really. When acclaimed director Spike Jonze appointed production designer KK Barrett to style the futurist world portrayed in the Academy Award winning ‘Her’, Barrett acknowledged the immense difficulty in creating a visual for technologies that don’t yet exist. Barrett immersed himself in reading popular futuristic fiction from his youth, but instead of using it as inspiration, Barrett used it as a reminder of what not to do.
In an interview with Wired, Barret said "It shows a lot of things and it makes you laugh instantly, because you say, 'those things never came to pass!' But often times, it's just because they over-thought it. The future is much simpler than you think."
the jetsons are © 1990-2015 hannabarbera
So while our childhood fantasies of flying cars, houses on the moon and hoverboards are probably unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon, this idea of simplicity is somewhat reassuring. As we make the transition from the information age into the connected age, there is an argument to be made that rather than destroy our humanity, technology is helping us sustain it. Think of Quicksilver powering its offices with the energy made by waves. Twitter and other social media giants helping to overturn dictatorships. Samsung enabling a father to experience his son's birth in realtime from 4,000kms away. Google giving voices to those who can’t speak. Mobile giants revolutionising the lives of the poor in Africa. There are many recent examples of technology being used to positively impact the world in significant and enduring ways.
Of course in the wrong hands, technology of any kind could have a devastatingly negative impact on society. But in the right hands, innovative technological development has the potential to minimise crime, disease, waste, environmental devastation and other destruction that we can't even yet imagine.
WallE © 2008 Disney Pixar
The future is bright, but it requires a tenacious appetite for innovation and forward-thinking for us to get there. But the time to start is now, after all, there is no time like the present to start creating the future we desire.