Emerging Technologies and the Dynamics of Change
I was eight years old the first time I considered the end of the world. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor sees a vision of a mushroom cloud and the explosion sets her alight. She is reduced to a skeleton on a playground. This idea that in a moment everything could change or end was so striking, it never quite left my mind.
Questions regarding the survival of our species used to be confined to religious debate or science fiction. Unsettling visions and predictions of the future have made their way to current policy issues. Humanity has reached a point in our story at which it is apparent that the decisions we make, the quality of our analysis and the skillfulness of our actions will have effects of grater magnitude than ever imagined.
The possibility of the extinction of or radical and fundamental change to life have, of course, coexisted with humankind since the beginning of time. Changes to climate or the impacts of asteroids, diseases, disasters and famine have radically altered the course of human history and lead to the extinction of many species.
What is new is our growing awareness of the risks we face and our ability to contribute to these changes. Even to the possibility of extinction-level events. Powerful emerging technologies, particularly in the areas of artificial intelligence, biotechnology and nanotechnology, pose questions that go beyond the boundaries of any traditional discipline.
A fragmented approach and specialization of knowledge make it difficult to see the full picture. The problems these questions address require a framework which can weave between and beyond different schools of thought and that can keep a connection among levels of analysis from the individual to the global.
Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) is one such framework that can be used to understand these complex problems. This allows for bridging the “hard” and “soft” sciences and keeps the human in the analysis and the spirit in the discussion. The central thesis of this site is that PCS can be used as an anchor for exploring these topics. The dynamics of change have always been the engine of growth and transformation but also of violence and conflict. Understanding these transformative forces and how they can be managed is essential for building an enduring peace.
Humans and our technologies have always coevolved. The domestication of fire was also externalization of a significant part of our digestive processes which overtime changed our anatomy. Fire increased the number of foods eaten and eventually led to storytelling circles, which became the foundations of our cultures and civilization.
These feedback loops between what humans are and what we create can be seen in material and nonmaterial technologies. Language and Twitter, agriculture and Whole Foods, religion and Facebook, standing armies and Starbucks all were created by humans in cooperation with each other and in turn have shaped human minds and societies. Developing a deeper and more nuanced understanding of these dynamics taking advantage of the possibilities provided by the PCS framework will bring us closer to bridging the present to the future.