In most instances, humanity’s most imminent challenges have traditionally been of a theoretical and moral nature. We’re all familiar with ‘thoughts experiments’, which requires us to consider the unfortunate consequences of our actions. Science fiction has been of great help here, too, providing creative philosophical prompts of what could be if we embrace transformational technologies, such as the techno-paradox of complete annellation of mankind, or an Earth-like planet that is inaccessible to ‘visitors’.
Such preconceived distend assists society in defining how we invent for the future. I believe ‘our’ science fiction narratives begin not with the pursuit of individual rights or individual freedoms, but with a vision for the collective good. Such narratives give society metaphors of doing good, but which are accompanied by dystopian post-apocalyptic scenarios that illustrate the dangers technological advancements poses to not only humanity in general, tomorrow, but to society today as well.
It is argued that dystopian science fiction narratives are not an either-or proposition. While many of these narratives deal with the ideas that are too future-heavy to implement immediately or even in the near future, there are however other kinds of science fiction narratives that nonetheless offer insights into the present, and even show us ways to envision better futures for humanity.
Some call these envisions ‘automated futures’.
The past is very seldom, far behind our notions of the future, and if the past has shown me anything it’s that the most imminent of future challenges are those society tends to overlook most often. As a result, society may just not have the perspective (or the foresight) to thoroughly see the forthcoming challenges nor the imagination to invent the types of technologies that will allow us to (re)solve them, (on time).
Mankind’s envisioned dystopia can however foster a forward-looking utopian society, and thus begin working towards solving problems of the future, by applying ingenuity to create the technologies that could make a better life possible. The past has been a potential graveyard of utopian schemes, but recent scientific and computing breakthroughs suggest society is perhaps witnessing a revival of some sort.
In that revival, two supplementary categories emerge; one is a reactionary utopian — from those who seek to recover an imagined idealistic past in the hopes of a better future — and the other is a progressive utopian — who seek to create a completely new future:
(I) Reactionary utopians often feel that humanity is ‘on a path to ruin’ but that it is ‘not too late to do something about it, and change course’.
(II) Progressives, in contrast, point to the many possible ways forward for humanity; they see hope in humanity’s resilience, possibility, originality, and creativity, where they define that our future, not only as a society, but as mankind too, should not be one of ‘unfettered’ technological advancements or business as usual.
Such utopian perspectives do not however address many of the challenges of our world today, nor of tomorrow. I believe these perspectives are simply an outgrowth of what is sometimes referred to as ‘awesome potential’ — the ‘hegemony of technological rationality’ that allows society to imagine and develop transformational technologies to attain the things that it desires. These two diverging approaches (or perspectives) to utopia, reactionary and progressive, may nonetheless have insurmountable consequences for society, hence a likelihood occurrence of a utopian dystopia.
A utopian dystopia suggests that society’s mirage to meet challenges of the future by depending on technical ingenuity alone may prove to be far more of a threat to the future of mankind. A tendency towards technocratic rationality, with the active employment of technology to solve every issue in society, may eventually prove to be the root cause of an impending dystopia. Hence, I believe, and from my perspective, that if society tries to address the challenges of the future without a deeper understanding of human nature, its future is probably in jeopardy.
What, then, can we do to prevent the occurrence of this dystopian future?
Humans are often still portrayed as consumers of technology. Yet, more often than not, the quest for social justice seems to be the truest barometer of humanity’s possible future. As society progresses towards an automated future, so too could our ingenuity be our downfall. If society loses the ability to acknowledge its rich cultures and heritage are worth maintaining for generations to come, we risk succumbing to the lure of ‘technocratic determinism’, as practiced by today’s ‘utopian’ dictatorships — but ensuring that human nature is better understood so that we can attain the type of society we want to live in, may reveal what could be.
Furthermore, I believe if we choose to ignore the importance of human nature and replace it with a naïve ‘utopian’ mindset , we may consequently give in to a mechanical world. Yes, technology may help reduce inequality, among its many benefits for society, but it is not a ‘panacea’. Society will need social consciousness if we ought to survive the rapid transformational inventions that await us. For reference; while smartphones and social media helps us out in our every day lives, and in lots of ways, they may also lead to rapid economic polarization if we continue to be indifferent to the needs of our fellow human beings.
Social awareness and empathy are two qualities that I believe should not be taken for granted in our coming age of automation.
If society fails to do so, we may face a bleak future.