Technology for the World
This morning Nigel Warburton published a fantastic article titled “Cosmopolitans” in Aeon Magazine. Within it, he discusses how our nation typically defines us geographically, and our immediate social networks dominate our social thinking. He argues that as evolved social apes we tend to think on small social scales. Despite this, there is an ancient philosophical tradition, cosmopolitanism, which emphasizes that we think globally. Warburton believes that there is a high likelihood this philosophical tradition will predominate in the future.
I most certainly agree. As I have discussed before in The Ratchet within the context of “othering,” thinking of humanity as an equal and united whole is a philosophical view that is becoming increasingly popular.
Interestingly, in the last half of the 20th century, most astronauts embraced cosmopolitanism. As Mike Rugnetta of the PBS Idea Channel has pointed out, astronauts embrace this view because they are “bludgeoned with perspective.” They realize that we are one species, living on one planet when they gaze upon Earth from space. Alan Shephard, lunar module pilot for Apollo 9 explained this experience well:
When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change. It comes through you so powerfully that you are the sensing element for man.
But of course, we don’t need to go to space to adopt this philosophy and feel this way about our species and planet. In 1972 we all had access to The Blue Marble image, the first picture of our planet from space. And in 1990 we received The Pale Blue Dot image, a picture of our planet from 6 billion kilometers away, which put our existence into even deeper context. We can now all think and imagine our species to be globally connected, as opposed to being divided by borders, religions, and ethnicities. In fact, The Pale Blue Dot image is my favourite picture because it allows everyone to imagine this.
This philosophical view that we are all one species is translating into people creating technologies to help the world, as opposed to creating technologies for one group of people, or one nation of people. Peter Diamandis, co-creator of Singularity University is a great example of the potential practical application of this perspective. At Singularity University he challenges students to use modern information technologies to solve humanity’s grand challenges (e.g., scarce energy, clean water, access to medicine, etc.). The key point here is that individuals are creating technologies to improve the lives of everyone, our entire species.
The liberating possibilities for our species this decade are mind blowing. For example, Dean Kamen has developed the SlingShot, which is a water purification technology that can generate thousands of liters of clean water per day out of any liquid source. Dirty water, sludge, and salt water, can all be transformed into fresh and clean drinkable water. This technology will be distributed around the world this decade and potentially give all humans access to clean water.
Also, there is the Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize challenging teams around the world to create mobile devices that you can speak to, can cough on, do a finger blood prick with, and can diagnose anyone better than a team of board-certified doctors. In the future, we may all be able to have a mobile-sized “Watson-doctor” on our phones. These technologies should also diffuse throughout the world in the same way that cell phone technologies did throughout the developing world this past decade.
What does the world look like when everyone has access to clean water and world-class medical expertise?
These are but a few examples of how great thinkers are thinking about the health, safety, and welfare of people globally. We are going to be developing technologies that help everyone, not just a few, or the wealthy. We are one species. We are starting to think of ourselves in this way. The philosophy of cosmopolitanism is alive and well. And it has a very bright future.