Tomorrow’s Technological Revolution

futureYesterday’s New York Times featured a refreshingly optimistic article discussing Raymond Kurzweil’s revolutionary vision of the future. A brilliant futurist and visionary, Dr. Kurzweil has predicted technological trends with remarkable accuracy, and he now offers a new set of equally bold predictions. Kurzweil suggests that in just five years, solar power will be cost-effective, and by 2050, immortality will be in our grasp. 

Consider how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. Just two decades ago, the World Wide Web was merely a gleam in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee, and most of the devices we take for granted today were in their infancy. The personal computer was largely a business tool with very limited uses, and socializing was a distinctly offline phenomenon. All of these things have changed, and in some ways the manner by which we conduct our daily lives today bears little semblance to how most of us lived not long ago.

Even the wildest soothsayers could not have foreseen that in 2008, 50 percent of the world’s population–3.3 billion people–would own a handheld device capable of communicating instantaneously with anybody, anywhere on the planet. The information age has empowered hundreds of millions of people living under otherwise despotic regimes to enter the public sphere and engage in political discourse, freed from the constraints of living in a low-tech world. And a whole new generation of youths living in the developing world is witnessing an explosion of prosperity and wealth creation comparable to what the United States experienced nearly a century ago.

Libertarians are often pessimistic about what the future holds, and for good reason. America’s political tides are as statist as they’ve been in recent memory; yet, despite all the taxation, oppression, and regulation that libertarians bemoan, global economic growth continues unabated. The forces of economic and political freedom are resilient, and the innate human drive to create new ideas cannot be smothered by the mere forces of statism.

The very problems that advocates of state intervention seek to alleviate–poverty, sickness, inequality–can all be solved by technological achievement. Modern medical marvels like Positron Emission Topography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging are no longer just experimental devices–they’re now available in nearly every hospital in the developed world. Cars are faster, safer, and more efficient than ever before, and the jumbo jet has made traveling across the globe affordable to consumers of modest means.

In light of the breakneck pace of technological evolution, the prospect of what tomorrow will bring certainly justifies optimism. To be sure, not all of Kurzweil’s predictions will hold true. Solar power may remain cost-prohibitive, and longevity may prove more challenging than is currently thought. But this does not mean technology will not change the world in revolutionary ways. For every achievement accurately predicted by present-day futurologists, another unforeseen invention will emerge that cannot even be conceived today.

The real question is not if Singularity will someday arrive, but when. CEI’s mission–advancing liberty, from ecology to the economy–isn’t just about defending ideal principles. It’s also about generating the optimal outcome for the human race. Onerous regulations, distortionary taxes, and infringements of individual liberties all threaten technological innovation, postponing the Singularity and, consequently, inflicting avoidable human suffering.