- Society today needs greater attention to the long-term fate of human civilization. Important present-day decisions can affect what happens millions, billions, or trillions of years into the future. The long-term effects may be the most important factor for present-day decisions and must be taken into account. An international group of 14 scholars calls for the dedicated study of “long-term trajectories of human civilization” in order to understand long-term outcomes and inform decision-making. This new approach is presented in the academic journal Foresight, where the scholars have made an initial evaluation of potential long-term trajectories and their present-day societal importance.
“Human civilization could end up going in radically different directions, for better or for worse. What we do today could affect the outcome. It is vital that we understand possible long-term trajectories and set policy accordingly. The stakes are quite literally astronomical,” says lead author Dr. Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a non-profit think tank in the US.
The scholars find that status quo trajectories are unlikely to persist over the long-term. Whether humanity succumbs to catastrophe or achieves a more positive trajectory depends on what people do today.
“In order to succeed it is important to have a plan. Long-term success of humanity depends on our ability to foresee problems and to plan accordingly,” says co-author Roman Yampolskiy, Associate Professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science at University of Louisville. “Unfortunately, very little research looks at the long-term prospects for human civilization. In this work, we identify some likely challenges to long-term human flourishing and analyze their potential impact. This is an important step toward successfully navigating such challenges and ensuring a thriving future for humanity.”
The scholars emphasize the enormous scales of the long-term future. Depending on one’s ethical perspective, the long-term trajectories of human civilization can be a crucial factor in present-day decision-making.
“The future is potentially exceedingly vast and long,” says co-author Anders Sandberg, Senior Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at University of Oxford. “We are in a sense at the dawn of history, which is a surprisingly powerful position. Our choices – or lack of decisions – will strongly shape which trajectory humanity will follow. Understanding what possible trajectories there are and what value they hold is the first step towards formulating strategies for our species.”