Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Luckiest Generation


            It’s not something you’re necessarily conscious of, but to me it’s incredibly significant: our generation, on average, is living better than any of our predecessors in human history. Better is a difficult word to quantify, but essentially we have more advanced technology, we can afford more goods and services, and we have access to more information.
            It’s strange to think that, despite not knowing how my life will turn out yet, I do know that on average, I’ll be making more (inflation-adjusted) money than my parents did. This is not something that is unique to our generation, however. Over the past 150 or so years, the amount of things people can buy has steadily increased year after year. With that information, it’s reasonable to assume that my children will make more than me as well. Yet even if that’s true, I can’t help but think that our generation might be the luckiest generation—not just so far, but period.
            There are a couple aspects that lead me to believe that. The first has to do with our planet. The state of planet Earth at this period in time is one that is on the edge of plummeting into a dirty, barren, industry-ridden expanse of depressing landscapes and unhealthy living conditions. We are milking the planet dry, and whether we choose to acknowledge it, many of its precious resources are running scarce. We are living at the time when we can continue to neglect this reality for a little while longer, but the generation after us may not be able to do the same thing.
            The next big part for me is the technology we have available to us. Scientific and computational breakthroughs are commonplace in this age. We just keep making everything better or faster or more convenient or more efficient. This trajectory is showing no signs of slowing, which worries me. I don’t mean to sound like a science-fiction writer, but the capabilities of technology are beginning to scare me. I’m not saying we’re close to being killed off by robots; I’m saying technology is getting to the point where, in the wrong hands, it could start to get dangerous. Massive companies like Google are acquiring so much information about people and the world that we don’t even realize what implications that might have. Here’s a more concrete example. Unmanned drones: capable of killing off a village without a human ever being placed in harm’s way. These kinds of machines show us that technology isn’t just something that enhances the human race, it’s something that has the potential to damage it as well.
            Right now, I’m able to make a prediction about the advent of these situations arising. I’m not sure that my children’s generation will be able to do the same thing. I believe that towards the end of my lifetime, what I have expressed here will start to become a reality, and the generation that will be faced with dealing with it is theirs. Bad things are happening in the world today, but they don’t compare with the past, and they won’t compare with the future either. That’s why I consider us to be the luckiest generation.