The future


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The view towards Milano Centrale station down via Vittor Pisani during lockdown, 29 March 2020. Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket/Getty

Essay/
Engineering
Uncertain times

The pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity – seeing human society as a complex system opens a better future for us all

Jessica Flack & Melanie Mitchell

Aerial view of the Apollo 9 space vehicle on the way from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center. 3 January 1969. By 1966, NASA directly employed a staff of 36,000, with another 400,000 people working for 20,000 contractors and 200 universities in 80 countries. Photo courtesy NASA

Essay/
The future
Where did the grandeur go?

Superlative things were done in the past century by marshalling thousands of people in the service of a vision of the future

Martin Parker

Scientists working extra hours during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases in Athens, Greece. 18 March 2020. Photo by Enri Canaj/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The good scientist

Science is the one culture that all humans share. What would it mean to create a scientifically literate future together?

Martin Rees

The Death of General Wolfe (1770) by Benjamin West. Wolfe was killed during the Battle of Quebec (1759) that decided the fate of French lands in North America. Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada/Wikipedia

Essay/
History
Are there laws of history?

Historians believe that the past is irreducibly complex and the future wildly unpredictable. Scientists disagree. Who’s right?

Amanda Rees

The dilution refrigerator for the IBM Q quantum computer, September 2019. Photo by Graham Carlow/IBM

Essay/
The future
At the limits of thought

Science today stands at a crossroads: will its progress be driven by human minds or by the machines that we’ve created?

David C Krakauer

Poster advertising the 1948 Superman series. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Essay/
Stories and literature
Supermensch

Superman et al were invented amid feverish eugenic speculation: what does the superhero craze say about our own times?

Iwan Rhys Morus

An aerial view shows a typically busy Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, deserted amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak that originated in the city. 27 January 2020. Photo by Hector Retamel/AFP/Getty

Essay/
Technology and the self
Collaborators in creation

Our world is a system, in which physical and social technologies co-evolve. How can we shape a process we don’t control?

Doyne Farmer, Fotini Markopoulou, Eric Beinhocker & Steen Rasmussen

The Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of 12-13 November 1833. Courtesy Wikimedia

Essay/
The future
The end of us

Only since the Enlightenment have we been able to imagine humans going extinct. Is it a sign of our maturity as a species?

Thomas Moynihan

Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum

Essay/
Future of technology
Sim ethics

Say you could make a thousand digital replicas of yourself – should you? What happens when you want to get rid of them?

Philip Ball

Commons craft; detail of a plywood farmhouse, built using a CNC machine. Photo courtesy Wikihouse

Essay/
Work
Utopia now

In 1890 William Morris imagined a world free from wage slavery. Thanks to technology, his vision is finally within reach

Vasilis Kostakis & Wolfgang Drechsler

Intelligent assumptions? At the Oxford Union, 1950. From the Picture Post feature, Eternal Oxford. Photo by John Chillingworth/Getty

Essay/
Cognition and intelligence
Intelligence: a history

Intelligence has always been used as fig-leaf to justify domination and destruction. No wonder we fear super-smart robots

Stephen Cave

Will the sun rise? Photo taken from the ISS on 1 March 2016. Photo courtesy NASA

Essay/
Mathematics
Future tension

Facts about the past and present are either true or false. Can knowledge of the future offer the same degree of certainty?

Anthony Sudbery

A prototype 13-kilowatt Hall thruster being tested for solar-electric propulsion. Photo NASA

Essay/
Space exploration
To save Earth, go to Mars

If head-on problem-solving can’t save the Earth, maybe lateral innovation can. Will low-cost space research pave the way?

Joe Mascaro