Nadia Eghbal

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Work Hard and Be Nice to People

My uncle, Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, was a futurist and transhumanist who changed his name to FM-2030 many decades before I was born, because he believed that “the years around 2030 will be a magical time”.

FM-2030 died in 2000. I was twelve years old. His body was cryonically suspended, to which my relatives shared a private giggle. Nobody could quantify when “the future” would happen, but the stuff of sci fi novels was obviously light years away. It was foolish to believe we were anything but ephemeral souls on a piece of rock, like our parents and grandparents before us.

This made sense to me at the time, when I was still very young and the future was an ellipsis stretching far beyond my imagination. But the older I get, the more I understand that thousands of years of past data cannot predict the future. Change is happening exponentially, not linearly, an idea put forth by Ray Kurzweil in 2001:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).

Now, in 2015, “the future” is tangible. 2010 -> 2015 saw more change than 1980 -> 1985. If that statement is true, we cannot even begin to imagine what the next 15 years will look like, because it will look like maybe 100 years did to the last generation. It is not farfetched to suggest that we could see the destruction of humankind within our lifetimes. That is not sci fi. That is real.

Suddenly, how we spend our days feels a lot more important. And I don’t mean whether you’re working for SpaceX or building self-driving cars, but rather, does your day-to-day behavior make our society more thoughtful and collaborative, sustain rather than destruct, unite rather than polarize? Do you, as an individual, affirm our humanity?