What will it take to address our key global challenges and thus help ensure a livable human future? How can we develop a useful strategy, working with others and coordinating efforts around the globe?
I am writing to introduce Humanity 2050 (humanity2050.org) and to advocate a more comprehensive, coherent way of thinking about the human future. Like other public policy institutes, we’re concerned about challenges facing our planet—challenges such as global warming, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, and risks posed by the rise of artificial intelligence. Yet we bring a fresh perspective: we emphasize the underlying cognitive challenge inherent in every other global problem that we face. There is a crisis of complexity that often overwhelms our human minds and prevents us from finding and implementing real solutions. We’ll need to tackle this problem of thought as we work to address everything else. And Humanity 2050 can help.
It’s important to remember that “Spaceship Earth” (as per Buckminster Fuller) is an astonishingly complicated system—including 7.6 billion people, all other forms of life and energy, all biochemical, geochemical and climatic cycles, all the computers and machines we use, and all the information we’ve ever acquired. It’s all connected, and each component affects the others. And control of the system is further complicated since it’s not clear who is in charge, who is responsible, what to do, or how to develop a useful plan.
This challenge of complexity explains our focus at Humanity 2050: we work to develop new “cognitive algorithms” (new ways of organizing data and new patterns of thought) that can facilitate careful planning amidst the otherwise overwhelming complexity of these global challenges. Humanity 2050 will serve as a platform for developing, testing, and disseminating new ways of thinking that will be needed to help address pressing global challenges. As humanity faces its toughest test to date, we will help human minds get ready for the task.
It may—at first—seem surprising to comment here on the nature of thought, but our work at Humanity 2050 is shaped by an underlying awareness that thought and ideas are just specialized types of physical structures and physical events in a physical world. We cannot wait for some magical moment of insight to save us; “insight” comes when neurons are trained to see larger systems. Only then will we make wise choices.
To have any realistic chance of solving these global problems, ideas must fit in the human mind and must be accessible in the moment when citizens vote, in the moment when leaders act. Ideas must accurately reflect a world of mind-boggling complexity, and contain enough information to have real predictive value and to help ensure a livable human future in the world of 2050 and beyond.
At this stage, Humanity 2050 has several strategies designed to help facilitate clear thought and coherent action amidst the extreme complexity of the modern world. One approach involves a very deliberate attempt—when first tackling some hyper-complex problem—to invest more effort in the initial stages of thought. At Humanity 2050, we always begin by asking: what else do we need to know before we can even start to think clearly about problems at this level of complexity? We consider limits imposed by available data and the capacity of working memory, by differences among multiple situations and perspectives, and by constraints inherent in the moment of speech and action.
Humanity 2050 will collaborate with other individuals and groups already addressing these global challenges (as in the diagram below). Our new “strategies of thought” will be most useful to those already struggling with complexity, and we can learn the most from others who dedicate their lives to addressing these global challenges. These brave people—dedicated citizens and leaders, social entrepreneurs, academics, government representatives, and many others—have done beautiful work and offer the best current hope for our planet. But we believe their efforts must be supported and supplemented with new cognitive strategies.
Different collaborations and different projects will require different approaches, but we’re already setting up workshops on “how to think,” offering lectures on “human thought and the human future,” developing a set of “Cliffs Notes for Planet Earth” (anchored with ideas and data organized so as to respect our human cognitive limits), exploring prospects for using AI to help with these efforts, and more. Most importantly, we’re setting up meetings to brainstorm with others about how we can best work together.
We hope you can join this adventure to help secure prospects for a livable future. We seek to collaborate with others who share our concern for the human future, who maintain a commitment so clear and compelling that it becomes the central focus in their lives and the development of their minds. If you are such a person—already pressing against the limits of human thought—we hope you will get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s start a conversation, and work together to help prepare our species for its biggest test yet.
Carl O. Pabo
Founder and President, Humanity 2050 (humanity2050.org)