The Global Age of Complexity
Humanity's growing frustration with embedded systemic problems – from pollution to economic inequality – would demand change in the best of times. At a time when our power of creation – matched by our power of destruction – has reached unprecedented levels, a new, non-deterministic worldview could not be more urgent.
NEW YORK – Every century, it seems, has its “age.” The Renaissance, from a philosophical perspective, has been called the Age of Adventure. The seventeenth-century Age of Reason was followed by the Age of Enlightenment. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were ages of ideology and analysis, respectively. As for the twenty-first century, I would argue that it is the Age of Complexity.
On the one hand, science and technology have progressed to the point that humans can create life and, through ultra-advanced genome-editing technologies, even engineer new species. Futurologist Yuval Noah Harari anticipates the imminent rise of Homo deus: a species of humanity that can “play god” by manipulating nature in myriad ways, including delaying and ultimately even conquering death. Most of the technological trends identified by the US Department of Defense as crucial in the coming years were unheard of just 30 years ago.
On the other hand, much of humanity is besieged by feelings of helplessness and frustration, owing to the challenges we seem unable to resolve, from pollution and climate change to unrelenting radicalism and terrorism. Economic inequality – reinforced by job losses from automation, deeply entrenched social orders, and damaging political power dynamics – has contributed substantially to this sense of powerlessness.
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