Opinion: The next eight years will make the difference

“Yesterday we cannot recover, but tomorrow we can win or lose.” – Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963

If New Year’s resolutions bring hope and challenge, New Year’s resolutions do even more so. And perhaps never more than what humanity has set itself for 2030.

This year, governments around the world agreed to address society’s biggest challenges by implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By 2030, we will know whether the Paris Climate Agreement can keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. We will also likely know if it will be possible to go carbon neutral by 2050.

At the same time, we are working on these goals and are in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with disruptive changes in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and analytics, biotechnology, augmented reality and virtual reality, Internet of Things (IOT), blockchain, self-driving Transportation, quantum computing and energy.

As US President Joe Biden said in his 2021 address to a joint session of Congress, “We will see more technological changes in the next 10 years than in the last 50.”

The question today

The question for us today – at the momentin 2022 – is whether we will use these innovations to achieve these goals, or whether we will squander the opportunities they offer.

By 2030, AI will make our homes smarter and IoT will give us new ways to control devices. Are we going to just use these to entertain ourselves and be less able to do things ourselves? Or will we use them to increase energy efficiency, reduce food waste, stay healthy and help people with disabilities live more fulfilling lives?

By 2030, driverless cars will be more common and short-haul flights could be operated with electric planes. Will we just drive and fly a lot more, or will we seize the opportunity these technologies present to reduce fossil fuel use and move to a clean energy economy?

Disruptive technological change is upon us, and our task is not to ignore it, but to proactively steer it in positive directions.

Globalization, demographic change and the introduction of new technologies are significantly redefining the workplace and presenting us with many challenges. The skills and jobs of 2030 will be very different from those of 2022. We may see jobs like personal data brokers, classroom avatar managers, body part makers, and trash designers. Disruptions will have a huge impact on certain industries – oil and gas consumption will fall massively. Over half and perhaps as much as 70% of the US workforce could be freelancing. Will these changes just keep us busier than ever – or will we use them to reduce our planetary footprint and strengthen families and communities?

AI and other technologies could also revolutionize our education systems. Will robot teachers improve our ability to tailor learning to individuals and provide access to the work of the best thinkers and scientists? Could Virtual Reality Help Reduce Racism Through Empathetic Experiences? Will augmented reality improve empathy by enabling virtual field trips to distant places and cultures?

Toward positive endings

In the grand arc of history, the next eight years may not seem long. But we are in a period of massive progress that will bring about social change at a rate we have never had to contend with before.

In general, people don’t like change; We want stability. But disruptive technological change is upon us, and our job is not to ignore it, but to proactively steer it in positive directions.

Instead of fearing new technologies, we can actively engage with them to ensure they are used to contribute to the common good.

We can commit to applying them in our own lives to promote sustainability, equity and justice, from reducing food waste and using fossil fuels to increasing participation in governance.

We can help steer them toward societal good and away from harm by advocating smart laws and regulations that take into account both unintended and intended consequences.

We can use them to reduce racism and other forms of discrimination by empowering empathy through virtual experiences.

We can advocate for equitable application in developed and emerging countries to avoid further widening the gap between haves and have-nots.

The decision in 2015 to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement gave us the roadmap for building better societies and reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Today’s technological revolution gives us the right foundation to build on. Only time will tell if we finally get it right.

Felix Dodds, Carolina Duque Chopitea and Ranger Ruffins are authors of Tomorrow’s people and new technologies: changing how we live our lives, published in 2021 Routledge.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Ensia. We present them for further discussion on important issues. We encourage you to respond with a comment below, following our commenting guidelines found on this page. Additionally, you might consider submitting your own Voices piece. See Ensia’s contact page for submission guidelines.

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