Humanity has reached a critical moment. Our world is unsettled and rapidly changing, and we face existential risks over the next century. Various prospects for the future – good and bad – are possible. Yet our approach to the future is characterized by short-term thinking, polarizing debates, alarmist rhetoric, and pessimism. In this short, exhilarating book, renowned scientist and bestselling author Martin Rees argues that humanity's future depends on our taking a very different approach to thinking about and planning for tomorrow.
The future of humanity is bound to the future of science, and our prospects hinge on how successfully we harness technological advances to address the challenges to our collective future. If we are to use science to solve our problems while avoiding its dystopian risks, we must think rationally, globally, collectively, and optimistically about the long-term future. Advances in biotechnology, cybertechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence – if pursued and applied wisely – could empower us to boost the developing and developed world and overcome the threats humanity faces on Earth, from climate change to nuclear war. At the same time, further advances in space science will allow humans to explore the solar system and beyond with robots and AI. But there is no "Plan B" for Earth – no viable alternative within reach, if we do not care for our home planet.
Rich with fascinating insights into cutting-edge science and technology, this slim, accessible book will captivate anyone who wants to understand the critical issues that will define the future of humanity on Earth and beyond.
Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal, and has been Master of Trinity College and Director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. As a member of the UK's House of Lords and former President of the Royal Society, he is much involved in international science and issues of technological risk. His books include Our Cosmic Habitat (Princeton), Just Six Numbers, and Our Final Hour (published in the UK as Our Final Century). He lives in Cambridge, UK.
"On the Future is a very important book that should be widely read and acted upon. Martin Rees combines his deep scientific insights and compassion for humanity's welfare to address, in clear and elegant prose, the major issues facing human civilization today, some of which are not now commonly considered. Whether or not you agree with all the points he makes, you must take them very seriously indeed."
– Roger Penrose, author of Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe
"Are we heading for a utopian or dystopian future? Martin Rees believes it's down to us. But the one thing we must not do is put the brakes on technology. Science, applied wisely, offers humanity a bright future, but we must act now. In this visionary book, and despite his many fears, Rees adopts a refreshing and cautiously optimistic tone."
– Jim Al-Khalili, author of Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics
"On the Future is a delightful intellectual treat and a must-read for everyone on Earth – and beyond, if aliens exist. With wisdom and originality, Martin Rees, our most accomplished living astronomer, addresses the most important of subjects – the future of humanity and the scientific advances and risks it brings. His deep personal insights are unique and exciting and his many anecdotes are enjoyable. I couldn't put it down."
– Abraham Loeb, Harvard University
"In this outstanding book, the always brilliant Martin Rees addresses the key problems of our day, putting humanity's perils and prospects in perspective – from climate change, to the future of artificial intelligence, to the threat of bioterrorism, to the chance for future space adventurers to spread out into the universe. Rees is one of the deepest and clearest thinkers on these subjects, and his book sparkles with gems of insight and humor."
– J. Richard Gott, coauthor of Welcome to the Universe
"On the Future will captivate readers. Martin Rees stands at the top of our informed thinkers about futurology."
– Pedro G. Ferreira, author of The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity