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CAN MAN SHAPE HIS FUTURE?* PHILIP HANDLER} It is a high privilege to give the 1970 W. O. Atwater Lecture, as it is to appear before so many distinguished visitors from outside our borders. On behalf ofthe National Academy of Sciences, I bid you all welcome and extend our hope that you find these days rewarding and enjoyable. Authors of science fiction have provided numerous versions of life a few centuries hence. What are the reasonably realistic prospects based on understanding already in hand? The pace of scientific and technological achievement has so dramatically changed man's capabilities in the last few decades and brought so many surprises that any projected vision will necessarily be less dramatic than the future reality. Surely the world's population will have stabilized, although at what level is uncertain. The racial balance will undoubtedly be rather different from that at present. Although Caucasians made up 20 percent of the world's population in the seventeenth century, they now represent about 40 percent ofall people. But the trend has reversed, and the more heavily pigmentedpopulationsareincreasing disproportionately. These genepools will undoubtedly undergo more mixing than at present but with what results for the future ofthe species one cannot say. The bulk ofhumanity will be gathered in megalopolises, dwelling in hugebuildings surroundedbypark lands, perhaps coveredby domeswithin which the atmosphere will be maintained rather constant. Outside them, the fields will be verdant, lakes and streams clear. Power consumption per capita will be vastly greater even than in the United Statestoday. The price perkilowatt willhavebeen greatly reduced by the introduction ofthermonuclear plants capable of1,000,000 Mw out- * The 1970 W. O. Atwater Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Third International Congress of Food Science and Technology, Washington, D.C, August n. I President, National Academy ofSciences, 2101 Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20418. 207 put, or more, thanks to utilization of magnetohydrodynamics and of superconductive materials both for the generation and transmission of power. Water will be abundant, thanks to efficient desalination made possible by the cheap power; thermal pollution will have been replaced by a variety of uses of the heated effluents of these power plants, such as desalination, domestic heating, and year-round agriculture. Each individual will have a private, pocket two-way television instrument and immediate, personal access to a computer serving as his news source, privately programmed educational medium, memory, and personal communicator with the world at large—his bank, broker, government agents, shopping services, etc. Less than 5 percent ofthe working population will be engaged in primary agriculture, with no more than another 20 percent engaged in other primary productive activities such as food processing, mineral extraction, construction, or manufacturing. The bulk of the labor force, then, will engage in activities currently classified as services rather than production ofgoods. The principal pursuits ofmankind will be cultural, recreational, or devoted to the expansion ofknowledge and understanding. Most of the diseases which have been man's most ancient enemies will be matters ofhistoric interest only, and each individual may look forward to about four-score years of vigorous, healthy, pain-free life before succumbing to the ravages of old age. If, indeed, humanity survives to see such a world, necessarily by then national aspirations will have been sublimated to some form of world order; a single worldwide police force will maintain law and order, and the arsenal ofnuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and diverse countervailing measures will long since have been dismantled. Embroider that image with such detail as you will. Conjure up probable changes in the materials utilized for a wide variety of purposes, in the nature of distributional procedures, in educational mechanisms, in management ofthe environment, in conservation ofthe natural resources ofthe planet, in modes ofshort- and long-haul transportation, in the uses of outer space and ofthe oceans, in the social structure ofthe family—if families there be—in the utilization of mood-altering drugs. For all that vision of a brave new world, the most dramatic developments simply cannot be anticipated. Most ofus hold such a dream in common, differing only in detail and the color ofour imaginations. The most important...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 207-227
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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