Is it human free will that will bring threatening technologies to life? Our social systems are designed to maintain the status quo. Those in power fight to maintain their authority. Societies that maintain cohesion under external threat are more likely to withstand disasters. Our leaders guide us against threats by invoking powerful human emotions like faith, self-protection, pride, and loyalty. Leaders don’t try to invoke our higher logical reasoning powers. As a species we fall back on our instincts when stressed. This is a survival technique that has protected us for many thousands of years. We are not about to change. On this question I think the term ‘human nature’ is pertinent. Biologists currently believe that our genes control much of what we are. Our complex genetic makeup has imbued us with the capacity to risk our lives for our religion or nation. In the tumultuous time facing us, many groups will rationalize the need to develop artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics technologies to aid in medicine, and for economic/military survival. Today we see the polarized responses to issues like abortion or religious beliefs. Soon these will be submerged under the new issues of Technology Augmented Bioengineered (TAB) humans. In 25 years, computer intelligence will exceed the smartest humans. In this century many people will have minds directly augmented by brain extensions wirelessly connected to centralized computers, their bodies amplified by drugs and genetic enhancements. This will further fracture humanity aggravating existing social strife.
   George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor (world’s leading private intelligence and forecasting company) has just published a book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. On the topic of predestination, George Friedman writes that "Free will is beyond forecasting. But what is most interesting about humans is how unfree they are." […] "We are deeply constrained in what we do by the time and place in which we live."
   Biologist Anthony Cashmore, The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system, argues that a belief in free will is akin to religious beliefs, since neither complies with the laws of the physical world. One of the basic premises of biology and biochemistry is that biological systems are nothing more than a bag of chemicals that obey chemical and physical laws.
   So, here we are—bags of chemicals, only now these bags of chemicals are going to re-invent themselves. How do we escape our own genetic limits? The simple answer is that we won’t. Existing social mores, religions, and political groups create fundamental limits to what kinds of near term change is possible. Inherent in our genetics are all the mechanisms evolution provided us for survival. Human individuals and tribal groups will fight to avoid change. Dramatic change will require social disruption and competition for diminished resources as incentives. As Jared Diamond has pointed out, the human species has a propensity to ignore the future consequences of present actions. So it will be the same as we begin bioengineering humans.
   What are our next few decades going to be like? Our tomorrow is going to be very much like today. Social structures have too much inertia to change overnight. Despite this inertia, society’s hubris causes us to ignore early warning signs. Humans have a tendency to assimilate incremental change with little social disruption as we collectively ignore the future consequences of present actions. Our world will change around us. Most will welcome it. No better example of this can be found than the last 100 years. Luddite groups of the early 20th century did not slow the huge increases in population and the dramatic consumption of resources that challenge today’s world. Similarly, the unbelievable compounding pace of change we live with today will far outpace efforts to contain or restrain it. Jared Diamond demonstrated that throughout history societies facing loss of critical resources were more likely to invoke deities or demonize neighbors than to deal rationally with their impending disaster.
   Consider the Easter Island woodcutter portrayed in Jared Diamond’s book COLLAPSE. In the chapter ‘Twilight at Easter’ an Easter Island native worker sweats to remove the last trees remaining on their island. The tree trunks needed to roll the final Moai stone statue to the ocean. It is inconceivable that same woodcutter was unaware that he was eliminating the last material available for constructing the fishing canoes which Easter’s society depended on for survival. The island society chose faith in their priests and Polynesian gods over common sense. Modern societies are treating our current resource crisis in a similar fashion. It is human nature.
   Bill Joy recently suggested (TED, Feb 2006) that society’s best chance at survival is to attempt to guide our future, limiting the most dangerous potential paths to lower the probability of catastrophic risk. Joy is a genius computer scientist. He co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and is widely known for having written the essay, Why the future doesn’t need us, which suggested that development of modern technologies endanger the existence of life as we know it. While I agree with Bill about the risks to humanity, what he suggests is defensive in nature. History has shown that defenses always fall to prolonged attack and consume resources that lower the defender’s economic health. Over generations, the primary survival technique is to ‘out smart’ your competitors. It is the nature of living things. It is our human nature. Governance will not be able to constrain the multitude of risks facing our modern world. It won’t be individual free will that threatens the status quo of future societies. Competitions between countries for resources insure that they will develop risky technologies to gain advantage over their neighbors. This evolutionary escalation is the pattern of human history and is built into the behavior of living things.
   In his landmark book, Why the West Rules—For Now, The Patterns of History and What They Reveal about the Future, Ian Morris submits that "sloth, fear and greed are the motors of history." He concludes that the world is at the precipice of disaster and that it can only be avoided by a unified world self-aware of its cyclic history of self-induced catastrophe. Like Bill Joy, Ian Morris doubts our chances for survival. I submit that it is the anarchic dynamism of individuals, not global governance, that pose our primary opportunity for humanity to evolve. The Morris Theorem, "that change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things" is just another way of describing the evolutionary process. The principal process hasn’t changed. Genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics are contributing more variables into mix. The pace of change is tremendously faster, but the competitive process of evolution stays the same.