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Don’t let the doomsters get you down

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1887) by Viktor Vasnetsov

There used to be two main views about the future, says Simon Kuper in the FT. One, held by “Marxists, Whigs and followers of the psychologist Steven Pinker”, was that humanity naturally progresses. The other saw history as “patternless”, with no set direction of travel. But a third view is fast becoming the norm: that we are “heading for apocalypse”. In this view, the only real question is which of the four horsemen gets us first – climate change, artificial intelligence, a pandemic, or “plain old nukes”. In Gallup’s latest “Hope Index”, which polls what people feel about the year ahead, “pessimists exceed optimists by the largest margin since the index launched”.

But all this gloominess is blinding us to some “cheering shifts”. In fact, it’s perfectly possible that energy, health and working life will all be transformed for the better this decade. For one thing, the International Energy Agency predicts the world will build 2,400 gigawatts of new renewable power by 2027, “equal to the entire power capacity of China today”. Improved green tech and plummeting prices mean climate change may well get fixed by countries pursuing “cold, hard, short-term self-interest”. We’re also curing diseases at a staggering rate – the first malaria vaccines will arrive in Africa this year; the UN says we can end Aids by 2030. The advanced RNA tech used to develop multiple Covid jabs in under a year is now being harnessed to develop cancer vaccines. And so far, rather than wiping out humanity, AI is helping it – not just by turbocharging complex tasks like finding new drugs, but by automating boring ones like coding, leading to a possible boom in productivity. These optimistic scenarios are entirely plausible. “Our job is to make them happen.”