This might not seem like it has serious consequences, but it does. If this is an especially critical century, then concentrating on the urgent difficulties right in front of us is the best thing we can do for the long-term future — for example, launching all our resources at tackling the most significant threats on the horizon. If this is not a critical century, it makes more sense to focus on shaping future generations — possibly by setting up new long-lasting establishments, funding law, ethics research, and striving to educate future generations.
There are three core arguments that we’re living in a decisive moment in history. The first is the one above: call it the “time of perils” argument. Another argument is the “values lock-in” perspective. This view claims that there are some ways that humans shortly could lock in one particular course of action for human civilization in the more far-flung future. And if we do that, we need to guarantee that we don’t lock out the potential for future moral growth and progress. Some researchers believe developing more advanced technology will involve handing off many of the most critical questions about human values — putting them, effectively, outside of human control.
There’s a final argument about what makes this time unique. For most of human history, the entire world couldn’t organize around one course of action — even if we agreed on it, but now global communications technology has changed that. For most of our history, economic growth was slow or nonexistent. Now, there’s rapid economic development, and some people believe this cannot possibly be sustained into the distant future. This all makes for an unusual time — and perhaps a time when people determined to change the world is unusually empowered to do so.
Why It Matters
Some people think that we mostly need targeted interventions to benefit the future. This kind of intervention is something like preventing an asteroid from crashing into Earth. Others prefer a more comprehensive way of supporting our future, like making the human population more altruistic or compassionate or educated, trusting that whatever problems arise for them; these concerns are likely to help. The question of whether this century is unusual — or at least highly unusual — might influence whether targeted or widespread interventions seem better. In short, how we think about the threats of this century might significantly affect how we go about addressing the perils of this century. And since all the researchers agree — there are many challenges ahead of us, we want to make sure we’re addressing them right.