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Future of Humanity (and the Economy)

Posted by: Michael Mandel on June 24

Oxford has just started a new Future of Humanity Institute headed by Nick Bostrom. Areas of research include global catastrophic risks, maximizing human potential, ethics and public perception of human enhancement, and the impacts of future technologies and human transformation.

In my view, these are really the big economic questions going forward. Over the long run, economic growth is driven by technological change, which really swamps the other factors.

For example, it’s easy enough to predict the long-term competitive future of China and the U.S. if technology is held constant, or permitted to develop in a linear fashion. The real question is what happens if there are technological breakthroughs, on the scale of past ones.

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Reader Comments


June 24, 2005 01:02 PM

The closest historical analogy would be Britain and the US. Even with significant technological change, we may not be in the best position to make use of it. Our advantage may be that we are relatively uncrowded compared to China and in an ever more crowded world, land and physical resources become much more valuable than labor.

Michael Mandel

June 24, 2005 02:01 PM

I draw a different conclusion. In the 1800s and early 1900s, Britain was able to more or less keep pace with the U.S., until World War I, when the U.S. really spurted ahead.

I believe that ideas and money and goods flow easily across national boundaries during times of piece, so globalization helps everyone. During war, though, the advantage goes to those countries who actually have control of the means of production.

Dr V P Kochikar

June 27, 2005 08:12 AM

Humankind's track record of predicting the future has been patchy at best, especially where technology is concerned. Part of the reason, I believe, is that people's predictions are often interwoven with, and inextricable from, the effects they want to see (a sort of 'Pygmalion Effect'). The Future of Humanity institute thus appears set to fill a huge void in helping overcome this deficiency.

Michael Mandel

June 27, 2005 10:24 AM

Yes, technology predictions have been terrible, in part because of what I call "fundamental technological uncertainty." By the very nature of innovations, it's tough to tell which potential breakthroughs are going to succeed--technologically and economically--and which ones are going to fall short.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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