The Future

by Albert Gore, Jr. (Random House, 2013), 533 pages, ISBN 978-0-8129-9294-6.

The title of this book intrigued me because of the difficulty involved in making predictions about the future. The author avoids this problem by making very few predictions. Rather he describes where we are now concerning a number of critical issues, allowing the reader to decide what the future holds if we do not face the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented. The challenge in making predictions about the future is illustrated by a quote from Thomas Jefferson in the introduction to the book. Considering the progress he had witnessed during his life, Jefferson wrote, “And where this progress will stop no one can say. Barbarism has, in the mean time, been receding before the steady step of amelioration, and will, in time, I trust, disappear from the earth.” Also in the introduction, Gore writes about short term predictions about the future; “…there is an unhealthy focus on very short-term goals, to the exclusion of long term goals.”

In the chapter titled “Earth Inc.” Gore writes about the problems associated with income inequality. He describes the Gini coefficient, which is a measure of income inequality nation by nation, on a scale of zero to one hundred. On the scale, a zero designation indicates that everyone has the same income, and a score of 100 indicates that one person has all the income of the nation. The Gini coefficient indicates that in the U.S. in the last quarter century, income inequality has risen from 35 to 45, and other developed countries have experienced similar changes. Gore writes “In the United States 50 percent of all capital gains income goes to the top 0.001%.” Much later, when writing about climate change, Gore describes “The dominance of wealth and corporate influence in decision making” in the U.S. He describes a fact that overwhelms this reviewer, writing, “The carbon fuel companies hired four anti-climate lobbyists for every single member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in their fight to defeat climate legislation.” That statement certainly makes my voice seem insignificant, and my efforts futile.

Information about technological advances are an important aspect of the book. Gore writes about the development of the “molecular economy,” bioethics, “optogenetics,” and transhumanism. Gore presents an interesting illustration regarding biotechnology. Oscar Pretorius, the Australian Olympian equipped with high tech prosthetics, performed well when he competed against able-bodied athletes. Two weeks later, Pretorius competed in the Paralympics, and complained that one of his competitor’s prosthetic blades appeared to be too long for his height, giving him an unfair advantage.

The author spends very little time addressing education issues. In a section titled “Education and Health Care in a New World,” he writes “In a world where all facts are constantly at our fingertips, we can afford to spend more time teaching the skills necessary to not only learn the facts but also learn the connections among them.” Later in the same section he describes the Khan Academy as an “exciting and innovative breakthrough.” This reviewer takes issue with this opinion. Having reviewed Khan Academy topics that I am familiar with, and as a teacher with 35 years of experience, I find the approach clumsy and confusing. Gore further addresses information technology by presenting information about cyber security and cyber crime. He sites data indicating that the global cost of cyber crime exceeds the annual global market for marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

Gore describes the impact of increasing population. He indicates that the problem of obesity on the planet creates what is equivalent to an additional one billion people. He lists a statistic indicating that the amount of waste produced on Earth each day exceeds the body weight of the global population. The population issue is closely tied to the economic impact of the increasing numbers of elderly people. Gore cites an eye-opening statistic: In 2012, the Japanese bought more adult diapers than baby diapers.

Bioethics is another issue that Gore indicates can not be ignored. The decrease in investment in biomedical research by the U.S., and falling numbers of Americans entering STEM careers, comes at a time when China has spent more than 100 billion dollars on life science research. Gore goes on to write of “optogenetics,” telepathy helmets, transhumanism, 3D printing of pharmaceuticals, and genetic modification.

The remaining forty percent of the book addresses the issue of civilization versus climate. Towards the end of a chapter titled “The Edge,” Gore includes a section describing “False Solutions” to our climate problems. These include carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear power, and geoengineering (described as “wackadoodle”).

In the concluding chapter, Gore writes, "Our decision about how we choose to live will determine whether the journey takes us, or whether we take the journey.” A section titled “So What Do We Do Now?” includes suggestions as to how to begin working on solutions. These include addressing communications, global warming, economics, population, preserving human values in an era of technological development, and leadership based on the deepest human values. He states that we have reached a fork in the road and we must choose a path; one of those paths leads to the future, and the other to the possibility that civilization as we know it will come to an end.

“The Future” is well written and well researched. It is a valuable resource that dissects the effect technological advances have had on our culture and society.

Frank Lock

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.