Modern times: The case against perpetual progress


For so many in the techno-elite, even those who don’t entirely subscribe to the unlimited optimism of the Singularity, the notion of perpetual progress is somehow taken for granted.  As a former classicist turned technologist, I’ve always lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, the failure of its intellectual culture, and the stasis that gripped the Western world for the better part of a thousand years…

History teaches us that conservative, backward-looking movements often arise under conditions of economic stress. As the world faces problems ranging from climate change to the demographic cliff of ageing populations, it’s wise to image widely divergent futures.

Yes, we may find technological solutions that propel us into new golden age of robots, collective intelligence, and an economy built around ‘the creative class’. But it’s at least as probable that as we fail to find those solutions quickly enough, the world falls into apathy, disbelief in science and progress, and after a melancholy decline, a new dark age.

Civilisations do fail. We have never yet seen one that hasn’t. The difference is that the torch of the past has always passed to another region of the world. But we’ve now for the first time, got a single global civilisation. If it fails, we all fail together.”

Tim O’Reilly, ‘The rise of anti-intellectualism and the end of progress’, in John Brockman, ed., What Should We Be Worried About?


  1. timgow

    Reblogged this on Mandatory Slang and commented:
    As I grow older (and as a parent), the future of civilisation is something that preoccupies my mind more and more. That, and a million other only slightly less weighty things.
    So, if you haven’t got enough to worry about, here’s a sobering quote here on Canalside View from Tim O’Reilly’s article ‘The rise of anti-intellectualism and the end of progress’.

  2. Sean Peake

    “What Should We Be Worried About” is the epitome of elitist bed-wetting. And Brockman reminds me of that sulky, dark and disturbed artist we all knew in high school who always dressed in black and smoked way too much weed. (Let the abuse begin… )