The Future is What We Make It

By Robert B. Tucker   |   June 25, 2024

Last week I attended Westmont’s annual Lead Where You Stand conference with New York Times columnist David Brooks. As always, Brooks was insightful across a range of topics including providing us with recipes for lifelong growth, speculating where human consciousness may be headed, and revealing how he knew he wanted to be a writer at an early age.

The tone of the conference was hopeful, friendly, and upbeat. One of the speakers got our attention with a remark in response to a question about the rise of Christian nationalism. Dr. Gayle Beebe, Westmont College president and author of The Crucibles That Shape Us: Navigating the Defining Challenges of Leadership, observed that, “We are entering a new dark age.”

Beebe’s observation became the talk of the conference. He articulated what many of us are feeling. Everywhere you go these days, you hear words like “doom,” “existential threat,” “dark days ahead,” and “dystopia.” They seem to spring from people’s intuitive processing that we are at an inflection point moment, and not all bodes well for the future.

In our personal and professional lives, in our politics, and especially in the organizations we lead, overarching and influential forces – pandemics, geopolitical ruptures, climate-fueled disasters, artificial intelligence, and political polarization – are driving disruption. They are bringing out the best and the worst in people. They are creating massive amounts of uncertainty as the rate of technological, social, political, workplace, climatological, and other types of change rush toward us.

The latest edition of The New Yorker carries an article by Rivka Galchen reporting on a new course at the University of Chicago titled: “Are We Doomed?” The class features guest lectures by computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton who told the students that, because of generative artificial intelligence, “things are going to go terribly wrong real soon.” Eighty-six-year-old Jerry Brown, former California governor, warned, “We’re in a real pickle… you’re young, the odds of a nuclear encounter in your lifetime are high. I don’t want to sugarcoat it.”

As a 70-year-old author and public speaker based here, I’ve been writing and speaking about business disruption for quite a few years. But lately, I’ve become convinced that helping today’s generation of leaders navigate revolutionary change is where my attention should be.

When you’re driving at 90 miles an hour, it’s important to look farther up the road. As a futurist, I conclude there will be more change over the next ten years than over the past 100. Human consciousness will be altered more over the next decade than over the past 300 years as humans and machines begin to merge. 

Are we entering a new dark age as Gayle Beebe suggests? Quite possibly. The 21st Century is rocky, and November’s election could throw us into chaos.

Or might we be on the cusp of a new age of shared prosperity and problem resolution brought about by a change in human consciousness? Could emerging technologies lead 4.5 billion people out of poverty and begin to mitigate the climate crisis in our lifetime? “Seeing is believing,” as the expression has it. But what about the reverse: Believing is seeing. In other words, if leaders rise and adopt a “we can fix this” mindset versus a “we are doomed” fatalism, we can create a world that is still inhabitable. I am personally optimistic, not because our problems are less serious than we thought, but because of humankind’s proven ability over the centuries to surmount challenges and innovate our way out of situations. 

The mindsets and belief systems we adopt today will determine the future. The choices we make today will decide if this is the start of a new Dark Age or the beginning of the Age of Abundance. Nothing about the future is written in stone; the future is what we make it.  

Robert B. Tucker, President of the Innovation Resource Consulting Group


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