We are liv­ing on a zom­bie planet that is both alive and dead, or in a death-spi­ral

Talks to Astronomer Royal Mar­tin Rees about the fu­ture: what will it look like — and will there even be one?

Belfast Telegraph - - REVLIIEFWE -

could, by con­ta­gion, con­vert any­thing it en­coun­tered into a new form of mat­ter, trans­form­ing the en­tire Earth into a hy­per­dense sphere about a hun­dred me­tres across.” I owe that par­tic­u­lar vi­sion to Pro­fes­sor Mar­tin Rees, Astronomer Royal, and his new book, On the Fu­ture: Prospects for Hu­man­ity.

As he points out, he is not an as­trol­o­gist and doesn’t have a crys­tal ball, but his book shrewdly weighs up our chances of sur­vival. Which, as we all know, is zero, once the sun conks out. As May­nard Keynes once said: “In the long run we’re all dead.” There is an egal­i­tar­i­an­ism to catas­tro­phe.

Maybe a rogue as­teroid will smack into the planet but whether Bruce Wil­lis is avail­able to save us (as he did in Armageddon), it’s still not very likely.

The “blaze of glory” nar­ra­tive is al­ways ap­peal­ing, butto Mar­tin Rees’s way of think­ing, it’s a “dan­ger­ous delu­sion”.

Likeor wise, the Stephen Hawk­ing vi­sion of ev­ery­one tak­ing off into outer space: “Ter­raform­ing Mars is al­ways go­ing to be a lot harder than fix­ing our own cli­mate. Nowhere in the so­lar sys­tem is half as con­ge­nial as the cold­est place on this planet.”

“Just don’t men­tion the strangelets!” he said, when I went to speak to Rees in his rooms in Trin­ity Col­lege Cam­bridge, where Isaac New­ton once stud­ied and where Rees was Mas­ter not so long ago. The prob­lem with strangelets is that once they worm their way in you end up talk­ing about noth­ing else.

Sport­ing a great mane of sil­ver hair, Rees is will­ing to give an opin­ion on any­thing un­der (or, in­deed, over) the sun. He is pro-eu­thana­sia, but says he wouldn’t mind im­mor­tal­ity just so long as he can re­main on Earth and not have to float off into some ce­les­tial hol­i­day camp where you lie around the pool all day. “Sup­pose you were a Ro­man who was still alive to­day — you wouldn’t be bored.”

It has to be ad­mit­ted that the fu­ture is not what it used to be. Back in the day, ev­ery­one was go­ing to have a per­sonal jet-pack à la James Bond. And if we weren’t fly­ing through the air then we’d be liv­ing in vast cities un­der the ocean. Or maybe on ar­ti­fi­cial satel­lites or­bit­ing the Earth. It was a naive form of tech­no­log­i­cal op­ti­mism. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to get bet­ter. And maybe we’ll learn to be­have bet­ter too.

We’ve al­ways had the Franken­stein anx­i­ety, on the other hand. Even set­ting aside ac­tual nu­clear weapons — and the re­al­is­tic po­ten­tial for techno-an­ni­hi­la­tion — we sus­pect that ev­ery­thing we in­vent is go­ing to kill us. Socrates was du­bi­ous about this new-fan­gled tech­nol­ogy called “writ­ing”. We prob­a­bly feel some­what sim­i­lar about the in­ter­net. Hal, dead? Both alive and dead, comes the para­dox­i­cal an­swer. In the same way our fu­tures are now “su­per­posed” and si­mul­ta­ne­ous. We are liv­ing on a zom­bie planet that is both alive and, in­creas­ingly, dead, or at least in a death-spi­ral.

We now have par­al­lel uni­verses in which some se­lect parts of the pop­u­la­tion live in pam­pered bub­bles cut off from re­al­ity while every­body else is

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