The following responses are organized by these general themes: Young people (26), technology (19), equity and social justice (18), abstract “big picture” responses (15), human ingenuity (13), human kindness and compassion (10), and critiques of hope (4).Because participants often touched on many of these themes in their answers, these categories should be interpreted as reading guidelines rather than strict divisions.We hope these responses offer some much-needed rays of sunshine to brighten the doom and gloom of the standard news cycle.
What gives you hope about the future?
Young People (26)Healthy interactions and the human motivation for innovation during collapse, darkness, and pain. The new pathways, connections, and communities that are being formed as we adapt to a changing world. The desire to create and implement Indigenous and new technologies, social and behavioral innovations, contemplative practice, and policy tools for addressing society’s most pressing issues. The intense creativity of the youth and science fiction future they dream to create.—Selena Ahmed, assistant professor of Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems and director of the Translational Biomarkers Core at Montana State UniversityThe resilience of nature and the awareness of new generations.—Selen Atasoy, neuroscientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford
“Kids these days know that brushing their teeth prevents cavities, and also that human activity is contributing to climate change in a major way”
—Carole Joffe, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) and professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, DavisIf you look at how much our world has changed since we began to industrialize in the mid-19th century, two things strike me. First it‘s an incredibly short timeline that we have made these planetary changes. Also, we are capable of amazing innovation and the ability to change if we want to. I am hopeful that the younger generations will be much more pragmatic, and fiscally responsible, with our future. The ability to live is one of the few things that unites us as a people.—Gabe Klein, transportation expert, founder of CityFi, author of Start-Up City, and former commissioner of Chicago and Washington DC departments of transportationMy undergrad students. They believe in science, hate hate, and are doing some damn clever things to help the world with those devices that we all keep saying are melting their brains.—Douglas McCauley, associate professor of marine science at the University of California, Santa Barbara
The younger generation who are angry, really good at organizing, and remind me of my grandparents’ generation—all of whom were anti-fascist activists. Good luck to them. They are going to need it.—Farah Mendlesohn, historian, associate fellow of the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and managing editor of Manifold Press, UK
“Seeing stars in kids‘ eyes when talking about science”
AI—especially, in medical diagnosis.—Jeffrey D. Berejikian, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, and associate professor in the Department of International AffairsTechnology can bring us closer together, enhance our relationships, and connect us to friends old and new. Tech won’t replace our relationships; it will enhance them.—Kate Devlin, senior lecturer in social and cultural AI in the department of digital humanities at King‘s College London and author of Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots
Social mobilization and open dissemination and sharing of information that social media facilitates.—Davina Durgana, international human rights statistician, USAThe advancement of technology and its ability to solve real-life problems and thereby improve the quality of human lives.—Tanzima Hashem, professor in the department of computer science and engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and TechnologySocial media and communications technology will help distribute opportunities and knowledge, and help more widely across the globe.—Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic UniversityDevelopments in machine-learning and AI. I‘m confident machine-learning will be much more useful for defense than offense.
“The democratization of access to basic services like education, healthcare, mobility, and security for the emerging middle class”
Science and technology.—Jingmei Li, senior research scientist at the Genome Institute of Singapore
The possibility of computing and robotics will lead to a day where there are no more disasters—because disasters can be predicted and prepared for and because the response and recovery are immediate and seamless.—Dr. Robin Murphy, professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University and author of Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot StoriesMore and more governments in the developing world are seeing science, technology, and innovation as pillars of society. I can foresee more investment in science education and development in the future.—Tebello Nyokong, distinguished professor of medicinal chemistry and nanotechnology at Rhodes University, South AfricaCarbon sequestration technology. It‘s not where it needs to be yet, but is making dramatic improvements in terms of cost and viability. Reversing the impact of climate change and the mass migrations it will cause requires us to not just curb our emissions but to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and bury it back into rocks. The question now is, will we cut our emissions and start sequestering carbon soon enough to avoid the worst and deadliest outcomes of climate change?
“More and more governments in the developing world are seeing science, technology, and innovation as pillars of society”
—Jun Ye, fellow of JILA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Colorado
Equity and Social Justice (18)The increasing value being placed on importance of recognizing First Nations culture within broader society. A different way of being with each other and the land is possible.For each news story about plastic ocean pollution, there are others on people actively testing remedial measures and inventing biodegradable alternatives.A focus on creativity, compassion, and connected thinking as critical skills for future work opportunities means we may be better suited to impacts of automation and artificial intelligence, but these also seem like skills well-suited for creating healthier societies.—Kristin Alford, director of the futuristic museum MOD. at the University of South AustraliaAfrican scientists transforming the world one massive problem at a time by using the highest tech science and innovation to solve problems. Hunger will end when science becomes a diverse, inclusive place—and then all the other massive challenges will fall too. Striving for true partnerships in science and technology gets me out of bed.—Laura Boykin, computational biologist and head of Boykin Lab at the University of Western Australia
Seeing problems like the issue of bias in artificial intelligence being worked by such incredible and diverse minds like Renee Teate, Vincente Ordóñez Román, and Ines Montani (just to name a few) is a serious relief. These people are committed to solving a problem that has plagued humanity since the dawn of mankind. Their job is nothing less than eliminating human prejudice from electrical thought processing, and their work so far is astounding. Anyone doing this work are heroes to me and are doing a job that is desperately needed to secure a safer future for all of humanity.
“The #MeToo movement. Shame is shifting from victim to predator”
—Bruce Macintosh, professor of physics at Stanford University‘s Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and CosmologyAn increasingly connected world may enable social innovations that will help us improve the human condition, rather than remain myopically focused on short-term gain.—Michele Mosca, co-founder of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization of the Faculty of Mathematics, and founding member of Waterloo‘s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, CanadaThe barriers to disseminating and sharing information have decreased substantially, making it unlikely that people who might contribute to the solutions will be unaware of the problems facing us. It‘s more likely that we will be able to find solutions by bringing together people from across multiple disciplines.—Chetan Nayak, director of Station Q, Microsoft Quantum and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa BarbaraA lot of young women have come out of their shells to lend their voices to menaces in society.—Dr. Eucharia Oluchi Nwaichi, environmental biochemist, soil scientist, and toxicologist at the University of Nottingham, UK
The rise and growing power of the feminine, particularly the associated values and priorities, such as caring for each other, the planet and other creatures; (some) men‘s growing acceptance of their own feminine aspects; and the visible evidence of the disintegration of patriarchy (despite the backlash).
“Righteous anger about our political moment is driving a powerful wave of activism and organizing”
—Elaine Power, expert on food insecurity and associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen‘s University, CanadaThe fusion of many businesses, industries, churches, students, all to make faster progress.—Diana Wall, director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and professor of biology at Colorado State UniversityRighteous anger about our political moment is driving a powerful wave of activism and organizing. So many people, including scientists and technologists, are advocating for justice instead of access to power. I want to believe that good will win.—Audra Wolfe, science historian and author of Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science
‘Big Picture’ and Abstract Hopes (15)We are proof that mental processes and intelligence spontaneously arise in appropriate “mashups” of proto-cognitive bits and pieces of memory, correlated states, and state transitions, and, therefore, that mental kinds are fundamental properties of nature. It’s not at all clear that life, per se, is a prerequisite for such mashups to occur. The idea that eventually we might well be viewed as surrounded by and embedded in as well as individually reflecting these properties seems wonderful.—Chris Barrett, director of the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of VirginiaThe fact that the future doesn‘t need humans.—Matteo Bittanti, assistant professor in Media Studies and head of MA Program in Game Design at IULM University, Italy
[Quoting Ursula Le Guin] “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” From your lips to the ears of the Kindly Ones, O wise dame.—Brooke Bolander, speculative fiction writer and author of The Only Harmless Great Thing, USAEverything I can currently imagine about it is likely silly and wrong.—Lera Boroditsky, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego[Quoting Galileo] ”The book of nature is open before our eyes.” There is so much beautiful phenomena in the Universe to discover and share.—Robert Caldwell, theoretical physicist and professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College
“Everything I can currently imagine about it is likely silly and wrong”
The universe is large enough that somewhere in it there may be truly intelligent life.—Matthew Colless, director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National UniversityMother Earth will forgive us when we decide collectively to correct course.—Justin Crepp, associate professor of physics and director of the Engineering and Design Core Facility at the University of Notre DameMusic. One sound and one silence can encompass and catalyze change in the world.—Nina Eidsheim, musicologist at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Sensing Sound and The Race of Sound
“Music. One sound and one silence can encompass and catalyze change in the world”
—Jens Notroff, archaeologist at German Archaeological InstituteOur persistent imagination and tireless pursuit of better futures.—Cynthia Selin, associate professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Sustainability, Arizona State UniversityPeople.—Huey-Jen Jenny Su, air pollution expert and president of National Cheng Kung University in TaiwanThe future hasn’t happened yet. We are creating it together, right now, in the present, which means that every person alive today has an opportunity to play a beneficial role in the future of artificial intelligence. We can choose something different—we can manifest our own preferred futures.—Amy Webb, quantitative futurist, professor of strategic foresight at New York University Stern School of Business, and founder of the Future Today Institute
Human Ingenuity (13)The possibility that collective learning will happen from all of the experimentation happening around the world with how to solve enormous problems, from trials of basic income payments to ways of making renewable energy work well in the market.—Bruce Bimber, professor in the department of political science and the Center for Information Technology and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara
It won’t be like the past. We will constrain consumption through a shift of at least two orders of magnitude in the efficiency of consumption of raw materials. This needs to be based on systemic innovations in almost all aspect of our economies.
“We do a lot of stupid things, but can think deeply with our big brains and are able to learn from experience”
— Steve Brusatte, paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh and author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
Human ingenuity.—Alexandra Cousteau, explorer, environmental activist, and filmmaker, GermanyHumans are very smart. We can think not only of solutions to problems but also are capable of remarkable insights and inventions. I work on fundamental science. The same drive that pushes us to explore our Earth, to head into space, and to think about the Cosmos, has given us the brainpower to survive and I hope it always will.—Katherine Freese, George Eugene Uhlenbeck Collegiate Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and guest professor of physics at Stockholm University, SwedenHumankind created most of this problem and therefore humankind has the power to stop it.—Mitchell Joachim, associate professor of practice at New York University and co-founder of Terreform ONEThe use of our expanding intellectual prowess to accelerate our appreciation of the universe.—Chung-Pei Ma, Judy Chandler Webb Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of California, BerkeleyHumans are adaptable. That‘s how we got to where we are now.—Asia Murphy, wildlife photographer, writer, and PhD student in ecology at Pennsylvania State University
”The same drive that pushes us to explore our Earth, to head into space, and to think about the Cosmos, has given us the brainpower to survive”
Humanity has done wonderful things on Earth and can move on to do even more wonderful things among the stars, provided we keep a healthy reserve of boundless, irreverent, and unreasonable optimism. “The meek will inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars” (a quote often attributed to [Robert] Heinlein‘s Lazarus Long).—Giulio Prisco, writer, technology expert, futurist, cosmist, and transhumanist, ItalyThe number of good people who want and can do better, and people‘s desire to be inspired. I am also personally inspired by how much we have learned in the last century and the ingenuity and perseverance that has led to great achievements.—Lisa Randall, Frank B. Baird, Jr. professor of physics at Harvard UniversityWe have the recipe for success as a species: We are incredibly resilient and creative in the face of adversity, can build on the knowledge and developments of prior generations, and have a unique capacity for individual self-improvement over the course of a single lifetime. If you are reading this, you are amazingly lucky to be alive right now, because today is the best time to be alive in human history. Yesterday was the best time before that, and I can‘t wait to see what tomorrow brings.—Daniel Szafir, assistant professor of computer science, creative technologies, and information science, and aerospace engineering and director of the Interactive Robotics and Novel Technologies Laboratory (IRON Lab) at the University of Colorado at Boulder
"We will find our way out of this dark, dark valley. We always have"
The amazing capacity of human beings to contradict the established “truths” and predictions of often pessimistic experts and gurus, and to bring our civilization forward with new ideas, discoveries, and innovations. This has been demonstrated several times throughout the history of humanity.—Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of the ScanPyramids mission and co-founder of the Heritage Innovation Preservation (HIP) Institute, France
Human Kindness and Compassion (10)Survival is, despite it all, our most deeply-seated instinct, followed by love. Greed and hate are deviations and, ultimately, require too much effort to be sustainable. We will find our way out of this dark, dark valley. We always have.—Greg Asbed, human rights strategist at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Fair Food Program, USA
Finding examples of kindness in humanity. Even after disasters and wars, there are examples of this. That gives me hope that we will find a way to continue.—Leroy Chiao, PhD, former NASA astronaut and ISS Commander, and CEO and co-founder of OneOrbit LLC, USAPeople, and the best ideas of what humanity can be, are tremendously resilient.—Rayvon Fouché, professor and director of the American Studies program at Purdue UniversitySometimes we glimpse the very best of humanity when tragedy strikes. This gives me hope that no matter how bad it gets, we can help each other make it better.
“We‘re finally learning to talk about our feelings“
—Haley Gomez, astrophysicist and head of public engagement in the school of physics and astronomy at Cardiff University, UKThe faces and voices and bodies that are leading with imagination and hope and a grounded consciousness, often from the periphery.—Geci Karuri-Sebina, African urbanist and futurist, South AfricaAs a society, I think we‘re finally learning to talk about our feelings.—Jay Owens, technology writer and research director at audience intelligence platform Pulsar, UKThe sustained engagement I see among people, in science, life, and with one another.—Melissa Wilson, computational biologist and assistant professor at Arizona State UniversityThere are a lot of people who are kind and smart.—Paul Shepson, atmospheric scientist, USAThe basic goodness, inquisitiveness, and inventiveness of humanity. We don’t always do things the best way, but in the large our species has at its core a genuine goodness and through that we’ve made a lot of progress in how we manage both ourselves and our planet. Moreover, we continue to create brighter futures through our inquisitiveness and inventiveness.—Alan Stern, planetary scientist, principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, and chief scientist at Moon Express
Local governments and NGOs are doing great work to embrace facts and to make necessary changes to improve the environment and human health. I see effective actions that come out of grassroot efforts.—Pamela Templer, professor in the department of biology and director of the PhD Program in Biogeoscience at Boston University
”Hope is a dangerous word”
Critiques of Hope (4)Equality and rights are rarely handed out, so hope alone will not do. Surely, humans are capable of devising alternate forms of democratic participation toward a more equitable distribution of the common and public good.—Maurizio Albahari, anthropologist and associate professor at University of Notre DameHope is a dangerous word. It’s what we do when we feel we’ve lost control or are powerless to do anything more. We “hope” someone else (like the government) will fix the problem, or a scientist will “science” us out of the mess we’re in. I encourage people not to hope, but to do. Do something. Clean a beach. Commit to bamboo toothbrushes rather than plastic. Replace your lawn with native trees. Do whatever you can that’s positive and within your ability. Sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes it’s easy. Either way, we can all do better and our future relies on it.—Jennifer Lavers, research scientist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, AustraliaI do not see where the hope should come from.—Daniele Mortari, professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M UniversityI am not sure hope is the thing to count on in grim times like these. If you follow climate science, you know what “grim” means. And you might despair and give up, so hope is not all that reliable a thing if you want to be able to act. What if, instead of seeking hope, we seek meaning? So no matter whether things are hopeful or not, we can choose to live in a way that is based on an ethical consideration of what it means to be a human on Planet Earth, which includes working together. Lone rangers won’t save us! This is the age of a million heroes.Paradoxically for me, after I decided to abandon the twin traps of hope and despair and started working with others on this issue, I’ve found a kind of hope after all. Consider the movements around the world that connect the struggle for human dignity with the need for a livable climate and biosphere. I am fascinated by the possibility of a new scientific paradigm emerging from the fact that climate change challenges so many of our conventional ways of thinking. It is an exciting time to be alive.—Vandana Singh, science fiction author and professor in the department of Physics and Earth Science at Framingham State University