Most arguments about the future are therefore really arguments about the technology. These give voice to different sorts of expectations and visions about progress and change, and to different sorts of intuitions about the fundamental character of human life. The particular future being debated is often secondary to these larger much-disputed themes, and the public debate is shaped by different ways of imagining the future, at least as much as, by the specific technical potential of a new device or technique.
This has certainly been the case in the most prominent set of arguments about technology in many countries today — arguments about human biotechnology. For the last two decades, and especially since the late 1990s, the future of these biotechnologies has been a hot political issue in many countries. Novel prospects for manipulating nascent human life, enhancing physical or mental powers, reshaping the life cycle, or otherwise exercising unprecedented control over our biological selves have increasingly been fodder for public argument. Advocates and critics of these emerging powers tend to agree about one thing: biotechnology will play a critical role in shaping the future of humanity. This carries challenges for those engaged in culinary, gastronomy and hospitality.
But how we conceive of that role has a great deal to do with how we think of the future more generally. At issue are not exactly different sets of predictions. At the extremes, each side in the biotechnology debates may indeed have some specific image of the future in mind, whether of a post-human techno-utopia or of some static nostalgic ideal.
Predictions of a positive future may be well off the mark, given the current destruction of the planet. One of the questions that will drive the future Is:
How can a highly evolved species such as ours with its natural instinct for happiness and hope stop doing some of the things we currently do, and turn the tide to create a better future?
To envision the future in terms of innovation means, most fundamentally, to imagine change in terms of new ideas, and to think of life as an array of individual experiments and choices. It is to ask how we might best encourage innovation, how we might allow the best innovations to flourish (and the worst to be rejected), and how new ideas are allowed to thrive to improve human life. This may be the more familiar and — to us liberal, forward-thinking EuroCHRIE members — the more obvious approach to thinking about our future. For better or worse, the future will be shaped by the innovations and advances of the present: by what we develop, what we build, what we learn, what we discover, what we try and test and deem worthwhile.
Progress, in this sense, is made possible by improvements in our knowledge and understanding, our abilities, our circumstances, our institutions, our technology, and our control over nature and chance. There is of course always a danger that we may misuse our newfound powers, or even that they might corrupt us; but there are also reasons to believe that we will learn to use them responsibly in reply to the question above, and that they will enhance our lives and improve our world. Armed with a sense of the potential pitfalls, we stand a reasonably good chance of using our new technologies for the better.