By Obadiah Mailafia
The first part of this piece published last week submitted that while preparing for the emergent new world, governments must invest in human capital and skills, while updating the technical competencies of young people
I met the Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku a few years ago at an international scientific conference in Jordan. An author of several popular science best sellers, he is a leading researcher on string theory.
Kaku predicts that in future things like star ships, time travel, invisibility and teleportation may be possible. According to him, we may be approaching the twilight of the gods: “In ancient times, we used to fear the gods; tomorrow we would become the gods.”
Thirty years ago, when I was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, there was only one computer on campus. Its power was just a fraction of what your average laptop can do today. There was no internet and no email; not to talk of Google, smart phones or Twitter.
According to Moore’s Law, computing power doubles every 18 months. By 2050, we would be living in a world of quantum computers, with capacities that can only be imagined. The Internet of Things, IOT, will be everywhere. Computers and nanotechnology will lead to extraordinary breakthroughs in medicine and communications.
Instantaneous translation will be possible. The mind-computer interface will lead to developments in prosthetics that will allow paralytics to function normally while the blind will be able to see with artificial eyes.
There will be a proliferation of maglev trains and transcontinental oceanic hyperloops with speeds exceeding 700 mph. Air taxis and driverless cars will become mainstream while robotics and artificial intelligence, AI, will revolutionise the way we live, learn and work. Advances in 5-G connectivity, and blockchain will revolutionise commerce and finance.
Fusion power plants will lead to new forms of cheap and clean energy. Nanotechnology, stem cells and genetic engineering will provide cures for cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
Customised babies may become the norm while ageing and death will increasingly be consigned to the domain of individual choice. Human blood will be produced in laboratories. There will be needle-free injections that will be administered through jet-injections. Vertical and greenhouse farming will be common in addition to production of artificial meat.
Drones will be ubiquitous. Supersonic avionics will be back while electric airplanes will disrupt the aviation industry. Space tourism will be patronised by the wealthy. It is forecasted that,Alpha Centauri, our neighbouring galaxy, will be within reach by 2040.
There will be a new scramble for the colonisation of outer space. Humanity is on the verge of “technological singularity”, where the interface between brain, computers and body implants will profoundly redefine what it means to be human.
But there are dangers. Global warming will get worse, unless urgent collective action is taken to reverse the trend. The Amazon rainforest is being destroyed; irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet could occur.
ALSO READ: Nigeria @ 60 and our wasted opportunities
In the face of rising sea levels, 200 million people run the risk of displacement while entire island nations such as Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Maldives and some of the Caribbean islands may disappear altogether. Climate change is exacerbating the problem of resource stress, particularly fresh water, food systems and competition for metals and minerals.
Scientists tell us that we now live in theAnthropocene Age where human beings can alter the physiognomy of the biosphere. With a population veering on 10 billion beyond 2050, we would have reached the uttermost limits of demographic sustainability. Food shortages, famines, diseases and natural-resource depletion will create a new Malthusian nightmare.
The late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking expressed profound fears that technological strides without the requisite rebirth in human nature will lead to a more dangerous world. He feared that,A.I., for example, could be set on a war path with humans.
Religious fanatics and ideological extremists will be able to manufacture bespoke WMD. Genetically manufactured viruses could spell disaster for humanity.
Nations that fail to realign their national systems to hook on to neural networks of economic opportunity will regress while the life-chances of their people will diminish. Financial and banking contagion effects will become more difficult to contain in future.
So will viral pandemics. Radical terrorists can recruit more followers using social media and other forms of electronic communications. Policing borders, patrolling cyber criminals and keeping out radical extremist ideas will become a nightmare for national authorities.
My generation grew up in the shadow of Pax Americana. From Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman, American statesmen helped in designing the architectureof the post-war international order that has guaranteed the global equilibrium. But American influence is in decline.
It is a truism that the centre of world gravity over the last 30 years has gradually been shifting from the West to the East.
Napoleon Bonaparte famously counselled that we must let China sleep, because, when she wakes up, the world will tremble. The Chinese Dragon has woken up. The world that Humpty-Dumpty built will never be the same again.
In terms of nominal GDP, the USA today is $21.44 trillion as contrasted to China’s $14.4 trillion. But in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), the USA is $21.44 trillion while China is already ahead at $27.31 trillion. The Chinese themselves are uncomfortable with such comparisons.
The Chinese have never pretended to be democrats. I doubt if they have ever identified with theenlightenment internationalism of Immanuel Kant or the humane jurisprudence of the Jesuit Fathers of Salamanca; not to talk of the global civic spirit of a Dag Hammarskjold or Kofi Annan.I would not go so far as to describe them as the new barbarian pagans with power but no responsibility.
Poor global governance will make collective security more problematic. Rogue states, armed bandits, guerrillas and terrorist organisationsmay wax stronger. Democracies may be forced to resort to “undemocratic” means totackle them. The moral-constitutional foundations of the international liberal order as we have always known it will come increasingly under strain.
For emerging economies, the years ahead will create unprecedented opportunities and challenges. Prosperity in the 21st centurywill be dependent onpossession of strong institutions, political stability, property rights and the rule of law. Echoing the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, I daresay that every successful state is a work of art.
Great nations are not products of chance. They are the handiworks of great statesmen with vision, passion, courage and imagination. Nations, empires and civilisations have risen and fallen throughout history. There are no guarantees anywhere. Leaders that mobilise their peoples around grand visions will see their countries go forward. Those that pursue the path of folly will go under.
Nigeria has become a sick, rudderless ship; a violent and lawless Hobbesian nightmare; an oil-dependent rentier,debt-ridden, vastly corrupt and increasingly impecunious ghetto; governed by an atrociously narrow-minded, nepotistic oligarchy.Even school children know that our ramshackle behemoth is doomed. The “Spirit of Sudan” is a phantom that refuses to go away.
Some of our compatriots have given up already. But I dare to believe that a New Nigeria is possible. It will have to be a re-engineered federation based on a new constitutional compact;a forward-looking democracy anchored on freedom, the rule of law and social justice.
We must reinvent government as a servant of the people, not their master; a compassionate, enlightened, and entrepreneurial state,based on market principlesthat guarantee collective welfare and security for all. And we must plan for a world without oil, where hydrogen and sustainable energy sources replace hydrocarbons.
Leadership, human capital, power and infrastructures, science, technology and innovation, and fostering trust and social harmony among all our people, will matter more than anything else.
I am persuaded that the vocation of our generation is to build a New Nigeria – to reinvent our country as a beacon of hope and a light unto the nations.