Dr Dylan Evans: 'Technology has made life easier, but not happier'

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The Independent Online

This year Dr Dylan Evans quit as a lecturer in robotics at the University of the West of England to set up the Utopia experiment, an imagined post-apocalyptic commune. He believes a global collapse is near and we must be prepared.

I've always been interested in the future. How we got to where we are today and where that process will take us. I became interested in robotics because I believed in the science-fiction world of robots, spaceships, artificial intelligence and supercomputers. I still think all that classic sci-fi stuff is inevitable with enough resources. But all of our incredible progress has only been possible because of an abundant supply of relatively cheap energy and a stable and benign environment. We've been very lucky.

Like many scientists, I've become concerned that our luck is about to run out. Our economy cannot be stabilised; it's based on the idea of continual growth, so there'll be no levelling-off, but a huge decline of technological and material wealth. If that happens fast enough it will be a collapse. What's the point in doing robotics, preparing for a future that you don't think's going to happen? It's just dreaming.

So how can you prepare for this future? The first reaction to this is it's so bleak, so terrifying, that you just freeze up. Instead, let's do some experimental futurology, like archaeologists do experimental archaeology.

We need to act out the future by playing at the future. That way, we'll get more of an idea of what might be. Perhaps the only way to approach the future is not to predict, but to experiment - what JS Mill called "experiments in living".

Out of this disaster there will be some positive things. Global catastrophe will entail the deaths of millions, perhaps billions, of people, but it won't wipe out every human being. Those people will have terrible challenges but also the opportunity to rebuild the human future radically differently, to build a more humane world.

There are many, many bad things in our society. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, you can see that there's a profound mismatch between the world we are adapted to live in and the world we've created for ourselves.

We're Stone Agers living in the fast lane.

Technology seems to have made our lives easier but it doesn't make us happier. No society had more leisure than hunter-gatherers. Since then we've domesticated ourselves. In the last 10,000 years our brains have been getting smaller.

In 100 years our descendants will look back on their crazy ancestors, this amazing wreckage of shit, and say, what was that? They'll struggle to understand a civilisation so idiotic that it imploded.

The Utopia experiment will run from March 2007 to September 2008. To find out more go to www.dylan.org.uk/utopia/utopia.html