Sitting in the train, riding back home from Munich to Stuttgart, I cannot but be reminded of a callout I used in the talk I had been giving over the course of the weekend. A callout I changed in the last second because it sounded harsh. I had been talking about current and future developments and how they force us to face each other, to face technological change and more over, to face the question of what it means to be human. I was making clear, that the vehicle of time and change, the vehicle of progress, has never and will never stop. It will not even slow down as history has proven specifically in times of war and challenges. But I did not want to name the vehicle a train. It is bad enough to ride a vehicle that cannot be influenced in terms of it speed. But how bad does it sound to be forced to also follow tracks. To drive a road not build by yourself and where only at certain points in time there might be a chance to switch tracks and to change direction by diverting to a yet another predetermined track of time.
Now, sitting in a waggon full of people, listening to their conversations, smelling the type of food being served and eaten, noticing the clothes being worn, the books being read, I think of changing that wording for my next talk. We really are sitting in a train, which is propelled by forces we cannot regulate much, travelling lines by which history is written, mostly without us having a saying and maybe arriving at stations, we did not have in mind.
For most people it has all become far too complicated. Molecular biology, gene editing, force electron microscopes, quantum mechanics, neurology, nanotechnology, self-learning artificial intelligence just to name a few driving forces of our time, make it mostly impossible for many of us to feel at ease. With every new insight the complexity of life increases by possibilities, even if they might provide gains in health, wealth, environmental protection, security, communications… Suddenly it is snowing outside the window, whilst we still might be wearing late summer clothing. The landscape changes so quickly and most of us just hope that when we leave the train, we still recognise our surroundings.
In my talks, I very much try to focus on humanism and to refocus my listener’s attention to freedom of choice, dignity, human rights, education, and the full spectrum of human emotions. After all, we had never been in the driving seat of evolution, we never had a choice with most natural disasters, viral outbreaks, the seasons… New knowledge, technology and specifically cross-discipline approach being possible with modern means of communication, together with semi-automatic intelligence, will bring tremendous possibilities and many many choices even for those not in the driving seats. We do not need to steer the train – we should focus on what we want do during the ride.