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Andrei Sakharov. 1974
The World in 50 Years
Andrei Sakharov. 1974
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Tomorrow: The View From Red Square
A famed Russian sees a world of flying cities, freight-carrying dirigibles, and arctic farming, adding a recipe for progress in human rights.

It is almost unanimously accepted that of the factors that will determine the nature of the world in the coming decades, the most important are population growth (by 2024 there will be more than 7 billion people on our planet); depletion of our natural resources (petroleum, the natural fertility of the soil, clean water, and so on); and serious disruption of the ecological balance and man's environment. These three indisputable factors create a depressing context for any forecasts. But equally indisputable and significant is yet another factor: scientific and technological progress, which has gathered steam during the millennium of the development of civilization and only now is beginning to fully unfold its brilliant possibilities.

The most important unknown in any predictions is the possibility of the destruction of civilization and the human race in the holocaust of thermonuclear war. As long as thermonuclear missiles and hostile and suspicious governments and groups of governments exist, this horrible threat will be the cruelest reality of contemporary life.

Mankind is also threatened by the decline of personal and governmental morality, which manifests itself even now in the disintegration of the basic ideals of law and justice in many countries, consumer egotism, the general growth of crime, the new international disaster of nationalist and political terrorism, and the destructive spread of alcoholism and drug addiction. The causes of these phenomena vary from country to country.

In the present state of the world, when there is an enormous and ever-growing rift in the economic development of various countries and when the world is openly dividing into opposing groups of governments, all the dangers that threaten mankind increase by an incredible degree.

The Socialist countries are responsible for a major portion of this increase. I must talk about it here, because as a citizen of the most influential Socialist state I bear my part of that responsibility. The party and state monopoly in all aspects of economic, political, ideological, and cultural life; the persistent burden of the uncovered bloody crimes of the recent past; the permanent suppression of non-conformist thought; the hypocritical, self-praising, dogmatic, and often nationalistic ideology; the oppression in these societies, which hinders free contact between their citizens and citizens of other countries; and the formation in Socialist states of an egotistic, immoral, smug, and hypocritical bureaucratic class—all this creates a situation that is not only unpleasant for the people of these countries but also dangerous for all mankind.

The citizens of these states are unified to a great degree in their goals by propaganda and several indisputable achievements and are partially corrupted by the lure of conformism. Y et at the same time they are suffering and are irritated by their constant lag behind the West andthe real opportunities of material andsocial progress.

The bureaucratic leadership by its nature is ineffective in solving the current problems of progress. It concentrates on immediate, narrow interests, on the next report to the government. Such leaders are ill equipped to actually worry about the interests of future generations—for example, about preserving the environment—and can only allude to such issues in formal speeches.

What opposes or can oppose (should oppose) the destructive tendencies of contemporary life? I feel that it is particularly important to halt the disintegration of the world into antagonistic groups of states. The convergence of theSocialist and capitalist systems would be accompanied by demilitarization, the strengthening of international trust, and the defense of human rights, law, and freedom. Profound social progress and democratization would follow, and man's moral, spiritual, and personal resources would be strengthened.

I imagine that the economic structure that would arise as a result of this convergence would have to be a system of the mixed type, with maximum flexibility, freedom, social mobility, and opportunities for worldwide regulation.

A major role must be played by international organizations, such as the United Nations and UNESCO, in which I would like to see the beginning of a world government with guiding principles based on global human rights.

But it is imperative to take the important transitional steps that are possible now. The simplest and most urgent step is a universal halt to such intolerable actions as the persecution of non-conformity. Already existing international organizations—the Red Cross, WHO (World Health Organization), Amnesty International, and others—should be allowed to go wherever there could possibly be violations of human rights, first and foremost into prisons and psychiatric institutions. The issue of free movement throughout the planet—emigration, re-emigration, and private travel—must be resolved democratically.

The resolution of that issue is particularly germane to overcoming the oppression of closed Socialist societies, to creating an atmosphere of trust, and to bringing closer the legal and economic standards of various countries.

I do not know whether people in the West fully comprehend what the newly declared freedom of tourism in the Socialist countries really represents or how much of it is for show, red tape, and cruel regimentation. For the few who are trusted, such trips are most often merely an attractive opportunity—paid for by conformity—to dress in Western clothes and generally join the elite. I have already written much on freedom of travel, but this real lack of freedom is the Carthage that must be destroyed.

I would like now to present several futurological hypotheses, basically of a scientific and technological character.

I imagine a gradual (completed long after 2024) growth of two types of territory out of the industrial world that is overcrowded and inhospitable to human life and nature. I will conditionally term them "Work Territory" (WT) and "Preserve Territory" (PT). The PT, larger in area, will be set aside for maintaining the earth's ecological balance, for leisure activities, and for man to actively re-establish his own natural balance. The smaller and more densely populated WT will be the area where people will spend most of their time.

The WT will have intensive agriculture; nature will have been transformed completely to serve practical needs. All industry will be concentrated in giant automated and semi-automated factories. Almost all the people will live in "super-cities," the centers of which will contain multi-storied apartment buildings with artificially controlled climate and lighting, with automated kitchens, landscape walls, and so on.

A large part of the cities will be made up of suburbs that stretch for dozens of kilometers. I envisage those suburbs in terms of the suburbs of today's most comfortable countries: built up with small houses or cottages, with yards and gardens, children's organizations, sports fields, and swimming pools. They will have all the conveniences and comforts of modem urban living, silent and comfortable public transportation, clean air, arts and crafts, and a free and varied cultural life.

Despite its rather high population density, life in the WT, with the rational solution of social and international problems, need not be any less healthy, natural, and happy than the life of a person from the middle class of our present-day developed countries—that is, much better than is possible for the overwhelming majority of our contemporaries.

But the man of the future will have an opportunity, I hope, to spend part, even though it will be the smaller part, of his time in the more natural surroundings of the PT. I predict that people will lead lives with a real social aim in the PT as well. They will not only rest but also work with their hands and their heads, read, and think. They will live in tents or in houses they have built themselves, the way their ancestors did. They will listen to the noise of a mountain stream or simply relish the silence, the wild beauty of the outdoors, the forests, the sky, and the clouds. Their basic work will be to preserve nature and themselves.

Here is a statistical example. The area of the WT will be 30 million square kilometers, its average population density 300 people per square kilometer. Area of the PT, 80 million square kilometers; average density, 25 people per square kilometer. World population, 11 billion. People will be able to spend some 20 percent of their time in the PT.

A natural area for the expansion of the WT will be flying cities—artificial earth satellites with important industrial functions. Solar energy will be concentrated on them and perhaps a significant portion of nuclear and thermonuclear installations with radiant cooling of heat exchangers to avoid superheating the earth. The satellites will house vacuum metallurgy plants, hothouses, and so on. They will serve as cosmic-research laboratories and way stations for long-distance flights. Below both the WT and the PT there will be a widely developed system of subterranean cities for sleep and entertainment, with service stations for underground transportation and mining.

I foresee the industrialization, mechanization, and intensification of agriculture (particularly in the WT) not only through the classic use of fertilizers but also with the gradual creation of an artificial superfertile soil, with universal irrigation, and, in the northern areas, with a widespread system of hothouses, artificially illuminated, with heated soil, that use electrophori and perhaps other physical methods to induce growth.

Of course, genetics and selection will continue to play a prime role. Thus, the "green revolution" of the last few decades will continue and develop. New forms of agriculture will arise, including marine, bacterial, microalgal, and fungal. The surface of the oceans, of Antarctica, and, ultimately, of the moon and the planets as well, will be gradually adapted for agricultural use.

A pressing problem today is protein starvation, afflicting hundreds of millions of people. This form of malnutrition cannot be solved by expanding animal husbandry because even now animal feed makes up almost 50 percent of the world's agricultural production. Besides, many other factors, including the preservation of the environment, demand a reduction of animal husbandry. I assume that in the next few decades a huge industry will be created to produce animal-protein substitutes—in particular, artificial amino acids, primarily through the enrichment of vegetable matter. This will lead to a sharp curtailment of animal husbandry.

Changes almost as radical as these should take place in industry, energy production, and general life-styles. The most important task in preserving the environment will be the global changeover to closed cycles, with the complete absence of dangerous and polluting emissions. The gigantic technological and economic problems that accompany such a changeover can be resolved only on an international scale (as can the problems of restructuring agricultural production, demographic problems, and so on).

Another aspect of industry and of the future in general will be the more widespread use of cybernetic technology.

I foresee that the parallel development of semiconductor, magnetic, electrovacuum, photo-electronic, laser, cryotron, gas-dynamic, and other forms of cybernetics will lead to an enormous growth of its potential economic and technological possibilities.

A unique role will be played by progress in communications and information. One of the first stages of this progress will be the creation of a single global telephone and videophone system. Far in the future, more than 50 years from now,

I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central-control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines.

Even the partial realization of the UIS will profoundly affect every person, his leisure activities, and his intellectual and artistic development. Unlike television, the major source of information for many of our contemporaries, the UIS will give each person maximum freedom of choice and will require individual activity.

But the true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people. The complete accessibility of information, particularly in the creation of art, carries the danger of reducing its value. But I am certain that this contradiction will somehow be resolved. Art and its perception are always so individual that the value of personal contact with the work and the artist will always remain. Books will also retain their value. The private library will always exist, because it represents personal, individual choice and beauty and tradition, in the good sense of the world. Personal contact with art and books will always remain a joy.

As far as energy is concerned: I am certain that during the next 50 years the importance of energy created from coal at huge power plants with pollution controls will become even greater. Simultaneously, to be sure, the production of atomic energy will become widespread, and by the end of that period, so will energy created through fusion. The problem of "burying" radioactive wastes from atomic energy is now merely an economic one, and in the future it will be no more complex or expensive than the equally important extraction of sulfurous gas and nitrogen oxide from the furnace gases of steam-power plants.

In the matter of transportation: for family and individual transportation to be employed primarily in the PT, the automobile will be replaced, in my opinion, by a battery-powered vehicle on mechanical “legs” that will not disturb the grass cover or require asphalt roads. Basic freight and passenger transport will be carried out in atomic-powered helium dirigibles and, primarily, in high-speed, atomic-powered trains that will run on monorails and underground. In many cases, particularly in urban transportation, passengers and freight will be loaded and unloaded from moving vehicles with the aid of “intermediate” facilities (like the moving sidewalks in H. G. Wells's novel When the Sleeper Wakes or like unloading cars on parallel tracks).

As far as science, the latest technology, and space exploration are concerned: in scientific research, the use of theoretical computer simulation of many complex processes will take on even greater significance. Computers with larger memories and faster action (real-time computers or perhaps photo-electric computers or purely optical ones in which informational fields are visually displayed) will provide the opportunity to solve multi-faceted problems, problems with multiple variables, and quantum-mechanical and statistical problems of many kinds. Examples of such problems include weather forecasting; the magnetic-gas dynamics of the sun, the solar corona, and other astrophysical objects; the analysis of organic molecules and elementary biophysical processes; the determination of properties of solid and liquid bodies, liquid crystals, and elementary particles; cosmological calculations; the plotting of multi-faceted production processes (for example, in metallurgy and the chemical industry); and complex economic and sociological cal­culations. Even though computer simula­tion should under no circumstances re­ place experiment and observation, it provides awesome auxiliary possibilities for the development of science. Simula­tion can control the accuracy of the theo­retical explanation of some phenomena.

It is possible that there will be achieve­ments in the synthesis of matter that is super-conductive at room temperature. Such a discovery would be revolutionary in electronics and in many other areas of technology—for example, in trans­portation, creating super-conductive rails, on which the vehicle glides without fric­tion on a magnetic “cushion”; of course, the vehicle's runners could be super-con­ductors and the rails magnetized.

I imagine that the achievements in physics and chemistry (perhaps employ­ing computer modeling) will lead not only to the creation of synthetics superior to the natural materials in every signifi­cant way (the first steps have been taken in this field) but also to the artificial re­ production of many unique aspects of entire systems existing in nature. I imagine that automatons of the future will have efficient and easily directed “muscles” of contractive polymers and that there will be highly sensitive analy­zers of organic and inorganic mixtures of the air and water operating on the principle of an artificial “nose.” Artificial diamonds will be created from graphite through special underground atomic blasts. Diamonds, of course, play a major role in contemporary technology, and cheaper production methods will height­ en their importance.

Space exploration will be even more significant. I foresee greater attempts to establish communication with civiliza­tions from other planets. This will in­volve the search for interplanetary sig­nals on all known wavelengths and the simultaneous planning and establishment of our own transmitting stations. It would also entail searching outer space for the stations of extraterrestrial civilizations. Of course, information obtained “out there” could have a revolutionary impact on all aspects of human life—in science and technology, naturally—and also could result in an exchange of social experience.

I predict that powerful telescopes set up at space laboratories or on the moon will permit us to see the planets orbiting the nearest stars (Alpha Centauri and others). Atmospheric obstacles make it impossible to enlarge the existing mirrors of the telescopes on earth.

In 50 years the economic exploitation of the surface of the moon and the asteroids will probably be underway. Atomic blasts on the asteroids may direct them “closer” to the earth.

I have set forth a few of my predictions about the future of science and technol­ogy. But I have almost completely over­ looked the very heart of science, which often turns out to be the most important in terms of practical consequences—the highly abstract theoretical research that is born of the indefatigable curiosity, flexibility, and power of human reason. In the first half of the twentieth century, such research led to the creation of a specific and a general theory of relativity, the creation of quantum mechanics, and the discovery of the structure of the atom and its nucleus.

Discoveries on that scale have always been, and always will be, unpredictable. I can only hazard a guess, and with great reservations, about the general direc­tions in which comparable discoveries will take place.

Research in the theory of elementary particles and in cosmology may lead not only to major concrete advances in exist­ing areas of research but also to the formation of completely new perceptions of the structure of space and time. Great unexpected findings may come from re­search in physiology and biophysics, in the regulation of vital functions, in medi­cine, in social cybernetics, and in the general theory of self-regulation. Every major discovery will have a profound in­fluence on the life of mankind.

The continuation and development of the existing tendencies of scientific and technological progress seem inevitable to me. I do not consider the consequences tragic, despite the fact that I am familiar with the warnings of thinkers who hold the opposite view.

Population growth and the depletion of natural resources make it absolutely impossible for mankind to return to the so-called healthy life of the past (which was, in reality, very difficult and often cruel and joyless), even if man desired it and could bring it about under the conditions of competition and economic and political difficulties. Various sides of scientific and technological progress—urbanization, industrialization, mechani­zation, automation, the use of fertilizers and chemical weed-killers, the growth of culture and leisure time, medical prog­ress, better nourishment, the lowering of the mortality rate, and the prolonging of life—are closely interconnected, and

there is no possibility of “turning back” some aspects of progress without destroying all of civilization.

Only the ruin of civilization by the holocaust of a global thermonuclear catastrophe, by famine, epidemics, or general chaos could turn progress around, but only a madman would wish for such an outcome.

Things are not well in the world today in the most direct and simple sense of the word. Hunger and death threaten the majority of men. That is why the first goal of truly humane progress must be to put an end to those dangers, and any other approach would be unforgiveable snobbism. Yet I am not prone to insist on the technological and material side of progress. I am certain that the “super-goal” of human institutions, and that in­cludes progress, is not only to protect all those born on earth from excessive suffering and early death but also to pre­serve in mankind all that is human: the joy of spontaneous work with knowing hands and a knowing mind, the joy of mutual help and of good relations with people and nature, and the joy of learn­ing and art. I do not believe the contra­ dictions in these goals to be insurmount­able. Even now, the citizens of the more developed, industrialized countries have more opportunities for a normal, healthy life than their contemporaries in the more backward and hungry countries have. And in any case, progress that will save people from hunger and disease can­ not contradict the preservation of the source of active good, that which is most humane in man.

I believe that mankind will find a ra­tional solution to the complex problem of realizing the grand, necessary, and inevitable goals of progress without losing the humaneness of humanity and the naturalness of nature.

Text telephoned by Mr. Sakharov to SR/W and translated by Antonina W. Bouis

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