SPIEF 2021: scientists look one hundred years ahead (translated from the Russian Academy of Sciences website in Russian)
The President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev took part in the online forum “The World in Half a Century”. The event was held at the exhibition of the Nizhny Novgorod Region within the framework of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Leading scientists and futurologists discussed the main trends in the development of our civilization in the future 50-100 years as well as the most important areas of scientific and technological breakthroughs and the prospects for the implementation of the most advanced technological solutions.
The President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev noted that there are three hypostases of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov: Sakharov – “the scientist”, Sakharov – “the thinker” and Sakharov – “the human rights activist.” “The hypostasis of Andrei Dmitrievich as a thinker, of course, seems very interesting and important, since he was much ahead of his time in comprehending reality,” stressed Alexander Sergeev.
According to him, such people are called prophets, visionaries, and they are often doomed to be misunderstood by others: they have conflicts with the authorities as well as suffer breaks with colleagues and loved ones. “All this was in the fate of Sakharov. But unlike many others, like futurists and even science fiction writers, who tried to predict what the future will be, Andrei Dmitrievich’s constructions were based on a deeply scientific basis,” the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences stressed, adding that many of the predictions Sakharov made were essentially a continuation of his scientific activity. “If you look at the spectrum of predictions as a whole – it is amazing. I think the reason for this accuracy is that Sakharov was a great scientist,” Sergeev said.
“Andrei Dmitrievich was undoubtedly an outstanding theoretical physicist who did a lot for the practical application of his ideas. If we look at how his scientific activities affected his foresights, we can distinguish three main points. First, Sakharov’s participation in the nuclear project, when Andrei Dmitrievich actually predicted that the future could only be built on the correct foundation of strategic security. On the one hand, considering global wars, nuclear weapons pose a huge threat to the future of mankind. On the other hand, due to their creation we have been living in peace on this planet for 75 years,” Sergeev said. According to him, sufficiency and control of nuclear weapons is the core issue of strategic security.
The second thing that Sakharov wrote about in his article “The World in Half a Century” is that the basis of our future lies in scientific and technological progress, in particular, all issues related to the environment. “It is clear that in the face of ever-increasing pressure on the natural environment, one day nature will no longer adapt to anthropogenic impact. And the fact that environmental problems come to the forefront of sustainable development of mankind is the main proof that Sakharov had already made the right conclusions then,” Sergeev emphasized.
Sakharov used the most advanced technologies available at that time to solve the problems. “Computational modeling is another idea of Andrey Dmitrievich. Now the tasks that were solved back then may seem quite simple. But it is necessary to take into account the computing power that was at the disposal of scientists at that time. The main thing is the Sakharov’s idea that with the development of computers, it will be possible to solve more and more complex problems,” Alexander Sergeev gave as an example. According to him, today in many areas we are moving to the so-called digital doubles – the creation of a computer model of a process or phenomenon before its practical implementation. “For example, modern materials are designed today starting from the atomic level and through computer simulation we come to the conclusion that it is possible to create almost any material with the specified properties. This is a real revolution in chemistry, which Andrei Sakharov also foresaw, and we realized it just 50 years later,” said Sergeyev. Andrey Dmitrievich also wrote about space projects, in particular, that bases will be built on the Moon, and the development of planets will begin. “Perhaps, in this area, we are somewhat behind in comparison with Sakharov’s assumptions. The last Soviet mission to the Moon was in 1976. After that there was a big break, but now “the second era” of lunar exploration begins,” the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.
And third, the world of the future should be based on social and moral progress. “Scientific and technological progress and maintaining stability separately, without improving human nature, will not work. This is especially important now, since a new generation has come that does not know what the horrors of war are, and imagines them speculatively, like a quest in a computer game. Moral improvement is necessary so that the danger of war is not underestimated due to ignorance and misunderstanding of all the consequences,” says Alexander Sergeev.
According to the Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, now the understanding of new threats has come. This includes, first of all, a biological threat, which at COVID time makes us think about strategic stability in this area of science. “Also, there is something to think about in terms of nuclear energy. We are now talking a lot about a carbon-free future, about solar and wind energy replacing the traditional hydrocarbon energy, which today dominates in our country. But it is also necessary to stand up for nuclear energy, because to this day it is viewed by the world community as dangerous. Yes, there were serious accidents at nuclear power plants. We are also concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste. But the steps that nuclear power industry has taken in recent years, in fact, resulted into the cleanest possible nuclear energy,” said Sergeev. “Let’s not discount controlled thermonuclear energy as well. For various reasons, we experienced delays in the development in this direction, but, undoubtedly, it has a bright future, and recent studies only confirm this,” Alexander Sergeev urged.
Gerd Leonhard (one of the most famous futurologists in the world), Professor Sohail Inayatullah (Chair of UNESCO’s Future Studies), Aubrey de Gray (Chief Scientific Officer of the SENS Research Foundation), and many other speakers also presented their assessments of the future.