The big question for this segment is, what might Threshold 9 be? Where is it all going? When I first began teaching Big History, I stopped dead at the present moment. It was a student who said to me, "In a course like this you can't just stop dead in the present. You have to look at the future because you built up so much momentum over 13.8 billion years. You have to ask where is it all going." Well, I decided immediately that she was dead right and since then, our Big History courses and many taught in other universities as well as the Big History project for schools have all ended by thinking seriously about the future. A colleague, David Briscoe, a biologist who was teaching the Big History course with me said, "OK. What we have to do is we have to toss a coin in front of everyone and decide who's the optimist and who's the pessimist." And for two or three years we did that, it was a lot of fun, but I have to admit that as a historian, I didn't find it easy thinking about the future. After all, historians deal with the past, not the future. In fact, the great historiographer, R. G. Collingwood, once wrote that, "If you hear a historian talking about the future," and I'm quoting now, "you know something has gone seriously wrong." Well, I now think he was wrong. In fact, I believe that part of the point of looking at the past is to help us also to think about the future, but once I got going, I found it was actually very exciting for a historian to think about the future. Whether or not my own ideas were right or wrong, I found that my students too were excited to use the trans-disciplinary thinking that Big History provides to think seriously and carefully about the future and in particular about their own future. Is the world in trouble? Will they or their grandchildren live in a degraded world? Or, are we on the verge of building a much better life and one that's sustainable for many generations and perhaps many centuries? I think it's vital for the generation of young people to think seriously about these issues because they will be taking many of the crucial decisions about the future. Oddly, this is something that many business people know perfectly well. They do think about the future and many... Well, think stock brokers or futures fund managers make lots of money by thinking with some skill about the future. How do you think seriously about the future? Well, there are some simple rules. The first is that there are no guarantees. The future really is unpredictable. It's not just that we don't know enough about it. Quantum physics shows that unpredictability is built into the very nature of our universe. Second, we do know that some things are more predictable than others. Now, I don't know what the weather will be like next New Year's Day, but I'll predict with great confidence that there will be a New Year's Day or closer to home, don't ask me what the population of the world will be in 50 years. On the other hand, demographers will give you a pretty confident estimate of the range of populations that's likely to be and they will be confident enough to build major and possibly expensive policy decisions on those estimates such as decisions about how much needs to be set aside for old age pensions. Third rule. To tell the difference between what can be predicted with some confidence and what cannot, we need to look at long trends. We've seen a lot of those in this course, trends of rising complexity or increasing populations or increasing energy use. Those large trends will not do a U-turn in 24 hours so we can predict that they will continue some way into the future. Fourth rule. Once we've made our guess, that's the best we can do. This is actually something we all do all the time. We guess what the weather will be like or will the house prices will rise or fall then we act and we take our chances. We'll find it also helps to think of the future at several different scales. By now, you should be used to thinking of different scales in both time and place. Let's distinguish between two very different scales as we think about the future. The first is the near future, the next 50 to 100 years. It's close enough that we may be able to make some plausible guesses and it matters because in 100 years people will be alive that we care about. Finally, today's generations may have some impact on their future so it really matters. This is the scale of issues like climate change or declining biodiversity or increasing wealth. The second scale is everything else, the rest of time. Literally until the end of time if there is an end. A century or more into the future and it's really hard to predict the human future. It all gets far too complex, but we can predict about simpler processes such as those of geology or astronomy, which change over millions or billions of years. Curiously, this means we can make some pretty confident predictions about events in the remote future. About the future of our planet, for example, and even about the future of the universe as a whole. For us humans, of course, it's the near future that's most urgent, the next 50 to 100 years, and in some sense that future is most real. What changes should we expect on that scale? Well, in the short run, we should probably expect growth. New technologies, new ideas, more efficient markets, and increasing use of energy will ensure that more and more people enjoy the remarkable living standards of today's growing middle class. Average life expectancy and general levels of health will probably improve too barring some cataclysm such as a massive global plague, but how long can such changes continue? The bonanza of fossil fuels will eventually run out. Will societies return to the much lower living standards of the agrarian era or will we have found new sources of energy that allow continued improvement in living standards? Perhaps most worrying is the sheer scale of human impact on the biosphere. We now dominate the biosphere, but it's really not clear that we, humans, are fully in control. Continued use of fossil fuels is almost certainly going to create less predictable and more erratic global climates. The expanding living spaces of humans, their cities, their houses, their roads and farms are squeezing out other species at rates approaching those of the great extinction events of the past, and we have nuclear weapons. Is there any guarantee that someone won't unleash that awesome destructive potential in the next 50 to 100 years? If there are technological solutions to these problems, there's a good bet that human technology powered by collective learning will find them, but the problems are as much political as they are technical. Can humans across the world, divided as they are by religion, by race, by nationality, come to a consensus about ways of ensuring a better future for our grandchildren and their children? Let's hope that we'll use our astonishing capacity for collective learning to find a way through these problems and build a better future that's also a sustainable future. As for the distant future, that too is predictable to some extent. We've told a story of increasing complexity. Most of the universe remains simple but we've seen that the upper level of complexity has increased. It will almost certainly continue to increase where the conditions are right. Will future generations merge with machines as Ray Kurzweil has predicted? Perhaps to form new super organisms that are more powerful and vastly more clever than you and me. Will the civilizations of our Earth eventually encounter civilizations from other star systems and link up with them so that collective learning can work on galactic scales? Will future generations start herding stars as today we herd sheep? All this is speculation. We're on safer ground thinking about geology. Plate tectonics will drive the continents and oceans into new configurations. Our sun will almost certainly die in about five billion years, but well before that, it'll expand into a red giant and gobble up our planet, sterilizing it of life. Perhaps by then, our ancestors would have migrated to outer planets. If so, they will watch as our galaxy collides with its neighbor Andromeda like two crushing clouds. As for the universe, its expansion will almost certainly accelerate so that eventually will not be able to see distant galaxies and each galaxy will begin to seem like an entire universe. The universe will start getting simpler again after its early climb up the mountain of complexity. Gazillions and gazillions of years into the future, energy will be spread so thinly that complex things will run out of fuel. Planets and stars will die. Galaxies will die. Eventually, simple chemicals and atoms will die as black holes graze on scraps of remaining matter. Then, the black holes themselves will evaporate and there will come a time when there is essentially nothing forever and ever and ever.