A Future History

Thank you. I'd like to begin by saying how honoured I am by Port Burroughs' invitation to speak here on your fiftieth anniversary. On the past two occasions I've been here as a guest speaker, I was asked to talk about the future; something that wasn't too difficult for me, as a futurologist.

Yet on such a momentous day as this, fifty years since the establishment of the third colony on Mars, rather than looking forwards, I think it would be fitting to talk about the past. You'll have to forgive me, though, for making the odd prediction or two - it's a hard habit to slip out of.

When you think of the most outstanding events of the last fifty years, the first that comes to mind is probably the Tear asteroid disaster. Certainly it changed many things - not only did that singular event kill thousands and halt all research into both artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, it shocked the solar system out of its pervasive complacency.

Perhaps in that regard, we have not realised all the dreams of our ancestors who thought their children would be conversing with computers and creating diamonds out of coal, though it is true that we have made startling advances in biotechnology - we were all surprised by the news of the sapience uplift of dolphins.

Yet I'd like to think that rather than the 21st century being remembered for technology, as the 20th was, our descendants will think of our era as the one where the human race grew up, and left home. I know that the people here at Port Burroughs are a disarmingly modest bunch, but believe me when I say that the Martians were the people who kicked off this process of maturation.

You see, when the first settlers came to Mars, they had to be flexible, they had to be willing to be different. These weren't essential characteristics back on Earth - but on an alien world possessing the harshest environment humans had ever tried to live in, either you had them and survived, or you didn't and you were on the next ship home. Only there weren't any ships home, so you had to shape up.

Most people today recognise the Martian's flexibility in the form of the various technological breakthroughs the first colonies produced - the black silicon solar arrays, biological ore refiners and total waste recycling system, to name a few. The most significant - and subtle - change however was still to come.

Along with being open to new ideas, the first colonists were open to new concepts of how to live. In the cramped spaces of their tin-can habitats, there was no centralised government. Each colony had to get along as best as it could, and they couldn't afford the time or energy to set up a formal bureaucracy. So they improvised - taking the much-discussed but never implemented concepts of transparent societies and electronic voting, they single-handedly revolutionised the notion of 'democracy'.

Instead of democracy being the ability to vote for a representative who would have to balance your views with ten thousand others, along with being exposed to the temptations of misusing the over-large power bestowed to them, it became the method by which people could have a say in all decisions.

True, there were teething problems, notably at New Toronto in 2032, which resulted in the complete shutdown of their hydroponics bays due to the wrong people having the wrong information at the wrong time. But those problems were far outweighed by the fact that the Martian way allowed people to really feel they could make a difference in their world. That's something we take for granted these days.

At the end of the twentieth century though, politics was treated with complete apathy by many sections of the population. To take an example from the United Kingdom, almost half of all young voters would not vote, or did not know who to vote for, at elections. Political commentators at the time merely said that politics bored the youth. We know now that this reluctance to vote was not just apathy, it was the fact that the youth simply did not believe that their vote could make a difference.

You can't blame them, when the media was constantly talking of corrupt politicians and disastrous mistakes made by 'back-room committees.' They didn't think anyone would listen to what they said, so they stopped speaking.

This state of affairs continued for over a decade until the first humans arrived to live on Mars permanently. That youth, now grown up, realised that on Mars they couldn't afford to ignore anyone's opinions or ideas - those ideas might quite literally make the difference between life and death. So the generation that had collectively lost its voice began to listen to each other again, and they taught their children how to speak. That generation created the world we live in today.

On my way to Port Burroughs, I was asked to unveil a statue at Asimov Point, up north on the banks of the Valles Marineris. I'd never seen anything quite like it before - it was composed of two spheres, the inner being a brass globe of Mars, and the outer a transparent globe of Earth. It had a simple inscription on it:

'Duo orbis terrarum, Una gens.'

Translated from the Latin, it means 'Two worlds, One people.'

It's heartening to see that in these prosperous times we still remember where we came from, and those who made it possible for us to be here now. No matter how far we travel, into space and into the future, we will always have come from Earth. It's a testament to those people that in the dark beginnings of the twenty-first century, they had the confidence to believe that they could make a difference, and convince the world that Mars was more than a star in the sky. It's to them we owe our existence here.

Speaking of individuals making a real difference, the one example that comes to mind is the incredible sacrifice of the first female on Mars, Astronaut Harris. Which is the other prime candidate for the most important event of this century so far, coincidentally bringing us back full circle.

But I don't need to remind you about that story; every child on this planet knows what happened on the nearly disastrous first manned Mars landing back in...

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