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Institute of Advanced Study

The World in 2050

(24 January 2011)

As never before, we seek to predict, manage and control our planet's future which looks precarious on many fronts.  But in the past, many views of the future imagined a perfect society of peace and prosperity which science was surely driving us towards - a Utopia. It's an idea that's been tarnished by failed attempts to create the 'perfect' society and by a growing mistrust of science and scientists. But can society progress without an ideal of the good life to aim for?

This is the central theme to a series of lectures organised by the Institute of Advanced Study as part of our year-long 'Futures' theme. It will examine the meaning and relevance of the idea of Utopia today, both in general and in relation to particular challenges we face. 

The series includes lectures by the renowned environmentalist, Jonathon Porritt CBE; Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees; eminent social and political theorist, Krishan Kumar; and distinguished literary and critical theorist Terry Eagleton.

In his lecture on Tuesday 22 February 2011, Professor Lord Martin Rees FRS will address what the world will be like by 2050, by which time it is predicted that the world's population will have risen to around 9 billion. There will be pressure on energy, resources and the environment. New technology (some as yet un-envisaged) could, if optimally applied, ensure a rising quality of life and a closing of the gap between the developing and developed world. But there is a growing gap between what science will allow us to do and what it's prudent or ethical actually to do. There are threats as well as opportunities and it's realistic to be a technological optimist while being an anxious pessimist about the actual political and social trends.

Martin Rees is Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Astronomer Royal.  In 2005 he was appointed to the House of Lords and elected President of the Royal Society, a position he held until December 2010.     He is the author or co-author of more than 500 research papers, as well as seven books (five for general readership), and numerous magazine and newspaper articles on scientific and general subjects.

Forthcoming lectures in this series:

3 May 2011
Professor Krishan Kumar (University of Virginia)
The Ends of Utopia
10 May 2011
Professor Terry Eagleton (University of Lancaster)
Refusing Utopia for the Sake of it

All these lectures will take place at 6.15pm in Room 140, Elvet Riverside Building (New Elvet, Durham).  The lectures are free to attend and open to all.  Places are on a first come first served basis.

For further details visit:  www.durham.ac.uk/ias/utopia