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STS 139: Designing Regenerative Societies (EARTHSYS 139A)

The world is changing in contradictory ways. Emerging technology, the evolving geopolitical economy, and ecological challenges present opportunities but also cascading risks. The pathway from our current destructive and extractive economy towards a more regenerative economy is unclear. There is a stark tension between gigascale opportunities such as AI, fusion energy, nanotech, quantum tech, space colonization, and biomanufacturing on the one hand, and degrowth necessities such as rethinking growth and using less resources on the other. This tension is steeped in political choices constrained by industrial power dynamics and conditioned by inequality. To what extent do visions and incentives align across industry, government, and social movements? What would the choice to scale or descale entail in each case - and are they mutually exclusive? The course introduces empirically driven systems thinking with in-depth modules on both emerging tech and degrowth, and scenario-based tech fores more »
The world is changing in contradictory ways. Emerging technology, the evolving geopolitical economy, and ecological challenges present opportunities but also cascading risks. The pathway from our current destructive and extractive economy towards a more regenerative economy is unclear. There is a stark tension between gigascale opportunities such as AI, fusion energy, nanotech, quantum tech, space colonization, and biomanufacturing on the one hand, and degrowth necessities such as rethinking growth and using less resources on the other. This tension is steeped in political choices constrained by industrial power dynamics and conditioned by inequality. To what extent do visions and incentives align across industry, government, and social movements? What would the choice to scale or descale entail in each case - and are they mutually exclusive? The course introduces empirically driven systems thinking with in-depth modules on both emerging tech and degrowth, and scenario-based tech foresight. We combine the tools of technology foresight, gaming, scenarios, speculative fiction, and worldbuilding, exploring and assessing utopian or dystopian trends, visions, and projects (e.g. the Eden project, biomanufacturing at scale, smart cities, the Metaverse, generation spaceships, space colonization, human longevity, mega-disruptive startups, global health governance, radical longtermism, and religious `heavens'). The goal of the course is to gain clarity on the innovation boundaries within which the next 50 years might develop. The course prepares students to become disruptors of governance principles, strategies, and leadership of corporations, philanthropies, economies, and civilizations.
Terms: Spr | Units: 3-4
Instructors: Undheim, T. (PI)
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