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Past & Future

Egypt as a continuous civilization

The past is a rich and wonderful world that is more than just history: it shapes the present, helps us imagine the future, and provides a vast range of cultural resources that meet challenges and creates our identities. It is full of adventure and mishap, possibilities and strange turns, choices and dreams. The present moves into the past as soon as we apprehend it, and we experience it only as we look forward to a future that has yet to be created. To explore these Worlds we need not just factual analyses, but their creative reconstruction, the exploration of alternatives, and fictive exploration of worlds yet to come. This site provides diverse resources to constructively ride the wave of the past into the future.

Future includes new horizons of humanity


Latest noteworthy Material for Past, Present and Future


​'The political transition from the Roman Republic to the early Empire created a turbulent environment for philosophy and philosophers. The Stoic school and the Cynic movement, in particular, reacted differently to the political reality of leadership under a single Princeps and then the growing autocracy of the early emperors. Both had to cope with the problem of maintaining the individual’s autonomy and liberty in these changing conditions. . . . Stoics, though in part forming a ‘philosophical opposition’ within the Senate (e.g. Thrasea and Priscus), thereafter came to focus on influencing emperors towards a just, and therefore justified, rulership. . . . They were essential elements in the huge interaction of Greek and Roman cultures that laid many of the intellectual foundations of the medieval and modern worlds.

Image by Possessed Photography

This detailed and insightful backgrounder from the National Bureau of Asian Research shows 'both the opportunities and challenges facing the AI sector in China. They consider how AI developments in China are driving U.S.-China technology competition and intersect with critical policy choices around technologies that support AI ecosystems.' They conclude that 'U.S. policymakers must come up with a much more integrated approach to AI policy and need China to move the issue forward to engage the country with the second-largest number of AI companies and AI development capacity. Without the full participation of China in the global dialogue around AI governance, no internationally applicable agreement will be possible.'

Image by Kseniya Petukhova

This innovative short article from The Interpreter shows how reading and writing fiction can help us understand complex international relations issues, and also allow us to explore alternative, speculative and future options. Fictive approaches allow a wider range of information, opinion, and emotions to be integrated into constructive analysis, and explore charged issues that escape more conservative academic works. This approach has already been used in relation to the Korean Peninsular, to the future of NATO, and future wars.

Silver Roman coin of 54 BCE, showing the goddess Libertas, indicating the liberty fought for by Romans such as Brutus in the civil wars

Tacitus's narrative of moral decline in the early empire has shaped much modern research and most contemporary fiction. Tacitus (circa 56-103 CE) lived under the imperial system and benefited from it, though he remained highly critical of the character of emperors such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero and Domitian. His earlier works included a panegyric biography of his father-in-law, the Agricola, a study of the German tribes, the Germanica, using this to show the decline of Roman virtue and liberty and the Dialogus, a study of the decline and corruption of rhetoric from republican times, Tacitus’s historical works (the Histories and the Annals) deepen this analysis of the dangers of autocracy and the enfeeblement of the senate, providing a detailed ‘thick description’ that ironically deconstructs the nature of authority in the imperial age.

Buddha Statue

Different perspectives are needed to understand ongoing global crises and conflicts. As explored in this article: ‘The 20th century was the human community's most violent one: the 21st century began with a violent global spectacle whose reverberations persist and expand, insinuating the global community into a conspiracy of propaganda, terror and counter-terror. The Wheel of Life also provides a violent global spectacle: monstrous Death tyrannizing life, causing pain, conditioning terror. . . .The Wheel expands this theme by analyzing the role of psychophysical phenomena, primarily ignorance, desire and aggression, in generating over time, a contemporary global community characterized by conflict, structural violence and terror.’


The future interaction of AI and religion may be wilder and more productive  than you think, especially when informed by Asian religious perspectives: "This article argues for the inclusion of perspectives from Chinese and Korean traditions in the growing discourse on AI and religion to adequately address the potential social impacts of AI technologies. First, we describe some of the questions and concerns being posed regarding AI and consider how certain normative interpretations of Western Christianity may influence some of these issues. Second, we discuss the contributions of Asian philosophies and religious traditions, which emphasize relationality and fluidity, to provide alternative approaches to AI. Third, we outline the discussion of AI from Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist traditions, which see the cosmos as an interwoven whole and both humans and the cosmos as evolving. Lastly, we introduce the example of digital resurrection (e.g., deadbots) and consider how the philosophical and theological Korean concept of Jeong might refocus our understanding of the potential impacts of this AI technology." 


New and notable articles, resources and websites are updated here regularly, covering History and Philosophy, Contemporary Analysis, International Relations, and Perspectives on the Future.


Ancient Latin poetry and prose is worth intensive study in its own right, and also provides a window into the transition from the Roman Republican to the early Empire. Catullus and Ovid, in particular, were able to distill and portray desire, passion and other emotions in all their forms. A selective analysis of the works of Catullus, Ovid and Petronius shows their ambiguous and problematic relationship with persons of power, including Julius Caesar, Augustus and Nero. These works remain significant legacies for European and global literature. Indeed, they are brilliant explorations of what it is to be human, now and then. They deserve further study and prominence in the twenty-first century.

Image by Victor Malyushev

“As generative AI models become ever more powerful on their way to surpassing human intelligence, there has been much discussion about how they must align with human values so they end up serving our species instead of becoming our new masters. But what are those values? . . . Despite the surface appearance of technological convergence, a deep ontological plurality — profoundly different beliefs about the nature of being — still informs the active values of variegated societies. . . .”


This exploratory essay from the Alternative Planetary Future's Institute 'explores Motti's vision for a possible planetary future in the year 2050, grounded in the principles of evolving the self, loving the other, stewarding the planet, praising life, revering the cosmos, empowering the virtual, and enriching complexity. Through an examination of Motti's ideas and their philosophical underpinnings, this essay elucidates the transformative potential of embracing these principles for the betterment of humanity and the world.'

Statue of Cicero, one of the statesmen and writers of the Roman Republic who tried to promoted a balance between humanism and republicanism.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a Roman lawyer, orator, politician and philosopher who lived in the turbulent days of the Late Republic. As a ‘new man’ in Rome, he made his fame through major law cases and thereafter as a ‘saviour of the republic’ by stopping Cataline’s attempted coup d’etat of 63-62 BCE. Beyond this, however, Cicero was a transmitter and transformer of a vast body of Greek philosophy into Latin via his numerous texts on philosophy, ethics, and rhetoric. He made important contributions to humanism and republicanism that would be taken up again in later ages. However, as a politician, he was unable to put this idea of a balanced and stable republic into practice. . . .

Image by Alina Grubnyak

For an understanding of the some of the challenges for productive control of new AI technologies, this MIT Technology Review article provides a good starting point. It outlines some unusual phenomena around large language models that are the basis of current generative AIs, including quirks in when and how they learn to generalize from training data to solve new problems. Issues such as ‘grokking’, overfitting due to large models with trillion of parameters, the complexity of neural networks, and the problem of unexpected behaviours are considered. These issues are important for building better and more efficient AIs and for managing associated future risks.

Computer Processor
Image by Spencer Davis

The ancient Greek polis was much more than a central city controlling adjacent hinterland. It was a way of life with strong face-to-face interactions among its members, along with high levels of engagement by citizens across military, political, religious and cultural affairs. As such, it set the preconditions that allowed some of these states to evolve into democracies with a widening segment of the male population gaining more political rights. In Athens this included engagement in political deliberation, jury duty and office-holding, as well as mass participation in festivals, sporting and theatrical events. However, the ancient city-state was never fully inclusive, and tensions between aristocratic and democratic forces often led to civil conflict and even civil war. Nonetheless, the modern understanding of political participation and citizenship had its first and most direct iteration in these early Greek city-states, which were unique experiments with enduring legacies.

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China's social credit system can be seen as a form of social engineering and human surveillance, but was originally designed to reduce corruption and enhance trust-mechanisms in a rapidly changing society. It has been operational for decades in different forms within the People's Republic of China. It has serious implications for individuals, ethnic groups, the judiciary, government officials, businesses and international corporations. Dr Barker provides a factual overview of its current operations and its development.

Person Analyzing Data

This extensive Freedom House report, written by Allie Funk, Adrian Shahbaz, and Kian Vesteinsson, looks at the current and future challenges posed by increasing use of AI to enhance online censorship, supercharge disinformation campaigns, manipulate elections and parties, engage in digital suppression of dissent, and reinforce patterns of bias. False messages, fake accounts, generated images, audio, and video are now much easier to create, including deep fakes, while a host of firms and influencers, as well as cybercriminals, have emerged to provide resources at will to clients with little or no oversight. Some governments have also used adaptive AI systems to automatically block and filter content and related posts that are critical of them or their policies. Guidelines are only now being developed by major actors such as the EU and democratic states, alongside digital and internet companies, but recent trends suggest that self-regulation is problematic once these corporations suffer economic pressures to downsize regulative efforts.

A statue of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher whose work ranged from logic and metaphysics through to the practical sciences of ethics and politics.

'Aristotle collected observational data and examined the nature of causation to interrogate received opinion, thereby hoping to achieve systematic knowledge and practical wisdom. The key concept of eudaemonia (eudaimonia), a sophisticated version of personal happiness, and the way that political life should contribute to this, are explored at length in his Politics and two works on Ethics. He developed a virtue ethics based on the idea of the mean as balanced, rational moderation in virtues, dispositions, and habits. Aristotle made a profound contribution to political philosophy and the terms we use today in political analysis, along with insights into the linkage among practical wisdom, political systems, and personal development.'

Image by Ling Tang

This short but effective article  from Asialink shows the ongoing dangers of not adequately studying a major global power, even if that power is viewed politically as a competitor or potential protagonist. Knowledge of China and its activities, ranging across technology, AI, business affairs, political trends and strategic issues requires independent expertise that has been adequately funded and is able to engage in dialogue with Chinese thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs.

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This essay from Noema magazine provides an effective overview of the role of charisma historically and its future implications. Charisma has been seen by sociologists such as Max Weber as an ineffable but powerful quality wielded by religious, military and political leaders, for good or ill. In a world driven by political populists, media stars and internet influencers, it is possible that charisma and kudos-systems may become increasingly important in shaping human behaviour. Recent research suggests that charisma may even be learned by new AI algorithms, enhancing their influence.

A statue showing the head of Socrates, founder of a structured method of dialogue, dialectic, to explore truth and expose ignorance.

This overview of the thought of Socrates and Plato begins by placing them and their sources in their historic content, situating Socrates as an active citizen of Athens. Socrates’ investigative way of life is explored, assessing how this led to a wide range of ideas and texts that were developed by his student, Plato. Specific philosophical methods, including elenchus, dialogue and dialectic, are explained, followed by a brief exploration of the wider significance of Plato’s Republic, a book which has sometimes been misunderstood as straightforward political blueprint. . . .

Image by NASA

‘The planet is in the midst of an environmental emergency, and the world is only tinkering at the margins. Humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels and voracious appetite for natural resources are accelerating climate change and degrading ecosystems on land and sea, threatening the integrity of the biosphere and thus the survival of our own species. Given these risks, it is shocking that the multilateral system has failed to respond more forcefully. . . . Even more concerning, existing multilateral commitments, including on climate change, fail to address the other half of the planet’s ecological crisis: collapsing biodiversity, which the leaders of the Group of 7 nations rightly call an “equally important existential threat.” . . . It is time to govern the world as if the Earth mattered.'

Space Travel

Sustainable human colonies off the Earth will need to develop stable ecosystems that can support human needs with minimal inputs. This insightful short article, based on major scientific reports, shows that the first animals colonizers may be rather different ones than you may have thought. Fish, crustaceans and even crickets have been suggested as useful protein sources that can live in closed systems, but the effects of low-gravity environments on these lifeforms has yet to be explored.

Featured Books, Articles & Resources

 Featuring new or noteworthy books, articles, resources and websites

Alexander the Great: Propaganda and Portents

‘Propaganda deployed as information warfare is an increasingly common trend in 21st century conflicts. However, the sophisticated manipulation of images, records, and ritual are well-attested in the historical record for over four thousand years. The ancient world is worth careful study because its use of propaganda was aimed as the fundamental generation of “knowledge” that would then be handed down as the valid historical record of kingdoms, rulers and peoples. One of the most fascinating examples of this was Alexander the Great’s effort to build a transnational empire cemented by formulating an elevated religious status for himself that could appeal to Greeks, Macedonians, Egyptians and Persians. . . . Propaganda is not just about spreading particular truths or falsehoods, but is engaged in the generation, deletion and shaping of transmitted ideas that influence national identities and political power.’

Confucianism: Past, Present and Future

'For over two thousand years, Confucianism has built up sophisticated approaches exploring social, political, and environmental harmony. As a valuable cultural resource and one of the main drivers of societal norms across much of East Asia, Confucian philosophy has been going through a global academic revival over the last three decades. It has insights that can help us reflect on the root causes of, and remedies for, disorder in the 21st century, and can build bridges of dialogue across alternative philosophical, political, diplomatic, educational, and religious systems. This volume presents diverse ‘Confucianisms’ as hybrid, evolving traditions that have been indigenized and creatively interpreted to support human fulfilment, using the vast cultural resources of the past to meet the needs of the present and the future.'

Mycenaean World and the Ancient Greeks

'Several cultural systems in the Aegean, Levant and Near Eastern worlds helped shape the classical age of Greece. These early societies reflected on their past and used records, myths, legends and epics to construct a view of their place in the universe. There is a direct parallel between the social structure of these societies and the way they used different ‘information regimes’ to control the physical and cultural assets of any society. . . . An overview of Minoan, Mycenaean and Archaic Greek societies shows a transition from a scribal-palace system (using Linear A then Linear B writing), towards an oral bardic culture focused around enshrining heroic memory . . .. Writing was once the tool of the palace, but later on, in different forms, became the tool of public memory.'

A statue of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who greatly expanded the Greek view of the world. He was sometimes called the father of history and the father of  lies because he included unusual tales that were interesting rather than true.

Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BCE, is regarded as one of the most innovative of ancient writers and the founder of critical history writing. His wide-sweeping investigations covered a wide range of geographical and ethnological material, but focused especially on the causes and progress of the great war between the Persian and Greeks. Though his reliability has been questioned, he remains the major source for the period, and his methods would influence all later historians. Beyond this, he helped expand the horizon of the Greek worldview, including accounts of the Mediterranean, Egypt, Persia and the Near East.

Noēma magazine, available free online, provides a range of informative articles that cover politics, history, emerging trends, AI, and social issues, published by the Berggruen Institute, a global network of innovative thinkers. Noēma means perception, understanding or thought in Greek.

Collage showing the diverse religions that can coexist in one nation or region, in this case Islam, Christianity and Hinduism as found in Southeast Asia.

'This paper examines the development of religious liberty as a paradigm of human rights. It will be argued that the development of the concept freedom of religion is in fact fundamental to modern notions of human rights. Examining the emergence of religious tolerance and then liberty through the era of the religious wars and subsequently the Enlightenment, it will be further argued that religious tolerance evolved due to political expediency as opposed to rational discourse. Liberal philosophy then established the rhetoric of religious liberty within popular consciousness, but itself lacked coherency. As such, modern notions of religious liberty, particularly as elucidated in International Law, lack a coherent philosophical foundation.'

The Deep Past

For thousands of years humans, their civilizations, cultures, tools and minds have evolved, leaving foundational legacies.

Ancient Egypt: Maat as Social Justice

For ancient Egyptians, Maat was a key concept including ideas of 'order', 'harmony', 'rightness' and true witness. Maat was a goddess and an idea that emphasized harmonious social cooperation but also represented the constant cosmic struggle against chaos and disorder. Today, Maat provides a useful reflection on human justice and its relationship to nature and the environment, allowing an exploration of the deeper interconnections between the human and natural orders.

Chinese Power and its History

"This book provides a detailed analysis of the politics, philosophy, and history of Chinese power, focusing on social, strategic, and diplomatic trends that have shaped China for over four thousand years. Chinese elites have used the past to inform the present, but have also mobilized new ideas to address the country's rapid transition to global power. China's intellectual world can draw on a surprisingly pluralist legacy. When Chinese thinkers assess " power, " they bring to bear their classical legacy, the military classics, Chinese socialism, and Western political thought. There are also a number of intriguing formulations that give shape to the exercise of Chinese power. Among these are comprehensive national strength, stability preservation, soft power, asymmetric conflict, and counter-intervention strategies. " 

Taoism and Chinese Strategic Culture

Contemporary Chinese defence thinking derives from its strategic culture, which has been evolving for thousands of years. This tradition includes people's war and several philosophical antecedents, including Daoism and Mohism. Here, the past still serves the current needs of doctrine and its cultural-philosophical orientations.

Mandala and the Politics of Traditional Southeast Asia

This analysis "examines 'mandala' as a tradition of knowledge in Southeast Asia. It marries two concepts of mandala: (1) a Hindu-Buddhist religious diagram; with (2) a doctrine of traditional Southeast Asian 'international relations', derived from ancient Indian political discourse. It also highlights the value of Chinese thought as the 'yin' to ancient India's 'yang', in the construction of a Southeast Asian mandalic political culture. In its investigations, this paper draws on to the writings of key historians of this period, particularly O. W. Wolters, as well as the influential Indian text on governance, Kautilya's Arthasastra."

Chinese Strategic Culture: Virtue and Power

Chinese perceptions of power are still influenced by the traditional Chinese conception of ‘power as virtue’. How does this influence nationalism, pragmatism and statecraft on the part of the world's biggest and potentially most influential nation?

Persia and Parthia

"Persia and Parthia were two of the great 'others' that shaped the limits of the Graeco-Roman world, and were also imagined communities where Hellenistic and Roman values were explored and asserted. The long history of contact, accommodation, conflict, treaties and power-politics between the Roman and Parthian empires eventually demonstrated the limits of Roman expansion, especially when working across cultural frontiers. . . . If mutual understanding remained limited, this did not exclude the practical development of patterns of protocol and diplomacy that allowed these empires to communicate. There are lessons to be learned from these trends for current conflicts across cultural divides, e.g. between the US and Iran."

Contemporary Affairs and the Recent Past

The rich tapestry of current events has deep causes that also shape the future

China and Its Belt and Road

This comprehensive book 'offers a critical account of key governance challenges of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Illustrating China’s efforts to expand its idea of a sustainable eco-civilization, thereby ‘greening’ the BRI, it explores the disputes that have emerged from this process and subsequent complications resulting from geopolitical competition.' The link provides access to the first chapter, which summarises in detail the main issues.

Gender Culture and Feminism

'Diplomacy, despite 21st century innovations, remains a gendered institution in which the woman diplomat let alone ambassador is still a rarity. Globally, women constituted only 15 percent of ambassadors and nine percent of negotiators. There continues to be a pervasive masculine culture that constrains female diplomats and ignores matters of gender and sex in the conduct of diplomacy. This article argues that inclusion alone has not gone far enough to challenge the elite patriarchal structures that function to devalue femininity and limit the ability of women to function as diplomats. . . .'

Feminism and Eco-Feminism

'While feminism and environmentalism have long and illustrious histories in the annals of social movements, together they are less well recognised or understood beyond the academic community. Far from being an eclectic intersection of interests between women and the environment, ecofeminism holds a wider significance for integrative sustainable development in the coming decades. This is especially so when viewed from the Global South and its rising powers , three of which China, India and Brazil form case studies in this article. Will the developing world, in the course of its development and especially under China s influence, advance or squander the opportunity for an ecofeminist contribution to a better world order? '

Antarctic and Australia

'This article explores the current relationship Australia has to Antarctica, and provides suggestions for Australia s future actions in the wake of emerging geopolitical complications in the Antarctic region. Australia s foreign policy scope almost exclusively looks northwards, but . . . Australia should not be complacent of its interests to the south. The formation of the Antarctic Treaty System and Australia s role in this process is described, before the modern issues challenging this system of stability are introduced. Prominently, the geographical changes to the region caused by climate change and human interference are cited as having the potential to open Antarctica up to resource competition and militarisation between states invested in the South Pole. . . .'

Brahma Temple, Hinduism, Asian Security Narratives

'From a global history perspective there is nothing inherently Western in the conceptual basis of Asian security. Despite structural resemblances to the pursuit of security in the contemporary international system, the agents within this order come from a diverse historical and philosophical setting. This article examines two such narratives of security in Asian geopolitics: those of Indic and Chinese origin, in view of their relevance to two of the prevailing rising powers.'

Mongolia Independence

This article 'acknowledges modern Mongolia s democratic transition and considers economic and geopolitical factors that have constrained its foreign policy agenda. Chinese influence remains evident through Mongolia s economic reliance on its neighbour, which exacerbates underlying political and social tensions. These tensions feed Mongolian threat perceptions of China and challenge Mongolia’s ability to pursue a status of neutrality. Russian-Mongolian ties continue by virtue of strategic necessity. . . . The analysis draws upon the potential of existing partnerships with states such as Japan and India as an alternative pathway for Mongolian foreign policy. . . .'

The Future: Always Under Construction

The future is affected by trends and expectations that reach from the deep past and shape causation in the present. It is prepopulated by emerging realities, probabilities and possibilities. It can be apprehended analytically and constructively, or via creative synthesis and fiction.

Future World: CSIRO Global Megatrends

'A once-in-a-decade report from CSIRO, Our Future World, identifies seven global megatrends that hold the key to the challenges and opportunities ahead.' The linked page provides free copies of the report for downloading.

Climate Change and Global Risks: WEF Report

'The report is underpinned by our annual Global Risks Perception Survey, which brings together leading insights from over 1,200 experts across the World Economic Forum’s diverse network. It draws on the collective intelligence of the world’s foremost risk experts, including the Global Risks Advisory Board and the Chief Risk Officers Community, as well as thematic experts from academia, business, government, the international community and civil society. . . . The 2023 edition of the Global Risks Report highlights the multiple areas where the world is at a critical inflection point. It is a call to action, to collectively prepare for the next crisis the world may face and, in doing so, shape a pathway to a more stable, resilient world.'

Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report

 'The report outlines that the 1.5°C limit is still achievable and outlines the critical action required across sectors and by everyone at all levels. The report focuses on the critical need for action that considers climate justice and focuses on climate resilient development. It outlines that by sharing best practices, technology, effective policy measures, and mobilising sufficient finance, any community can decrease or prevent the usage of carbon-intensive consumption methods. The biggest gains in well-being can be achieved by prioritizing climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalized communities.' 

Have Future, Will Travel, SF novel

Fictional Explorations -

Have Future, Will Travel,

by Ron Ferguson

Ever wondered why interstellar trade will need Futurists? This stand-alone science fiction novel explores the reality of long-term trade over decades and centuries, where information is always more important than commodities. (Click on the image for access via US, but also available in all countries and formats.)

Alien Encounters: The Novels of Peter Cawdron

Fictional Explorations: The Alien Encounter Novels of Peter Cawdron 

Peter Cawdron has written a fascinating set of novels focused on the impact of humanity's first sustained encounters with extra-terrestrials, each one a brilliant stand-alone exploration.

Among the best are The Tempest, Xenophobia, and The Clowns. (Clicking on the image above will provide an Amazon listing of his novels.)

The Great Acceleration and the Singularity:  Charles Stross

Fictional Explorations -

Accelerando by Charles Stross

Charles Stross has written numerous novels exploring the pace of technological change and information acceleration, creating worlds in which humans can take many forms and face new and unexpected dangers. Accelerando is a tour de force. Free copies can be read or downloaded by clicking on the image above. 


Further related research items can be found in the Research and Publications sections, as well as links to other useful resources.

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