Academy of Ideas

Is utopian thinking dead?

January 6, 2017

As a new year begins, thoughts turn to the future. But how do we see the year - or the decade - ahead? Do we think that things will get better, that our lives will improve, or will we be stuck in a gloomy mind-set that suggests that the world is going to hell in a handcart? Can we imagine a truly prosperous world where everyone lives in peace - a true utopia?

Does the concept of utopia represent an unattainable ideal – or the kind of idealistic ambition that can promote change in the real world? Debates about technological progress seem to vacillate wildly between utopianism and dystopianism. At a time when innovation is universally celebrated and culturally validated, it also appears to be in a constant state of crisis. Utopian optimism seems destined to remain divorced from practical applications, useful only in terms of blue-sky thinking. But are the constraints on innovation a matter largely of investment and official focus, or are there cultural and intellectual issues too?

This Battle of Ideas debate offered a chance to explore our attitudes to the future.


Dr Yaron Brook
executive director, Ayn Rand Institute; co-author, Equal is Unfair: America’s misguided fight against income inequality

Dr Eliane Glaser
writer, lecturer and radio producer

Dr Norman Lewis
director (innovation), PwC; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Kirsty Styles
talent and skills programme lead, Tech North