I have to admit, I do believe in James Nicoll's future, especially since historical trends seem to point toward it.. I also like to think that a good part of our ability to make a better future, will stem from an increased empathy with our fellow humans. On the other hand, from past experience I do think our ability to have empathy may be limited by our social circles. That is, I think it's easier to be sympathetic to someone who is part of our extended network, or who is in our circle of interests, than a generic, abstract "human". It's easy for that inner voice to say "Well, maybe that generic human of which I have no points of contact with, is actually deserving of whatever horrible thing is happening to them."
But this gives hope, because everyone in the modern world is a member of a flexible number of social groupings, and as the modern infrastructure expands across the world, it's more likely that people will share a group kinship. For example, consider the recent case of the woman who's cooking article was plagiarized. People who in earlier times would have nothing in common with her, came to her defense. And in the future, more and more people will be connected by social kinship. Maybe a person in Mobile cant understand the culture of a person in outer Mongolia, but damn it, he's been ripped off by Costco too, so he can sympathize if that happens to the other person.
There's more to it of course. The free and rapid flow of facts will have a lot to do with the development of a global empathy. But I think that expanding social networks. will more and more give people reasons to relate and empathize with others.
The future I think will be an odd place, neither a Singularity, nor a crapsack world. It may well be a place where the corporations we like to think of as villains, such as McDonalds and Microsoft, may inadvertently help to bind us closer together. I do think it will have wonder that we may envy, and others that will bewilder us. In any case, it's a future I want to see.