Author Iain Banks answered questions solicited by his publisher from the general internet, and it came out just fine:
From Mark Wilson:
Q: What do you think is the one, single, most vital collective development that humanity needs to make before it has any hope whatsoever of evolving into a Culture-like society?
Iain Banks: Genetically modifying ourselves, I suspect. Finding the set of genes that code for xenophobia in general - these days usually expressed though sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, Romaphobia and so on (and on, and on) - and knocking them out. Possibly then we'll be nice enough for the Culture or something like it. Of course maybe inventing true AIs will be enough, always assuming that they're as benign - and yet sympathetically interested in us - as they are taken to be in the Culture.
The one thing that won't be enough is getting to a post-scarcity society; a statistically valid number of us have lived in something very like that for the past decade and a bit and we still collectively behaved like slavering morons, so it'll take more than just having more toys than we know what to do with to make us truly civilised.
I mean, nil desperandum and all that, but - still - don't hold your breath.
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