Friday, 21 April 2017

How Shall I Remember The Future?

"We see the world through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future" ~ Marshall McLuhan

The act of prediction is an act of extrapolation .. we take new discoveries and trends and project them into the future. The act of prediction is an act of projection ... coloured with some imagination and wishful thinking.

What will the world be like in 50 years time?

Back in the 1960s my projections of the 21st century were all Jetsons like flying cars and moon stations ... they were projections of what I would call "industrial technology" ... there wasn't any "information technology" - no one predicted digital cameras, smartphones, the Net and the Web ... although Sci Fi like Star Trek did feature handheld devices like the communicator and although we did predict robots like Robbie I don't think anyone predicted self driving cars.

The future rarely (if ever) pans out the way it is predicted ... if we take the long way round and live each day to the future then events nudge and bump our direction - the only thing we can't predict is the future!

Its 2017 ... what should I write down to be remembered as my prediction for 2067 - how shall I remember the future - what trends, hopes and fears of today should I project into the future.

On the one hand there are disturbing trends:

The rise in right wing populist protectionism and the talk of walls.

Rapid developments in machine intelligence and robotics and the threat to jobs 

The rise in "big brother" surveillance using the Net

The "technologisation" of everything and the replacement of labour with capital.

Endless meaningless "app for that" to help the privileged have a nice day.

Environmental "vandalism" of our lifestyles - A 'conveyor belt' of plastic is polluting the Arctic Ocean and even the Mariana Trench, the remotest place on earth, is polluted with radioactivity, chemicals, plastic bags and tin cans 

All this leads me to think about the future as a dystopia ... a sort of neo-feudal dark age Elysium styli but far, far worse ... where a privileged 1% live in extreme luxury and 99% of humanity live in extreme poverty. If Elon Musk has his way with Neurallink or Mark Zuckerberg with the Facebook brain-computer interface then the future may be less Star Trek and more Borg

On the other hand there are positive trends 

The arguments for ethics and regulation of machine intelligence and the arguments for basic universal income.

Positive and meaningful technology developments such as a machine creates water from air using the power of the sun and a possible treatment for dementia - technology that can help people lead better lives rather than simply help a few privileged people have a nice day and a few technologists make more money.

All this leads me to think that the future will be one of leisure - where technology has eliminated famine and poverty and we are looked after by "machines of loving grace" and free to pursue the meaning of life ... a future similar to what Iain M Banks imagined in The Culture.

The future is probably somewhere between dystopia and utopia and the details are probably something unimaginable today.

One question that bothers me .. .why is thinking about the future dominated about thinking about tech?

Our present and our future isn't determined by technology .. its at most a combination of technology and human nature ... the thing is though ... while technology changes, human nature remains the same .. the future will be a case of history repeating

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology." ~ E. O. Wilson

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