What didn’t the future deliver?

October 21, 2007 at 3:00 am 3 comments

Kim photoAs regular ThinkingShift readers will know, I am very interested in future predictions (and I don’t mean the type you get from staring into a crystal ball hoping your soul mate will suddenly pop up in front of you). I mean the type where some heavy weight thinkers outline their thoughts (possibly with glazed eyes) of what the future holds in store. Check out the Future Predictions category of this blog if you want to whizz through some posts with sometimes dire predictions for the future.

I also get a kick out of predictions that didn’t happen – most cringe-worthy for me is Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation who said in 1977: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”. I’m sure Steve Jobs wasn’t attending the meeting Olsen spoke at – the World Future Society in Boston – just as well, otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here now with my beloved MacBook laptop.

Growing up, I watched The Jetsons reruns and had visions of whizzing to work in a personal spacecar. I would have special places to store lipgloss as the space car would be automatically zooming along a highway in the sky so I’d have time to apply said gloss. Imagine the thrill for me when I saw Minority Report with those nifty flying vehicles! I also imagined Star Trek like phasers being a reality so I could stun a few work colleagues if they didn’t “volunteer” their knowledge :)- I guess the taser comes close.

So I found The Future piece in Forbes fascinating. There are some interviews with “visionaries” where they talk about what they were sure would happen in the future but didn’t and as it turned out, what totally surprised them. Here’s a taste.

Nicholas Negroponte: placed his bets that sophisticated speech recognition would be in daily use in 2007. But as my recent experience with calling up a taxi company would tell anyone – often the robotic voice doesn’t understand a word you say and you end up flinging the phone out the window. I certainly can’t speak to my car and have it turn on; or open my front door with the dulcet tones of my voice. Negroponte was totally taken aback by LCD screens – must say I was too. And I’m really looking forward to getting rid of laptops and PCs (sorry Apple!) and getting one of those fab screens on Minority Report where you move icons around with your fingers like in this video. Awesome, goodbye mouse!

Esther Dyson (futurist): now, I 100% agree with her – Dyson was sure there would be outrage and people would rise to protecting their online privacy and security much more effectively than they currently do. She is surprised (I am staggered) by people’s carelessness with their personal information. And she’s surprised (a tad naive?) that companies haven’t done a better job of educating the public about what information they collect and how it’s used. Even more, she’s surprised at how people are establishing their online presence, particularly around social networks. I will do a post soon outlining my thoughts on the need to establish a public persona in digital space.

Richard Lamb (another futurist) thought that climate change would be taken more seriously (hey you gotta get by all those deniers out there first) and he’s most surprised at the power shift from government to private sector. I’m not. I’ve been concerned about this for years, particularly with the health sector. I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which is all about how free market policies are dominating the world usually after a shock of some sort like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Freaking me right out.

Rudy Rucker (mathematical whizz): poor dude, he’s as naive as me. We both thought we’d be seeing flying cars a’la Jetsons. He grew up in the 1950s at the start of the space age; I didn’t but I still had that vision. He puts it down to litigation – there’d be a lot of prangs up in air or flying cars hurling into houses. And it’s also more energy efficient to roll vehicles on wheels. He thinks noise pollution would be an issue, but I reckon some smart person would come up with silent flying cars. The Internet took Rucker by surprise and that social networks work heaps better than individual minds (told you he was smart).

Wendell Bell (Prof of Sociology): my personal favourite. All good intentions but I wonder how naive futurists sometimes are. Bell expected that by the year 2000 people on this Earth would be living in peace and would have established strong and effective organisations through the UN to prevent conflict. Mmmm….guess he missed predicting the rise of the fundamentalist religious right in the US and he must have missed out on history classes that have outlined the decline in authority of the UN. He also must have skipped his anthropology classes that tell us that humans are an aggressive lot by nature. He was also hoping for self-governing societies for all people to achieve personal well-being and with equal opportunities. Oh dear.

Check out some of the articles on the site and especially check out five authors who tackle this fictional scenario: “It’s the year 2027, and the world is undergoing a global financial crisis. The scene is an American workplace”. One of the authors is Cory Doctorow, love his stuff.

Now, ThinkingShift readers I think are a pretty smart bunch. What do you think the future holds? How would you respond to this scenario? “It’s the year 2057 and the world is in crisis“. Go on; give it a go!


Entry filed under: Future predictions.

KM, sense-making and social networks Ancestor simulations

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. M0b1u5  |  October 28, 2007 at 12:28 am

    “It’s the year 2057 and the world is in crisis“.

    Not only are we confused about what a human is, we don’t even know what a human ISN’T any more! With the advent of strong AI in 2037, and the recognition of transhumans in 2041 the definition of “human” was expanded by the UN in 2045 – extending full human rights to transhumans and full-Turing AIs.

    Now we have to contend with Virtual-Humans too: those wealthy enough to have their consciousness uploaded into custom made supercomputers prior to death. The old adage “if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck” holding true now.

    It seems as if the loose definition of “human” now includes any and every entity which actually claims human rights, and is capable of defending that claim in court.

    Coming shortly, these Virtual Humans are all set to get their first batch of Android bodies; part biology, but mostly technology. These bodies will be far superior in every aspect to our biological heritage, and owners of these bodies will never “die”.

    This brings about some serious questions for mankind: when is a human not a human any more?

    We’ve seen riots and unrest due to the long-standing decision that virtual humans are never classified as “dead” so that families can no longer rely on estates from dying elder family members.

    Now war is brewing between nations intent on protecting their intellectual assets via immortal transhumans and AIs.

    Speaking of AIs, we seem to have a serious problem there too. Ever since the AIs occupied the empty spaces left by the Russians north of Vladvostok, we’ve really had no idea what they are doing, nor what their goals are.

    Their representatives at the UN have repeatedly stated that it is pointless to explain anything to non-transhumans, as it would be akin to a human trying to explain Polywell Fusion reactor containment to a horse.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 28, 2007 at 12:37 am

    Nice! You raise something I haven’t even thought about – virtual humans never classified as dead, so estate planning is kaput! I think the issue of transhumans and virtual humans is a distinct possibility that the future will need to contend with.

  • 3. Oohlala  |  October 28, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Well, if a person is rich enough to transform himself to a virtual human, he should be rich enough to transform all of his family members to virtual humans, too. If he can’t do that he will be super lonely. It’s tragedy to see your son or daughter die before you die.

    Immortality is nothing if you don’t pay anything back to this world. It might be beneficial to the world if we can transform a genius one, who dedicates himself to do good thing for this world, to virtual human before he dies. What it will be if we transform a greedy one to a virtual human? Such virtual human probably only consume, consume, and consume….


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