Today’s Tomorrows, 2011 edition

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Apologies to Brenda for re-using the title of her column, but it’s the start of the year… and despite most of us knowing that dates (and indeed time itself) are relative, we tend to take that as an opportunity to step ourselves out of the temporal flow for a few days and take a look both backward and forward. Of course, looking backward and forward (with a side-serving of sideways) is our daily bread here at Futurismic, but it’s nice to feel like the rest of the world’s playing along, you know? 🙂

So why not pop over to The Guardian, where a collection of clever folk make twenty predictions about the next 25 years? Some are no-brainers (“Rivals will take greater risks against the US” – that’s more of a trend than a prediction, really), some seem a little naively optimistic (“The popular revolt against bankers will become impossible to resist” – I’d love to see it happen but doubt we will, at least here in the UK), and some are reheated versions of classic cyberpunk transhumanism, suddenly made mundane and plausible in the face of unprecedented technological advancement (“We’ll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex”).

They all mark what, to me, is one of the most interesting social shifts of the last year or two: namely the sudden widespread acceptance of speculative thinking in mainstream media. Sure, it’s always been there, but it seems more ubiquitous now. Strange how we had to wait until the future was all around us before we started thinking hard about what shape it would be, no?

Speaking of speculative thinking, the BBC got in on the game back in December, picking apart some old (and largely failed) predictions from the 70s and quizzing present-day “futurologists” (which I maintain is a horrible noun) about how they do their work. David Brin’s response suggests that I’ve at least got the basic methodology sussed out:

“The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless,” says Brin.

“You then ask yourself: ‘What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'”

That’s pretty much the query-set that sits in my forebrain as I drink from the RSS firehose each morning… 🙂

And last but not least, it wouldn’t be early January without Chairman Bruce and Jon Lebkowsky taking the virtual podium at The WELL for their annual State Of The World discussion. Hell knows there’s plenty to talk about, right?

While Futurismic is no WELL (and I’m surely no Bruce Sterling, much to my own disappointment), I like the format they use there: like phone-in talk radio, but text based. So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind regular Futurismic heads that the contact page is always open – if you’ve seen something you think we should be talking about, or just have your own take on a story we’ve looked at already, then by all means drop me a line and let me know.

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2 Responses to “Today’s Tomorrows, 2011 edition”

  1. Ian Sales says:

    No mention among those predictions of nation-states failing left, right and centre. Or of blitzkrieg police actions becoming long drawn-out ugly wars of attrition as military purchasing strategies remain mired in the Cold War and so provide equipment unsuitable in modern theatres. Not to mention the hijacking of objectives by commercial interests, making resolutions almost impossible to achieve. There’s also little mention of the ever-increasing equity gap, as the societies of the developed nations return to a structure echoing those of the periods prior to the 20th century – systemically-corrupt oligarchs and plutocrats pillaging economies and making the poverty trap increasingly impossible to escape from.

    And while all this is happening, science fiction will turn increasingly optimistic…

  2. Rik Klaver says:

    That poverty trap & systematically corrupt oligarchs is best viewed as The Pyramid. On top the king/queen/president, below a small clique of courtiers (no pyramid-society ever knew something like a middle class) and beyond that… call them Red Queen-ers: those who have to run ever faster only to remain part of the hoi-polloi. (idea of society as pyramid: David Brin)

    Naively optimistic prediction: The Pyramid will not survive reality.Because: WYSINWIG. Nation states don’t have to borrow money to spend (“Zimbabwe” is never about its real economy) and banks lend on demand (and capital). Second: The Guardian has left out makerbots (using that brand as a class). I know, they’re far from perfect. But the point is they don’t have to become “Star Trek” replicators to pull the rug under The Pyramid. Half an eye is better than no eye whatsoever.

    Most people living in favela’s? Will it make any difference? These favela’s will probably use the economy of the city (or their country) as a service (John Robb). I think this is already reality in a lot of places.