Kelly and Eno’s Unthinkable Futures – ready-made science fiction scenarios

Paul Raven @ 26-06-2008

Depressed thinker statueMaybe you noticed it when it cropped up on BoingBoing last week, but having re-read it a few times I thought I’d point out Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno’s Unthinkable Futures. [image by fabiovenni]

Kelly and Eno used to make a game of dreaming up the unthinkable futures of the title as an exercise to loosen their minds, and this list of them was originally published fifteen years ago. It’s a fascinating read for three reasons. Firstly, for the scenarios that are even more untenable now than they were in 1993:

  • Smoking is proven to be good exercise for the lungs.

Secondly, for the scenarios that have either already happened or become inevitable:

  • Nobody wants to be a doctor. It becomes an over-whelming bureaucratic job with low status. Women and minorities become working doctors; men do medical research. [Certainly becoming the case here in the UK]
  • Video phones inspire a new sexual revolution whereby everybody sits at home doing rude things electronically with everyone else. Productivity slumps; video screens get bigger and bigger. [Nuff said]
  • A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. [Blogging, anyone?]

And thirdly, for the scenarios which are the core nugget of a great science fiction story waiting to be written – which is most of them, to be honest, though some more obviously than others:

  • Software gains allow a certain portion of taxes to fall to the discretion of the payer. John Public can assign X amount of his taxes toward one service, to the exclusion of another. It’s a second vote that politicians watch closely. [Bruce Sterling needs to write this one]
  • Traveling as a process enjoys a revival. People abandon the idea of “getting from A to B” and begin to develop (or re-discover) a culture of traveling: semi-nomadism. Lots of people acquire super new faxed-and-modemed versions of the mobile home. It becomes distinctly “lower-class” to live in a fixed location. Fast forms of transport come to be viewed like fast food is viewed now — tacky, undesirable, fake.

It’s a goldmine, go take a look. And I reckon we can play this game just as well ourselves – leave your own Unthinkable Future in the comments!