Seven Questions About the Future

By | August 9, 2013

Ten years ago, in the early primordial days of The Speculist, I came up with a list of 7 questions that I thought could help us shape an ongoing conversation about the future. Whenever I did a Speculist interview, it would include these seven questions. (A shortened version of these questions were later used in our two World Transformed special series before that became the permanent name of the weekly podcast.)

So let’s look at them again, 10 years later. I’m guessing my answers have changed a bit over the past decade…

  1. The present is the future relative to the past. What’s the best thing about living here in the future? The best thing about living in the future is the incredible connectedness we have to information, to other people, and to possibilities — both for ourselves and for the world as a whole. This is the age of capability and the age of possibility. As a group, our possibilities always tended to increase over time, while as individuals they tended to decrease as we get older. Now we have so many possibilities emerging for what our lives can be that we are (to some extent) outpacing aging. We are gaining possibilities as we get older.
  2. What’s the biggest disappointment? Time was I would have said that the biggest disappointment is the lack of progress in making some possibilities come true. I mean, what’s taking us so long? But now I am a little more respectful of the process that we go through in making the future happen. There is always something happening, even when (especially when) is seems like things have slowed down. And things do slow down. We made huge strides forward in aviation and space technology in the previous century; that rate of progress has dropped significantly. But meanwhile, the world has busied itself with going digital, with going social, with becoming connected. That’s a big effort, one that couldn’t help but take a little of the momentum away from aviation and space.So I think our future in space is as bright as ever. And I’m not disappointed that true nanotechnology or strong AI or life extension haven’t “happened yet.” Those things are happening around right now, and that is terribly exciting.My biggest disappointment is that there is still so little awareness of how radically different the near future is likely to be, although to be fair such awareness has grown significantly. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by the way things (eventually) work out, but I believe we could get to those positive outcomes much sooner if people were aware of them and working on making them happen.
  3. Assuming you die at the age of 100, what will be the biggest difference be between the world you were born into and the world you leave? If I died right now, at age 50, the answer would be the Internet. If I make it to 100, it’s possible that the Technological Singularity will occur between now and then. My answer is not “The Singularity” but rather “whatever we do after that.” As rapidly as things may be changing now, they will change unimaginably faster after the Singularity. So the biggest change will come then, even if it’s only a few months or days before I turn 100 / dies.I’ll add that 10 years later, I don’t like the phrasing of this question. Just ask people how different the world will be if they make it to 100, for crying out loud. Why bring dying into it?
  4. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you look forward to with the most anticipation? The first bona fide, yes-it-really-works life extension treatment. It doesn’t have to be the sexiest or most dramatic development in the world, just something that without question delays or halts aging. When we see that actually happen it is going to create huge demand for more of the same. It’s going to be very exciting.
  5. What future development that you consider likely (or inevitable) do you dread the most?
    …and what are you going to do about it? I dread seeing people become more polarized. I dislike the fact all public discourse, particularly political rhetoric, has degenerated into something not unlike a nasty Youtube discussion thread. The technology that can connect us also makes it easy for us to split off into tribes. Technology makes it easy to lash out at others without any significant consequences.
    What I am going to do about it is to continue bringing it up and to encourage people not to let powerful us vs. them memes take hold of their lives. I am going to continue to promote alternative ways of thinking about these issues. I’ll do my best.
  6. Assuming you have the ability to determine (or at least influence) the future, what future development that you consider unlikely (or are uncertain about) would you most like to help bring about?If I can count it all as one development, I want Cory Doctorow’s Bitchin’ Society: post-scarcity, post-illness, post-aging, post-war, post-death. I want to live to see a world where the most powerful and frightening limits we have always faced are eliminated — or so vastly reduced in scale  that they are unrecognizable.If I could just  pick one of those “posts”  it would be post-scarcity — which will get us to the others, anyway
  7. Why is it that in the year 2013 I still don’t have a flying car? When do you think I’ll be able to get one?On the one hand, this is a dumb question and it doesn’t belong on this list. My old argument was that this isn’t just about flying cars about all the cool stuff that was supposed to show up but hasn’t. Whatever.On the other hand, people do think about stuff like this. When do I get my flying car? When do I get my jet pack? When do I get my replicator? When do I get to go into VR and spend the rest of my natural lifespan blowing up aliens and getting down with supermodels?If the evolution of the mobile phone over the lifetime of the Speculist has anything to tell us, it’s that a lot can happen in 10 years. So my answer to all of those questions is, “I don’t know. Maybe in 10 years? Maybe 20? Beats me.”Bad answer? Maybe. But again, I think it’s a dumb question.

I’ve been looking for my old answers to these questions from 10 years ago, but haven’t been able to find them. That’s too bad. I kind of wanted to debate myself.

Anyway, these are my answers to these questions in the year 2013. What are yours?