Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno's "Unthinkable Futures"


35 Responses to “Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno's "Unthinkable Futures"”

  1. Brian Glanz says:

    * A deep neural networking interface is released. What was once a local publication, “bOING bOING The World’s Greatest Neurozine,” popularizes the NNI on their blog, upgrading like-minded millions.

    Nanoseconds before the singularity, the last offline thought is comment #1923863259 from the do-you-see-what-i-see dept. at Slashdot:

    1) I, for one, welcome our new cyberpunk overlords, you insensitive clod!
    2) Imagine a Beowulf cluster of happily mutated extrasolar user bases, all belong to us!
    3) prof%!$*%& [NO CARRIER]

    Sadly it is from user ID 19256052, both a karma whoring fanboy and the one user who had always worn his tin foil hat.

    “Blessed Are the Geek, the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth.”

  2. Joe says:

    “Computer power plateaus. The expected doubling of power and halving of chip size slacks off. More computer power can be had, but it costs.”

    Something similar to this has happened. The speed of a single processor has plateaued, because of difficulties with power. Instead, the processor vendors are giving us multicore chips. This means that faster processors no longer are available to make up for bloat in, for example, Microsoft applications, and that programmers are going to need to learn how to write parallel programs.

  3. consideredopinion says:

    re: #34 Antinous

    he wants a memorial that will last 10,000 years; longer than the pyramids, longer than Stonehenge

    “Everything fears time, but time fears the pyramids.” – Herodotus

    The pyramids will likely outlast Homo sapiens.

    I think homo sapiens has already made quite a few monuments for itself – from a permanent plastics layer in both the ecology and geology of the planet, to the 80 million year half-life of 244Pu.

  4. acb says:

    Raisedbywolves @32: Indeed, this sort of thing is the norm in Europe and other places with good public transport (and, indeed, even Australia, where people drive most of the time). The idea of the city centre as a dangerous wasteland seems to be peculiarly American.

  5. bigboing says:

    Hawaii has had a law since 1926. There have been numerous problems and challenges, including one in which some crazy carpetbaggers dragged pictures of a fetus one of their children had aborted behind a plane. The ban was upheld by the Federal Appeals Court and the Supreme Court refused to consider it. We still don’t have any friggin’ billbords. Yay!

  6. jimwheel says:

    “Nobody wants to be a doctor. It becomes an over-whelming bureaucratic job with low status”

    I’m glad someone said it. I’m a physician and what once was a fascinating and rewarding career has been smothered in red tape, bureaucracy and mountains of vacuous paperwork. Once in a while you get a glimpse of the job’s beauty but it’s rarely enough anymore to get you through the day.

  7. natch says:

    - ISPs merge with media companies and then with each other, and get laws passed to protect consumers from unvalidated information. The Internet starts resembling the AOL experience, and the web is relegated to a position like Usenet today, available only if you pay high prices for a special type of unrestricted connection. Google lives on but its main role is as the plumbing for ads.

    - A bundle of ancient silk scrolls discovered buried in the Gobi desert are found to contain the record of a Chinese expedition to North America. One of the scrolls holds a series of treaties signed with native North American peoples, giving North America to China. People in the US laugh it off, but a great debate starts in China. The debate is soon made moot by China taking receivership control of the US by virtue of owning all its debt.

    - The fabric of space time starts spitting apart on a previously unknown dimension, but so slowly that it is not noticeable without special measurement techniques. Because of this, our synapses start working differently and everyone starts slowly going crazy, all at once. Mullets come into fashion. Cory Doctorow develops a compulsive fascination with ball and socket joints.

  8. E0157H7 says:

    I’ve always liked mine.
    “A debilitating and voracious disease is easily curable but extremely costly to do so. This polarizes the American citizenry into two castes, those that can afford to treat themselves and those that cannot. Untreated citizens become second-class citizens with I.D. that establishes curfews, severely restricts travel and allows private industry to discriminate against them.”

  9. JJR1971 says:

    * Alcohol is so severely restricted that people need “licenses” to drink it. Tobacco is, of course, prohibited from being sold. You can grow your own, though, and some do. The underworld moves to North Carolina as cigarettes become contraband.*

    I’m a recovering alcoholic myself, but these are friggin’ horrible ideas…Prohibition Mark II?
    Temperance Leagues, anyone?

    Freedom also means the freedom to FUCK YOUR LIFE UP.
    Damn Nanny-staters…

    * American education works. Revived by vouchers, a longer school year, private schools and for-profit schools, the majority of Americans (though not the most disadvantaged) get the best education in the world.*

    Libertarian masturbatory fantasy. Always has been, always will be. Current inequalities are entrenched by the way the USA pays for its primary and secondary education…i.e. local property taxes, such that suburban public schools approach quality levels rivaling parochial/private schools, while inner city schools are left to rot & die with a few heroic exceptions…

  10. Talia says:

    “* Mass advertising is restricted. Billboards are categorically banned; advertising in subways, buses, removed. Towns take up “Advertising-Free Zones.”

    Sao Paulo, Brazil, has actually already banned billboards. A lot of places are talking about restricting such advertising.

  11. Gillagriene says:

    * Women retreat en masse from the commercial workforce. They stay with their families, work with nonprofits, or work part-time.

    That’s a little mediocre. How about “Men retreat en masse from the commercial workforce. They stay with their families, do more then 50% of the house work, work with nonprofits or work part time.”

    But this one is my favorite-
    * INFO-TERRORISTS — Hitting where it hurts most, a radical group with access to nukes threatens to destroy the Library of Congress if their demands are not met. No action is taken until the American public realizes that all the great TV shows from the past are stored there.

  12. dougrogers says:

    * A new plague seizes the world. As fatal as AIDS, but transmitted on a sneeze, and spread by airplane travelers, the virus touches billions within a year.

    SARS. Public Health was on top of this – no thanks to the Ontario government of the time, a flu-like virus from China that landed in Toronto. We lost a few precious health workers to the infection, and most recently Dr Sheila Basrur who was on top of this.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It costs half a day’s pay to drive your car into the downtown area of a big city, and a day’s wages to park.

    They got one right, at lest for Chicago

  14. Anonymous says:

    You beat me to it, Talia. And, why not? Maybe we SHOULD ban advertising already, and force customers to think about what they’re buying. How far would this go? How far could it go? Would packages covered in anything besides factual item descriptions and ingredients/nutrition labels/contents be contraband? How far into the private sector would this go- could we touch cable TV, magazines, DVDs, or would that keep the advertising business and all of its employees employed? Where does “advertising” diverge with informing the public about what they’re buying or using?

  15. acb says:

    “People begin leaving the U.S. Many arrivals to the US keep resident status but choose not to adopt citizenship. The world sees more people without allegiance.”

    According to The Economist, a lot of American expatriates are renouncing their citizenship to avoid paying both US and local taxes, to the point where the US government is now bringing in a system where those doing so with more than a certain amount of assets are deemed to be selling their assets and taxed on the value of them. The US is one of few countries (North Korea is another) which taxes all its citizens wherever they reside.

  16. acb says:

    “Revitalized cities squeeze out the urban poor to squatters’ suburbs. Inner cities flourish. The poor take over the nearest suburbs, between edge cities and downtowns. With little transportation in the suburbs, the poor are really downtrodden.”

    I’ve seen this predicted as a consequence of permanently high oil prices. Basically, anywhere requiring large quantities of oil will become less desirable, and become an economically depressed enclave of the poor, and that means the areas which were well-off in times of cheap oil, with their sprawling distances and expensive-to-heat McMansions.

  17. VICTOR JIMENEZ says:

    What liked most is:

    * 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.

    Well… not video phones, but computer screens! Pr0m for everyone!

  18. Foxfire says:

    “* Alcohol is so severely restricted that people need “licenses” to drink it. Tobacco is, of course, prohibited from being sold.”

    As someone who’s lost three immediate relatives due to complications from alcohol or tobacco addiction, I think this would be awesome.

  19. aaronstj says:

    Argh! kevin Kelly’s items are so bad! One wonders if he didn’t accidentally play the opposite of the “think of something outrageous” game. Most of his items are the logical result of current trends or well discussed topics that science fiction and popular culture has thought about countless times.

    An airborne super bug? That’s been on the public’s mind since the fucking bubonic plague, let alone the discovery of AIDS in the 80s. Computer power plateauing? People have been predicting the end of Moore’s law since Moore dreamed it up in 1965. CRTs found to be dangerous? The idea that CRTs could be emitting harmful radiation has been a concern for decades. Since basically the CRT was invented.

    I understand thinking up something “unthinkable” is a difficult thing to do, but this doesn’t excuse retreading well worn ground so completely. One could come up with almost any prediction for the future and have it be more unthinkable than these. Literally anything. “Golf in the future will be played with red balls instead of white.” Much more unthinkable.

    Gah! The mind boggles at how utterly the list fails. It’s almost like it was intentional or malicious.

  20. Beanolini says:

    #24, Kieran O’Neill:

    Surely the 10,000 year clock is the epitome of hubris? Not only does Mr. Hillis feel the questionable need to be remembered after his death, he wants a memorial that will last 10,000 years; longer than the pyramids, longer than Stonehenge.

    “I know what people will want 10,000 years in the future- a giant fucking clock.”

    Eno is a 24-carat genius, though; his oblique strategies has given me great delight recently.

  21. Talia says:

    I might point out this list was generated 15 years ago. Perhaps some of these “current trends” were not so well discussed back then, aye?

  22. Patrick Austin says:


    The idea of the city as a vibrant, healthy place is a new idea…prior to modern public health conveniences they were quite the opposite. People have always wanted to live outside the city. It was true in Ancient Rome, and Victorian England and will continue to be true I think.

    The rich, with their horses and carriages, have always been able to manage it. Cars and gasoline just made the ‘country estate’ accessible to the middle class.

    High transportation costs will force some back into the cities, but will also prevent the poor from being able to make a living in traditional suburbs. I can imagine the inner ring suburbs becoming sort of American favelas, but the outer suburbs will probably become even more biased towards the wealthy.

    But who knows…I’m trying to think of another time period when transportation costs rose rapidly, and am coming up blank.

  23. Kieran O'Neill says:

    The concept behind this list is pretty well in line with the Long Now Foundation, of which Eno is a founding member. It’s all about thinking really far into the future at a time when many barely think past the next year (or day). In particular, they get a hugely diverse range of experts to give seminarsdiscussing the future, and are planning on building a clock to last 10,000 years.

    They’re also remarkably non-political – the idea is to consider all possibilities available, with the hope that we might anticipate at least some of the gigantic challenges that our species will almost certainly be confronted with.

  24. Kieran O'Neill says:

    #28: I don’t get the impression that the primary purpose of the clock is to act as a giant tombstone for Hillis, and the fact that the rest of the Long Now group are so enthusiastic about it bears this out.

    It’s a cool idea. Even if it doesn’t get built, it gets a lot of really smart people thinking over millennial timescales, and will generate some very cool technology.

    (And don’t forget, 10,000 years from now, civilization may no longer exist. A working piece of ancient technology may be the spark required to rekindle the fire of innovation.)

    Oooh, and have you seen the prototype? It’s steampunk as f*ck! :p

    But yes, Eno is an absolute genius, and a brilliant orator. His were some of the best seminars of the SALT series.

  25. Kieran O'Neill says:

    There’s a better link with oodles of pictures of the clock mechanism here.

    Steampunk, steampunk, steampunk, steampunk…

  26. Beanolini says:

    Yes, I do agree that the technology is interesting, as is the process of planning for extremely long timescales (and maybe I was a bit harsh about Mr. Hillis).

    I’m just not sure that the clock is a particularly great example. According to the Long Now website, the current design is intended to require regular winding by a human operator; so I don’t think it’s any more likely to inspire future technological renaissance than any other current technology.

    There are plenty of old-tech clocks that can already run for decades without serious intervention- I think ‘Big Ben’ (yes, I know it’s actually the bell) ran for over 100 years without stopping.

    From the Long Now website:
    “the Clock Prototype performed two millennial bongs on new years eve 02000.”

    Me too!

  27. Enochrewt says:

    Mass advertising is restricted. Billboards are categorically banned; advertising in subways, buses, removed. Towns take up “Advertising-Free Zones.”

    This needs to happen. Hell, it’s going to happen eventually because people pay less and less attention to them because there are more and more advertisements anyway.

  28. Kieran O'Neill says:

    * Schools abandon the attempt to teach the three Rs, concentrating instead on wacky and controversial “personhood” therapies. Everyone grows up bonkers in some way or another. The whole of the next century is like the late sixties.

    The more I talk to teachers, around the world, the more I think this is happening already.

  29. MsAnon says:

    “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.”

    Already happening in the former Soviet Union. The “feminization” is already seen in America in specialties like family practice, OB/GYN, and pediatrics. It’s a typical pattern in careers: as more women enter them, the pay rate drops and the career loses prestige. (See secretaries, teachers, etc.)

    This article describes the feminization of certain medical specialties in the Soviet Union:

  30. bcsizemo says:

    * Manufacturers of underwear finally realize that men have different-sized balls. *


    Oh that’s great!

  31. sehlat says:

    * Third World nukes become commonplace. Everybody has one, because everyone has nuclear power plants.

    [sigh]WHEN will the superstition that nuclear power plants are a quick route to atomic weapons die? Unless you build a power plant so that you can change out the fuel rods every three days you don’t get weapons-grade plutonium. You get the wrong isotopes and a lot of radioactive waste for your troubles if you don’t.

  32. Antinous says:

    he wants a memorial that will last 10,000 years; longer than the pyramids, longer than Stonehenge

    “Everything fears time, but time fears the pyramids.” – Herodotus

    The pyramids will likely outlast Homo sapiens.

  33. raisedbywolves says:

    ACB @ 6:

    Already happening in Europe – see France, for example.

    Scary shit, especially when you’re expected to fix things like this in the future…

  34. Alan says:

    #2 Actually, it’s Sheela (not Sheila) Basrur (not Sheila) and she died of a rare form of cancer called leiomyosarcoma that had nothing at all to do with SARS.

  35. hilbertastronaut says:

    Dang, I’m supposed to help fix #2…

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