Back in 2007, I wrote a science fiction novella called "The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrrow," about an immortal, transhuman survivor of an apocalypse whose father is obsessed with preserving artifacts from the fallen civilization, especially the Carousel of Progress, an exhibition that GE commissioned from Disney for the 1964 World's Fair in New York, which is still operating in Walt Disney World. Read the rest
Back in 2016, New York Magazine tapped a bunch of people from a variety of backgrounds and asked them to imagine events that might take place over the next eight years; as with all futuristic exercises, it's less interesting as a predictive exercise and much more interesting as a diagnostic one, a snapshot of the hopes and dreams for the coming years on the cusp of the 2016 election. Read the rest
My Institute for the Future colleague Jane McGonigal is teaching a series of 5 online courses on Futures Thinking and they're free to audit! I'm told that "after you log in and click Enroll, just look for the "Audit" link.'" Of course nobody can predict the future but imagining the longterm future can certainly help you make better decisions in the present. Congrats Jane and IFTF! From Coursera:
Do you want to think about the future with more creativity and optimism? Do you want to see what’s coming faster, so you can be better prepared for disruptions and more in control of your future? Do you want to get better at changing what’s possible today – in your company, your industry, your community, and in your own life?
This course will introduce you to the practice of futures thinking, as developed and applied for the past 50 years by the Institute for the Future, a Silicon-Valley-based research and learning group founded in 1968. In this course, you’ll build your understanding of what futures thinking is and what you can do with it. You’ll master essential foresight techniques. You’ll meet some professional futurists. And you’ll choose one or more future topics you want to investigate with your new foresight skills.
This course is for anyone who wants to spot opportunities for innovation and invention faster. You can gain the skills and confidence to help YOU become someone who makes the future, instead of letting the future happen to you.
In 1959, Westinghouse imagined the TOTAL ELECTRIC HOME, a life filled with electrical appliances. The company was slowly devoured from the inside out by the media entities it bought, and now the electrical appliances are filled with our lives. Read the rest
Wired's Rose Eveleth asks Can Sci-Fi Writers Prepare Us for an Uncertain Future? Eveleth looks at the rise of science fiction writers being asked to consult with companies about their future plans (I've done some of this), a phenomenon supercharged by a Price Waterhouse Cooper report on the practice. Eveleth delves into the difference between futurism (which purports to have predictive power) and science fiction, whose predictive power is vastly overstated -- but suggests that sf might inspire people to strive for a better future, or make them lose hope that such a thing is possible. Read the rest
[Editor's note: I'm on the advisory board for Free Machine, a nonprofit that describes itself as an "LA-based collective of UX designers, artists, urban planners, and policy wonks. By using the tools of culture to shift the conversation around tech and society, we aim to shape a hi-tech future that is equitable, sustainable, and abundant." The following is from Ben Gansky, Free Machine's executive Director]
I'd like to invite you to join me at Free Machine's Future Perfect: A Postcapitalist Adventure on Sunday March 24th at 4pm at Manny's in the Mission, co-presented by Institute for the Future! What is Future Perfect? Who is Free Machine? Where is Manny's? Read on! Read the rest
In 1983, The Toronto Star invited Isaac Asimov to predict what the world of 2019 would look like. He was astute in his understanding of likely technical developments, but wrong about other things. Which things make for interest....
Asimov was more or less correct in many of his predictions on the future of computerization, even if some of his forecasts were a bit broad and obvious ... but assumes that kids wouldn't spend all that time using technology to, say, play Fortnite.
Asimov's article was obviously a tossed-off guest editorial, but it's interesting how blind it was technology's deeper social implications. For example, he presents machine labor as a straightforward liberation for workers who no longer have to work repetitive jobs. And he had no grasp on how technological changes would dissolve social norms, such as, say, the veils of influence and favor that hide sexual misconduct within literary subcultures. Read the rest
In 2009, Microsoft produced a video imagining the world of 2019. They did well with the software aspects of touchscreen interfaces and machine vision, but overshot the runway on bezel-less devices and the general ubiquity of touchscreens themselves. There's a touchscreen coffee mug! All the depicted applications (such as flexible high-FPS color e-ink) are shown without a batteries or other power sources. This is a mandatory omission in all such future fantasies.
The clip is a general reminder of how predictable developments in basic consumer technology were over this time period. Microsoft was on solid ground exaggerating what were already, in 2009, obvious and entrenched trends, and then imagining what the rich would be doing with touchscreens on everything. Consider that a 2009 iMac is virtually identical, from the front, to a 2018 model. The evolution is in the details: thinness, high-DPI panels, faster hardware, software refinement, and so on. Still no touchscreen Macs, mind you...
Yet everything has changed with how we use this technology, and Microsoft didn't imagine any of that. Check out the Harry Potter newspaper: they went for blandly positive business headlines. This safe bet (also constrained by having to avoid controvertial predictions) turns out to be the most ironically inaccurate prognostication of them all.
But it's not as if they're going to show all their wealthy business travelers weeping before their crypto investments, glumly cycling through the same algorithm-selected tweets again and again, or explaining on YouTube that racial slurs are just gamer talk. Microsoft wasn't thinking of the "beige basement" crowd, after all. Read the rest
Michael Nielsen was a Fulbright Scholar who got his Ph.D. in Physics at 24. He was already tenured when he decided just three years later to shift his attention to helping democratize Science. He’s published three books, most recently Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. Currently, he’s a Research Fellow at YC Research in San Francisco. Michael’s a friend of mine, so I was happy to discover a new article by him in The Atlantic, authored with Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe. I decided to ask him why they’d done the research they describe, and what it meant. --Karl Read the rest
In 2017, Pricewaterhousecooper published Using science fiction to explore business innovation, a guide for corporations that wanted to work with sf writers to think about the future of their businesses; it was part of a wave of corporate interest in the insights of sf writers, which also coincides with a parallel trend in academia (see, for example, ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination and UCSD's Clark Center for Human Imagination, both of which I have some involvement with). Read the rest
Bruce Sterling's hour-long lecture to the Southern California Institute of Architecture is pretty good vintage Sterling: a seeming grab-bag of loosely related futuristic, ascerbic observations about climate change, Estonian e-residency, Kazakh new cities, monumental architecture, rotting Turinese palaces, Silicon Valley arrogance, AI, new-new urbanism, and so on -- which then all seems to pull together in an ineffable, somehow coherent finale that is both hopeful and bitter. Read the rest
In "design fiction" and "speculative design," designers and science fiction writers create fictional products and services, which go on to inform real engineering and product design processes. Read the rest