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The future of mankind: patterns of a future world

Tuesday, 5 August 2008 — by

The future as seen through the eyes of technologists and futurologists can seem a far-off place. As dreamers, they either speak of Utopian societies, who’ve long since harnessed their technologies, or of worlds left ruined by a war with cyborgs or a genetically engineered virus. Here, I’m going to explain how I see the future of mankind…

In this first installment, I’ll be looking at how predicting the future is at best, educated guesswork. But, like most things in life, the education of an individual is only as good as their willingness to learn.

There is no art or science behind predicting the future. You need only two things; a memory to store all of the ideas and concepts you happen to come across and a passion for solving puzzles with an eye for convergences.

Of the many things that distinguish humans from our fellow creatures is our enhanced capacity to solve puzzles. In simpler terms, we look for patterns in systems; biological, mathematical, mechanical and sociological, to name but a few.

Sometimes, these patterns are too huge for any one person to comprehend. What we see during the course of our lifetime is but a fleeting glimpse of what might be a pattern of the future:

“Imagine for example that you stand upon a giant puzzle board. Every now and then, you observe one piece of this vast jigsaw fall into place. For that one moment, you see a connection and witness a change to the landscape beneath your feet.

In that short instance, you witness change and are afforded a brief glimpse of a pattern, but what you see is largely without context or theme, or if some fleeting glimpse of a pattern emerges, such evidence is historical and originally witnessed only through the eyes of those older than you or those who have been and since gone.”

Life is brimming over with such instances. For the futurologist, separating these often indistinct and organic lineage’s into a coherent thread is the challenge.

In a recent article discussing the possibility of human-machine future, some interesting concepts emerge which align neatly with some of my own ideas. However, there were notable departures, which offer an insight into the painfully straight thinking of their creators.

As a business owner and (apparently) an entrepreneur, having the big idea is rarely sufficient. It’s often necessary to surround the one big idea with lots of smaller really good ideas — and that’s precisely where some of these renown futurologists come unstuck, because they often fail to ground their ideas in the context of people, society and the very complex and dynamic environment we occupy.

The future, in no particular order

The future may seem to be a linear progression, following the arrow of time inexorably forward. For the most part, that’s entirely true. But our progression is one of leaps of thought, some of which going backwards, as we re-examine previous thoughts, concepts, ideas, experiments and theories.

Additionally, any forward progression is entirely relative, in the sense that we’re all making some forward progression. If we accept that there are many thousands of people developing innovative technologies, at some point, one or more of these technologies will come together in some way.

Adding further to the complexity, convergent technologies aren’t always new. Sometimes, older technologies are given a new lease of life, or we may even look to nature for inspiration; an area of research called biomimetics.

In simpler terms, the future is a very curvy thing indeed:

“As an example, at the turn of the 20th century, it was predicted that passenger air balloon travel — pioneered by the likes of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin — would be commoditized and become the pre-eminent means of mass transit. In fact, it would be so popular, by the 1980s, people would have their own personal air balloon as their primary method of conveyance.

Obviously, this gaze into the future didn’t take into account the airplane, which put an end to that pearl of foresight.”

And it’s these moments of fuzziness that often punctuate what budding futurologists may think is actually a moment of clarity. And the Red Ice Creations article is littered with such examples.

Some of you might find this to be an odd admission, but I have only a cursory knowledge of the supposed leading thinkers in futuristic foresight. I say this because of the many technology predictions I’ve read over the years, most are dalliances into the wide and less-than-wonderful unknown, mostly exhibiting a weak grasp of logical progression, societal and cultural issues, or of the contemporaneous challenges faced in making their ideas become reality.

And it’s these isolated conjurings of the mind that such big ideas wither and fail because they lack the required standing army of smaller — but no less important — ideas to support them.

From here we can easily see that the economics of futurology are often left bankrupt…

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Comment and be known

dstt → Friday, 8 August 2008 @ 12:15 BDT

I love the way that people from the past (or present) look at the future. I think that an airplane will change radically, it will charge itself with wind somehow whilst flying, is what I think.

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