The future comes to us in the form of evolution and revolution. We can usually do alright predicting the evolutionary change–it’s merely more of the same amplified and modified to a better (or worse) form. Changes that come about through the actions of an unexpected genius or through the explosion of an unimagined industry or device can really take us by surprise. Trying to take a leap of fancy to predict revolutionary change is usually foolhardy. Even wild flights of elaboration about evolutionary change will nearly always lead us astray.
As the political scientist, Michael Barkun wrote in 1992,
“The human mind abhors a vacuum…Where certainties are absent, we make due with probabilities, and where probabilities are beyond our power to calculate, we seek refuge…in a future of our own imagining.”
In 1909, Nikola Tesa predicted satellite radio transmission and ubiquitous telephone communication, without, of course, having any idea how such a thing would work. On the other hand, a prognosticator in 1951 predicted that television would lead the population of the world to become “squint-eyed, hunchbacked and fond of the dark” as well as illiterate by the turn of the century. Writers were predicting miracle medications that cured all diseases, “within hours.” Some predicted square tomatoes to fit the growing mechanization of farming and packaging. In 1992, experts at the MIT media lab were predicting “full-color, large-scale, holographic TV with force feedback and olfactory output” (in other words, feel-able and smell-able TV).
In 1950, most of the predictions about the future involved cars and the adaptation of cities to accommodate cars. Cities would have many sub-street level highways, or highways suspended high over streets. Gasoline would be made odorless. Airplane-automobiles with folding wings would be hovering over the roads. There was no mention of global warming and hydrocarbon emissions in the 1950s.
Nobody, in 1950 imagined the birth of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the invention of the operating system and microchips, the evolution of computers was not on their radar. There was no hopeful imaginings about miniaturization. The cartoon detective, Dick Tracy wore a two-way radio in his wrist watch, but there was virtually no real mention of miniaturization.
In the 1950s, the big main frame computers did not have operating systems. The basic functions of the computer were programmed in series of punched cards that users brought with them along with their punched data decks. The instruction set was written in Fortran or assembler for each job related to the data set that went with it.
From projections of what we already know, and not speculating about what does not yet exist, many are predicting the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI). Some futurists envision that AI will meet or exceed human intelligence at some point, hypothesizing a “singularity.” Named after the mind-boggling power of the black hole, the singularity breaks down the understanding of the world when the future contains entities smarter than human beings. Projecting from the exponential growth of processing power, combining units in the cloud, some futurists are predicting the singularity could arrive by 2050.
Predicting from an actual database of patent applications, Thompson Reuters
- Predict the application of genomic technology to better detect and prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Methods of more completely harvesting, storing, and converting solar energy will become the primary energy source for the Earth.
- Optimistic prognosticators are saying that human genome research will enable doctors to modify the human genetic makeup to modify disease-carrying genes like type I diabetes.
- They are predicting the great success of genetic modification in foods and vast improvement in farming methods and lighting to enable more indoor all-season agriculture.
- Electric cars and even electric-technology airplanes will take over from traditional fossil fuel-powered transportation by 2025.
- The internet of things will grow to connect all things in the house. New technology will appear that can store energy and “serve as electrodes to deliver this hyper-connectivity.”
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