Tuesday, November 28, 2006
In 1970 Alvin Toffler published a book that had most of us wide-eyed and self-impressed, "Future Shock" (I should mention that people were also reading and talking about such nonsense as "Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" and "Fear of Flying", but that would just be excessive on my part and I'm not about to stoop to that to impress people...nor will I mention "The Naked Ape" or "The Media is The Message"---but I digress). Toffler's book warned that as our world changed rapidly that some people would struggle to psychologically adjust to the change. Well. Maybe. Having grown up in the 60's, I am still waiting for the flying cars, rocket packs, and wall tv screens that they promised us would be here after the turn of the century, along with the colonies on the moon. They also said women would lose most of their secondary sexual characteristics, and like Twiggy, have no breasts or hips. Allow me to give thanks for that one prediction not coming to pass. So, the question is, as sci-fi writers of the fifties and sixties tried to guess what changes would be wrought in the next fifty years and how those changes would affect the life of the average person, what predictions are our contemporaries making today? What will the next fifty years hold? One group of visionaries have made prediction as to the future of the internet. According to a post on the Pew/Internet Report ( http://www.pewinternet.org/index.asp ) the following predictions have been made: *A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world. *Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey. *Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems. *Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change. *People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy. *English will be a universal language of global communications, but other languages will not be displaced. Indeed, many felt other languages such as Mandarin, would grow in prominence. Another group of visionaries addressed the question of the next fifty years over at New Scientist ( http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/science-forecasts). Some of their predictions include: people living into their hundreds, computers capable of passing the Turing test, and final and workable grasp of a unified field theory. Of course not all futurists are optimistic. With global warming and the growing number of nuclear states capable of supplying terrorists with dirty bombs, it's easy to adopt a different paradigm. Personally, of the doom and gloom predictors, I prefer the unknown future plague that will sweep through the industrialized nations like a fire through dry grass. Maybe the dead will even rise and walk the earth. So what about you? What do you see the next fifty years holding?