Our Fatuous Future

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Culture, Debate, Technophilia
Tags: ,

The BBC News Magazine has an article where readers submitted predictions for futurologists Ian Pearson and Patrick Tucker to discuss their likelihood. (If there is a job description for “futurologist,” I’d like to read it.) I find it striking that the majority are about technological refinements and the minority are about social issues. A few observe how the biosphere is changing (for the worse). Notably missing are artistic and spiritual predictions. Rather than quote the entire article, I’ve grabbed the predictions only:

  1. Oceans will be extensively farmed and not just for fish.
  2. We will have the ability to communicate through thought transmission.
  3. Thanks to DNA and robotic engineering, we will have created incredibly intelligent humans who are immortal.
  4. We will be able to control the weather.
  5. Antarctica will be “open for business.”
  6. One single worldwide currency.
  7. We will all be wired to computers to make our brains work faster.
  8. Nanorobots will flow around our body fixing cells, and will be able to record our memories.
  9. We will have sussed nuclear fusion.
  10. There will only be three languages in the world — English, Spanish and Mandarin.
  11. Eighty per cent of the world will have gay marriage.
  12. California will lead the break-up of the U.S.
  13. Space elevators will make space travel cheap and easy.
  14. Women will be routinely impregnated by artificial insemination rather than by a man.
  15. There will be museums for almost every aspect of nature, as so much of the world’s natural habitat will have been destroyed.
  16. Deserts will become tropical forest.
  17. Marriage will be replaced by an annual contract.
  18. Sovereign nation states will cease to exist and there will be one world government.
  19. War by the West will be fought totally by remote control.
  20. Britain will have had a revolution.

The criteria for selecting user submissions and what qualifies the two experts to opine on the future (engineers as leaders of men?) are a bit obscure, but there is clearly something fatuous about the vision of the future contemplated by these predictions. I linked before to Bill Joy’s famous article in the April 2000 issue of Wired, entitled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” Since publication, the article has provoked considerable discussion, which some complain is pessimistic (or doom-and-gloom or neo-Luddite or obscurantist) while others concur with Joy’s assessment. Anyone who can step back and contextualize technophilia as a threat to human and nonhuman wellbeing attracts my attention. Those barreling ahead heedlessly, despite some rhetorical flourishes and rationalizations, I tend to avoid.

Perhaps it’s wrong of me to filter out the technophiles, since the world is inevitably going that way on the short term at least. However, further technological refinement is just not something to long for. Social change is inevitable, too, but we seem pointed toward increased global hostilities (similar to world conflicts throughout the 20th century) while we’re not otherwise busy reducing the world to rubble and grinding people into the dust. Elsewhere, I wrote that

… the world has been understood as an essentially dead, lifeless form from which we humans can extract and exploit at will all resources available to provide material wealth and comfort. Even those things that live (plants and animals) have no inherent value but are totally available for us to manage as resources quite independent of any consideration of the suffering we inflict upon them. This is what it means to live in an instrumental reality, where the totality of existence boils down to matter or material changing form until it eventually exhausts itself via the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Any discussion of a spiritual plane where human emotion, natural beauty, or artistic expression might hold sway are merely “entertainments” we afford ourselves to titillate the senses. All this is a dystopian view, of course, but we’re so far away from utopia that one can’t argue with a straight face that most of the world’s people (and most other animals, too) aren’t in fact suffering horribly, no matter what glories await the American consumer at the shopping mall.

  1. leavergirl says:

    Ack. Futurists are all brain and no sense. What a ridiculous mishmash. Might as well buy old comics.

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