Three Futuristic Questions

So, about a week ago, Jamais Casico put up a page where he asked the following three questions:

  • What do you fear we’ll likely see in fifteen years?
  • What do you hope we’ll likely see in fifteen years?
  • What do you think you’ll be doing in fifteen years?

Here are my attempts to answer them.

The first two are kind of dull to me because they always make me think of stuff that many people have already thought of. The good futurists are the ones who surprise with unexpected perceptions how the world is changing. They spot something the rest of us miss. I’m no good at that. But they are provocative questions that give me something to write about.

Fears for the Future

For example, in my closet of fears are the usual suspects:

  • Global warming
  • continued dependance on fossil fuels
  • Overfishing
  • Deforestation
  • Pandemics
  • Nuclear terrorism
  • Nuclear war
  • Economic catastrophes, perhaps driven by some combination of the disasters listed above

Many of these risks and problems we’ve been living with for many years now.

What is really scary is the next 15 years will bring some terrible event that we did not expect. It’s always the ones we don’t suspect that get us in the end. Perhaps there’ll be some bizarre bioengineering failure that we didn’t expect, something like what happened to the oceans in Benford’s novel Timescape–not a really good book in my opinion but the ecodisaster he posited was unusual for its day.

My other comment is that I think nuclear war shouldn’t be ignored as much as it is these days. Russia and the United States still have significant portion of their strategic arsenals in standby. they could be reactivated within a few weeks. India and Pakistan could drag us all into a nuclear war whether we like it or not. Or it could be Israel versus Iran, or anyone else in the Middle East that gets the Bomb. Brazil is aspiring to join the Nuclear Club. Who’s next? Proliferation continues despite all efforts to stop it.

Lovers of apocalypse are often just as escapist as dreamy optimists because they think that everything will collapse in some exciting horror show. But they’re wrong. The reality of our world is that there are lots of dreary, grinding, slow, complex problems that slowly get solved, cease to be relevant or just drag on and on. Nothing really exciting about that.

I’m not really worried about some economic crash or horrible gigadeath. What worries me is that we’ll make no serious progress on present issues–that they’ll still be around, largely unchanged, in the decades yet to come.

Hopes for the Future

On the good news side of things, what will likely happen in the next 15 years:

I really don’t want to predict anything other than those really safe ones but what I’m hoping for in the next 15 years:

  • That to everyone’s surprise, a number of African countries will suddenly be trumpeted as stable, reformist, democratic, innovative, economic dynamos. Considering all the horrors Africans have had to endure over the last 500 years, they really, really, really deserve it.
  • Cheap, wearable computers. Ever since reading about that laser diode camouflage suit in Neuromancer, I’ve wanted a wardrobe of cheap tee-shirt displays. I’d run cartoons on them all the time, or running shell scripts.
  • Some nation makes a try at building a space elevator.

Personal Future

But now we get to the interesting question: What will I be doing in 15 years?

I have absolutely no idea.

Many deep personal changes happened to me over the last 15 years. I came into adulthood very slowly in comparison to many other people. For these and other reasons, I’ve never really built a career or set myself life goals. At nearly 44, I’m still very reactive and very easily satisfied. I do just what I need to survive. I haven’t amassed great wealth or fame or power. I probably won’t attain any of these in the next 15 either.

I read what other people guess they’ll be doing in ten or twenty years time and what strikes me is how little they think their lives will change. Will I still be a computer technician and webmaster in 15 years? It’s hard to see how I could be. The world changes too fast now. I change too much.

Maybe this is the reason why I turned down the offer from Microsoft. Something really scares me when I think about committing myself to corporate drudgery. If you’re only doing it for the money, you’re dead inside.

But that’s only the personal stuff.

15 years ago Window 3.1 was a new idea. The Internet hadn’t been privatized yet. I was still tending rats and mice for Tyler Labs. Entire industries didn’t even exist yet. The world didn’t even know that they needed webmasters.

Considering how much my personal world and the outside world has changed in the last 15 years, I think it’s rather silly for me guess at what I might be doing in 15 years.

I’ll try to answer these questions again in about a year’s time. Maybe I’ll have some better answers then.

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