A futurist is a precarious yet fascinating occupation. You have to have imagination, be bold, be visionary. Yet at the same time methodical, an excellent researcher with a grasp of reality of where it is going, not where it could go. If George Orwell was right in his belief that ‘“who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past” then they must be decent historians and have a well-founded understanding of present-day politics, science and philosophy. After all, you ought to know where you are to know where you’re going. When a futurist’s prediction is proven to be false, like so many are in a profession where daring brings attention and excitement, they’re scorned and mocked, thrown into the ash heap of futurist ‘history’. However, if a risky forecast is thrown and it hits the center, a bull’s eye, a jackpot, then people look to them for what to expect in the next decades; jet packs in the 60s, worldwide communism in the 70s, another Bush president (this one happened) and a cure for cancer with a gulp of a pill. A good futurist wants to believe in the things swirling around their head- “imagine if scientists create an inoculation against HIV for babies in Africa?” but they reign it in, they’re diligent and disappoint themselves in diminishing what they wished would happen rather than what could happen.
Ray Kurzweil, a predominant figure of futurism, balances these two sides, brave predictions and well-founded research with equal power. In a profession of extreme volatility and inaccuracy, his projections have an 86% accuracy rating, focusing mainly on technology and science. He was right about the Soviet Union collapsing, the internet becoming so integral in daily life, and the power of artificial intelligence, to name a few of his accomplished predictions. Tech magazine Motherboard have called him “a prophet of both techno-doom and techno-salvation.”
He has an estimation for singularity- a point around 2045 when computers will acquire artificial intelligence and technology will combine with biology, and believes humans will create a world of a permanent virtual “real” reality hybrid.
If you’ve seen Blade Runner 2049, there’s a scene where a prostitute changed her appearance completely by having an AI attached to her, like a suit, or a second skin. This, Kurzweil believes, will be here in a decade. “Maybe you ought to project yourself as some movie star that you think your partner will like…that’s coming in the next decade. But programmable matter where you can really transform at an atomic level, that’s (in the) 2040s..it brings this morphing ability which is readily doable in virtual reality to real reality.” To err is human, and at present we are hesitant, but perhaps in half a century we won’t be human, rather shapeshifting robo-men and women who have created a Narnia in our living rooms.
The future of medicine is also going to progress dramatically in the next decade according to Kurzweil, with life expectancy to rise as the main forms of death are eradicated.
“(By 2025) 3D printers will print human organs using modified stem cells with the patient’s own DNA providing an inexhaustible supply of organs and no rejection issues. We will be also able to repair damaged organs with reprogrammed stem cells, for example a heart damaged from a heart attack.”
But why is it so hard to predict what we can expect in the future? Perhaps it’s because we try to place the necessities of our present into the next fifty years, but what is useful for us is obscure and unneeded for them. Think of mailmen with jetpacks as an example, predicted in 1958 by Arthur Radebaugh.
Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku believes soon humans will be able to upload themselves into a kind of cloud. “In the next 10 years, we will see the gradual transition from an Internet to a brain-net, in which thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories might be transmitted instantly across the planet.” This can lead to a better understanding of others’ emotions; the arguments of “you don’t know/understand how I feel!” will be a thing of the past as humans can experience through tactical changes in emotions, the anger, joy, impatience, aggrieved feelings of another. Therefore the prospect of uploading ourselves onto a ‘brain-net,’ essentially creating an afterlife for those who wish to live forever, or thousands of years longer than the life expectancy of all other humans who have existed is the most fascinating and sought after of all future prospects.
Regardless of whether these predictions are accurate or not, what we as a civilisation can expect is the ever increasing option of a reality askew from our own, life expectancy of humans to skyrocket, or even immortality in machines, wandering a universe we’ve designed for ourselves, and eventually communicating with relatives born thousands of years after you.