Ever wonder why we have seen so many specific predictions of the future fall flat over the last century? Flying cars … moon bases … interplanetary atomic rockets … robots to wash your dishes … where are they? Curiously, most of those predictions aren’t too far-fetched. Flying cars exist; they’re just not common yet. We have the technology to build a moon base, and atomic rockets wouldn’t be too challenging, either. The visions that we would have these things now were wrong because they considered only the technologies themselves, not their context within the social, economic, and political confusion of human society.
The lack of this context is one of the biggest troubles futurists face when trying to describe the future. It isn’t difficult to take stock of current technological trends in some area and extrapolate to create a decent prediction of what technology will be available in ten or twenty years. It becomes very difficult, however, to precisely forecast how that technology will blend with and affect our future society, because of the mind-boggling complexity involved.
So I’m going to try something different.
It’s impossible to analytically simulate the color and complexity of life in the future. It is possible to creatively come up with scenarios that describe this, by studying trends in technology, society, culture, economies, and such, then mashing all of those together with a hearty helping of imagination. Science fiction authors do this all the time. The problem, though, is that scenarios in science fiction tend to be isolated from one another, so we end up with a mishmash of possible but unrelated futures.
I intend to change this by painting a web of future scenarios. The past is static and linear; the future is most definitely not. Different futures continually branch out from one another, in ways probable and improbable, separated by the dynamic uncertainty of our universe. Within this chaos, there are threads that can be followed. If I follow enough of them, I will, over time, create a gallery of the future, showing what the world might be like in a variety of conditions.
Every month or two, I will be publishing a new scenario: a portrait of a possible future. Each will explore what it will be like to live in one of the innumerable futures before humanity. As I expand my gallery of futures, some scenarios will branch out from others, until a great network of possibilities is built out of these threads.
I will be wrong most of the time, of course. As years pass, whole threads will become obsolete as their root scenarios fail to be realized. But occasionally, a scenario might strike close to reality. (Hopefully, those will be good ones, not bad ones!) When that happens, we might be able to learn a lot about how the future works.
Still more importantly, painting these scenarios will give everyone — me, other science fiction writers, other futurists, and all curious people — a chance to peek at where we might be headed. Ultimately, my hope is that this will be very inspiring and exciting. I would like my gallery of futures to motivate people to work towards manifesting the good scenarios, to create stories further exploring some scenarios, and to pay greater attention to the future that is unfolding around them at every moment.
Expect the appearance of the first “Future Portrait” within the next few weeks, with many more to follow over the months and years ahead, interspersed amongst my normal blog content for the time being. This will be a very long-term project, and I’m excited to see how it turns out and discuss the different scenarios with people. As always, I’d be delighted to hear questions, suggestions, and ideas about the project and any possible scenarios to include. You’re welcome to contact me, or leave a comment below.
And now, it’s time to start painting. The futures depend upon it.