Sunday, January 4, 2015
Predicting the future:
In 1989 Robert Zemeckis directed Back To The Future II, (widely regarded as the poorer of the three films) where he thrust his characters into a futuristic 2015; a world pervaded with flying cars, comically inflated prices, and self lacing shoes. For the most part these sci-fi imaginings have not taken root. However one scene, where Marty Jr picks 30 different television channels to watch at once, seems the most accurate allegorically.
In 2015 our cars still run on "ordinary gasoline" our pizzas are still delivered normal sized and fully hydrated, but compared to 1985 we have a myriad of personal entertainment choices. In the average apartment there are enough screens and speakers to literally drown out any distractions and constantly stimulate the brain with loud, vapid content. What an age to be alive.
But even if those ideas outlined in BTTFII seem far fetched, they are the victim of a writing technique where writers imagine their current situation projected into the future and contorted to its logical extreme. It is also worth bearing in mind that the writers of Back to The Future were not interested in depicting the future (or the past for that matter) with any kind of accuracy. Certainly the signs for "JAWS 19 in HOLOGRAM" got a few chuckles from the audience as Spielberg's legacy had just been tarnished by the studio's release of "JAWS 3-D", a colossal failure at the box office. Nine dollars for a Pepsi would have seemed like some sort of dystopian nightmare after the 80's "cola wars". So, predicting the future in popular media is more useful for making commentary on the time in which it was written than actually fabricating a solid model for how pizzas will look in 2050.
Having said that, I will now attempt to do just that: predict the future. As I dust off my crystal ball and put the Oracle of Delphi on speed dial I'd like you to consider just what life might be like 30 years from now in 2045. There are a few things we can expect and a few "laws" which I will outline. These are not laws like speeding violations, but more akin to natural laws, like gravity; theoretical tools for predicting the future. The first of these is very simple: The rich will want to become richer. This has repercussions for change as well as immense staying power for current systems. The wealthy wanting to expand their wealth, (or as I am going to call it, the First Law of Future Prediction) is the main reason why we are not all driving electric cars. If theres more money to be made in the way things are, chances are that change is going to be slow and painful; dictated by seemingly random outside forces or almost undetectable influence from the Shadow Government.
The Second Law of Predicting the Future: Continuing the line. This is a tricky one. On a line graph one could see the popularity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and based on it's meteoric rise take a ruler, extend the line, and predict that by 2045 90% of the world's population will be bowing to Empress Twilight Sparkle. Ha. However, this method does work on predicting growth in world population, technological advancement, etc.
In 2045 we can expect several things to have advanced: Building materials, internet connectivity and availability, computing power, artificial intelligence, robotics, camera technology, medicine, entertainment delivery methods.
And we can expect several things to get worse: such as inflation, food availability as overpopulation becomes a burden on world food supplies, the uselessness of human society... cats.
Sometime in the next thirty years the peoples of China will become better connected to the world, and that flow of information and western ideas will spark another revolution which will, (for perhaps several years) bring the entire world's economy into a standstill, perhaps even sparking war. As millions of Chinese workers take to the streets to protest abysmal working conditions, low wages, unsanitary drinking water and unbreathable air, the world will look on in horror, hoping they can still get toothpaste and those little plastic clips used to hold chip bags shut. It is during this time, when supplies are going to run inevitably short, and chips inevitably stale, that the 3D printing people are going to pounce. "Why have your goods made in China, when you can print them in your own home!" advertisements will yell out of your wifi-enabled, video capable, touch sensitive counter-tops. So the 3D printer finally becomes affordable and not only cost effective but, necessary.
Meanwhile the automotive industry is playing catchup to Google who has captured the attention of the elderly and alcoholics alike with the perfection of their self driving cars. Made cost effective by insurance companies (of all people), the implications of the self driving car is going to be the staple of transportation until teleportation is perfected. Driverless vehicles will instantly replace sweaty, bearded truckers in every major shipping company; I suspect Walmart being one of the first to switch. Package delivery will then be handled by automated drivers and a series of local drones or robots, who can deliver things to your door 24 hours a day without breaks. I say package because cardboard isn't going anywhere. Cardboard is a billion dollar industry and the First Law dictates that it will stay around for a long while.
This leads me to the Third Law of Predicting the Future: Today's Luxuries are Tomorrow's Staples. In 1955 it was a luxury to own a car, let alone two, or to have a single television. In my house right now I count 4 actual televisions, and an additional 4 "screens" I could use to watch television-like content. So things we attribute to the wealthy of today, are commonplace tomorrow. Following the Third Law for a bit we can predict that 2045 will see many homes integrated with "smart" technology. Fully integrated and computerized systems which are controlled and personalized by the user from an interface which might be a watch, a subdermal tattoo, or more likely by extremely accurate voice recognition. Thermostats, outlets, lights, groceries, toiletries, utilities; all can be monitored, controlled, or ordered through this home system. Technology like this, of course already exists, but it is by no means cost effective enough to be widespread at the moment.
The Fourth Law of Predicting the Future: Music and Art are going to get Weird. Well, weirder. Well, no weirder than normal. Let me explain. If you told someone in 1955 that some day people would consider electronic noises made by circuits and rudimentary speakers as danceable music, and that sound (generated with no acoustic instruments whatsoever) would not only be popular, but a large subculture would consider it their favorite, they would have stared at you in disbelief. Today with the internet, that's not so hard to believe. But the point I'm trying to make is that it is impossible to predict popular trends in culture. From an gambler's perspective, there are no tells. I can go on to say that the kids of 2045 many of them born in the 2040's will listen to old jazz standards played entirely on the disassembled parts of old internal combustion engines, autotuned animal love-making noises, or the soft drone of deep space... but honestly because the arts and culture are reactionary to the times, it is not hard, but impossible to predict them with any accuracy. I would imagine as some of the older music enters the public domain there would be a trend to manipulate, experiment, and re-record some of the songs found in the nineteen twenties.
The Fifth Law is simple and it reminds us to keep grounded in our predictions: People Need to Eat. Not just eat, but they need all the basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter, pornography... The Fifth Law of Predicting the Future ensures the survival of those subsets of society. So expect restaurants, shoemakers, clothiers, contractors, and pornographers to all be very much in demand in 2045.
Where does that leave us? It is tempting to make grand sweeping statements condemning the future as an decadent cesspool of entertainment and intoxicants destined to deteriorate in a spectacular spiral reminiscent of the Roman Empire. However, the reality is that 2045 will sneak up on us, much the same way 2015 has. Sure, with drinking and driving a thing of the past, people might imbibe more, but for every person who buys into this new age of technology there will still be people who refuse to adapt. And I can guarantee that bicycle riding and backyard farming will also be infinitely more popular compared to today's numbers. Some things are going to be so radically different that shown them today we wouldn't know what to do, while others (toilet paper for example) are going to be comically similar.
I suppose what is most frustrating is that my generation, (the people who are full of ideas, caffeine, and tired of waiting for you old bastards to die so we can finally have some jobs), have this naive hope about building a sci-fi utopia. We are the last generation to remember using a corded phone, or dial up internet, "playing outside", or board games and there is this feeling that if the political and economic forces could just coincide for a short time there is no limit to the amount of cool stuff we could accomplish.
So in closing: I want to visit the Moon, damnit! Is that so much to ask!
Posted by Grant David Anderson II at 12:23 PM
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