It’s Groundhog Day and we have once again seen the future through Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow — 6 more weeks of winter, in case you missed today’s forecast.
We’re fascinated by the future, whether for something as simple as weather forecasting or dreaming of our next vacation. Whether it’s reading your palm or gazing into a crystal ball, we try to sneak a peek at what’s coming up — even if we know it’s not necessarily true. Fortune tellers and soothsayers abound throughout our history, and we have sought them since the days of the Oracle at Delphi.
Science fiction feeds our visions of the future, from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek to the Zemecki brothers’ Back to the Future film trilogy. From the utopian future of the 60s cartoon, The Jetsons, to the dark, dystopian futures such as Blade Runner, (based on William Gibson’s Necromancer), we have seen a wide range of possible futures to consider.
Eventually, we can catch up with the closer parts of the future — 1984 hovers outside of the normal timeline, both already past and still a warning about our future. Big Brother exists, both as fictional concept and partially as functional reality.
Forecasting the future is far from perfect, as scriptwriter Bob Gale reveals in this recent interview about that past vision of our present future. 2015 means we’ve reached Marty McFly’s future — only, well, we haven’t gotten our hover boards just yet. Yes, we have drones, and, yes, Nike will be releasing self-lacing shoes soon enough, but where. oh where are (were?) the smartphones in the movie?
My personal fascination with the future led to taking a graduate class in futurism. This sparked an ongoing interest with futures forecasting, and I joined the World Future Society. About 4 years ago, I ran across The Next Decade, and found myself intrigued by the global geopolitical forecasts of author George Friedman, despite his heavily militaristic worldview. So, I sought out his prior book, The Next Century, to enjoy his longer view.
It seems an odd sequence at first glance — forecasting an entire century first, and then, taking on the decade. However, in the preface to the second book, Friedman explained it’s actually easier to forecast farther ahead rather than closer to the present, due to fluctuations of individual humans’ behaviors. For example, forecasting the stock market is practically impossible, but forecasting long-term population growth is highly accurate.
And it is this sort of forecasting that can prompt forward-looking thinking and action. To paraphrase one futurist, “Knowing that the population of the United States will double by the end of the 21st Century should make us wonder: where will we put the Second New York City? and the Second Los Angeles? and Chicago…and so forth?”
Me, I’m still worried about how we can handle Friedman’s forecast of a mid-century sneak attack on the global empire of America, launched by the Japanese from a secret moon base by throwing “rocks” — steerable asteroids— at our geosynchronous “Battle Stars” that exercise surveillance and control over all air and sea travel.
That one’s going to keep me up at nights — sometime in the Future.