The Extrapolist

“If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it’s not a major career problem.”

“We can already use DNA, for example, to make electronic circuits so it’s possible to think of a smart yoghurt some time after 2020 or 2025, where the yoghurt has got a whole stack of electronics in every single bacterium. You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it.”

Futurist Ian Pearson is back in the news again. I’ve had a few beers with this guy and he’s quite a trip to talk to. He gets a bad rap because he makes wild attention-getting predictions. Predictions attract derision because there’s no way that anyone can truly predict the future. And “true futurists” frown on other futurists that use wild predicitons to get attention.

But I think Ian’s point is that technology is moving so quickly (and our social capacities adapt so slowly) that it deserves our attention. His predictions are both exciting and scary on purpose. Making predictions that are accurate is not the goal — that’s a fool’s errand. Being provocative, putting images of the possible future in front of our eyes to get us talking, that’s the goal.

It takes a lot less time to develop a technology than to develop the consensus on how best to use that technology. So we’d better get busy talking. How to get it going? Predict immortality for the children of the rich, conscious computers, downloadable brains, video tatoos, and smart yogurt.

None of this is complete fiction. Futurists like Ian extrapolate past technology trends into the future to project what is probable. Then they can paint very creative pictures that answer the question “What could we possibly do with this new capability and all that extra computing power?” I attended one of his more entertaining lectures on the future of sex — very entertaining and very disturbing at the same time. There are lots of possible answers to the extrapolist question, for sure. But you have to explore at least one to get to the others. The only wrong position on technology futures is “head in the sand.”

2 thoughts on “The Extrapolist

  1. Hi Cody,

    Just wanted to drop a line, I’d like to invite you and your readers to the Methuselah Prize – we’re making a special effort to outreach to the greater technology/futurist community; we’d like to get other thinking and joining in on the conversation, seeing what is possible and working towards even more. You hit perfectly on the mark – we need to get the future back into the public discussion if we wish to create a better world. Hopefully we’ll all be alive, youthful and healthy by 2050!

    Check us out at http://www.mprize.org

    Cheers!

  2. Future sex? And you’re keeping it to yourself? Not fair, man.

    Talking yoghurt aside, you’re exactly right about the disconnect between our ability to create the future through sci-tech and our inability to engage in public discussion of the kind of future we actually want. Politicians, who tend reflexively to appeal to our feelings of nostalgia, or our desire for security, are incapable of fostering these kinds of discussions. Academicians, whose high level of specialization and tendency towards speaking in jargon-laden language, are mostly incapable. Bloggers’ treatment of these ideas is superficial on the one hand (because of the nature of the technology), or faith-based, on the other, because they’re dazzled with their own rhetoric and they’re preaching to the choir. It’s the rare public intellectual who can break through a dumbed-down media machine. Argh! Guess it’s up to you, Cody.

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