Thursday, October 06, 2005

That wonderful future, always 20-30 years out

There are the old guard futurist groups, the World Future Society, World Transhumanist Association, Foresight Insititute and others whose membership swelled decades ago with the former zenith of interest in science and technology and dreams of the US space program. In the last decade, the new guard futurist goups like the Acceleration Studies Foundation, the Singularity Institute, Extropy Institute, etc. have arrived. Instead of having devised a means of incorporating new tiers of ideas (the groups are mainly stratified by generation), which would seem like a first order futurist project, the old guard and new guard groups do not seem to understand each other and disagree about what is important and interesting.

However, at any time point, all the futurist groups carry the same message of a different future arriving in 20-30 years. Even erstwhile members start to remark that this never seems to happen in the decades they have been involved with the movement. Waning interest in the futures area is compounded by the "no new news" dynamic, the focus on long-time horizons and known problems rarely results in new and exciting news despite that everyone agrees that technological change is accelerating. As futurist Paul Saffo says, a clear view should not be mistaken for a short distance.

The acceleration camp of today might argue that this is precisely the point, futurists must stay ever-vigilant because otherwise big change will pop up truly unannounced but is there really a grand payback to studying the future other than being informed as a general interest. The usual time and effort focused on progress in the areas we selves we can perpetuate now is perhaps the most future-oriented endeavor in which we can engage.