dystopia

The Future: We Either Love It Or Hate It

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We don’t know what the future will bring. It is a known unknown that has captivated humanity for centuries. Futurologists, scientists, writers, directors, musicians and many others have all tried their hand at showing us their dreams, visions and hopes of the future.

When we analyze such concepts and visions of the future it is interesting to see how so many either paint a utopian or a dystopian future. This is in stark contrast with how we generally think of the present and the past, where our stories, descriptions and adaptions are much more diverse and nuanced.

Of course we have a lot more inspiration and experience to draw on present and past experiences which helps is create a balanced view, image or story of the past 50 to 100 years. It is easy to be influenced by things we experience. When it comes to the past we can reflect. When it comes to the present we can observe. But when it comes to the future, all we can do is guess. And since society is such a complex and dynamic concept it is very hard to see where we will be in 100 years from now and how lives, cultures and economies will be affected.

When it comes to technology for example we can somewhat estimate where we will be in terms of processing power, interfaces and technological advancements. We can extrapolate certain aspects. And we can probably safely say that there will be robots in the future. But often we are unable to really delve into how these advancements in technology will shape our every day lives. And this very uncertainty is perhaps where we often either start looking towards the future as a great place where we all live happily ever after in total unison or one where we live in a world where are far worse off then we are today.

The thing about the future is that it represents change. And many people don’t like change. The status quo is seen as the “best” situation and as a result changes are seen as threats. This naturally skews how we perceive alternative possibilities. With that in mind it is not hard to see where the dystopian visions of the future are coming from: the end of the world, massive famine, virus outbreaks, wars, human extinction at the hand of robots, massive unemployment, totalitarian regimes, etc. It will only get worse.

Then there are people who see change as a positive development. They see opportunities in the unknown and look forward to change. They mostly do so in a romantic way, where disease has been ruled out, we all live in harmony, are able to replicate food (advanced 3D printing), live on other planets, etc. It is tempting to label the dystopian future crowd as pessimists and those who see a utopian future as optimists. Things will only get better.

When it comes to predicting the future it is hard to put things in perspective, because we don’t know what will change and thus we miss the context of the future. And because context is always a complex dynamic we are likely to look at the future displaying a very human dose of confirmation bias. Personal bias affects how people view the future. Much research has been done on human decision-making and how we struggle to fairly assess chance and assign value. This affects our forecasting abilities. Focalism for example, whereby a person focuses on a single detail while ignoring other factors, leads to exaggeration. Extrapolating single details can obviously lead to a one-sided view of the future.

If I am very interested in biology and science I may focus on all the potential it brings and may ignore the dangers as well. This leads to confirmation bias and I may choose to ignore information or developments that clash with my my biased views. Edward Teller, often referred to as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” never intended to invent a weapon, but his work was used to such ends. The same thing can happen to other great inventions and discoveries. I can choose to ignore this fact and exaggerate the virtues of science.

Does all of this mean that trying to predict the future is an exercise in futility? Not exactly. The beauty of the future is that we decide its outcome by acting in the present. We are in a better position to shape our own destiny by actively visualizing what we want from the future and how to get there.

And still , the future, love it or hate it, will most likely not be as we imagined it.

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