Alas Amateur Futurism

The Nov. 18 New Scientist features "leading scientists make their predictions" about the future.  (Our own Nick Bostrom is included.)  Nov. 30 Hawking made the news with our future in space.  My reaction here is similar my published reaction to a recent Wilson Quarterly special issue on the future: why can’t we hear more future specialists?   We hear these groups on the future:

  1. Famous Scientists – Science dominates their future, though they feel qualified to speak on any non-science aspect.
  2. Public Intellectuals – Possible futures help them illustrate the provocative ideas or trends they are pushing.
  3. Gadget Salesmen – They’re selling something, and it is going to be huge; get in early now. 
  4. Advocates – They have a cause, they care deeply, and the stakes just could not be higher.

Missing are analysts who actually spend a lot of their time trying to figure out what the future will, or could, be like.   The biases this causes should be obvious. 

Some say the reason is that one cannot be disciplined about the future; data comes too late.  But this seems just wrong to me; I’ve seen lots of disciplined work on the future.   Perhaps instead most people just don’t care much about the future itself; they mainly like the future as a dramatic backdrop for admiring impressive people and cool gadgets, or for taking sides in current ideological battles.  Alas.   

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