Futurism Is Awesome — And Awesomely Bad at Predicting the Future

Futurists never imagined the humble bicycle would be the transportation trend of the 21st century. Nor that our smart devices could be making us dumber.

Futurology is an interesting field of study, which seeks to hypothesize what alternative future(s) might look like. It asks what's possible, probable, and preferable. Much of the study is based on current trends and visionaries, like Elon Musk, pushing their version of the future forward. Some of us ponder what the future will look like, but none of us could say how these developments will change us.

Take the washing machine, for example, it could have “freed women from labor, and, as the social psychologists Nina Hansen and Tom Postmes note, could have sparked a revolution in gender roles and relations,” writes Tom Vanderbilt in an article for Nautilus. “Instead, the women simply assumed the jobs once held by their servants.”

[S]cientists are beginning to argue whether or not smart devices are making us dumb and others have started to question whether the Internet is creating a class divide.

The Internet was supposed to bring down the walls of difference — open up the world for everyone. Information was going to flow regardless of class — we would be equal on the Internet. But scientists are beginning to argue whether or not smart devices are making us dumb and others have started to question whether the Internet is creating a class divide.

Cultural and behavioral change is hard to predict: whether it will disrupt our routine or not. We predicted self-driving cars and hoverboards, but we never predicted women in the workplace and the sexual revolution.

So, a question we have to ask is how new technology, like the self-driving car, will change modern culture? It will free up time to and from work and on road trips. So, will we become more productive? Less aware of our surroundings? These are all possibilities, but looking at history, now I'm not so sure. It's hard to say what will become of us.

Technologist Nicholas Negroponte discusses the danger of making predictions about the future — and then makes a bold one about the brain.

5 facts you should know about the world’s refugees

Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations led to a record high of 70.8 million people being displaced by the end of 2018.

Keep reading Show less

Are these 100 people killing the planet?

Controversial map names CEOs of 100 companies producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1
Strange Maps
  • Just 100 companies produce 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • This map lists their names and locations, and their CEOs.
  • The climate crisis may be too complex for these 100 people to solve, but naming and shaming them is a good start.
Keep reading Show less

Bernie Sanders' student debt plan bails out the rich

Bernie Sanders reveals an even bigger plan than Elizabeth Warren, but does it go too far?

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bernie Sanders has released a plan to forgive all the student debt in the country.
  • It is even larger than the plan Elizabeth Warren put forward two months ago.
  • The plan has drawn criticism for forgiving the debt of both the poor and those well off enough to pay their own debt.
Keep reading Show less