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.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

In U.S. first, drug company faces criminal charges for distributing opioids

It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
  • It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
  • Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
Keep reading Show less