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.

The world and workforce need wisdom. Why don’t universities teach it?

Universities claim to prepare students for the world. How many actually do it?

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  • Many university mission statements do not live up to their promise, writes Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva, a university designed to develop intellect over content memorization.
  • The core competencies that students need for success—critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and cross-cultural understanding, for example—should be intentionally taught, not left to chance.
  • These competencies can be summed up with one word: wisdom. True wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge appropriately when faced with novel situations.
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To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

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Personal Growth
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  • Researchers hope the data will spur future studies to discover what role caregiver imitation plays in social cognition development.
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    Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
    • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
    • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
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