An Uncertain Future


I have used this Emerging Future visual to demonstrate the overwhelming number of combinations that will conspire to create our future. The science and technology foundation converges with societal, political, economic, and environmental forces to build towards a very uncertain future. A future that I believe represents the third massive tipping point in human history.

This very short animated video describes the visual.

14 thoughts on “An Uncertain Future

  1. Hi Frank,

    Well, you keep saying that you understand and agree with me. And you keep producing content which shows that you don’t. Futurists seem unable to grasp lessons that should have been learned in 1945.

    The future is not uncertain. We’re going to keep racing blindly forward until we slam in to some wall. The endlessly rising curve you show in your animation simply isn’t going to happen.

    What is uncertain is what kind of damage slamming in to the wall will impose. Will it be educationally painful, or fatal?

    The wall could be like WWII, which was painful enough to persuade Europeans to stop endlessly warring upon each other. Two steps forward, one step back, leading to more steps forward.

    Or the wall could be like the Cuban Missile Crisis gone wrong, where we have a fatal head on collision with breathtaking speed. One step back, and then no more steps.

    In either case, the endlessly rising curve is a futurist fantasy. The more I read futurists the more convinced I am of this. Even the most intelligent well educated people in our society simply don’t grasp that releasing the awesome powers still hiding in pandora’s box is going to come with a price tag that matches the scale of those powers.

    The best way to predict the future is not by examining technological trends but by examining human beings. We learn through pain. On issues the scale that you are addressing, there’s almost no point in even trying to reason our way forward. The wall is coming, all we can really do is hope that our encounter with it will be educational and not fatal.

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  2. The technological details are uncertain, agreed.

    Human nature is however highly predictable. We’ve been repeating the same patterns for thousands of years.

    What were about to witness is the collision between those same old patterns and the radically new environment being created by the knowledge explosion. We’re failing to adapt, and the price tag for that is typically high.

    Any logical person with some life experience can see the broad outline of the future. I would agree that none of us can know exactly what the price tag will be or when it will arrive.

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    • …and that’s what I agree with. it’s not just technology. It’s environment, people, society, politics, science, economy, knowledge, and a pace we have never before seen. a convergence not seen since that second revolution with consequences that leaders do not appreciate – but managed correctly – it could also lead to the near time in human history – assuming we can get there

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  3. Hi again Frank,

    I’d be interested in hearing more about how you conceive of managing correctly. For example, what is your relationship with the “pace we have never seen before”?

    Or, to expand the conversation, perhaps you could educate us about what kind of debates are taking place in the futurist community. Are there debates taking place?

    As example, are there writers who argue we can and should take control of the pace of the knowledge explosion? Or is there a uniform group consensus that we are prisoners to whatever rate of change unfolds?

    Is anybody arguing that we should try to slow down? Or are futurists united in celebrating the coming AI singularity etc?

    I’m not that informed about the futurist community as a whole. I might have fewer opinions and less attitude if I could see a vigorous intelligent debate underway. To the degree you can provide a larger view of the futurist community it would be welcomed here.

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    • I’d recommend a brand new book from the futurist community titled beyond genuine stupidity. I believe the futurist community is the only group trying to create awareness around the issues you are passionate about. You have to first create awareness – and I can tell you from an overwhelming experience base – awareness does not exist

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  4. Here’s a test which might help us as a culture better understand how ready we are for the uncertain future.

    What is our relationship with nuclear weapons?

    Point being, how ready, willing and able are we to address our mistakes, fix problems, and remove threats as they emerge?

    Is this the speed limit on future progress?

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  5. Ok, thanks Frank, I’m on the sales page…

    …which reports….

    “The authors argue for a forward looking and conscious approach to the development and deployment of AI to ensure that it genuinely serves humanity’s best interest. ”

    If you’ve read the book, do the authors consider the possibility that we might not be ready for AI and would be wise to hit the pause button? As example, are we ready for nuclear weapons, do we have that one under control?

    If the authors don’t ask such questions, are there other authors who take on the job of pushing back against a notion that “alarmist thinking” qualifies as “genuine stupidity”? Is there a real debate underway in the futurist community? That’s a question, not a point, I really don’t know.

    The inconvenient questions pile up as fast as one can type…

    How do we “ensure AI serves humanity” given that so many futurists claim that AI will soon be smarter than us? Doesn’t the author’s premise assume that we will stay in control? How do we align such an assumption with the singularity concept? Doesn’t the “AI will build AI faster and faster” idea necessarily result in humans losing control at some point? What is the logic of attempting to manage a process of losing control? Might it be wiser to simply not enter in to such a process?

    But ok, the book is a good excuse to dig out my Kindle again, a good plan I thank you for.

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  6. I’ve only had time to read 50% of the sample this morning as I’m heading out of town, and leaving the computers behind.

    So far, an admittedly small sample of the book, it looks like more of the same old thing. The authors accurately point to the revolutionary nature of the knowledge explosion, and then decline to address it with revolutionary thinking.

    So far, as best I can tell, they still assume that we can not control the pace of the knowledge explosion, an outdated assumption from the past. If that assumption is indeed true, then alarmist commentary is right on point, because out of control change will inevitably outstrip the human ability to adapt, leading to social chaos, and the collapse of the knowledge explosion.

    So far, as best I can tell, the authors seem to be trying to position themselves as forward leaning analysts, while at the same time selling the same old passive relationship with the knowledge explosion. The focus seems to be on adapting to the inevitable rather than taking control of the pace of change.

    If that’s a fair summary (it may not be) then it seems reasonable to counter with the idea that the only successful adaptation would be taking control of the pace of change. Simple logic suffices here. The knowledge explosion may indeed be able to accelerate at an exponential pace as the authors suggest, but there is no chance that human culture can adapt at an accelerating exponential rate.

    In the past it was hard to develop new knowledge, and because that was true, it was easy to have a simplistic passive “more is better” relationship with knowledge. As I see it, the revolutionary nature of our era is that this equation is being reversed. Now that developing new knowledge is becoming easier and easier, it’s going to become harder and harder to understand what our relationship with knowledge should be.

    A passive paradigm of “big changes are coming and we have to adapt” is no longer sufficient. That’s outdated thinking. The question for the future is, how much change do we want to come and when?

    We can’t be mere riders on the knowledge bus anymore. We have to become the driver of the bus. Doing so will inevitably involve decisions about what roads to not take.

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  7. Frank,

    Perhaps a future post by you and/or other futurists might address this question…

    Does the continued success of the knowledge explosion depend upon our ability to control the pace of the knowledge explosion?

    Liked by 1 person

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