I was looking at this timeline of potential futures, and the bit on virtual reality and consumer robotics struck a nerve. People have been talking about VR taking off for over 20 years now. It made me think about certain ideas that asymptotically extend into the future, never seeming to actually get any nearer in real life. These ideas all seem to exist at the extreme edges of scenarios, either utopian or dystopian.
Technologies, like VR, that fall into this category often have technical or form factors that prevent them from catching a hook into the dynamics of real life. By existing mainly in labs, they don’t get the chance to get misused and abused by real users, and so never quite touch down on the street.
Other more conceptual ideas about the future are often just manifestations of rapture-like fantasies about cataclysmic change caused by some unstoppable force. These type of fantasies are closely linked to our insecurities about the limits of human agency, and take many forms depending on the belief systems of the author. Perversely, they are as much about reassurance as threat, as they imagine an event that shows all our beliefs about controlling our environment or destiny to be hollow illusions. If you’re struggling to make sense of your life, thats a reassuring thought.
But anyway, lets not go down that route. I started this post intending to write a list of ‘perpetual futures’ and their distance from real life:
Reality being replaced by VR – 15-20 years
Sentient Robots – 20-30 years
Curing all illnesses – 20-40 years
Living under the sea – 20-50 years
Colonising other planets – 50-100 years
Uploading consciousness/escaping the biological body – 50-100 years
Time travel – 100-500 years
World Peace through impact of technology – 100-200 years
World War through impact of technology – 100-200 years
World Peace through intervention from divine being – 1-1000 years
World War through intervention from divine being – 1-1000 years
World Peace through intervention from extra-terrestrials – 50-500 years
World War through intervention from extra-terrestrials – 50-500 years
Boston Red Sox winning the World Series – infinity
Any other suggestions?
[Thanks to thingsmagazine for the link]