I hit quite a wall of cognitive dissonence when I read their enumeration of a "middle future."
Transparent? Human-time-focused? maintainable? Those properties aren't true of the present, nor have they been true for any large swath of human history that I'm aware of.
What's odd about this is that I agree with the crux of their statement, most futurism is focused on the extremes, and the sheer mundanity of how the "current future" has panned out often isn't well captured. However, I don't find their alternative persuasively different, and it seems to fall prey to exactly what they're criticizing ala utopianism.
I think fundamentally my issue is that a human centric view of the future seems as utopian as anything else they describe, vs a more realistic view to my eyes (and why dystopias resonate with me), driven by the same incentives that have, do, and will for the forseeable future continue to motivate us: Increased growth, rate of return, and efficiency, focused in the areas that most benefit those with incumbent power.
So rather than just saying "they're wrong let's all be pessimists" let me transition this into an open question. How do we realign incentives such that the article's aspirations are more reflective of where we see corps investing their effort? (This probably is a total rathole for even one of their enumerations, ala transportation, but it's where my head is at when I read this.)
The status quo understands that the `utopia` of the future (the shiny versions) will not be achieved under the current economic / political paradigms. They are afraid of losing their centers of power and for them it is easier to discourage systemic change. That is all this boils down to. Eventually we will all need to come to grips with the systemic changes required to move forward. I just hope it happens before they get their Elysium.
I’d say bleak and dystopian futures are overrepresented in sci-fi, even when they’re “clean” looking as opposed to grungy cyberpunk.
I’m commenting on visual, narrative, sci-fi despite that being slightly off the author’s topic, because I don’t know what the “futurism industry” is. Is there such a thing? I know there’s a bunch of people famous for techno-prognostication, and a smaller bunch for whom it’s their full time gig, but is it an industry?
We sort of lost the ability to imagine a better world, at least in fiction stories. It’s very difficult to find some sort of invented technology that is mindblowingly good in sci-fi these days (like Star Trek replicator, for instance). They are all terrible and oppressive, even if they look good (like amazing VR), it will be played for bad (now everything in the VR is scary!)
I think this is actually not great. Sure, sci-fi should talk about the dangers of technology, but it should also talk about great ideas and fictional inventions that inspire scientists and engineers. There’s not much of that these days...
This may be a reflection of the pessimism of the younger generations. Their parents and grandparents witnessed great progress with few, relatively manageable side effects--or so they thought. It was natural and easy to be optimistic
Now with micro-plastic pollution, mercury accumulation, CO2 filling the skies, and the prospect of ever fewer raw resources I can imagine why younger folks can relate to darker stories.
I don't know how old you are now, but Neuromancer was published in 1984, Blade Runner hit the cinemas 1982, and later the GITS movie in 1995 (manga published 1989), which inspired the Matrix movies and so on. Don't forget about Akira.
I agree with both this & the parent comment. I think the tone & aesthetic of those have been more dominant -- at lot from those in particular setting the tone -- in that span.
There are some more uplifting things like The Martian (great) or Interstellar (admirable ambition but falls short) . . . but I think space movies have to be slightly discounted as cultural products because they're something of a subgenre that leans more towards escapism (by definition) than futurism. (Less so with books since there's a lot more room to build out the world vs. squeezing a standard plot (problem-solving drama, Frankenstein story, everyman vs. even-more-powerful-and-evil elite) amongst cool FX shots)
One of the earliest science fiction movies dealt with the question of, "if aliens were to land, how might we greet them?" Answer: "we'd shoot first, ask questions later." (The Day the Earth Stood Still) Sunny outlook on that one, eh?
Right, that was my original reaction to the headline.
Hell no. Try typing "sci fi" or "utopia" in Netflix and look at the results. It's all dark and grimy dystopias. If anything, people thinking about the future need to come up with things that are far LESS "real" if we want people to keep a modicum of hope.
The article itself seems to boil down to: "technology should be sustainable", which is certainly an important goal, but the point could have been made more concisely.
I find that their version of a middle future has two oddly lacking points:
* How does this technology service people in rural areas?
* How does this technology help people in poverty escape it?
Given the way everything else was discussed, it really seems strange that those topics are lacking. It's even more apparent when they discuss light rail as a means of replacing existing transportation, as much as I love the concept of light rail.
If anyone wants to learn more about "non shiny futures" then I highly recommend Issac Author. He explains al of the crazy scifi stuff in very available language and really demonstrates this kind of thinking.
As I understand it, the job of futurism isn't so much to literally predict the future as it is to provide inspiration for it. The author may have a point that the current futurism inspiring Silicon Valley isn't useful; however, it doesn't seem to understand that any alternative must still be inspiring.
This is something that I find frustrating about modern critics of tech and society even though I agree with them that certain things need to be fixed. At best they are able to muster up a saccharine, Demolition Man style utopia and at worst a spartan society where ambition must be abandoned in the name of environmentalism/egalitarianism/etc.
Does anyone know of any alternate visions of the future that are still inspiring?
I think Naam's take on the genre hits a lot of the bullet points others in the thread have cited as desirable characteristics in their ideal sci-fi.
It takes what is in my opinion the most reasonable approach to the shiny vs non-shiny duality and simply includes both. From the devastating effects advanced technology could wreak against a group of tech abstaining monks to the spiritual enlightenment that might be obtained if humans could communicate mind-to-mind, I think the series does a great job of illustrating the best and worst of what the near future could conceivably have to offer us.
It's possible you'll find it to be too inline with SV's idealistic picture of a future where truly outlandish things like truly conscious artificial intelligences or indefinite life extension are actually within the realm of possibility -- but despite Naam's choice to feature these same kinds of "tech miracles", I think it still manages to stay remarkably down to earth. Despite the grandiosity of some of the possibilities described it all had so much detail so as to still feel plausible and even familiar at points.
IIRC Naam took a fair bit of care in basing most of the tech and predictions in the book on actual scientific opinion of what might be possible given humanity's current scientific understanding and rate of progress.
Despite having to suspend my disbelief at a few points, I enjoyed the hell out of it and count it as one of my favorite sci-fi universes up there with Stross' Accelerando and Banks' Culture series. Here's hoping you do as well!
The "Ghost in the Shell" universe, maybe? People are able to replace parts of their bodies with prosthetics, including organs. It's not free though, and society and world there aren't changed much compared to now.
I still find GITS to be one of the more slightly pessimistic but overall realistic predictions of the future. A lot better technology but same problems as we have now.
If we're talking anime, I'd also nominate Dennou Coil - near-future, quite plausible examination of pervasive AR tech. Instead of the usual "prop for generic authoritarian hellscape" dynamic, you get a fairly balanced look at the effects of the tech on a recognizably similar society.
I think I found the concept/world particularly compelling because the bulk of the story ends up being about where and how that tech breaks: for instance, you've got an underground economy where the primary currency is essentially zero-days and plot points that (implicitly) center on concepts like cache coherency and eventually-consistent distributed systems.
Most of the other examples of sci-fi futures I wouldn't hate living in are far-future, the Culture being the obvious one. The grandparent seems to be on to something: there aren't a lot of hopeful (or at least ambivalently complex) recent works that focus on near futures instead of post-scarcity spacemen.
It's also seen entirely from the perspective of children, none of whom fully understand what's going on. There's an acceptable backstory to everything -- yes, even the ending -- but the show itself doesn't explain anything. That's all in secondary materials, little of which was translated.
(Well, it's based on a novel series. Does that count as 'secondary'?)
If you assume a rational universe, you can probably figure out most of it. Or if you're interested, poke me sometime and we can chat about it. It is, admittedly, one of my very favorite stories.
>Sound [...] a single, subtle element of the human experience
A desirable feature of sci-fi futures such as Hitchhikers or Star Trek is that computers and handheld devices respond instantaneously and with a perfectly synchronised accompaniment of bings/beeps/chirps.