On The Horizon

This is Part One of a six part mini series on Predicting the Future. For Part Two, click here.

The future is now. And now. And now. And now.

Now, too. Every second that passes takes us into the future, which then becomes the present for a fleeting moment before becoming our past.

Whoever made this clock is both a genius and an asshole. Source

As we’re now a few months into 2016, I’ve turned my attention to the future. And no I don’t mean I’ve been thinking about if I’ll ever land my dream job, travel to Australia, or follow through with my current “five-year plan”. I’m talking about the future, for all of us – the entire human race. The rapid advance of technological development has and continues to change our world at an ever-increasing rate. How will these new technologies change our day-to-day in social, societal, and geopolitical reference frames? Will they impact us on the genetic level? How will our planet be impacted by what our species has already done, and what technologies will come about to either make it better or worse? Will the human species fundamentally change forever? I have to credit Wait But Why‘s article on the pace of technological progress (culminating in the advent of a hotly debated/anticipated/feared Super Artificial Intelligence) with getting me all hot and bothered on the subject. If you have the time, it’s 100% worth the read. But, don’t go there yet. His writing is much better than mine and you won’t come back. Tim writes about some truly awesome and mind-boggling stuff.

I’ve thought about this topic so much lately that I said to myself, I have to write about this, and man my blog is begging for content. So, here we are. I won’t be doing this alone, though. Joining me are my brother, who I’ll introduce to you as Mr. Magnetite (for his ‘magnetic’ personality and similar chemical composition to hematite (double pun!)), and father, who I’ll introduce to you as Mr. Wüstite (a mineral form of native iron found in meteorites which could pre-date hematite and magnetite (DOUBLE PUN X2!!!)). Together we’ll present our predictions for the future in 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 year intervals, ending in the year 2116.

Myself, my bro, and my old man. Can you see the resemblance? Also, pun overload.

We’re going to try to make these predictions based on technology, concepts, and ideas that are already grounded in reality and try to keep it to major advances that could affect hundreds of millions of people (or more). The invention of the internet fits nicely on that scale, for example. When it comes down to it, though, this will be heavily weighted towards our individual opinions since no one can know what the future holds. It’s more of a thought experiment, and to make it more fun we’re all throwing down $20 as a prize for the person who gets the most predictions correct (adjusting for future inflation and accruing interest). Oh my, that’s like $1,500 by 2116¹. My great-great-grandkids are going to be pumped.

Before we get started, I’d like to leave a little disclaimer that this mini series may contain ideas that seem very far-fetched or even impossible in the time frame that I’ve selected. If you think that, I understand, but we’re going to try to think in exponential terms when it comes to technology (illustrated below). The fact of the matter is that we aren’t built to think exponentially, we’re built to think linearly.

My interpretation of linear thinking versus exponential reality. Adapted from a waitbutwhy article on artificial intelligence. Sorry for the squiggly lines.

Thinking linearly helps us organize ourselves in society and helps us adapt to our environment, which has all kinds of crazy advanced technology in it. This behaviour was most-likely very useful when we were hunting migrating animal herds; thinking linearly would have allowed our ancestors to see patterns in their behaviour and anticipate their whereabouts. This came in handy because if they were successful they could do fun things like eat and not starve, and thereby pass on their genes. Finding evidence to support the linear thinking argument is rather easy. All you need to do is dig around for critical reception of emerging technologies from the masses before these products were unanimously- and widely-adopted. Inventions such as the lightbulb, automobiles, airplanes, spaceflight, and laptops were all thought to be either preposterous fads, curiosities, impracticalities, or even impossible (Source). I’d love to travel back in time, grab one of those people, bring them back here and give them a massive I told you so look as his/her face contorts into astonished bewilderment (NOTE: {the hematite blog} does not condone time travel kidnappings).

From this line of thought you may then find reason to believe that linear thinking is also responsible for giving older people trouble when getting used to increasingly advanced gadgets and gizmos. For example, while you and I have no problem sending text messages for all forms of correspondence, our grandparents (and this isn’t the case for all of them) may have a higher learning curve for texting or disregard the technology altogether. They may think, bewildered, “Why are these kids stuck to their phones when they could be out socializing face to face?” They didn’t grow up with it, it wasn’t around until after they matured and settled down, and so it never became part of their day-to-day lives. They live in a different generation, and that’s what works for them.

“My grandson told me he’d ‘chapsnat’ a picture to me. Does that come out of the TV?” (Grandma’s of the world, please don’t hurt me.) Source

It may surprise you then that I believe a similar technological-generation gap will happen between those of us in our twenties and thirties, and the newborns of today. We won’t understand why our children or grandchildren prefer to sit in their room all alone while talking to their friends with their minds. “Why can’t they send a simple text and meet up somewhere?”, we’ll think. I mean, it’s more social than being all alone. Perhaps, then, we view time as a set of “if-then” cycles that repeat over the course of our lives, where in the modern world it may be more of an “if-then, then, THEN” progression. Modern day progress is having a tendency of smacking us in the face, and then keep pushing forward. By contrast, someone who grew up in the 1600’s was born, grew up, got old, and died with pretty much the same level of technology the whole way through life, for the most part. The point here is that, in the last 100 years or so, the pace of technological progress has begun to increase dramatically.

Let’s illustrate this concept by displaying my own life experience with technology thus far and where it might go:

Grow Up
Visualizing how someone may adopt and adapt to advancing technologies before technological progress leaves us in its dust. Here’s hoping that, A – I make it to 80, and, B – Evil future robots don’t steal all of our brains before then.

So, if you didn’t get all that from my messy graphic, here’s a legend:

  • The First Red Bar: Birth – ~4 years old. This is the earliest part of life. Everything at this stage is a fuzzy object with mysterious purpose and function. We understand very little.
  • The First Grey Bar: Between ages ~4 – 12. We may use technology but don’t know much about it other than what it does and what we can do with it.
  • The First Light Blue Bar: Age ~12 – 20. We rapidly adopt and adapt to new emerging tech (ie – texting or social media). This is most-likely because our younger parents and all of our friends are doing it.
  • The Dark Blue BarAge ~20 – 35. This is the pinnacle of adoption and adaptation. We can adjust to just about any technological advance or new gadget. Whatever isn’t instantly picked up can be understood in concept and learned (ie – advanced computer programs used in the professional world).
  • The Second Light Blue Bar: Age ~35 – 45. The technological world begins to slowly outpace our ability to keep up, whether it be in function or social usage.
  • The Second Grey Bar: Age ~45 – 55. Prowess with new technologies begins to fade. We can use them, but may find it difficult to learn about or master them.
  • The Gold[en Days] Bar: Age ~55 – 70(ish). Many of the newest technologies and gadgets are beyond our capability to comprehend; we long for the “good old days” when things were simpler (ie – Grandma using the computer. NOT every Grandma).
  • The Second (and final) Red Bar: Age ~ 70(ish) – Death. Most gadgets do crazy, mysterious, god-like things as far as we’re concerned. Technological progress accelerates beyond us, and although we may use some of it we may not understand or care to learn about it.

Now obviously this wouldn’t apply to everyone – there will be outliers in any spectrum. Of course it possible that it might not even be true at all! We live in a truly unique time where certain technological advances are happening so fast that entire categories of technology are being born, evolve, and maybe die off in a generation or less. It’s entirely reasonable to imagine this trend will not only continue but accelerate past our ability to imagine. This is what I’m most intrigued by. Will the pace of technological progress continue to accelerate, bringing with it a surreal science fiction-y future, sooner than we expect? Or, will the pace of progress eventually hit some theoretical ceiling and slow to a halt? As the saying goes, only time will tell, and the predictions we’ll make are our silly (and most-likely wrong) attempts at casting a line out into the unknown.

That’s the gist of what I’m out to accomplish with this little mini series: a group of predictions about the near and not-so-near future. I’m going to make you wait a week for the first set of predictions, however (please don’t be mad). But, hopefully they’ll be worth the read and inspire you to think about what the future holds from a slightly differently perspective than you have before.

So, before my procrastination hits its peak I’ll be doing a lot of reading and maybe a little writing. See you next week for Part Two. 


Featured image: Time races on. – Source

¹ – $60 in 2016 Canadian Dollars extrapolated (in MS Excel) to the 2116 equivalent (~1,500), adjusted for inflation based on average 3.3% inflation during 1914-2016 inflationary period. NOTE: This is a guess, as there’s no reason to assume inflation will behave the same way from 2016-2116 as it did from 1914-2016.  SourceSource

{the hematite blog} is a very new blog by a very regular guy that wants to learn and write about all sorts of stuff. I’m a little rusty, and this blog is about my journey to shake some of that rust off, get better at stuff, learn, and try new things. Maybe we can all learn something along the way. Thanks for stopping by!

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