Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Predicting the Future...

by Mike Treder

How far into the future can anyone actually see?

Most of us reject things like the prophecies of Nostradamus, or the psychic predictions of Jean Dixon. However, you're probably not reading this blog unless you're interested in understanding the future, like we are.

So, which predictions can we trust? (Our friend David Brin has recommended the establishment of a predictions registry. We like that idea.)

One good rule of thumb is that the further out the future is predicted, the less you should trust the prediction -- which becomes more true each year in this age of accelerating change.

The Long Now Foundation was established in "01996" to "creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years." Sounds good, if awfully ambitious.

Similarly, the Foundation for the Future has good intentions for helping humanity make our way successfully through the next millennium.

Considering how much more change is expected in the next one thousand years than in the previous thousand, can we really expect to be better at forecasting the year 3000 than someone in 1006 would have been at seeing our time?

But never mind a thousand years. How about just predicting the biggest breakthroughs of the next 50 years? As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, NewScientist asked 70 of the "world's most brilliant scientists" for their ideas.

In coming decades will we: Discover that we are not alone in the universe? Unravel the physiological basis for consciousness? Routinely have false memories implanted in our minds? Begin to evolve in new directions? And will physicists finally hit upon a universal theory of everything? In fact, if the revelations of the last 50 years are anything to go on -- the Internet and the human genome for example -- we probably have not even thought up the exciting advances that lay ahead of us.