Rate of Change
- See main article: Future/Accelerating Progress.
Whatever happens in the 21st century and beyond, it is likely we can't anticipate its scope. To illustrate, let's go not to the future, but to the past — about a century ago. No one in January 1900, not even Edison or Einstein, could have fully understood the sweep of change to come ... and we're talking about what was, in 1900, the immediate future.
Consider the earth-shaking events of the first decade of the century:
- In 1900, Freud published “The Interpretation of Dreams,” in effect creating modern psychology.
- In 1901, Marconi sent the first wireless radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean, a development that eventually led to “Cellular Phones.”
- In 1902, Georges Melies released the cinematic landmark “A Voyage to the Moon,” which along with “The Great Train Robbery” released the next year, invented the storytelling style we know as “the movies.”
- In 1903, the Wright brothers left the bonds of earth ... for 12 seconds.
- In 1905, Einstein developed the theory of relativity with his famous E=mc2, beginning a chain of events that would allow us to destroy the earth.
- In 1907, plastic — of which our world is made — was first synthesized.
- In 1908, Ford first mass-produced the automobile, resulting in 3 a.m. car alarms and Highway 17, among other curses of contemporary life.
Taken together, those events changed Life As We Know It in a million overt and subtle ways. No feature writer alive at the time could have anticipated such things without the help of the supernatural.
So it is now. If the last turn-of-the-century is any indication, whatever happens is likely to happen quickly and make life a lot more interesting in the meantime. Pay close attention, keep good records. Those thawing from the cryogenic deep sleep are going to want to know every detail.
The mind can only do so much in a given time, and for one mind to analyze a tremendous body of data can be overwhelming. Therefore, our minds unconsciously turn to an age-old method called oversimplification in order to make sense out of the confusion. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE for predicting the future, and we must try our best to make our future timeline as complex as possible and as complete as possible, for there will always be things left out. A manifestation of this is the Single Advancement Problem, the tendency of forecasters to tacitly assume that only one significant technological change will happen in society, but meanwhile everything else will stay same as it is right now.
Many science fiction stories and many futurist scenarios suffer from the "single advancement" problem. The author takes us 20-70 years into the future to tell a cautionary tale about one specific technological development (that they are most interested in), but sacrifices the believability of the future world. Even advanced thinkers routinely ignore the complex interplay of changes in different technological areas. Nanotech proponents ignore developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, space aficionados ignore expected advances in biotech and genetics, etc.
Given the tremendous variety and possibility of the world, we sometimes cannot assume that something in particular will develop on and on. For example, one forecaster devised a Dyson Sphere-- a large metal orb surrounding the sun with a circumference the size of Earth-- and believed that one day humanity will actually build one. However, the amount of time needed for such a venture will be so great that in the interim there will be something else developed, which will cause the construction of the said Dyson Sphere to be cancelled. Another example can be seen in the "more power in the future" approach, modeled by bombs to nukes to a planet destroyer seen in Star Wars and Ender's Game. It is very unlikely that trends will remain THAT constant.
In crafting a vision of the future, many forecasters jump to the conclusion that their theory must be right because it makes sense to them, or because they feel particularly strongly. An example would be that "Christianity will be the religion of everyone in the world". That was expected centuries ago during the Holy Wars and has still yet to happen, and probably never will because there are fanatics in all religions. Another example, that socialism will prevail, was also thought definite by Karl Marx and has yet to prove the validity of his claim. Clearly, one must be careful in saying that something will occur with absolute certainty.