Home > Uncategorized > I am a futurist!

I am a futurist!

August 10, 2015

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot recently, so I’ve decided to throw my hat into the futurism ring. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an easy decision. Nevertheless I think it’s the right one.

It all started with fretting over the present. Things seem to be unraveling, and I spend at quite some time each day worrying about stuff like our country’s oligarchy problem, our racist policing and justice systems, and the overall lack of good middle class jobs.

So far that’s just a list of our present woes, but any plan to address them needs to incorporate a hopeful plan for the future, right? So naturally I decided to look into “futurism,” which attempts to anticipate and guide our future plans.

Here’s the thing, though. As described beautifully in Rose Eveleth’s Atlantic piece, Futurism Needs More Women, the field is currently clogged with white North American men between the ages of 55 and 65 who talk optimistically about super cool future technology, and living longer, and uploading their brains, and so on.

It’s is not a particularly appealing pool to jump in on, but here I come anyway. And, being a world class cannonballer, I’m not afraid of making a splash.


So, there’s a big problem with futurism right now, which is that, on the whole, they pretty much entirely ignore social issues, which as you’ll notice are highly entwined with my top three concerns, politics, racism, and the end of work (otherwise put: the only way to compete with robots is to become one). I plan to change futurism; I’ll be the loudmouth at the futurism conference talking about other things and how we need to plan. I’ll make this shit real. I mean, after all, why should the white guys have all the fun of deciding what the future might look like?

Before I go on, let me explain why women (so far!) have been reluctant to join the futurism movement. We remain unimpressed with their major visions so far: live forever, become one with a machine, let technology solve all social problems. Here’s why.

Living forever/ the singularity. Women get their period when they’re young, then they go through menopause when they’re old, and then they die when they’re really old. I mean, oversimplification, but whatever; the point is they are firmly tied to their aging bodies and are well aware of the ticking biological clock, and not just the one for having babies. Personally I’m 43 and even though getting my period is a messy pain, at this point I am deeply nostalgic for my youth every time it happens.

By contrast, men grow pubes at the age of 14 and nothing ever seems to change again. They might have even forgotten they ever didn’t have them. In any case men are more likely to consider the idea of putting their brains in jars – hooked up to the internet, of course – as a reasonable approximation of their current state of existence. I feel sorry for them. Being reminded of death once a month makes it impossible to be so silly. Or at least much harder.

Technophilia. Men – especially futurists – seem to love technology, and fail to cast a critical eye on anything that seems remotely “innovative.” I call this the “I win” blindspot, whereby people who are generally rewarded in a system seem to think the system must be great. After all, if you’re the one creating the surveillance software or analyzing the surveillance footage or sensor data on say, long-haul trucks, you’re getting paid really well to promote “progress.” Not so much the story for the truckers being surveilled, but whatever, I guess they should have learned to code.

I mean, that’s just one small example, but I could go on for hours. And I think women, and for that matter anyone who isn’t a successful white dude, sees both sides. That’s why we’re not jumping at the chance to join the technophiliac bandwagon.

Anyhoo, futurism is unbearably narrow at the moment, but I don’t think that should stop me. In spite of my focus on social issues, I have the credentials required to worm my way into the conversation. In fact, I have a convincing explanation for why their approach so far – into the probability of various future trends – is fatally flawed. Namely, they’ve got too few variables. They focus on technological change without taking into account human beings. So their Monte Carlo engine, if you will, of possibly futures ends up with only tweaks that they allow in their tiny little list of possibilities. I plan to add to that list. And given that they seek to influence policy as well as the individual’s forward-looking self, this list might matter.

Please congratulate me! I cannot wait to meet Ray Kurzweil in person and congratulate him on all his rings.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Juanita
    August 10, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Thank you! The future already seems brighter. I had already given up but I see a little twinkle of hope.


  2. Josh
    August 10, 2015 at 10:48 am

    “futurism is unbearably narrow at the moment, but I don’t think that should stop me.”

    Actually, that is the main reason you should participate in the discussion. I look forward to seeing your impact.


  3. August 10, 2015 at 10:58 am

    FWIW: Many eons ago (well, 1950s/60s?) Walter Cronkite did a CBS special looking at what scientists predicted for humankind’s future up to I think the year 10,000(?). The endpoint was what he called “saucer men” or “saucer people” (my best recollection) — human heads encased in flying saucers with self-contained, controlled environments, all other parts of human bodies no longer needed, because their functions had been usurped by machines (only the human brain having not yet been fully duplicated — Kurzweil of course would object to that).
    I suspect none of us can see out another 8000 years, but surely by then we will have spread out across the solar system, if not indeed the galaxy, cavorting with other aliens, and no longer existing as what we today call “humans.”


  4. Christina Sormani
    August 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I would say a lot of men are very in tune with the physical aspects of their bodies/aging and would never want to be a head in a jar. In fact what are all those viagra sales about if men weren’t worried about remaining young men? The only people I know, male or female, who seem keen on the idea of living forever in a possibly nonphysical state are nerds/academics who tend to place mind over body even in their youth. Even they rarely seem to enjoy the idea of being on some sort of lifesupport unless they are able to live in some sort of permanent virtual reality. Futurama explores both the head in a jar and the possibility of Matrix like old age homes: everyone hooked up and half dead but living in virtual realiy.


    • August 10, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      I mean, some men. But I think your example is actually terrible: viagra is a technological silver bullet that cures men of acknowledging the aging process. I get hard therefore I am still young. They are looking for a host of other metaphorical viagras to continue this illusion.


      • MikeM
        August 10, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        But that’s not the only issue with male genitalia. As I have grown older I have found that:
        I have to pee more often,
        less comes out, and
        it takes longer to come out.
        Now in my eighth decade, I foresee me spending my centennial year spending most of my time in front of a urinal, patiently waiting. Coupled with my exercise and physical therapy routines, it’s hard to find time to do real work. Good thing I have insomnia, to give my day more hours!

        [Actually, it’s not that bad, especially if you have grandchildren.]


  5. mathematrucker
    August 10, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I am a long-haul trucker who actually did “learn to code” Android and iOS apps recently. Apple accepted my first mobile app on the App Store just three days ago. If too many companies install inward-facing cameras in their trucks, I might be coding a lot more in the future.


  6. August 10, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Yes! Please, please do it. As a part-white male nerd, I feel misrepresented by these people. Before being US-white-men, they are US-rich-men. Whatever technology happens, they’ll be able to get their greedy hands on it.


  7. Aaron Lercher
    August 10, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    The future is too important to be left to the futurists! (Or something like that.)

    Technophilia seems obligatory in my profession of librarianship. Perhaps it’s honest and naïve, which is okay. But in part it seems that technological optimism is driven by fear of being left behind.

    It’s sad when optimism is driven by fear.


  8. APS
    August 11, 2015 at 6:18 am

    Completely OT, but I always thought this stuff was called _futurology_. For me _futurism_ suggests this:


    Is that now the futurism of the past?


  9. J Chris A
    August 11, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Futurism is so last century. Maybe you mean post-futurism? http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_bifo5.htm


  10. August 11, 2015 at 10:27 am

    It does not matter what they predict. Ruling males in religion, politics, and other social niches have been predicting lots of things for thousands of years. How many of those things have come true? They were insulated in their impregnable fortresses of thought and resources by people with weapons and hangers on after crumbs . Funny that they were so poor at actually predicting future events. This set will be no different.


  11. August 11, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Your blog post came up in my Google Alerts and I had to felt the need to applaud you in your dedication to working in the social futures space (as opposed to the tech space which is often over emphasized). That said, there actually are a lot of activists and social changemakers that are working in the futures field that just aren’t widely recognized! If you haven’t already, get a copy of Richard Slaughter’s “Futures Beyond Dystopia: Creating Social Foresight.” Also, responding to your other post: some conferences you might be interested in – the World Future Society holds an annual WorldFuture conference, the World Futures Studies Federation also holds a biennial conference – they are specifically interested in the application of futures research for social benefit. I’m excited to hear that a talented and dedicated activist like yourself is committing to bettering the future!


  12. August 13, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    You are aware that you are being incredibly sexist here? Your views on anything I have read so far, are mostly awesome, but you rejoice far too much by pointing out how white men are the root of all evil.


    • August 13, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      Certainly not all evil! But I do think there’s plenty of evidence that racism and sexist both exist.

      Just keep in mind, I’m raising three white boys myself, and I’m married to one. There are plenty of ways for white men to be fantastically awesome and I know that first hand! I think you’re misreading me if you think I heap generalized scorn on all white men.


  13. Luke S
    August 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Between “death” and “a brain in a jar attached to the internet”, I know which one I’d consider a more reasonable approximation of my current state of existence; it’s the second one. (I probably count among the “nerds/academics” that Christina mentions.)
    If anyone thinks differently about this, I would love to hear their reasoning.
    Of course, in the real world, we probably don’t face this exact choice — we may have more/fewer/different options.
    The purpose of this question is to help me figure out what mathbabe is saying in the “immortality” section. If you think this question is “barking up the wrong tree” with respect to this goal, please point me towards the right tree.


  14. tritesprite
    August 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Maybe what you’re looking for is afrofuturism? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrofuturism

    It’s futurism that’s focused more on social justice issues.


  15. kpedro88
    August 29, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    I’ll certainly be glad to see more diversity in the futurist community. However, your objections to the current “major visions” are rather parochial. It seems like you haven’t taken the time to consider why some people take these ideas seriously.

    Right now, human beings are constrained by the limits of our biology. It’s certainly interesting to understand why many women are unimpressed with the ideas of life extension, mind backups/uploading, etc. Let’s grant the premise that female biology makes women more sensitive to the realities of aging. With sufficient technology, that could be changed! I think this is a very important and fundamental futurist principle: the way things are is not the way things have to be.

    I also think you’re confusing real technological innovation with the current Silicon Valley fad of dumb “disruptive” apps. Serious futurists care about advancements like driverless cars, which can solve several major societal problems in one fell swoop, not trivial distractions like disrupting laundry (http://nymag.com/news/features/laundry-apps-2014-5/). We’re also quite aware of the potential downsides of new technology, e.g. the initial negative effects of the development of agriculture on human health and lifespan, or the replacement of most of the human work force by robots without a sufficient safety net in place.


    • August 29, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Actually, I not only don’t want to live forever; I actually don’t want anyone to live forever. It’s a waste of resources, among other things. I wrote about this a while ago, here.

      Also, older people can get really entrenched politically. It’s bad enough already without more of that.

      But you’re more or less right, I’m not very nuanced yet. That’s why I have to jump in with two feet. Do you have any references to suggest?


      • kpedro88
        August 29, 2015 at 5:43 pm

        “Our planet cannot sustain all the people currently alive as well as all the people who are going to someday be born.”

        The futurist’s response is that we need more planets, and/or a way to sustain more people with fewer resources. New technology can help us with both of those avenues. Another general principle here: most of the time, if technology causes problems, more technology can solve them (and hence, most objections are not showstoppers).

        “Also, older people can get really entrenched politically. It’s bad enough already without more of that.”

        That’s true; neuroplasticity decreases as we age. But again, this is a problem that technology could solve. Personally, I think any life extension method would be incomplete if it only addressed common cellular aging and not neural aging.

        I’m having trouble coming up with any specific introductory material. I sort of fell into futurism by reading a lot of science fiction and science/technology news & discussion. For the former, the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton is probably the best sci-fi series for matter-of-fact futurism, transhumanism, etc. For the latter, Hacker News (https://news.ycombinator.com/) is a good aggregator, if you can ignore the posts that are just variations of “here’s a new software tool that does X with Y while you Z.”

        I’ll get back to you if I think of other resources. Looking forward to future blog posts on the subject!


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