Cloning, brain transplants, laser-guided cybersoldiers, gene-altered cucumbers; in the past two weeks alone, these future-shock topics have made newspaper headlines around the world.
Suddenly, it seems, the future is rushing at us. And we can’t tell whether to cheer or huddle deeper into our mental caves.
For good reason. Top futurists’ current theories of how Century 21 might play out range from:
* A cataclysm of World War II proportions, arriving inexorably as soon as the year 2005. . .
*. . .to household robots vacuuming our living rooms, changing our babies’ diapers, by the turn of the century.
* New “smart” weapons so hideous they can spur future racial wars by honing in on the gene structures of minorities. . .
* . . .to a coming New Eden of limitless energy, abundant food, security, freedom and pleasure.
Utopia or dystopia. Take your pick.
Until recently, we could react to such sci-fi scenarios with show-me skepticism. But, given what’s come to pass just so far this year, what dare we disbelieve today?
In that spirit, here are the brave new worlds conjured up by some of America’s top futurists:
“We’re at T-minus-three and counting to the year 2000, on a whole new trajectory propelling us into things we can only dimly perceive,” says an academic futurist who’s just moved to Miami and lectures tonight at Florida International University. “I’m always afraid I’ll freak people out with all these new ideas.”
His name freaks out some. He calls himself FM 2030, having discarded his birth name because it spoke only to the past; the year 2030 speaks to the future.
2030 has lectured at universities from Harvard to UCLA, where he has taught courses in future studies for the past 10 years; written books and articles for major publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Science Digest; and served as a consultant for companies like Lockheed, J.C. Penney and Rockwell International, according to an FIU spokesperson.
“I see entirely new, more exciting, more intimate, more empowering systems and institutions,” he says.
He sees, in a generation, healthy life-spans of 120 years, the result of improving our own bodies. And, not long afterward, something like immortality when computers can scan our thoughts, memories, emotions, dump them onto silicone chips and insert them into the “brains” of “total body prostheses.”
The cause? The inexorable march of history.
The agrarian society that existed for centuries required feudal systems, extended families and hard, muscular work, he says. The industrial age of 250 years ago, in which humans invented machines to extend their muscles, required nuclear families, with mothers staying home with children, fathers going off to work.
The new, post-industrial age just now under way, in which humans have invented machines to extend their brains, creates a whole new decentralization — not just of the family, but of all aspects of life, from the economy to politics to the most intimate details of our lives.
A major key to the coming abundance, says 2030, is the arrival just over the horizon of cheap, limitless energy from solar power, geothermal heat, nuclear fusion and other sources.
“We’re at the beginning of limitless wealth that is decentralized, that can’t be monopolized as it was in the industrial age. Fossil fuels are manipulable. Nobody can control the sun.” Robots could do your housework, and, in your body, computers the size of a grain of salt could monitor your health.
Governments will decentralize, too, as global communications, economies and cultures make national borders irrelevant. Global peace will be encouraged by the end of nationalism. The U.S. presidency will wither into a ceremonial post, with societal decisions taken by monthly national electronic referenda.
In that diffuse world, 2030 says, the greatest human virtue will be to be “fluid.” Tomorrow’s successful human will change homes, jobs, names, partners, ideologies, even body parts with ease to adapt to an ever-more-rapidly changing environment.
“New technologies change values. The Saudis have spent $700 billion on new technology in the past 20 years, and they try to say, `Do not tamper with our orthodoxies.’ And where are the Saudi women? On the French Riviera swimming topless.”
What replaces nuclear families? “I see Club Med as an excellent example of the values of the emerging age. People go there and meet total strangers, and within hours they’re close friends, sometimes lovers. After a couple of weeks they disconnect, and may never see each other again.”
What about kids? “We already have latch-key kids, single-parent families. I feel the nuclear family is no longer able to provide the secure, continuous environment for raising children. I suggest a new framework. Nothing binding. Voluntary, based on the pace and values of our times.”
Again: Utopia or dystopia? Take your pick.
Written by Fred Tasker and published by the Miami Herald on March 11, 1997