From The Boston Globe:
Humans have been interested in the future for millennia, mostly as a subject for theologians. But theologians were, along with everyone else, thinking small. Most humans who have ever lived have died in conditions almost exactly like the ones into which they were born, and without written history had no way to grasp that the future might be different at all. Only now have we gained the scientific knowledge necessary to appreciate how exactly how deep a rabbit-hole the future really is: not just long enough to see empires rise and crumble, but long enough to make all human history so far seem like a sneeze of the gods.
This newfound appreciation for the depths of time has led a handful of thinkers like Rees, a theoretical cosmologist by training, to begin venturing some of humanity’s first real educated guesses about what may lie far, far, far ahead. Serious futurologists are not a large group yet. “It’s a fairly new area of inquiry,” says Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University philosophy professor who heads the school’s Future of Humanity Institute. But they are trying to give a first draft of a map of the future, using the kinds of rigor that theologians and uneducated guessers from previous generations didn’t have at their disposal. In the history of prediction, there are a few examples of rigorous attempts to look far into the future — long-term climate-change modelers, say, or radiophysicists who consider where to stash nuclear waste. But more often, Bostrom says, speculation about the future has been “a projection screen, on which we display our hopes and fears.”