Futurists have their heads in the clouds

Erik Hoel in Substack:

If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past. If Cicero were transported from ancient Rome to our time he would easily understand most things about our society. There’d be a short-term amazement at various new technologies and societal changes, but soon Cicero would settle in and be throwing out Trump/Sulla comparisons (or contradicting them), since many of the debates we face, like what to do about growing wealth inequality, or how to keep a democracy functional, are the same as in Roman times.

To see what I mean more specifically: 2050, that super futuristic year, is only 29 years out, so it is exactly the same as predicting what the world would look like today back in 1992. How would one proceed in such a prediction? Many of the most famous futurists would proceed by imagining a sci-fi technology that doesn’t exist (like brain uploading, magnetic floating cars, etc), with the assumption that these nonexistent technologies will be the most impactful. Yet what was most impactful from 1992 were technologies or trends already in their nascent phases, and it was simply a matter of choosing what to extrapolate.

For instance, cellular phones, personal computers, and the internet all existed back in 1992, although in comparatively inchoate stages of development. So did the beginning of the rise of college costs, the start of an urban renaissance, a major crime bill was being passed, there were increasing standards of living, especially in entertainment, and meanwhile globalization was in full swing, the soviet union had already collapsed, islamic terrorism was considered a major threat, the big growing debates were PC culture and health care reform, and the USA was without a doubt the world’s leading superpower. Put all those things together and you would have had at least an adumbration of today. Stuff takes a long time to play out, often several generations. The central social and political ideas of our culture were established in the 1960s and 70s and took a slow half-century to climb from obscure academic monographs to Super Bowl ads.

More here.