Predicting the Future

Predicting the Future (Click here to watch the video that inspired this post)

Generally, I’m really interested in prediction of the future.  Whether it is related to predicting our personal, autobiographical future or predicting the future of society or technology.  It is always interesting to see how past generations predicted the future. Usually, they are both so right and so wrong at the same time.  I wonder why they are consistently wrong and right at the same time?  In this video, Walter Cronkite goes through the home office of 2001.  There are personal computers (accurate), the computers tell the user information (accurate), the telephone has a ‘facetime’ function and is smaller (accurate), but what is really interesting is the predictions the ‘futurists’ got wrong and why they got them wrong.

Predicting technologies future isn’t easy. First, you have to have a sense of how the past led to the present and then be able to extrapolate from there. Any time you extrapolate you are likely to have some ‘error’ in your prediction.  That ‘error’ in a ‘futurists’ prediction is likely what leads to the differences in what actually happens in the future and the predicted future. For instance, in the video they show 3 computers that each have a separate task, whereas we would have all of those capabilities in 1 computer (or, now smart phone). Why did they make that mistaken prediction? Was it because computers of that time were huge, bulky, and could only really compute 1 type of information?  Was it because the concept of a ‘program’ might not have existed? The answer is probably both yes and no. I mean if you truly had a sense that ‘programs’ would exist, wouldn’t you try to figure out a way to make them happen?  The fact is when it comes to predicting future technology, we just don’t have all of the answers and if we did we’d likely have already tried to figure out a way to capitalize on them.

Predicting your personal, autobiographical future isn’t easy either.  How many things did you got wrong about how today would go when you were planning (predicting) your day, this morning. Things rarely go as planned because unexpected stuff comes up. Is it important to even try to think about and predict your future?  Does it matter if we, as humans, have the ability to use our memories of the past to construct a plausible future? Why does thinking about the future feel so necessary and natural? I’d say it is important.  Why?  Because without a future there is nothing to be hopeful for, strive for, or even love. Interesting fact:  We use the same networks in our brains to remember the past as we do to think about the future. Thus, when the memory system goes awry our ability to predict the future goes awry.  This is most evident in amnesic patients that can’t form new memories or who have forgotten about their past. Amnesics have been shown to have less vivid and detailed simulations of the future or imagined scenarios. Disruptions in being hopeful for the future and ruminating about negative situations in the past are likely linked in the brains of depressed patients.

So, is predicting the future important?  Yes. Is being accurate in your predictions about the future important?  Kind of, not really. So predict away! You never know, perhaps your best predictions will become reality…

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