The Long Future Is Now

Article excerpt

Futurists being a diverse bunch, with variable temperaments and their own particular goals, can be counted on to disagree about precisely how far into the future it is useful to cast our eyes. We generally agree that it is very useful to look past the next weather forecast, election, production cycle, quarterly statement, and growing season. And we generally agree that 10,000 years ahead is too far away to be useful for anyone to think about.

Except it's really not. For instance, when the March 2011 tsunami disaster unfolded in Japan, there was talk about simply burying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in order to prevent contaminating the local populace. This would be risky for future generations thousands of years from now if there were no way of warning them about the existence of this long-buried problem. Futurists were on that job already: In the 1990s, the concern among American physicists was over burying nuclear waste. What signage would be required? What barbed-wire fence would last for 10,000 years?

So I happen to think it's not too soon to ask futurists to speculate about what's over the horizon that they can see now. Their anticipations may be wrong. They may be right. But they will always provoke thought, and it's important to do that.

The fact is, we had an overwhelming response when we sent out a call for essays (with a very short deadline) to tell us about what the turn of the next century might be like for today's newborns, who will only be 88 years old at that time. …