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Inventing the Future

We live in accelerated times. For the first few millennia of [poorly] recorded history, not much changed. People living in AD4 and kids that grew up in AD1204 lived pretty much the same lives - same agrarian culture, same life expectancy and mostly the same technologies.

Sure there was progress, but it was incremental. Things changed very slowly. Then, suddenly, sometime in the middle of the C19th the Industrial Revolution kicked mankind's technological progress into exponential growth. This slide that Richard got from MB illustrates the shift in the angle of incidence really well, in relation to media fragmentation.

One of the cultural effects of this absurd acceleration we are currently experiencing is what I can only describe as this incredible weight I feel pushing back on us from the future. It's almost as though we are feeling the pressure from the future to catch up, which is what I think contributes to our fascination with what is to come and the existence of futurology as a science, of sorts.

The video above, following in the footsteps of the Googlezon video, portrays a similar single media platform of the future. Like all predictions, it's tainted by the concerns of the present. This presentism amplifies the prosumer and virtual worlds - because that's what we're all thinking about right now. The sheer novelty of the future is always the hardest thing to project precisely because the new new thing isn't an upgrade on some existing technology - it's a step change.

That said, life may imitate art, but so does science. One of the cool things about great science fiction is that it delivers the imagination, and then technology tries to catch up.

A great example of this is Snow Crash.  Without doubt the great novel of the modern Interweb age [successor to Gibson's prophetic Neuromancer], it was written in 1994. Cast your mind back. No Google, no social networks, no Hotmail, the web itself just barely online. 28.8k dial up modems. Take That breaks up.

Reading Snow Crash today, it's hard to get your head round this. In the novel, Stephenson predicts Google Earth, memory cards, Second Life and on and on. It's scary. He also created the term 'avatar' as we use it today in virtual worlds.

[UPDATE: My mate Fred has informed me that the guys who developed Keyhole, which become Google Earth, were inspired by the Earth application in Snow Crash. Detailed in Wired here. Awesome.]

Science imitates art.

In particular in the science of teleportation, where the stated aim is to replicate [pun regretted] the technology in Star Trek.

Alan Kay, terribly bright chap and one of the fathers of modern computing, summed this up brilliantly:

The best way to predict the future, is to invent it.

Which leaves a role right now for the imaginative: invent the future - someone out there will build it.