Futurism not so hard afterall?

Robin Hanson (rhanson@gmu.edu)
Fri, 10 Dec 1999 13:52:25 -0500

A favorite exercise of futurism skeptics is to look at how far off past predictions were.

But today as we approach the year 2000, we most major media are full of futurist articles, purporting to tell us what is coming in the next century, or even the next millennium. And I can't help but notice that the people they have write these articles are mostly *not* decent futurists!

Mostly they take someone who is famous in field X, typically a technology field, and ask them to project that field into the future. And sometimes they publish things by famous science fiction writers. And overall, these people aren't very good at thinking about the future. The first group hasn't thought about much beyond their field, and the second group mainly knows how to tell a ripping yarn.

It seems like I must know a half dozen people who are better futurists than 99% of these commentators (many of which have been on this list). But as far as I know none of these people have been asked to write millennial futurist articles. Either the media aren't really interested in credible futures, or they have no idea how to distinguish them.

Either way, it makes me more optimistic that there were smart people in the past who could forsee the outlines of what was to come. All those dumb past forecasts were probably made by folks just as clueless as the today's millennial commentators. Those people in the past we know of that did get it right may not have been such flukes; maybe they just put enough effort into the topic to get results. And this makes me more optimistic that, with some effort, we can in fact now see the outlines of our future. Maybe futurism isn't as hard as past reviews of Sunday-supplement futurism makes it seem.

Robin Hanson rhanson@gmu.edu http://hanson.gmu.edu Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323