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Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs there.
Sidney J. Harris, Leaving the Surface
I've always been intrested in the future. As they say, the future is where I will spend the rest of my life. When I was a kid, that future meant rocket ships and food pills; faster transportation, space exploration, and miracle medication; docile robots, clean air, and no violence.
Well, we're in that future now. But it isn't much like the future we foresaw way back when. Today, the new thing is the computer. Instead of flying cars or household robots, most of us are getting a foretaste of the future by monkeying around with the expensive paperweights on our desks. What are they capable of? How will they change? How will we change? No one knows.
I go to the supermarket and blithely hand over a credit card to pay for my groceries. Then I wonder whether this particular store is keeping track of that information. What are they doing with it? Who are they selling it to?
I go to the movies and marvel at the special effects. Then I wonder how it was all done. Then I think about how the technology that will make future movies possible might be used in other ways. Future propaganda might compare to today's persuasions the way na child's crayon drawing compares to the Sistine Chapel.
I meet friends who treat the choice of their portable computer as a fashion statement - like the clothes they wear or the car they drive. What will happen when the computers grow even smaller and more powerful? How will we use them as status symbols?
I switch on my television set and watch live satellite feeds from a made-for-TV war in the Middle East. Sitting there, stapled to the screen, I wonder where weapons technology is going - and what's going to happen to us when it gets there.
Today, concerns over privacy and worldwide computer communications have already bubbled over into public consciousness, but many deeper and long-term issues, like future warfare and employment, have yet to do so. Many today seem to see us moving toward either a rosy, gee-whiz future where benevolent technology makes everything better, or a dark, satanic future where rampant technology tramples all our cherished institutions. Which, if any, of these two visions is right? Is there a third way?
Now that information technology is accelerating toward contributing half of the domestic product of advanced nations, it is rapidly becoming the cutting edge of social change. With so much legal, political, and economic change, who will profit and who will become the infoserfs of the next generation?
Our near future will be a complex, exciting, but also frightening place. It will present us with many anxious choices and unforseen consequenses. Our every decision today and for the next twenty years will represent a bet we will be placing against our better natures. Whatever the outcomes of those bets, the consequenses are likely to be extreme.
This is the future we inhabit. It's one of distant voices and complex systems, of interdependent processes and new choices, of faceless strangers and wonder-making machines.
I no longer think much about the future. Because that future is now.