Tuesday 30 November 2010

On Futurism

It strikes me that the problem with futurism (see: Kurzweil) is that genuine progress does not depend upon the technologies available, but the combinations and interfaces between them. This makes the problem space much larger than any world-gazing generalist can hope to engage with successfully.

While it would have been trivial to suppose in the 1950s that space travel, radio, chemistry and computing would become significant in the future, the futurists of the period largely extrapolated those trends in isolation. It was the unanticipated combinations that changed the world. It took the communications satellite (space + radio), microprocessors (chemistry + computing) and mobile phones (radio + microprocessors) to get us to the smart phone, that novella-sized glowing slice of sci-fi tech which lets us order pizza or view the streets of the world with equal impunity.

Knowing all of the elements does not grant one a total understanding of chemistry.

(See also this thought experiment.)