I just finished The Rough Guide to The Future by Jon Turney, last night. Every page of it was filled with interesting information and many references to further reading. It was upbeat all the way, and filled with hope and conviction that humanity will find a way to solve all its problems. It was perfectly edited and proofread so everything makes sense and is easy to read. From Turney’s perspective the time up until about 2050 looks wonderful. The food production will keep pace with the growing human population because of increasingly sophisticated technology. Those of us who enjoy the perks and pleasures of technology will not be disappointed. It is going to be a wonderful world, even if it is a little warmer.
The Future is wonderfully documented, and Turney had found many sources which I wasn’t aware of, which have their web addresses built right into the text. Also, at the end of each of the 18 chapters there is a Further Exploration section with a half dozen choice sources with brief comments as to why you might be interested in them. Each chapter also begins with a fine quote from a famous author, and sprinkled throughout are solicited comments from his Predictions File. The book is a guidebook in the Rough Guide series, with some of the look and feel of WIRED magazine in appearance as well as writing style. I found many things of which I was unaware, especially the heavy reliance on science fiction writers as the inspiration for real scientists. It would be interesting to do some objective inquiries to find out just how many hours our Nobel laureates had spent reading science fiction.
Although I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the future, which we hope is everyone, I found it totally lacking in willingness to face some of the worst problems. He limits his book primarily to the future before 2050, with a nod to the next fifty years before 2100, but beyond that it is essentially meaningless infinity of the exploding Sun and robots conquering the entire universe. He can add a dozen zeros to a time projection as though it were tomorrow. He doesn’t fess up to the fact that college freshmen will not even be retiring before the end of his so-called future in 2050. That is hardly a speculative future, it is more like tomorrow, to us older people. He sees change as being ever more rapid, but what kind of rapidity did a person in Santa Fe, New Mexico, experience when the railroad and telegraph came to town? European-cultured people jumped a hundred years in one day. If one is paying attention change is always upon us to the limit of our ability to absorb it.
Turney sees the world in a vastly more optimistic way than I do, and yet I don’t think of myself as pessimistic, nor am I depressed about the future. He looks at the cute new technologies falling into the hands of terrorists and causing some harm which is then cleaned up. But it is more likely that it can’t be cleaned up and that others will exploit the same technology to do even more evil things. Then governments with even worse things at their disposal than the terrorists will crack down on our liberties and that will probably prove even worse than the terrorist predations. He, and most other people, seem to think the cold war ended with the demise of the USSR and all those weapons of extermination simply evaporated into thin air. Need I even say it: not so? Those weapons are still around and even more sophisticated ones are readily available. As we used to say in the Air Force, One H bomb can ruin your whole day. We have been very lucky so far, but there is an old saying, from I don’t know where, about luck. The Irish are lucky, and you can throw an Irishman into the sea. Humanity has been lucky so far, but we are floundering around in a sea of insoluble troubles. Running out of some critical necessity for survival such as food, oil or copper might trigger a collapse, and when you see armed bands of people scouring for those necessities anywhere in the world you can be assured that Doomsday is near.
The Rough Guide to the Future barely looks at such problems and perhaps should have been subtitled “A Smooth Glide Into The Future.”