The Problem With Soothsaying  

Photo by KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

In Foreign Policy’s special report on the future, part of the September/October 2011 issue, Ayesha and Parag Khanna argue that we are in the early days of the “Hybrid Age,” in which “human evolution has become human-technology co-evolution: We’re becoming part of the machine, and it is becoming part of us.” This is not quite the transhumanist or singularity talk of humans literally becoming part machine through technological enhancement. Rather, it’s a theory about how technologies from robotics to nanotech will become more deeply enmeshed with our daily lives. The Hybrid Age’s characteristics, say the Khannas, include “the ubiquitous presence of technology, its growing intelligence, its increasingly social dimensions, its ability to integrate and combine in new forms, and its growing power to disrupt, faster and on a larger scale than ever before in human history.”

What’s most interesting to me about the piece is the way it highlights how differently we evaluate yesterday’s technological predictions. The Khannas open their piece with praise of futurist Alvin Toffler, whom they say predicted much of today’s society in his books Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980). Their Hybrid Era, they say, could have been dubbed “The Fourth Wave” by Toffler and his fellow futurist wife, Heidi. The Khannas’ credit the Tofflers with accurately predicting everything from “information overload” to the “DIY revolution.” But one man’s dead-right prediction is another man’s failure: Dan Gardner, author of Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Worthless, and You Can Do Better, tweeted in response to the Hybrid Era article, “Beyond me how one can read “Future Shock” today and say it’s prescient. Unintentionally funny, yes. But prescient?”

Read more at Foreign Policy.