Issue 12. September 2017

design & the future

Design —and, ultimately, every choice we make in the present— is always about the future. It is always shaping, little by little, the world that we will live in tomorrow, whether it is simply new functionality that doesn’t exist today or the big ideas that wake institutions to action.

These choices have consequences. And, as we hope to point out each month, these consequences come whether you consider them fully or not. The products you release, the places you work, the stories you tell, the attention you give, the votes you cast, the dollars you spend, the values you hold, the lives you live… all contribute to the future we share.

So let’s think about this future. Let’s consider who sets the course and to what destination. And, given the role you play, what are the values that you choose to uphold? How do you frame them so that they will meaningfully influence the choices you make?

It's in everyone's interests to seek the future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous, and secure.

President Trump, Address to the UN General Assembly, 2017

Let me put forward four pillars that I believe are fundamental to the future that we want for our children.

Nonproliferation and disbarment, the promotion of peace and security, the preservation of our planet, and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people… we must champion those principles which ensure that governments reflect the will of the people.

These principles cannot be afterthoughts; democracy and human rights are essential to achieving each of the goals that I've discussed today, because governments of the people and by the people are more likely to act in the broader interests of their own people, rather than narrow interests of those in power.

President Obama, Address to the UN General Assembly, 2009


Overall, these expert predictions can be grouped into 15 identifiable theses about our digital future – eight of which we characterize as being hopeful, six as concerned, and another as a kind of neutral, sensible piece of advice that the choices that are made now will shape the future.

The Digital Life in 2025 report, 2014

Imagining a multiracial future is not the same as imagining an antiracist future. The latter requires challenging the progress of racism as it proliferates and transforms our very capacity to imagine the future.

Mark C. Jerng, Can We Imagine an Anti-Racist Future?, SF MOMA, 2016

This discovery explains what happens when your mind wanders during a task: It’s simulating future possibilities. That’s how you can respond so quickly to unexpected developments. What may feel like a primitive intuition, a gut feeling, is made possible by those previous simulations.

Martin Seligman and John Tierney, We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment, NYTimes, 2017

An amazing set of experiments suggest the present and the future are entangled, and that events in the future may influence things happening in the world now.

Robert Lanza, World May Be Influenced by the Future, Huffington Post, 2017

system goals

The thing we have to think about as we think about the future of these things is the goals. That's what humans contribute, that's what our civilization contributes —execution of those goals; that's what we can increasingly automate.

Stephen Wolfram, AI & the Future of Civilization,, 2016

I predict that far in the future, people will still be trying to predict what will happen far into the future. For the same reason we do it now... to give ourselves the feeling of control over our fate.

David Ropeik, Psychology Today, 2011

‘Science is crucial to the future,’ she said. ‘Without a good handle on science, we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward.

Michael Regan, March for Science, PBS Newshour, 2017

We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves… [But] our temporal progeny are often thankless.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, 2007

The New York World's Fair of 1964 is dedicated to ‘Peace Through Understanding.’ Its glimpses of the world of tomorrow rule out thermonuclear warfare. And why not? If a thermonuclear war takes place, the future will not be worth discussing. So let the missiles slumber eternally on their pads and let us observe what may come in the nonatomized world of the future.

Isaac Asimov, Visit to the World's Fair of 2014, NYTimes, 1964

systemic failure

Technical scientific knowledge does not make men sensible in their aims, and administrators in the future will be presumably no less stupid and no less prejudiced than they are at present.

Bertrand Russell, Icarus or The Future of Science, 1924

If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it. Most likely global warming, he says—floods, storms, desertification—but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come. Maybe not tomorrow, or a year from now.

The kid is more than capable of generating a full head of optimistic steam about next week, next vacation, his tenth birthday. It’s only the world a hundred years on that leaves his hopes a blank. My son seems to take the end of everything, of all human endeavor and creation, for granted. He sees himself as living on the last page, if not in the last paragraph, of a long, strange and bewildering book.

If you had told me, when I was eight, that a little kid of the future would feel that way —and that what’s more, he would see a certain justice in our eventual extinction, would think the world was better off without human beings in it— that would have been even worse than hearing that in 2006 there are no hydroponic megafarms, no human colonies on Mars, no personal jetpacks for everyone. That would truly have broken my heart.

Michael Chabon, The Clock of the Long Now, Details, 2006

‘And we thought that [pre-made foods] were brilliant because they did away with pots and pans —we didn't have to go to the store to go shopping every day— and then we woke up 50 years later and realize that these products had been basically engineered to make us fat,’ Foer says. ‘And I worry that the same thing is happening now to the things that we ingest through our mind.’

Franklin Foer, How Tech Companies Pose An Existential Threat, NPR, 2017

The world is never not catching up with science fiction, for better or worse. But right now it would make my job easier in all sorts of ways if the world could just maybe take a break, catch its breath and have a snack before it continues its wild hurtle toward — well, wherever the hell we’re going in these ridiculous times. Then I could get back to writing work that’s minimally allegorical and not, intentionally or otherwise, something that looks like straight-up reportage.

John Scalzi, for the LA Times, LA Times, 2017

There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.

James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, 1961


Finally, good news, in 802,701 the world will still exist!

Giorgia Lupi, speculative fiction’s future predictions, 2012

I am constantly aware that we’re the result of four billion years of evolution —and that the future of the earth will last at least as long. When you always have in mind how many generations might follow us, you take a different attitude toward many questions of the present. You realize how much is at stake.

Martin Rees, We Are All Stardust, 2015

The best way to predict your future, we've discovered, is not to close your eyes and use your imagination. There's a completely different way to figure out how you will feel, and that is to ask people who are already in your future how they feel.

Daniel Gilbert, You Vs. Future You, NPR, 2016

The sensors turn animals into something like environmental buoys, using them to predict and monitor things beyond earthquakes, perhaps illustrating environmental patterns with broad economic significance for humans.

Adam Popescu, How Animals Can Predict the Future, Bloomberg, 2017

I wanted to spend my creative energy helping people understand that we can realistically imagine the world of tomorrow being profoundly better than the world around us today —understand that, in fact, envisioning and sharing successful futures is one of our most powerful tools for changing the world, now.

Alex Steffen, The Heroic Future, Core 77, 2016

Therapists are exploring new ways to treat depression now that they see it as primarily not because of past traumas and present stresses but because of skewed visions of what lies ahead.

Martin Seligman and John Tierney, We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment, NYTimes, 2017