Future Values

I think I now better understand why even the most gifted science fiction writers tend to be so poor at predicting how the future shall *look*.

Take Blade Runner. In the imagination of Ridley Scott, the world of 2019 has attained a level of artificial intelligence nearly indistinguishable from human cognition. These creations are called ‘replicants’, and are deployed for labour and guard duty in extraterrestrial colonies.

So alike are replicants and humans that a special assassination unit known as the ‘blade runners’ have been trained to accurately identify, hunt and kill those replicants who illegally try to infiltrate Earth from the off – world colonies. Except that it isn’t called ‘assassination’ or ‘execution’, but ‘retirement’.

Intriguing concept. Great visual landscapes. In the right mood, Ridley Scott is a genius.

But watch the film carefully and you will notice immediately that he exaggerated the scale of public works and the built environment by 2019. Flying cars are far from commonplace and perfect genetic prints of human eyes are a feat far from achievable with the current technology.

But it is in the incongruities that you find the best clues. For in the same world that you have flying cars, you also find that ceiling fans are commonplace and cigarettes remain old fashionedly fashionable.

Here is why: a misunderstanding of capitalism. Most futurists and science fiction writers, lacking as they usually do sufficient grounding in modern economics, underestimate the role of capitalism in driving the future, and thereby lose sight of the sheer power of consumerism, and how it drives the allocation of resources from the demand side.

Yes, in the world of 2019, humans will value better and more ubiquitous air-conditioning than giant, sky-overhanging, office and residential complexes adapted for aerovehicles. Corporations shall be more focussed and invested in making photo sharing apps and personal genomics kits than they would be in building the core infrastructure and political system capable of enabling the emergence of slave droids in faux humanoid shells toiling away in Martian mines on behalf of industrial visionaries.

It’s all capitalism, babe. Consumer driven capitalism.

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