Futurology is the study of the prediction of the future. Here we may posit several key concepts to understanding futurology, for anyone interested in writing about science fiction, or even futurism. NOTE that these are my ideas and I'm only putting them here for discussion and debate, not as a declaration for any unshakable belief on my own part. If you think that something here is logically incorrect, don't hesitate to comment!
The Big IdeaEdit
Concept #1: How to be happyEdit
People are happy if their aspirations--what they want or need--are met by their supply--what they have. Supply consists of anything that people need or want which is fulfilled, whether it be goods, services, luxury time, etc. It is supposed to reflect how happy people are.
Concept #2: Limited SupplyEdit
This is similar to that economics principle: people want more and more, but they can only have so much because the technology, labor, and property that they have can only yield so much. Therefore they constantly strive to improve their supply, in the hope that they can achieve what they aspire to have.
Concept #3: Unlimited AspirationEdit
This concept in particular is very important, primarily because people so often tend to forget it in seeking for an ideal. People have an unlimited aspiration: no matter how much is supplied, they will always want more, they will always try to improve things so that life can be even better. Even when things are already very well, they realize that things could be made better, and thus find it often a worthwhile task to aspire for even more.
Concept #4: Endless ImprovementEdit
The combination of limited supply and unlimited aspiration means that there is endless improvement. The greater supply gets, and the faster that this supply becomes, the faster the aspiration enlarges, so that it's pretty much always a certain percent more than what is currently supplied, and therefore the vicious cycle continues. The only way to defeat the spiral is to reduce supply at some time(s), but that's hard to achieve as no one wants to lose anything; and to reduce both supply and aspiration to nil by killing off everyone (which isn't going to happen either).
Concept #5: Vicious CycleEdit
Now that we've determined that there will be continuous improvement, let us extend this argument a bit more: each improvement leads to another boost in aspiration, so after any specific period of time, the gain is still nothing in terms of how happy people are about their conditions, even after all the effort that had been placed in it. Likewise, there will be competition with others, all of whom are trying their best to achieve their aspirations. In the end, no-one's happiness really gains... which is why, despite all the technological innovations in the past millennia, people aren't feeling that much better about their quality of life than they did millennia ago, but likewise no-one living in the present would want to go back to live in the past.
Concept #6: Impossible IdealsEdit
There's a good reason why ideals are called ideals--they can't be reached. At first this seems a bit counterintuitive--how can we never reach the ideal if we keep progressing toward it? First of all, let me clear off a bit of myth that you may have carried with you all the time, that if we just get to a particular stage of civilizational development, perfection will be reached. But if we ever did reach perfection, would we not be able to improve beyond that? Supposedly not. But if we can't improve beyond an ideal, then that itself destroys another ideal--the ideal of being able to constantly develop civilization. And if an ideal precludes another from being ideal, then it itself can't be an ideal. This is not to mention all the conflicting ideals that exist in the world, most obviously different philosophical beliefs and religious faiths. There are no ideals, and there never can be.
Concept #7: Development for its own sakeEdit
If we can't achieve the ideal, then, it would seem that we had better stop trying to achieve it, because attempting to do so would be utter waste. But there's another consideration, that development is itself a goal to strive for: that development for development's sake is important in making people happy. Why? Because when any group gains a benefit, there is at least a temporary boost in the group's happiness (this also works for the individual). The tradeoff is that a temporary work in going forward results in a permanent advancement which yields a temporary period of relative happiness and advantage. This is the same thing with the idea behind evolution--no one would expect various species to stop striving forward, because only by striving forward can the species hope to expand, and at least not dwindle.
Concept #8: There is no going backEdit
Perhaps the previous concept has shown you something that hasn't really been spelled out yet. It's that we can't go back. Once an advancement has been made and solidified, it can't be reversed. Once Thomas Edison's light bulbs were put on sale, there was no way to reverse the advancement, and either society had to adjust or face the consequences. Once nuclear weaponry was developed, Japan couldn't unwind the Manhattan Project. Once humankind has sent a satellite into space, humankind is doomed to explore and settle space to the fullest. Any attempt to reverse it will meet with abject failure. Once stem cells were discovered, and even more so once research has resulted in demonstrated benefits for patients with Alzheimer's, no amount of government legislation is going to stop the inexorable advance of scientists from working on related stem cell projects, no matter how slowly. Delaying may be possible, but there is no way to undo the advancements. When the government collapses and another allows stem cell research, it won't start from the beginning. It will start off from where it had slowed down, and just keep going.
Concept #9: The Law of SuperiorityEdit
Now you may be wondering from the previous concept that if something better than stem cells shows up, wouldn't stem cell research be discarded? Indeed it would. The law of superiority states that when something is discovered which is better than something else, the inferior good would decrease, replaced by the superior good. When something doesn't cover all the benefits of an inferior good, of if the superior good is inferior in something else, then the inferior good may remain. In the case of something better than stem cells showing up, it would have to be much better on average than stem cells to be adopted, and even so some scientists could very well still wish to continue work with stem cells because they are useful just because of their particular combination of pros and cons. The atomic bomb may be thousands of times more efficient than a conventional bomb, but in some cases (especially now that there is so much diplomacy going on), atomic bombs are practically useless, and conventional weaponry retains its significance, primarily because it can be used without the specter of Mutually Assured Destruction, because it's easy to use, and because it doesn't necessarily kill the person setting it off. Thus the two weapons are said to fill different niches.
Concept #10: Increasing DiversityEdit
What logically follows from the previous concept is that as time goes on, diversity increases. The seemingly endless variety of species in nature seems to make this all too obvious: if, over the course of billions of years, something far superior to others had evolved, there would be only a few species left. While species do go extinct because there are just too many species throughout history than there are niches to fill, there are still enough niches in the world to allow for millions or billions of species. There is likewise a seemingly endless variety of niches for human-made discoveries and inventions to fill. As mentioned above, all too often a new discovery doesn't eliminate everything from a previous one, and even if it was intended to wipe out the previous market, it soon ends up making things more complex, more diverse. Using DDT against mosquitoes soon led to an ever expanding series of pesticides against strains that were becoming resistant faster and faster. Once again, this doesn't mean that efficiency is going down--instead, it means that there are a lot of different ways to view a particular situation, and that when we try to account for everything, we soon realize that things can get more and more complicated. Science fiction writers who establish that in a future society everyone will be nearly the same, with only a few different grades of variety, are more than likely to be seriously mistaken and therefore their predictions are totally useless when it comes to futurology.
Concept #11: Singularity UnreachableEdit
Many have spoken of the possibility of the singularity. There are actually three different ways of viewing this idea. One is that singularity refers to the time when humanity and its minions (ie. computers) knows everything ath people would generally need to know. Another is that it refers to the time when humanity and its minions know everything that there is to know. Another is that it refers to the time when humanity and its minions are capable of accomplishing everything. According to the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle and Chaos Theory, there is no way the second interpretation can be achieved (unless the principle and theory is later disproved). The first translation--knowing what we need to know--is implausible as well, because in time we and our aspirations would dictate that we want to know all there is to know before we will be satisfied with our wealth of knowledge. There is no way for the third to be reached as well, because this means that everyone's aspirations are reached. If one person's aspiration is to make the universe a blessed place to live, and another wants to make the universe totally awful, then either outcome is going to disappoint one side or the other, and at least one person won't be able to accomplish everything, so that one also fails. Now you can also say that it may refer to society. But if society at large were to make the feat of accomplishing everything, then there's also the problem of its not being quite as efficient as if one person did the same thing (compared to society doing the same thing a billion times over), and therefore there is room for improvement. Since singularity is a time when no further improvement is possible, having society be able to do everything isn't singularity. Also consider what would happen if that society splits apart. Then which side's achievement marks singularity? Why not split those sub-societies into billions of individuals?
Concept #12: Humanity may well be damnedEdit
The last few concepts were all very dismal, aren't they? And they all seem to follow directly from logic. So to conclude, what else to say than with the even lower note that humanity may well be damned, as whoever wrote Genesis in the Bible figured out millennia ago? We continue to labor for permanent advancement for temporary gains; our aspirations remain unsatiated. We seem to be pushed constantly toward the realization of an impossible dream, and yet to fight against that dream, to restrain ourselves, would result in our own defeat even as others carry on the torch of enlightenment. The ideals that we have created since the dawn of time will continue to be with us until the end of time. And if we try to skirt the entire issue, namely by defeating aspiration by killing ourselves, we must also face the fact that not everyone would do so voluntarily, and if those who do wish it to occur thereby kill themselves, then there are going to be some others left over, and those who are left over won't be in favor of suicide but in favor of bearing more children, which means that humanity would soon return to previous levels, proving any attempt at "ending humanity" to be futile. In fact, the only thing that we could do with any bit of effectiveness is to continue that inexorable upward climb, to ever new heights. It seems that we are damned to continue this tiring quest for perfection, which we may imagine but never accomplish. Yet who is to say that this is a bad thing? For some, the very idea of always being able to strive for self-improvement--which could be enjoyable for some--would come as a blessing. And in a perfect world, there would be perfectly no reasons to continue living (because dying would also have to be perfectly blissful for it to be a perfect world). So we come from the total abyss of despair and gloom to another way of thinking that is tempered by what revelations our logic has told us, an awesome balance between the utter negative and the unrestrained, naive optimism that non-initiates tend to unanimously believe in.
And thus, from here, your true journey as a futurologist begins.
The Art of PredictionEdit
Concept #1: EfficiencyEdit
The term efficiency refers to how easily and effectively we can accomplish doing something, while using the fewest resources, thereby freeing up those resources for other purposes. For example, with the advent of factories, industrial production has become far cheaper than manual production. Thus, a conversion to the new method would save both time and effort.
Concept #2: Dominance of EfficiencyEdit
Once people are aware of the possibilities of higher efficiency by conversion of the method (sewing) of accomplishing a task (providing clothing) to a more efficient method (industrially produced clothing), the new method will come to eclipse the old. Although the old method may remain for a long time, over time it would nearly disappear. We call this the dominance of efficiency.
Concept #3: Types of EfficiencyEdit
One error many science fiction space opera writers often make is to steadily increase the power of weapons. While better weaponry is a form of efficiency--kill targets faster and more effectively--there are many other ways in which efficiency may be accrued. In the forms of technology, new advancements may comprise of goods that are more functional--can be used where others can't--or faster--can be as effective in a shorter period of time--or flexible--the same thing being capable of doing multiple other things, or leading to many other things (ie. the internet). Socially, globalization and unity may also be considered efficiency, as well as certain economical laws.
Concept #4: Efficiency is relativeEdit
There is no such thing as absolute efficiency in futurology. We're not dealing with entropy here. For everything that society wants accomplished, there could very well be many different ways, some of which have yet to be discovered and which could increase efficiency. Assigning 100% efficiency on any particular task is going to land us in big trouble because it would discourage people from searching for even more efficient methods. People once considered that the steam engine was efficient. They didn't expect any airplanes. People thought that machine guns were efficient. They forgot about biological weaponry.
Concept #5: Rate of GrowthEdit
The primary objective of civilization is to increase the rate of growth as fast as possible, as much as possible. Growth isn't stagnant, primarily because the primary forces continue to increase faster and faster. We have been able to accomplish much more in the past decade than in the two decades before that; we have done much more in the past century than we have done in all of time up to the last century. This extreme rate of growth will continue into the future. Mathematically, we could have a basic model as x factorial, where the % increase per unit of time itself increases, as opposed to e ^ x models, in which the % increase remains constant (these are all basic models of course).
We want society to have as great a rate of growth as possible, disregarding the actual levels of efficiency at the present or in the future. This can be achieved via the best allotment and expansion of several quantities which we title the Primary Values.
Concept #6: The Primary ValuesEdit
The primary forces driving advancements are information, use of information, technologies, and assets.
- Information comes in the form of original research: the accruing of vast amounts of new data which may someday become useful in development of new technologies. Note that mere replication of the same information is not increasing information in this sense, because only one copy is needed for future developments, and the rest is extraneous.
- Use of information requires that the information be accrued first, and also requires that it be used in a constructive manner. Use of information is traditionally done through telling society or researchers via scientific journals, and the educational system. The more people become educated, providing everything else remains constant, the greater the use of information.
- Proper use of information leads to technological advancements, which in turn lead to greater relative efficiency. As we defined use of information to be proper use--that is, use that actually results in technological advancements--then technology is the integral of the use of information through time.
- The greater efficiency due to technological advancements, the greater the assets, such as how many goods exist, and how many services are offered. Additionally, some technological advancements may increase the global carrying capacity, allowing more people to be born, each of whom's labor also counts as assets.
Concept #7: Enhancing the primary valuesEdit
Note that the four Primary Values interconnect. Any advancement that leads to one of these effects will be indirectly responsible for causing an increase in a primary value.
- Information can be enhanced by speeding up research, enlarging the research field, not wastefully performing the same research multiple times, and concentrating more assets into research.
- Use of information can be enhanced by raising awareness of information, opening information to the public (especially to those who can use it), making information easily available (and not losing information), not wastefully having multiple groups independently working on a project from scratch, providing more useful on education on average, and devoting more assets (including people's time) toward working on projects that may ultimately yield technologies, and not wasting assets on work that is unlikely to yield any technologies.
- Technology can be enhanced by synergistic use of multiple technologies into one resulting product, bringing technology from its early stages to mainstream use and later versions as fast as possible, and making the most possible technological use of information.
- Assets can be enhanced by increasing efficiency, enlarging the human workforce, enlarging the workforce of humanity's minions (ie. robots and calculators), apportioning resources optimally across the various different ways of using them, reducing the need for goods and services, and increasing average flexibility and functionality of goods and services.
The job of the futurologist is to understand how differences in society's choices today affect the primary values in the future, and where they will lead us.