My first task this morning was to write some comments for the press on the future of the ‘Internet of Things’. I was asked for some examples that would excite ‘normal people’. Though I don’t struggle to imagine various scenarios, it reminded me just how much our perspectives on tomorrow are filtered through the realities of today.
The same is true of our views of the past. The reason I think so many people struggle with the concept of evolution is that it is hard to understand the compound impact of small changes over long periods. A set of genes might only be fractionally different between one generation and the next, but over time the compound effects take us from a single-celled organism to one with the incredible complexity. We know this to be true but it doesn’t make it any easier to grasp. I can readily picture a few steps into the evolutionary past where our species was recognisably human and shared many of the same base instincts. But the further I get from my own frame of reference, the harder it is.
Looking to the future today is particularly hard. The accelerating pace of change means that the leaps from one ‘evolutionary generation’ to the next are large. The scale of change just a couple of steps into the future is potentially enormous. But it is also uneven, and the retarding forces unpredictable.
The only approach that makes sense when trying to predict the distant future is to look at motivations. To understand what people might want to be the case — for whatever reason — and how much they want it.
The reality is that technology seems to be rapidly overcoming most barriers to what those with resources want to achieve. The potential retarding forces of regulation and public opinion seem to be behind the curve. Facebook’s (former) mantra of ‘move fast and break things’ is arguably as applicable to the company’s attitude to technology as it is to Silicon Valley’s attitude to state rules and societal mores.
Grasp people’s motivations and the question becomes more about when things will happen than what. Limited only of course, by those same people’s imagination.