The Next 50 years: What Is to Come and How to Predict It.

Welcome back. You belong here.

I’ve been writing a series called “The Next Fifty Years” based on my readings in a book by the same title. Recently, I delivered a speech on the topic of how to think about the future. I suggested three windows through which we could peer into possible tomorrows: the trajectory of trends, the nature and history of humankind, and human initiative.

John Holland, Professor of psychology, computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, offers, in his Chapter titled “What Is to Come and How to Predict It”, that technological change is easier to predict than social change. An interesting paradox given that technology changes so quickly and human nature creeps along throughout the millenia with barely any change at all.

Within fifty years, Holland sugests, we will have achieved a computer/ webcam/ global positioner/ with a “star wars” style 3D projection display. God, I love the future.

It will also become technologically possible to track the movements, the detailed movements, of any individual. In other words, we’ll be able to track your movements. Perhaps I should no longer sign off with “see you in the mystic” and change instead to “see you everywhere at all times”.

How will being “seen” at all times change who we become? What do you think?

see you in the mystic…

PS. The July discount for the “Makers of Fire” tour expires at 11.55PM (PST) on Monday, July 31. I look forward to seeing many of you there. Please be sure to encourage your colleagues, friends and teams to register today.


17 responses to “The Next 50 years: What Is to Come and How to Predict It.”

  1. Bloodworth Avatar

    Considering that I can google my house and see my van and that people use GPS systems to run around NYC streets playing “Pac Man”, I’m not surprised at all. While 3D projection systems aren’t common yet, everything else needed is there.

    What I find more interesting is how a 3D projection system could change the telephone. Sitting in front of a webcam has it’s own draw now, but what if you could actually speak with a person as if they’re right in the room with you? Or if a cel phone could project a loved one walking beside you through the park?

  2. drlori/stinkowoman Avatar

    I think it will bring our ugliness to light. We are pretty good at hiding what we really think and what we really do from people. If you can see people while you’re on the phone or track where your husband or teenager goes, it either will tell you the good bad and the ugly or encourage them to try to fool the system. Are we strong enough to face the truth about ourselves and each other? Perhaps this is the next phase of human development.

  3. Bill Clark Avatar


    The “being seen” dynamic you’re talking about is in many ways already with us. Between real time financial/credit history tracking, blogging, easy pass on toll roads, etc. we’re leaving huge finger prints everywhere we go. I was at a seminar a couple of years ago when someone said – “before long, people’s entire histories will follow them wherever they go and be readily available on the internet.” Suddenly I realized that the internet might be a source of spiritual development. If – as has been often been said – character is what you do when you are alone in the dark, and technology is such that we are never alone in the dark – perhaps the doublemindedness between our internal and our external lives will recede. Alternatively, the distinction will remain and be forced into a darker, even more disturbing closet – compounded by the feeling that we are never alone. Who knows?

    On that happy thought, its time to start my day!

    Be well.

  4. Nozza Avatar

    Your thoughts are very profound and I like the way you encourage readers to think it thru and not just take it all as true.

    It was interesting what you said about technology changing a lot quicker than human nature. But how scary would it be if human nature did change so quickly! I don’t know if I could cope with that. Perhaps technology can progress so quickly coz if something breaks, we just replace it. Whereas if human nature were to progress very quickly, people would ‘break’, and that is against our inborn nature. So perhaps it is us humans who can are holding back our own progression out of fear. I dunno, just me thinking…

    But the techie side of things is amazing. I can’t wait to see that Star Wars technology. But do you think that technology is destroying true human interaction? I mean, if people are going to not even have to be there in person anymore? Or perhaps it will have the opposite effect – people have to interact more and actually do it better because they have fewer inhibitions. I guess only time will tell…

    Go well,

  5. Tom Worthington Avatar
    Tom Worthington

    Technological change since the late 1800s is mind boggling to say the least. My Grandfather had seen transportation change from horses to rockets in his lifetime – what will we see??
    But human nature change? Not if you believe your Bible! Read the stories of the Old Testament, read Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians, and you will find the same junk we read about in our newspapers (what?? who reads the newspaper??); read Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs, still fresh and valid after nearly 3000 years! Oh if we would only FOLLOW the Bible! But our nature will only change when we become truly like Jesus, and though it is incumbant on us to work toward that goal in this life,that goal will not be met in this world! So maranatha, come LORD Jesus, and perfect us in Your Grace,

  6. Amy Nicholson Avatar

    I loved Star Wars growing up. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Leah send her desperate message through little R2. I will never forget how her hair was put in those wierd double buns and her long white robe and begged to have for a holloween coustume.

    How would it be for our society to become even more visually based than ever before? I just read Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death (about a decade later than everyone else) and tied in with this, I wonder just how deep our culture’s vanity will become. I tend to agree that human nature is universal, but I also believe that some cultures lend themselves to more overt displays of depravity than others regardless of time. I wonder just how visually obsessed our culture (those who will embrace this technology) will become?

  7. Hermann du Plessis Avatar

    What about bathtime?

    I don’t like the future then!

    Take care,

  8. Stephen Avatar

    as bill said, i’m already leaving marks all over the internet. have you ever googled your name?*

    but as far as i can tell, no one is any more interested in me than they were before. i get the same number of phone calls. probably less, actually, because so much communication has moved to email. and spontaneous visits at home – almost never happens anymore.

    when the movement tracking thing does become commonplace, i just wonder if we’ll really notice a difference. we humans are extremely adaptable creatures.

    *it’s funny to me that “to google” is now a widely accepted verb.

  9. Cliff Avatar

    I think this has massive implications on the MySpace community.

    The “Online Now” icon guy will become obsolete. The future of MySpace, then, is an icon telling the world, “I’ve BEEN Online since February 2020”.

    Web Cafe’s are out.

    The future is IM Cafes; Instant Meeting Cafes.

    I can sit down with my friend in Uganda for a cup of Fair-Trade, Shade-grown, organic coffee while in the local IM Cafe in Seattle as he does the same in Gulu and no one would know my friend was not in the room with me unless they shot at spit wad at him only to have it soar through his nano-generated image and hit the wall.

    I guess it has implications on the Patriot Act. The government will never again have to contrive elaborate tales of why they are “spying” on such and such an individual, following his every move. All the government will have to say is, “Hey, we were just ‘MySpacin’ him’”.

    Voyeurism will be an art form.

    The Truman show will be known as the most prophetic film in history.

    Trust will never again be based on an intrinsic hope someone is honest but, rather, an exact decision based upon the reading I get on my watch/lie-detector; combined with a consensus report printed from my “trip-o-meter” giving me the ratio of how often my wife was where she said she was.

    A non-reflective, breathable foil will be the Billion Dollar industry of the future as families wrap their homes, cars, and bodies in it to prevent signals from tracking them.

    Oh! Back to the question.

    I don’t think people will change much.

    Technology doesn’t really excite me.

    I mean, yeah, its cool that a technologically generated image of me will be superimposed on a wall or chair or strange looking, globe thing.

    Big deal.

    Humans will remain the same.

    We will still be paranoid, untrustworthy, devious, greedy, power-hungry, materialistic beings in need of something our minds cannot concoct to save us from ourselves.


  10. Tom Mulnix Avatar

    Sure technology will increase. Whether or not it will be beneficial, used to help or harm, etc., remains to be seen. The bigger takeaway from your article for me Alex was the perspective, the forward thinking.

    The past offers lessons to learn but really isn’t a good place to live. The opportunities today holds are priceless but fleeting, seize the day!

    But tomorrow, the future. That is where hope lies. The key, the ambition should be to position ourselves to embrace the future, whatever it holds. Thinking along these lines enables us to do that, knowing this technology is coming allows us to leverage it for the cause of Christ when it gets here.


  11. Alex Avatar

    daniel, yes. imagine someone out there talking with a “projected you”. hmmm.

    lori, true. they say that all our deeds will be made known to all in eternity. it may turn out that all our deeds will be made known sooner than that.

    bill, that’s true. we already leave a trail that is being followed. funny. i have this need to look over my shoulder.

    nozza, i don’t think technology will destroy human interaction. but it will impact our relationship to time and space.

    tom, so much of how humanity is shaped…family structures, political structures, economic wealth systems have changed in the past and are undergoing massive, radical change today. i think that within the next 50 years two new NGO’s will form. one will advocate the humanity of clones and cybernetic life forms. the other will resist their humanity. in fact, the future may consist of humans and transhumans.

    amy, yes. the human heart tends towards a darkness of ancient proportions. our goal should be to take whatever future is coming and make it human.

    hermann, i think there will always be baths. or, i hope there will always be baths.

    stephen, that’s true. humans adopt to new circumstances and surroundings quite well. future generations may wonder why this was such a big deal to us.

    cliff, nice. the government contriving elaborate tales? c’mon.

    tom, exactly. embrace the future in order to shape the future.

  12. Mark Avatar

    Interesting stuff.
    I recently read an article in Pop Sci about a futuristic “never forget anything” device. It works like this: A super small (yet to be invented) video camera fitted into a contact lens interfaces with a belt-mounted PDA with multi-gig memory storage and records everything you see. Likewise a microphone records everything you hear. You now have a computer backup of every experience you have. Well, at least the sights and sounds of it. Can’t remember something? Turn loose an advanced software system to search this personal memory database and, viola, there it is.
    Now, lets imagine taking it to the next level. Add ubiquitous broadband wireless internet, a heads-up display and simple earphones and what we now have is collective memory and experience. (…we are borg.. resistance is futile..) Any experience you have, or are in the process of having, could be experienced via the heads up display and earphones of someone else. Every thing you see or hear can be seen or heard by anyone else. You, too, could see or hear anything another user of the system was seeing or hearing via the internet interface. Want to know whats going on in Madrid, NYC, Tokyo? Simply dial your own device in and experience it through someone elses eyes and ears. Want to know what Sydney looked like last week? Access the week old “memories” of some non-descript Australian citizen. Surely, privacy safeguards would have to be in place.. but imagine the implications of such a system. It isn’t something I hasten to see, but what can we learn by imagining it?
    Not only could our movements be tracked and could we track the movements of others, we could actually experience life through another persons eyes and ears as they could ours. And I have to ask myself these questions: If someone else was seeing through my eyes and hearing through my ears, how would I live my life differently? What would I do if I thought my friends saw and heard everything I did.. or my grandmother, or, or…
    Jesus.. but wait.. He actually can.

  13. Todd Porter Avatar
    Todd Porter

    Mark’s comment reminds me of that Robin Williams film, “The Final Cut.” It takes place after the development of an implant device that records all audio and visual experience of the person in whom it’s implanted. Williams’ character is a “cutter,” a film editor whose job is to download all the data from a deceased person’s implant and edit it into a memorial film for their funeral. It’s a great exploration of those questions Mark asked.


  14. Laurie Avatar

    This stuff makes me feel a little edgy. That said, I just put “Final Cut” on my Netflix!

  15. Raj Avatar

    If everywhere we go can be seen, does that mean that some vices (ie adultery, pornography, etc.) will become commonplace? Will we grow so weary of hearing about public leaders (and our friends/neighbors) succumbing to their darker tendencies that we simply reply, “who cares? everybody does it these days”?

    Does that draw scary parallels to Ancient Roman culture? Ellicit sex practically became part of the job description for emperors, and bloodsport was all-consuming.

    And the ones who rejected these trends became feared for their secrecy.

    What does this mean for America? For followers of the Way?

  16. Ryan Connelly Avatar

    As the walls we place around our lives, voluntarily or involuntarily, become more transparent, Christ’s ascertion that we are “light” in the world and the “city on a hill” connects at a previously unimagined level. The change can be either an opportunity to shine brighter in a darkening world or a reason to hide deeper in our “christian caves.” (The “bubble” is much too vulnerable)

    Bring on the challenges, the dark possibilities, and the common sin of the world. There is no better environment in which to show the radical difference of the Kingdom of Christ. Even a single white pixel on a black screen is obvious!

  17. John Gnotek Avatar

    I don’t think this scenario is favorable to Christians or any free-thinking individual. We are “light” by choice. Even Jesus withdrew at times—for both solitude and safety. Where would solitude lie in such a existence? Could we ever be alone in our thoughts? Would we be subjected to our own thoughts? That could be good for personal edification, I suppose, however that’s the work of The Spirit—not whatever earthly power claims Master of the Universe. Besides, The Spirit is already technologically set.

    Can you imagine having subjected the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the observation of the crown? It fears me for my children’s sake such precursor iniatives that already exist, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s TIA — Total Information Awareness, rather I mean (namechange) “Terrorist Information Awareness.” A survellience system storing and tracking ALL consumer transactions as well as all personal information of all US citizens—including medical, purchases, financial. All this info at the fingertips of the powers that be. Coupled with The PATRIOT Act! And terrorism being redefined to include a wider band of people—including “right-wing” Christians.

    Big deal, if your a righteous, upright citizen who cares? Imagine a computer program sifting through all this data. You get red-flagged because, say, you buy a case of wine, yet the medicine you are taking restricts you from mixing alcohol, and you’ve driven a hundred and fifty miles. OnStar immediately shuts down your car, and perhaps locks you in it—until the authorities arrive. You have to explain yourself, and it matters not if you’re drnking the wine, it’s a gift or you’re buying it for the eighteen year old down the street. You have to explain yourself. Guilty until proven innocent.

    There’s strong talk NOW for legislation to have a device that disables your car until you blow—alcohol free. Guilty until proven innocent. And a lot of people accept this—”for the good of all”—including good Christians. My wife— a good Christian— does. She doen’t drink, so what does she care. I don’t drink, but I do care.

    It wil only take another 9/11 and we will see national ID abd have to carry it 24/7. A series of 9/11s and/or a crime spree—an embedded microchip. “Criminals and terrorists can’t operate without cash.” A raining of various disasters and choatic events (like when 9/11, anthrax and the Washington DC snipers all happened relatively simultaneous, plus throw in a few natural disasters) will surely usher in whatever technological “safety” devices available—for “security.” And it will be accepted with open arms. Very likely something as futuristic as Mark’s mention of a “never forget” device, but more likely a “know all” device. And we will accept it, not only for security, but also because it won’t be so foreign. We’ve already been acclimated (and not even realized it).

    People alreay accept microchips. Andy Rooney on the news. Prince Charles and his sons. Soldiers will be implemented with them. They’ll be a hip fad in nightclubs. People will embed them in their children hould they be kidnapped. GSP microchips? They’ll be necessary for the well-being of ALL as “Islamic fascists” attack our “way of life.”

    My children could not buy lunch at school—without their “number,” even given the fact they used cash—until I inquired on why the school wouldn’t serve them. And no one, no one right up to the top of the ladder, could give me a solid reason for this. Everyone speculated, no one knew. “It’s the new system,” was the most honest answer.

    Point is, socially, we ARE being conditioned for a major change—and most likely, the speculations given in this blog thread may be very true in the near future. By who? Who controls the “monitors?”

    I think we are on the cusp of some major changes coming down the pike. Technological and social mixed, arm-in-arm. As human beings I don’t think we are wired for such drastic and immediate change. We adapt of course, but it tears at our soul and shreads at our being.

    I certainly appreciate technology, been part of this cyber-development from the beginning. As human beings we were designed to live in synchronicity with Creation. Technology, as cool as it is and as much as I embrace it, really is artificial. You’ll find the fingerprint of God in nature. Show me God’s signature in technology.

    John Gnotek

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