If we ever manage to travel faster than the speed of light, we must first imagine that it is possible for us to do so — Theory of Relativity be damned.
Such was the mindset of futurist Herman Kahn, many of whose ideas stemmed from the concept of "thinking the unthinkable," which requires you to break down your preconceptions about what the future cannot hold, in order to imagine what could actually come to pass.
In the Summer of 1993, Kevin Kelly (founding executive editor of Wired magazine), together with musician Brian Eno, compiled an extensive list of "unthinkable futures," in response to Kahn's challenge to envision an improbable tomorrow. On the subject of this "exercise in scenarios," Kelly had this to say:
Our intent was less to correctly predict the future (thus the silliness) and more to predict how unpredictable the actual future would be.
Improbability is still a strong bias to overcome. Much that is happening today would have been dismissed as unbelievably bad science fiction only 15 years ago. The US with secret prisons torturing Muslims? Street sweepers in India with their own cell phones? Obesity a contagious disease? A trusted encyclopedia written by anyone? Yeah, right, give me a break.
Believing in the improbable is quickly becoming a survival skill.
You'll find the list in its entirety here, but we've included some of the highlights below:
- Computer screens (both CRT and flat screens) are found to be dangerous to the health. Working at a computer is viewed as a toxic job.
- Mass advertising is restricted. Billboards are categorically banned; advertising in subways, buses, removed. Towns take up "Advertising-Free Zones."
- It costs half a day's pay to drive your car into the downtown area of a big city, and a day's wages to park.
- American universities go franchise. Ivy League schools launch branches in Tokyo, Berlin, London.
- In a series of science papers, biologists prove that humans are weakening their gene stock with such artifices as eyeglasses and medical care, since "biologically inferior" stock now breeds. This sets off religious and scientific eugenics cults and social weirdness around "healthy" genes.
- Pills make a comeback. Psychedelics, smart pills, power drugs and a host of newly invented non-addictive head pills seep into the young generation, who have no memory of the last drug phase.
- Everybody becomes so completely cynical about the election process that voter turnout drops to 2 percent (families and relatives of prospective politicians) until finally the "democratic process" is abandoned in favor of a lottery system. Everything immediately improves.
- Video phones inspire a new sexual revolution whereby everybody sits at home doing rude things electronically with everyone else. Productivity slumps; video screens get bigger and bigger.
- A new profession — cosmetic psychiatry — is born. People visit "plastic psychiatrists" to get interesting neuroses and obsessions added into their makeup.
- Mass outbreaks of allergies unexpectedly solve all our transportation problems by confining almost everyone to their sealed residences. Telecommunications stocks soar.
- New drugs to pacify children (modern laudanum) are smilingly sold by big pharmaceutical companies (wish they'd hurry up!).
- A new profession, meme-inspector, comes into being.
- GLOBAL COOLING — After a steady increase in mean temperature, the Earth starts cooling off. Dire warnings are issued; no one pays any attention.