John Perry Barlow
Barlow is the self-proclaimed “Cognitive Dissident,” co-founder & vice chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a Berkman Fellow at Harvard Law School
I'm sometimes accused of being a "futurist." I may be silly, but I'm not quite that silly. At the current rate and discontinuity of change, I do well enough to predict the present. This may sound like a useless endeavor, but when you see how many people are assuredly predicting the past, you can see the value of being a "presentist."
However, for someone who thinks that predicting the next ten minutes is dicey, there is something so sublimely ridiculous in predicting the next 1000 years, that I can't resist the temptation. The one certainty of the predictions to follow is that, by Y3K, they will be good for a laugh. (Assuming there will remain by then beings capable of reading them. Or, for that matter, capable of laughing.)
Human technology began increasing exponentially about 40 thousand years ago, around which time three things happened: humans began to speak, they captured fire, and they realized that a rock was also a tool. There are two root causes for the explosion of human extensions that followed. First, we are the only species so dissatisfied with the world we were born into that we set about to fix it rather than accept it with the usual animal stoicism. Second, such is our hard-wired dissatisfaction that every time we solved a problem with a tool, we created an awareness of several new problems the solution made visible. Every solution expands the horizon of that which isn't yet solved. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that technology will continue its rapidly accelerating lunge into the future until it either kills or outmodes us.
The current main thrust of technology is communication and expanding the senses vastly beyond the body. This will continue. We are creating a shared nervous system for the planet. I believe that before Y3K, every neuron on earth, living or manufactured, will be continuously connected with every other neuron. The world will become a giant Brain.
2. Entertainment and Sports
I'm already so dumb-founded by the arbitrary endeavors we find entertaining that even predicting the present is challenging for me. Nevertheless, it does seem that we like to watch others doing things we can't (or won't) do. As the density and immediacy of our connection increases, we will be able to experience what they are experiencing, feel what they are feeling, share their abilities. We won't watch the quarterback. We will be the quarterback. (Or whatever the equivalent becomes.)
Also, humans have always liked to scare the shit out of themselves. Adrenaline is one of our favorite drugs. Through advances in engineering we will get better and better at approaching ñ and perhaps even crossing ñ the precipice of death without actually dying. This will be important since genetic redesign will make death harder and harder to achieve naturally.
3. Business and money
Already, we're not so clear as to what money is. I recently asked a group of bank CEO's to define money and, after a long silence, one offered tentatively, "I think money is whatever Alan Greenspan says it is." The real point, of course, is value, and most of our value transactions consist of commerce that is invisible to us ñ the commerce of relationship. Most of our business is in love, friendship, security, trust, pleasure, experience, ideas, and other qualities impossible to quantify. As the root of economy becomes thought rather than things, we will give up trying to measure the immeasurable and start exchanging value on the basis of "what goes around comes around." The economy of nouns will be replaced by the economy of verbs.
4. Relationships and sex
See previous projections.
If we can experience being the quarterback, it is trivial to experience being the other lover. I've always wanted to know what it's like to experience sex as a woman. Between neurological implanting, genetic engineering, and reversible surgery, this will become possible.
Furthermore, if the foundation of our economy is relationships rather than things we can own, we will value them appropriately. I asked the same group of bankers whether they would rather give up all of their material assets, organizational and personal, or all of their relationships. Not one of them chose their assets. Perhaps some of them were lying. But still, I think most of them knew they could rebuild their assets from their relationships, but not the other way around. We need only to create a looser system of accounting that includes what actually motivates us.
5. Politics and government
Governance will replace government. Indeed, to a great extent, it already has. The Nation State has been dead for some time but hasn't noticed it yet. Other forms of imposed order will follow suit. They will be replaced by emergent form.
In a world where everything and everybody is connected to all else and other, we will respond to problems as organically as the body (or, for that matter, a bee-hive) responds to damage, automatically rushing the appropriate resources to the point of injury. This will be done on a self-organizing basis, as it is in nature, and indeed as it already is in society to a greater extent than we recognize.
Anyway, things will get weird. And yet, I think that some essential qualities of the human condition may remain, particularly the eternal struggle between the seven deadly sins and the three graces. The characters of Chaucer or even Euripedes still seem familiarly human to me. Like them, or ourselves, the humans of Y3K will love, fear, know joy, and suffer. As in the past, some things will get better and an even balance will get worse. Or at least I hope so.