Hollywood imagines this generation’s future as a science experiment with apocalyptic results, but author Mark Stevenson insists it doesn’t have to be that scary.
Stevenson spent a year travelling the globe asking scientists and philosophers what’s next for us. He synthesized the answers in his book, An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. It is being turned into a TV series and a Hollywood movie.
What are your goals for the book?
I wanted to write about the scientific horizon for a wide audience because there’s a revolution coming and more of us should be informed.
Did you write from an optimist’s perspective?
“Optimist” appeared in the title because I saw so many interesting possibilities, and my agent said I’d sell more copies. I am not saying the future will be better — I am saying it could be, so I’m a possiblist.
What will be the most interesting scientific innovations?
To quote William Gibson: “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” So, synthetic biology is already in use. If you’re diabetic, it’s almost certain your insulin supply is produced by E. coli bacteria whose genome has been tinkered with. The list of nanotechnology-based products already available includes microprocessors, cleaning products, toothpaste, pregnancy tests, stain-resistant clothing, and — it seems to me — a disproportionate number of hair-straightening devices.
As we speed into the future, what’s core to being human?
Talking about technology makes people quite scared, but advancement is a whole-hearted expression of our humanity — it’s what distinguishes us from other species. No other animal does this. There isn’t a bunch of dogs putting together an equivalent of your newspaper and no dogs will read it.
These innovations will come to be because that’s what human beings do. Hoping to roll back the march of human culture is about as pointless as trying to reconstruct the frog your younger brother just put in the blender.
Are information technologies useful or just overloading us?
It’s up to us how we use technology. If you have mass access you must employ mass-filtering. To make decisions we have machines to mine information and get a much clearer picture.
You investigated solar energy and on your trip carried a solar-panel bag. Is that the future of fashion accessories?
It does get a lot of comments. Ironically, the battery is broken but the panel still works so the new technology is outlasting the old. By 2020 even solar pessimists believe people will be choosing solar because it’s economic rather than green. Regardless of your opinion on climate change, energy independence is better than relying on oil and the few countries who export it.
– Sara Frizzell is a third-year student majoring in Journalism at Carleton University.