Printed: 2019-02-19

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Living Inside a Scenario

Jamais Cascio

Open the Future

August 31, 2011

For more than a decade, I have worked in the field of scenario development, consulting with businesses, governments, and NGOs about possible futures. There’s sort of a rule of thumb among professional futurist-types: scenario elements that sound plausible are almost certainly wrong, while scenario elements that sound utterly implausible are very likely on-target.

That’s generally true, although it applies more to the disruptive aspects of a scenario than to the everyday aspects. (That said, a scenario that said “most people in the West continue to live quiet lives, using their barely-sufficient income to pay for disposable commodity goods and overly-processed food,” while both plausible and very likely on-target for the next decade or three, is more depressing than illuminating.)

Good scenario disruption points should be things that, in the here-and-now, would make you say “Oh, crap” if you heard them in the news.

Oh, crap.

Nanotechnology researchers in Mexico, France, Spain, and Chile have been targeted by a terror group calling itself “Individuals Tending Towards Savagery,” and claiming to be inspired by the Unabomber.

Unabomber-copycat terror cell hits nanotech researchers in the developing world and Europe—I’m not sure that anything could sound more like a headline from a scenario exercise.

bombYou can find the manifesto of the group in Spanish here (this is not the group’s website, but a site that republishes relevant material); a Google translate version in English is here. The translation is a bit spotty in places, but gets the message across. For me, the most unsettling part is that (a) I know several of the people they mention as villains, and (b) I fit their criteria for potential targets.

Reading the piece is like a checklist for a scenario’s anti-technology movement: beyond the approving Unabomber citations, they have quotes from Bill Joy’s essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” misunderstandings of what nanotechnology is and isn’t, and intimations of further violence against researchers, along with (now trendy!) attacks on Facebook for destroying the ability of young people to think. For the record, I don’t believe that Joy or any of the other non-Unabomber folks whose writing they cite approvingly (explicitly or implicitly) would in any way support this group.

But this is why I keep writing pieces like “Not Giving Up” and “Sanity”—reminders (especially to myself) that the way forward is going to be filled with danger, but we can’t let danger—and chaos, and despair, and the relentless demands that we just give up—be the only option.

I’ve been thinking, recently, that one way to define “progress” is “when the future turns out better than we expect it to be.” Given how grim things seem to be, and how many signals of disruption we seem to be getting, I can only hope that we’ll be seeing a bit of progress any time now.

Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.


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