Entertainment · June 20, 2022

A short conversation with a long-term thinker – POLITICAL

last week me written about a particularly forward-looking piece of future planning from 1997 – a list of potential global crises (pandemic, terror, political retreat) that feels eerily similar to today’s headlines a quarter century later.

When this list was originally published in Wired magazine, it was wrapped in a larger and more optimistic package called “The Long Boom,” which was prescient in its own way: It made strong arguments that the growth of the tech industry would see it dominate the American economy for the past 25 years would.

The whole package was accurate enough that I thought DFD readers might want to know: What is the author thinking now?

So I called Peter Leyden, the former Wired Editor-in-Chief who co-wrote the play and a follow-on Bookto talk about what he foresaw in 1997 and how he sees Futurism in general. Governments and corporations attach great importance to highly contingent projections of our global future. What do you need to know? What are they missing?

Leyden himself left journalism to become one All-Purpose Futurist Advising various companies on preparing for the crises and challenges of tomorrow. An edited excerpt of our conversation follows:

How did you go about writing this The Long Boom, and why do you think it was so forward-thinking and successful?

I was paired with Peter Black to write a positive narrative of what would happen from the mid-1990s, playing through the digital revolution, when we began to see the contours of its development intertwined with globalization.

It’s hard to remember, but people didn’t get it back then – how would a digital economy work? How would these startups grow and why would anyone want to do half the things these companies wanted to do like B. Selling books online?

The narrative we came up with has largely played out. We’ve grown from 25 million people on the internet to 60 percent of the planet and these small startups are now running the world and China has brought about a trillion dollars GDP to what it is now.

But we have said that an absolutely positive scenario will not materialize. We didn’t say that one or two of these could stop the “long boom”, but that some of them were likely to happen and the drivers of the digital revolution and global integration would continue.

This reminds me of Fukuyama’s “The End of History” –the thesis is not quite as simple as it is perceived by the general public.

We fell completely into the same cultural trap as Fukuyama.

The economy will always be full of ups and downs and stock market crashes and restarts and overvaluation; this is how the world works. It’s the same thing that Fukuyama encountered. He didn’t say the story would stop, but “hey, we just ended a centuries-long struggle with communism, and liberal democracy emerged victorious, and how much better are we going to get?”

Like our thesis on the economy, this is a reasonable statement that is not invalidated every time Russia does something stupid.

How has the world of professional futurism evolved since 1997?

GBN [consulting firm Global Business Network] was a pioneer in this field at the time. There weren’t many people who could say much about the future, most companies were just blind, short term things, one to three year plans, but they didn’t understand the long term.

The heyday of GBN was essentially the beginning of globalization. This world of strategic foresight is now an industry: GBN has been included in Deloitte and you can now pursue Masters degrees or PhDs in forward thinking or strategic foresight. And today about 25 to 50 percent of the big companies are in these areas because you’re dealing with 190 countries and you’re a $60 billion market cap company and you don’t know what’s happening in them will be the next 10 years.

It’s the combination of the US government and its defense agencies and global corporations expanding after the Cold War that created the demand for this stuff. But it’s still under the radar for most people, so I speak about it a lot publicly because it’s valuable — now more than ever because the world is moving too fast, especially with the pandemic.

What is your forecast for the next 25 years?

I wrote five stories about a “long boom” from 2020 to 2050 called “The transformation.” It’s about how the world could solve climate change, among various other challenges. There are so many new technologies and trends that we’ll actually look back on that era and see how much we’ll solve in the next 30 years without being “Pollyanna”.

The latest example of the federal government taking crypto under its wing: TO two-page report from the Government Accountability Office via NFTs.

The report is short and to the point, a remarkably succinct and effective description of what NFTs are and how they work – if the concept beyond “expensive pictures of ugly cartoon monkeys” is still unclear to you, you could be much worse cut off than read it. But more notable than that is the usual GAO warning the federal government report offers: Familiarize yourself with this technology before it passes you by.

“Another concern is the federal government’s long-standing difficulty in hiring and retaining high-quality science and technology talent,” the authors write, adding that the status quo “could make it more difficult to identify and address legal and regulatory challenges.”

This follows a GAO study published in March 2021 and stressed the need for the federal government to increase the salaries of federal scientific staff and improve working conditions. They may soon at least partially fulfill their wish: the upcoming one America COMPETES Act includes key funding aids to NIST, the NSF, and the Department of Energy Science Office.

Happy Dino Week: “Jurassic World: Dominion” cavorted around one nearly $150 million box office opening last weekend and sparked both nostalgia for the original films and the expected fight scientific introspection about whether or not the “Frankenstein”-like lesson of the original story about man’s technological hubris has been fully learned.

But what if that’s not the point – what if today’s institutions are so worried about whether or not they do it shouldthey didn’t stop to think if they could? That’s the thesis that Matt Yglesias put forward in one Substack post this morning which argues, “We should build Jurassic Park.”

“The idea that our thinking should be dominated by downside risk and the complete abandonment of promising ideas when things go wrong strikes me as deeply misguided,” Yglesias writes, noting that the ethos of “Jurassic Park” is similar to that in real life is that the world too give up nuclear power. “I’d love to see a reboot of Jurassic Park where the point of the story is, yes, they are subjected to sabotage and their lives are at risk, but ultimately they defeat their opponents and make the park work. Because a park full of real, live dinosaurs would be fantastic.”

He’s not wrong! But it must be noted – In the original “Jurassic Park,” the park’s creator conducts his doomed experiment on a remote Central American island, free from the watchful eyes of the government, backed only by private investors hoping to make ends meet with his rogue technology experiment…no fortune to make completely unfamiliar circumstances.

Keep in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @DigitalFuture.

If you have received this newsletter, you can do that Sign up here. and read our mission statement here.