Is This The Future You Were Hoping For?

Gussi Frarrevi
May 27, 2020 · 7 min read

Are your knees wobbling right now? Wait a minute…

Tetsuya Ishida (1996)

“We are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure…” George Orwell

Let’s do a little exercise in imagination.

If you are old enough, you will be able to do it without any problem, because you will only have to remember a little.

Let’s go back 40 years, to the early 80s.

To those times when most phones still had wheel dials.

When good music was heard on vinyl records. You had to take care of like gold in cloth so they wouldn’t get scratched, or on cassettes that you could rewind with a pen.

There were times when you had to go to a friend’s house to see his face and when the car windows were rolled down with a crank.

Times when you had to go to the cinema to see a new film and when there were only two TV channels, which in many houses were still in black and white.

Times when the most advanced video game consisted of 2 vertical white sticks and a dot that moved from one side of the screen to the other.

Times when having a digital watch with a calculator made you feel like an astronaut wearing an atomic device on your wrist.

A time when the word “computer” referred to rudimentary devices like the Spectrum or the Commodore 64, where writing a simple text became an endless adventure.

If you have lived through it, you have certainly not been able to forget it.

Well, visualize that you are there again.

And now imagine that you are approached by someone who, someone alienated, claiming to come from 2020´s and who has travelled in time to warn you about the amazing future that awaits the world.

Someone who’s spouting a bunch of incredible nonsense.

For example, he claims that within a few decades all citizens will be connected to a vast network of computers that will control every aspect of their lives without them noticing or being able to prevent it.

He tells you that the wombs of these cyber-brains will house the data and mechanisms on which the functioning of virtually everything in the world will depend, and that without being connected to these machines, you will barely be able to live in society.

Can you imagine if someone had told you something like that when the closest thing you had seen to a computer was a jalopy that laboriously reads four measly pieces of data from a cassette tape?

I’m sure you would have thought:

“What’s this crazy guy saying? A future where Commodore 64 will run everything and control our lives?” That’s bullshit! We’ll never reach that level of dependency. Besides, what would happen if the power went out? And in any case, we would never become so dependent on computers, because we could surely unplug them whenever we wanted to”…

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

But the paranoid one doesn’t stop there and goes on with his crazy speech.

He tells you that computers will replace the human being himself when it comes to making money, making decisions for themselves. That all those triumphant, hunkered-down, gummed-down brokers who fill the Wall Street stock market will be irrelevant and that computers will buy and sell millions of stocks in just fractions of a second, without any of them even being able to complain.

“Let the machines do the business? What do they like to play at buying and selling to these people? Nonsense” – you would have thought – “Besides, who put those machines there to do their job?”

“For they themselves”- the madman who is alienated answers.

This is when you would have laughed in his face: “Haha, but man, how can you say such nonsense?”

But the apocalyptic discourse of that subject who claims to know the future, seems never to end.

He claims that in a couple of decades all the world’s phone calls will be instantly listened to, recorded and analyzed by those computerized brains, to the point that they will be able to interpret everything that is said on the phone, in all languages and without direct supervision by any human being, with the aim of monitoring each and every one of the inhabitants of the planet.

Can you imagine the look on your face? I’m sure you would have thought:

“Why would anyone want to spend so much money and effort to know what I say on the phone? Or to listen to the nonsense my aunt says, who’s always gossiping about the neighborhood? This man is crazy… What’s the point of thinking about a future like this?”

But that madman’s futuristic outbursts continue.

Shaky warns you that in 30–40 years you won’t be able to walk around the city ten meters without passing under the scrutinizing eye of a surveillance camera connected to one of those computers.

He tells you in alarm that in cities like London there will be over half a million cameras watching the city center, monitoring the movements of all citizens.

If you’d been told that, the response would have been automatic:

“Wow, man, like Hal-9000, in the movie 2001, who looks at you with that red-eye, hahaha… but man, why would they want to watch us on the street? Does it make any sense that they put cameras to see how normal people like me go from here to there? To see how my mother goes shopping at the market or how my sister leaves school with grandma? What nonsense! Besides, the money that a camera costs… do you think they’ll spend it to do things like that?”

But that alienated guy continues with his dislocations…

Now you can see that those cameras, just by watching you go by, will be able to recognize your face, know who you are, what your name is, and where you live, without the intervention of any person. And they will also analyze your facial expressions, your movements and your body temperature so that if you have a suspicious attitude the police will be able to hold you and interrogate you without you having done anything.

Such nonsensical claims would have made your response visceral:

“Stop reading science fiction novels, you fool! How can the people of the future allow themselves to be arrested just for the face they make? No one will ever allow such a thing! All the people would go out and demonstrate and there would be riots! If someone were to propose such a thing, the streets would burn on all sides!”

That’s when the crazy guy, with his eyes out of joint, tells you about the killer robots.

Robot planes that are sent halfway around the world without a pilot to bomb villages where only poor people live.

Airborne robots capable of scanning the terrain with their infrared eyes, looking for a specific vehicle, reading its license plate and destroying it with a missile without the driver being able to detect its presence.

He tells you about swarms of those planes that are being created to patrol alone and choose their own targets.

He tells you about tiny robot insects that watch with cameras and are capable of stinging you and injecting you with deadly poison.

Also, madmen tells you that the best engineers and scientists in the world are working on developing all these technologies that focus on destruction and mass population control and that’s when the tears come down and you think, definitely, that it’s completely insane.

“What! Is that what scientists will do in the future?” What nonsense! If the magazines say that by the year 2020 science will have advanced so far that it will have ended cancer and almost all diseases and that thanks to scientific and technological advances there will already be colonies established on the Moon and Mars!”

“Well, no”, says this dangerous lunatic, “Science and governments are dedicating their greatest efforts to everything I have told you: killer robots, computers that control everything, massive surveillance, microwave weapons… cancer continues to roam free, on the Moon we have not set foot again and on Mars we only send carts that send precarious and confusing pictures. As we cure diseases, new ones appear… not only have we not eradicated harmful bacteria, but they are getting stronger. No one has stopped malaria, which continues to kill 2 million poor people a year, and despite all the social struggles, the rich in the world are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. But don’t worry, in the year 2020 they say they will soon legalize the use of cannabis so that we can all relax. That’s the future that awaits you.”

Be honest with yourself. Can you imagine if someone had warned you about something like that 40 years ago?

You would have called him crazy and paranoid. You would have told him that he watches too many movies and is a madman who believes in crazy conspiracy theories.

Well, now let’s do the second part of the exercise: go back to the present and imagine that someone from the future comes and talks to you about what the world will be like in 40 years.

Are your knees wobbling right now?