September 22, 2012
The world of tomorrow is going to be a dark and sinister place, according to a group of Air Force futurists. One reason why it’ll be so scary: Facebook.
In an foreboding web video entitled “Welcome to 2035…the Age of Surprise,” produced by the U.S. Air Force’s Center for Strategy and Technology, the pace of human advancement races forward ever faster until the distinction between man and machine all but disappears and the dangers to those cyborgs are omnipresent. Social media, apparently, is a major step on the road to this dystopia.
The video is part of a USAF-led effort called “Blue Horizons,” which is tasked with producing a series of annual reports to attempt to predict the future’s technology. Blue Horizons tries to determine what air, space and cyberspace will look like in the next 20 years or so. It seeks to anticipate how the technology will change and who will have access to emerging technologies. But given their predictions, you’d be forgiven if you came away from the video with an impulsive need to burn your iPhone, deactivate your Facebook account and soberly promise never to go on YouTube again — wait, can I fit all that in a tweet?
The video sets the mood with a rather somber Einstein quote: “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” Then it charts the development of ever more sophisticated and terrifying technology along a curve, which begins with da Vinci in the 1500s and continues into the era of the Wright Brothers.
As the curve rises, it reaches a turning point in 1945 with the dawning of the atomic age. The A-bomb doesn’t just level cities; it increases the pace of change goes from gradual to geometric.
As it passes over the space race, the technology becomes more complex. Stealth planes fly in, cyber conflict takes its place, bio-warfare too, the curve is reaching its apex and becoming vertical. Technology is now advancing as fast as possible, the tension is palpable, what human-life-destroying technology is next on the curve? Facebook.
Wait, what? Facebook? OK, seems strange to put that in there, but we’ll let it slide as a nod to today’s technological fashion. Next on the curve we have the Chinese computer hackers that wreaked havoc in the U.S. and Europe with the “Titan Rain” online attacks. Then comes Twitter and YouTube, the iPhone and iPad — this is getting awkward now. What’s wrong with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube? This video seems to be the ramblings of an irate Luddite reminiscing of a childhood where milk was delivered each morning, wars were fought in trenches, and no one felt the need to update their friends and followers about it.
But where’s the curve going? What does Blue Horizons predict? The Air Force futurists don’t say exactly. But let’s just say there are some pictures of chips implanted into brains glowing green and red.
In fact, the group the future is ultimately kind of unknowable. “We can predict broad outlines,” the video says, “but we don’t know the ramifications.” They’re merely foreseeing that they won’t be able to foresee.
So don’t go burning your smartphones just yet (at least wait until iPhone 5 comes on sale) — 2035 is set to be an age of surprise and for us “super empowered individuals with domains” — it’s very much up for grabs. As the Futurist Thomas Frey said, “Our greatest motivation in life comes from not knowing the future.”