The Future of Society

Imagine a future society where climate change is no longer a threat. Where pervasive surveillance makes it near impossible to commit crimes, and far easier to catch those who do. Where generation Z are our leaders and all of us look forward with hope.

Can’t quite see it? Don’t dismiss it as fantasy just yet. This actually is the society futurist Jamais Cascio sees emerging, but only if we have the drive to bring it into the light.

Who is Jamais Cascio?

If you’re not familiar with Jamais, then this intriguing interview will have you seeking out more of his work. Thankfully there’s lots to find.

Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers, Jamais has written four books, including Hacking the Earth: Understanding the Consequences of Geoengineering, and has spoken on everything from emerging technologies to environmental dilemmas.

His ideas for building a more resilient society have been published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and Metropolis among others.

When Mike met Jamais

Mike sat down with Jamais to contemplate the future of society in 2018 at the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley, where Jamais works as a research fellow.

‘I love that this institute even exists’, Mike reflected. ‘It’s a place to cast your mind into the future on a horizon of 10 or more years. This founding principle really resonates with me, particularly today as we face some of the greatest challenges of the century. I find looking forward gives me more hope than dwelling on the present or looking back to the past’.

First things first, is Jamais really optimistic about the future of society?

While Jamais predicts the future will get worse before it gets better, he is ultimately an optimist. In fact, he says we already have the tools to solve the major problems of our time. It’s no longer about answering a question – what we need to come up with is a way to implement positive change. 

But shouldn’t we be worried about all this surveillance technology?

Jamais says his default answer is “yes, we should always be worried”. He explains that we’re currently developing technology that will essentially give us the capability to use manipulating software on videos to make it seem that a person has done something … that they didn’t do. Sounds a bit like ‘fake news’, doesn’t it? Mike thought so too.

And for the ordinary, anonymous individual such doctoring might not be too harmful. But what if it was used for economic or political purposes?

Jamais concedes that the only true antidote to this technology is to heighten public surveillance. This would mean introducing more and more cameras in public – and private – spaces to monitor and capture our actions from every angle. In this scenario, he considered that surveillance could actually become a form of self-defence.

Wait, doesn’t that also mean the end of privacy?

Jamais says that privacy won’t become an outdated concept per se, but we will need to redefine it. From Jamais’ perspective, privacy is the ability to decide who gets to know and see things about you, and less about keeping information secret.

He uses credit cards as an example. Most of us would say that we want to keep these numbers private, but if they were truly ‘hidden’, we wouldn’t be able to spend so liberally online.

When it comes down to it, privacy is about controlling who gets to have access to your data. Jamais says this interpretation will eventually form how we regulate surveillance too. CCTV won’t be turned off, but subjects will be afforded more control over what happens to the information that is captured.

Let’s switch gears. How does climate change fit into the future of society?

Jamais says the social and political reaction to climate change is what worries him most when it comes to harnessing a aspirational future for our society. Partly because the actions we are finally taking won’t come into full effect for several decades, but also because the global warming we are seeing now is caused by the carbon that was put into the atmosphere in the 1970s. 

The lag between doing the right thing and seeing positive results is staggering and is why we have been resisting climate action for far too long.

Is the future of society safe in the next generation’s hands?

This is a sentiment that Jamais summarised beautifully when Mike asked him, ‘What gives you hope?’ His response?

‘People born after the year 2000 – young people – that gives me hope’.

To this, Mike (and all of us) says, ‘Here, here’,

The future of society is brighter than your think

Jamais confirms that a shining future society is possible, but we will need plenty of patience to see it through. Benefits won’t be seen immediately, but they will be seen. He goes so far as to say that utopia might be on the cards,  but we need to find a way to steer towards it.

This is such a hopeful conversation that touches on everything from the Y2K myth to inspiring comic books. You can watch it in full here or head to the Futurists.World podcast for the extended audio edition.

Before you go, we need to ask you something…

We’re here to make a change, but we need your help.

The purpose of this series is to move humanity forward, think bigger and cast our minds into the future.

The best conversations happen now so please, get involved, share the love and leave a comment below.


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