5 Oct 2015

The Fabulous Future? - Gary Saul Morson

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:06 pm on 5 October 2015

Civil liberties will decline, technology will tell if politicians are lying and thoughts will be read simply through brain waves according to contributors to a new book about the future called The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040.

Professor Gary Saul Morson.

Professor Gary Saul Morson. Photo: Northwestern University Press

While the book repeats an exercise in prediction undertaken by Fortune Magazine in 1955, one of the book’s editors, Professor Gary Saul Morson from Northwestern University, says the 2015 edition is different. “They had the smartest people around talk about whatever they wanted to. We asked people to stick to their specialty. No matter what you’re an expert in, you think you are an expert in everything."

Morson says both books are a reflection of their time. In 1955 experts predicted that nuclear energy would change everything. “Energy will be too cheap to meter. It will be free like the air and there will be no need to burn fossil fuels”. “They thought mail would be delivered by intercontinental missile. That shows you what they didn’t think of, the information revolution."

There is no mention of civil rights, women’s rights or birth control by the contributors in 1955. “Both the social and the technological changes in family life and the status of women were simply not visible” Morson says. “How could they not have seen that? And it makes me wonder what social changes are we now about to undergo.”

Former US negotiator with North Korea, Robert L. Gallucci, raises the possibility of  'Black Swans' in the book.   “These are events that are unlikely to happen, so unlikely you can’t foresee them, but when they seem inevitable” explains Morson.  "[Gallucci] came up with possibility that  terrorist would set off nuclear bombs simultaneously in four American cities  as a way to  really the way to demoralize the population."

Co-editors Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro on the Chicago Tonight TV  programme.

Co-editors Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro on the Chicago Tonight TV programme. Photo: Northwestern University Press

Concerns about eroding civil liberties are raised in the book along with the ability to read thoughts through brain waves. “What is left of what it is to be human at all if you are not private in your own head?” Morson wonders. “Even if they are well intentioned to start with somebody is going to misuse it sooner or later”.

Right or wrong, Morson believes looking at the future tells us something about our world today.

Professor Gary Saul Morson spoke to Jesse Mulligan about The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040.

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