Can Futurism Escape the 1990s?

Illustration for article titled Can Futurism Escape the 1990s?

A new transhumanist magazine, H+, has just hit the ether and is packed with stories about implantable information technology, longevity drugs, and the importance of preparing for a near future where humans take control of their own evolution. The cover is of a hot CGI babe sporting reprogrammable makeup and a lip stud that is also her PDA. Why does this future look almost exactly like the future that we were predicting back in 1992? Partly that's because the magazine was created by R.U. Sirius, writer and co-founder of 90s futurist mag Mondo 2000, whose 20-year-old ideas about a posthuman tomorrow still feel relevant. Is futurism stuck in the past? A better question might be whether tomorrow has simply receded into the distance. Though futurist Ray Kurzweil's recent book proclaimed that "the singularity is near," and H+ promises us implantable cell phones, endless life, and AIs as if they're right around the corner, we've been waiting for these developments to come to fruition for some time now. It's not really looking as if the near future holds posthuman babes in solar hoodies. That future seemed just as close in the mid-90s, which tells us more about the endurance of our desire for it than it does about its likelihood of coming to pass. Sirius' ideas are still fresh because people still want them to happen. So our hopes for the future haven't changed much, but the timeline for that future has. We won't have longevity drugs in time to extend our lives, or the lives of the futurists we love. We aren't going to become cyborgs in the year 2000. Maybe these things will come to pass in a century or more, unless the futurists who built the population collapse scenario game Superstruct are right and humanity doesn't make it to 2100. With the so-called singularity looking farther and farther away, it's time to prepare for the real future. A future where we might not become glamorous, but we might slowly figure out how to prevent a few more diseases that mutate our genomes. Maybe we won't cure death, but we might cure a few kinds of cancer. Maybe we won't have implantable mobile phones, but we might figure out how to bring most of the African continent online. I guess what I'm saying is that the future might look more like a person in jeans rather than a hottie in face jewelry. Dream about the hottie all you want, but plan to wear jeans. You can read the entire first issue of H+ for free online here.

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DISCUSSION

Corpore Metal

There always seems to one or two iconic, futurist magazines (or now, subscription sites.) for every decade. My prection? In the Teens we'll see Yet Another Hip Futurist Medium that will make H+ look kind of stodgy and square.

This is what always happens. A new technology is deployed and a lot of hype is generated. The technology solves many problems, often in ways so powerful or subtle, that people forget such problems existed. But in creating a new world, the new technology generates new, unimaginable problems. Rinse, leather repeat.

It is definitely a better world. It will always be a better world. But it will never be perfect. History never stops. Utopia is never reached. There's always new stuff worry about tomorrow.

But at least a lot of novelty is generated and we can be proud of all the problems we've solved and will continue to solve.

Isn't that reason enough to go on?