what would they dream of

anticipating our future and leapfrogging it

Like most of my articles, this is more a collection of thoughts rather than a coherent concrete idea. I want this to be somewhat unintelligible because I want you to think along with me and come up with your own ideas or better yet misinterpret my words for the better of humanity.

The year is 2131. We’ve solved many social issues like poverty, isolation, and crime. We transformed our cities in the way that our 21st century ancestors imagined it.

But now how do we imagine our future? What are the most pressing issues of today?

In other words what will be the designs of our great-great-grandchildren? What utopia will they dream? What difficulties will they face?

If we solve all the issues of today, what things would our grandchildren and their great-grandchildren want to fix? I think this is one of the most important questions that we could be thinking about. If we can anticipate future problems then we might be able to fix present problems in a more complete way.

What actions can we do today which will improve the lives of billions of future people? In this year of 2020 we are still very early humans. Our actions in the next 1000 years, especially the next 100 years, will have profound effects on the future.

The simple truth is that we will be on this planet for a very long time. Even if we somehow were able to travel to Pluto in a week—right now it takes NINE YEARS with our fastest spacecraft—we would still need to overcome a few more exponential hurdles in order to get to the next star—and the most interesting stuff is about 40ly away. For comparison Pluto is about 0.0004ly away. In our fastest spacecraft it would take 100,000 years to travel 40ly. We would need a multi-generational aircraft—and even one mistake would be lethal. Although this article makes me a little bit more hopeful, I’m not sure how realistic it would actually be.

Right now the dream of terraforming Mars is just an extremely small blip in the monthly news but the longer we stay here the more it will become important to everyone—especially after we live in relative utopia (as some of us do now). It is pretty cool that there is a red planet REALLY CLOSE to us. It’s almost like the universe wants us to use it as a stepping stone. But also, there really are so few other potentially habitable planets in the local universe—so there is not much to go to once we go out there. We’d have to make land on Earth so expensive that space would be more economical. I hope that never happens because it would mean that a lot of things about our society are messed up.

The nearest black hole that we know of, HR 6819, is only about 1000ly from Earth. If it was traveling toward us in a straight line then we would have between 134,138 and 6,711,409 years before it got here depending on how fast it was going.

For now, it is more a blessing than a curse that humans only live about 65 years. Until we acknowledge that the richest and most powerful people on Earth fail to think systematically we should hope that this mortality remains possible.

The French utopian Charles Fourier (1772-1837) has probably had the greatest influence on urban thinking. His utopian city, which he called a “Phalanstery,” was composed of 300 families of five members each.Though the families had their own living units, they cooked in communal kitchens and dined together. The economic and social principles of this utopia were based on what Fourier took to be the basic emotions, which are: the need for change and variety, the love of intrigue and envy, and what he called the “composite” pleasure of uniting mind and body. Fourier thought that the need for variety would be satisfied by people taking turns doing different kinds of work and that envy could be harnessed to promote productive economic competition.

Frank Cunningham

I think in some way, the Earth and our kind will always be subject to some inequality and variance in culture. I don’t know how long the idea of a country will last but I think we will always have some sense of distinct regionality.

To some extent, there is no reason for us humans to work “better” than we did 10,000 years ago. In some ways we are still worse off by trying to improve our lives through technology.

The automobile gave many people more freedom but it also took some freedoms away. It shaped our cities in ways which caused us to become dependent on it. Many American cities are hopeless in this regard. Infrastructure will be very expensive to replace and in many places maintenance is already past due.

Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, anew life, a new civilization.

Garden Cities of Tomorrow, MIT Press, 1965, p. 48

But still, we continue to improve our cities.

If we are careful to keep a record of past decisions then city improvement will be less about trying to solve a problem by following a regional convention and more about picking a solution from a global catalog.

It is extremely encouraging that infrastructure costs are so low and can improve the lives of so many people simultaneously but it is also extremely frustrating when the politics don’t uphold their side of the system to create and improve infrastructure (mostly through negligence rather than maliciousness). Maybe the local Filipino mayor rides in his limo that he bought with embezzled funds and laments to himself about the lowly poverty of his district and cries to God at night asking him why-o-why he wasn’t born in the U.S.A. where he would’ve been a rich mayor. Instead of buying three concrete statues of yourself maybe all that money should be spent on infrastructure. The ROI per capita of balanced infrastructure is extremely high but politics doesn’t often measure ROI or at least it doesn’t often include external costs like human well-being or even externalized monetary costs. It’s no longer a good excuse that we can’t capture this data. We totally can measure subjective things in a fair way and vote by a public-key encryption cryptosystem.

There is SO much improvement that could be done even if we didn’t have any technological innovations for the next 1,000 years. We have a lot of social problems that we need to address. They won’t magically disappear with technology and, as we’ve seen, while technology has vastly improved access to knowledge and diplomatic/experiential capital, it has spoiled every other form of capital (social, monetary, cultural). We have turned beautiful markets into rotten stock exchange eggs.

Localized utopias of the new urbanists can become sterile and isolated middle-class enclaves. Critics see it as no accident that Seaside, Florida, provided the set for the dystopic town in the movie The Truman Show. Neither Jacobs nor Koolhaas rejects all planning, but it is not clear what constraints on citizen preferences and economic markets should be.

To prevent populace-driven city evolution from turning on itself, urban citizens must be informed by appropriate values. If it proves profitable, market forces can lead to stultifying homogeneity or encourage mega-projects destructive of neighbourhoods and local commerce…

Frank Cunningham

I don’t have all the answers but I think it is an interesting question that we should occasionally return to: what would they dream of?

What will be our dreams 100 years from now?

100,000 years from now?

It seems like a far-away time but it will happen. Someone 100,000 years from now might be reading this. It’s a strange thought because it seems so distant but the person reading this will likely still be on Earth. Will Earth feel like a prison? Probably not—but maybe in some very abstract sense, yes—or will the universe feel like a prison? Will we get very far? I don’t think it is likely. Sci-fi will entertain us for many centuries but eventually it might make us feel disappointed that many sci-fi things will forever be impossibility.

Eventually, the stars will go out. Eventually, the universe will grow cold. Eventually, the entire cosmos will be nothing but a frozen tundra of eternal darkness. The temperature will near absolute zero. Then the temperature will reach absolute zero. All movement, down to the very last atom, will stop.

Nothing can exist in such an environment, as there’s no energy to sustain it. We’d need to break out of our universe to survive. The chances of that happening are next to zero. Fortunately, according to work published in Physics Review D, the beginning of this Dark Era is still 10^100 years away.

So we have some time. But only some.


9,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,956 years since he said this in 1976 ;)

of course we will die a lot sooner than that but it might be fun to send some tardigrades off to other planets because they could become sentient and save us from our own doom. It’s a nice idea. Can a new tree grow if I stick a branch of it into the ground? Generally not, but there are some exceptions.