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What future do we want – and deserve? Questions for the places, politics and pleasures of the hereafter
Where are we headed – and what will the journey be like? How do we deal with rapid change, how can we make more deliberate decisions – and how do we ensure we’re even included in that process?
In this session, Cory Doctorow, Adam Liaw, Kristin Alford and Maggie Ryan Sandford explore the changing technologies, social dynamics and global circumstances behind what’s coming next.
As children, what did the panellists picture the future would look like? 'The Jetsons,' says Adam Liaw. 'It was technologically-based, but the characters and their motivations were all the same. Technology facilitated things, but it didn't change the people that we were. I don't think people anticipate themselves changing when they think about the future. They always think that surroundings change but people stay the same – and that's what The Jetsons showed, I think.'
Kristin Alford anticipated the future (now, the present) would be an overwhelmingly solar-powered one, while Maggie Ryan Sandford envisioned human-animal telepathy, 'especially with whales'.
Cory Doctorow, meanwhile, notes that the first taste he had of the concept of 'The Future' occurred when his father returned from watching video footage of Doug Engelbart's 'Mother of All Demos' back in the 1970s (in which Engelbart demonstrated a proof-of-concept of hypertext, video conferencing, the computer mouse and word processing). 'The thing that engelbart’s vision didn’t have, and the thing that surprised me, and the lesson I’ve taken with me since then is the notion that all complex ecosystems have parasite,' says Doctorow. The Doug Engelbart future was the Epcot Centre future, it was the Jetsons future, it was very clean. It didn’t have 419 Nigerian scammers, and it didn’t have griefers who take over your webcam exploiting a zero day, capture incidental nude footage and then threaten to expose it on your MySpace account unless you perform live sex acts on your webcam for them. All that stuff that turned out to actually be in the future was missing from the Doug Engelbart – the people were missing around the edges. That, I think, was the collision of the future we anticipated and the future we got.'
Listen to the full discussion, featuring digressions on the future of food, trend forecasting, and the uneasy balance to be found between optimism and pessimism when it comes to predicting what comes next.
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger – the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of Walkaway, a novel for adults, a YA graphic novel called In Real Life, the nonfiction business book Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, and young adult novels like Homeland, Pirate Cinema and Little Brother and novels for adults like Rapture of the Nerds and Makers. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate, is a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Open University and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.
Adam Liaw is a unique voice in Australian food. He is a food columnist for Fairfax and the Guardian, and the author of four hugely popular cookbooks on Asian cuisines. On television, Adam hosts the SBS food and travel program, Destination Flavour, now in its fourth season. He was the winner of MasterChef Australia’s blockbuster second series in 2010. He is also a qualified lawyer.
Kristin Alford is a futurist and founding director of foresight agency Bridge8 with a PhD in process engineering and a Masters of Management in Strategic Foresight. Her clients include government, corporate and non-for-profits where she builds capability to think and act effectively in response to big social, environmental and technological changes. She was an organiser and facilitator for the Australian Academy of Sciences project imagining Australia in 2050. Other initiatives have included crowdfunding ideas that don't make sense and running a symposium on time with a start time of 4:42am. She is currently writing a book on five ways to see the future.
Maggie Ryan Sandford is a science journalist, fiction and comedy writer, and human behavior researcher at the Science Museum of Minnesota, whose work focuses on equity in science education, the relationship between science and art, and cetaceans. With a background in broadcast radio and TV production, sketch comedy, English literature, and biology, her work has appeared in Slate, Smithsonian, McSweeney’s, ComedyCentral.com, mental_floss, National Geographic, the Walker Art Center and Seattle Art Museum, onstage at the People's Improv and Upright Citizen's Brigade theaters in New York, and on the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. She is currently at work on a book about dolphins.
Michael Williams is the Director of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne. He has worked at the Wheeler Centre since inception in 2009, when he was hired as the Head of Programming before being appointed as Director in September 2011.
He has hosted Blueprint for Living (2015–2016), then Talkfest (2017–2019), on ABC RN. He remains a regular guest on ABC Radio and TV. Michael has also worked as a Breakfast presenter for Melbourne’s 3RRR, as a member of the Australia Council’s Literature Board, in publishing and has written extensively for the Guardian, the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian and elsewhere.