Following in the foot-steps of Condorcet, the futurologist of today has turned a trained scientist. His forecasts have little to do with clairvoyance or guesswork. Instead they are based on deductive reasoning as present trends are combined with past developments, before making forecasts.
The futurologist must also take the errors made by his predecessors into consideration. However, predictions of the futurologist are vulnerable to certain factors. War, for instance, is a factor that could change a futurologist’s forecast as it influences, for better or worse, the economies of the countries involved.
Some scientists employ the Delphi Method- named after the ancient Greek oracle-with a group for researchers pooling their findings and theories to come up with a crystallised version of a not-too-distant possibility. Some have gone as far as to predict the possibility of growing new limbs through use of drugs by 2010, control over the aging process by 2025 and a permanent base in the Mars by the year 2050.
The study of possible future scenarios can also help place present problems in perspective. For example, if the world of the future is assumed to have abundant energy and raw material resources, the present energy crisis may be viewed as a transitory phase. On the downside, a pessimistic view may prevail, wherein the present day industrial progress appears as a prelude to ecological disaster.
Kahn has been charting out both positive and negative scenarios of the future. While forecasting stable populations, rising standards of living and unlimited energy resources over the next two centuries, he also paints a picture of an overpopulated world with depleted resources and a situation of uncertainty and crisis.
In the past, futurologists have made fairly accurate predictions. For instance, they had well foreseen that man would set foot on the moon and that artificial hearts and organ transplants would be used to prolong human lives.
Futurologists are confident that the man of the future will be able to farm the oceans just as efficiently as he now farms lands. Among other projections are elimination of birth defects through genetic engineering, designed brain modifications, memory pills and psychological control through electronics. Futurologists have also predicted the development of a car that will drive itself, once the destination has been fed into its computers.
Arthur Clarke, scientist and author of many best selling science fiction books says’- “We may someday learn to control gravity and the family home may float from one continent to another, and it may be possible to exactly reproduce human beings in laboratories.”
Although these possibilities remain beyond the scope of today’s science, they may not be as fantastic as they seem. One must remember the scepticism that greeted ideas like the atom bomb and space travel which are very real today.
One scientist had said of the bomb’ “It is the biggest fool thing that we have ever done,” and went on to predict that it would never explode. Space travel was also dismissed as “utter bilge” by scientists.
Today, futurologists are busy charting future scenarios with present day crises on their minds. Overpopulation and lack of sufficient food and living space are some of the problems that concern them.
Only the future can tell whether futurologists will be proved right… or wrong.