inventing the future by thirstysprout


Inventing The Future

The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Create It

Alan Kay is widely known as a pioneer of Silicon Valley and is well-known as a forefather of personal computing, which of course is no small title.  He understood very quickly that the computer would be a tool for the creative as much as the practical, and is responsible for creating prototypes of products that have yet to be perfected, decades before many other people were even thinking or considering of them.  He has a saying that he uses often, that people should be trying to “go to the future and bring it back to the present”.  It’s easy to see how that is much easier than it sounds.

It should be noted that Alan Kay understands that human beings have their limitations. There is one important context that many people seem to forget about: the time that they live in.  For example, Henry Ford was able to change the entire world through his approach to creating automobiles.  It is widely recognized that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the smartest men that has ever lived – but he wasn’t able to create a single automobile.  Henry Ford, while not considered one of the greatest minds – was therefore born in the perfect time for his particular achievements.  This goes to show that the knowledge that a culture has provides the context for a human being’s achievements. 

Many people have high IQs in their particular sector, class, or group of people – but they cannot achieve what many other less intelligent people can achieve by working together, especially when you add to the fact that they may have more resources or knowledge at their disposal.  In this way, inventing the “future” becomes about what knowledge is accessible to people at the time.  This may sound elementary or obvious, but is important when it comes to technology, since the information, knowledge, and contexts that we are accumulating has never occurred this quickly in history.

Every generation has intelligent people, that can achieve extraordinary things.  There are many circumstances that contribute to whether they are able to achieve this – however.  They need the proper network of people to get certain objectives accomplished, and then need proper funding to ensure that their ideas become executed.  This means that the future can only be invented by how far a certain revolutionary individual can create a way to “go into the future” meaning, obtain the funding and necessary team to think that far enough into the future to “bring it back”.

The bottom line is that every generation has a cultural outlook that they take for granted as “reality”.  Before agriculture, human beings were hunter-gatherers.  There could have been someone with the IQ of Leonardo Da Vinci, but it was impossible for him or her to accomplish anything, as they were concerned with hunting and gathering resources, and making sure that they survive.  For many centuries, human beings were simply concerned with “coping” and “surviving”, and that was their reality.  Of course, these individuals would never think about “inventing the future”, because they were too busy trying to make sure that their physical health was intact.

Of course, agriculture made it so that humans were able to use the land around them to provide them with much-needed resources.  As a result, “surviving” didn’t become the number one objective, and human beings could be concerned with how to make the world better, whether it’s through commerce, art, culture, science, or other realms.

It is easy to see that cavemen were not concerned with the invention of the telephone, but it is impossible to imagine the modern world without the smartphone today.  The bottom line is that we now live in a reality where billions of people live, and many are not concerned with “surviving”, but having a career, and building a personal and professional life.  They live in a world with a context of all sorts of scientific and mathematical knowledge that did not exist centuries earlier.

Even with the modern machine, one can argue that we are very much still in the beginning stages of technology.  People like Alan Kay believe that in order to invent the future, we need to examine and criticize current technology to find ways to truly improve it.  We have achieved all sorts of important milestones, whether it is switching history from an oral to a written tradition, or from a society that never created a law, to establishing a legal system.  We must be able to think outside of the box to truly create the kind of future that we deserve.  The best minds of our generation are limited by the context, but are going to have to learn to attempt to think outside of it, the same way that a great mind like Leonardo Da Vinci was able to come up with concepts that at the time were not truly understood at all.  It isn’t simply about intelligence, but is about working together.  Elon Musk could not come up with his ideas without the historical context that he was born into, or finding people that believed in him enough to fund his ideas.

Often times when it comes to startups, people who fund them are simply awarding money to great minds, without being sure of whether they are able to think enough about problems to truly solve them.  In many ways, they are handing out gold and hoping that it doesn’t turn to lead.  The minds that can truly “invent the future” will be ones who understand that a great mind only goes so far – it takes a great mind having access to all sorts of resources to think past the historical context, and actually glimpse into the future – and bring it back into the present.  That’s how we can continue to “invent the future”.