Visualizing the Future


Gray Scott | The Futurist

From printable foods to rights for robots, science fiction and science fact are becoming harder to distinguish. Both begin with pictures in the mind’s eye.

What if visualization, imagination, and art could change the future? Life imitates art, and life is now imitating science fiction.

Visualize this. Imagine a time in the future filled with “magical” technologies. Vertical farms, teleportation of 3-D printable food, and advanced biotechnology have eradicated hunger around the world. Age reversal has become possible, and human longevity has reached several hundred years. Automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and the new age of advanced self-replicating robots have freed humanity of the archaic idea of work. The word “job” has vanished from the human lexicon. Humans now spend their time in pursuit of higher realms of artistic, cognitive, and scientific exploration.

Imagine a future where we have become a multi-planetary species, with colonies on Mars, Titan, and Europa. Rumors of the first successful time-travel jump are circulating, and humanity finalizes its constitution of “Rules and Ethics of Time Travel.” Teleportation of people and goods has become common, and we are on the verge of becoming interstellar beings. We are projecting our consciousness into the cosmos. We are dancing among the stars.

Sexbots have begun to demand digital rights, voting rights, and the right to unionize. Pure-bio women are electing to use artificial wombs to birth their babies, and an entire generation of women never know what natural childbirth is like.

Advanced robotics and biotechnology in the future have allowed humans to create personal DNA replicant robots, known as clonebotsThese clonebots act as representatives in our absence and have the same rights as the original human. Clonebots have been capped at three per person, except for celebrities, who can pay a clonebot tax for each additional clonebot. The rigid membrane of personhood begins to become more porous in the future. Man and machine have become almost indistinguishable, and we have become transhuman.

This future is a post-privacy age of total cooperative and holistic transparency. Digitally assisted telepathy and brain–computer interface devices have forced hackers, corporations, and governments to drop the veil of anonymity. Nationalism is a thing of the past. The concept of the individual is rejected in many cultures in favor of digital hive mind. Freed from the burdens of maintaining the needs of the individual self, humanity begins to develop at an astonishing rate. Like any other evolutionary process, the future is becoming more complex.

Fiction or Fact? Dystopia Or Utopia?

This future visualization I have just described may sound like science fiction to most people outside of the futures and foresight field, but the fact is, technologists and scientists around the world at this very moment are trying to make these futures a reality. Is this future visualization the future we want for ourselves?

For some, the visualization described above may sound like a dreadful dystopian nightmare, but for others, it may sound like a true utopia. Governments, philosophers, and universities will be debating these scenarios for years. Wars will rage over what direction to proceed into the future, but one thing remains: The future begins to form by visualizing what we want, what we prefer, and what we fear. As philosopher Alan Watts once said, “Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”

Today, science fiction and science fact are becoming hard to distinguish. Science-fiction writers must almost play in the realm of fantasy to be ahead of our current science. Every new headline sounds like a parody or an April Fools’ joke. I often find myself checking the research from major news sources just to confirm that the stories are real. It feels as if we are slipping faster and faster into the future.

So where do these future ideas emerge from? What is the connection between visualization and the material world? Can we use the power of future visualization to influence our future?

I was first introduced to the concept of future visualization by a private art instructor—a gifted woman in her 60s with an amazing eye for light, color, and design. She talked of seasonal color and light reflected on hard surfaces. She talked of perception, contrast, and the mind’s eye. During our second session together, she leaned in over my shoulder to see what I was sketching and said, “You must see the finished image in your mind first. If you can’t visualize it in your mind’s eye, you will never be able to paint it.”

She asked the students to stop drawing, close our eyes, and “see” the image in our minds’ eyes. I had never heard of the mind’s eye. I had no idea what she was referring to. She began to lead us into a guided visualization. I had never consciously sat and visualized beforehand a picture in my mind. Suddenly, as she was talking, I was able to control the light in the landscape. I could move the sun around. I could change the elevation of the mountains and turn the sky into deep shades of gold and purple. I could see the sunlight reflecting off the water of a brisk stream. I could see the leaves twisting in the fall wind. I began to “see” the finished picture in my mind in vivid detail. She finished the guided visualization and said, “Open your eyes and draw what you see.”

Her words and this act of visualization changed the course of my life forever. I was 10 years old. Little did either of us know at the time, but she had just taught me to become a futurist. From that moment forward, I have used future visualization to see the outcome I prefer in my personal, professional, and social life. I have used it to visualize better future scenarios.

The best predictor of future visualization is past visualization—sort of. Most innovators, artists, and futurists know a great secret: To change the world, you need to see things in a new way. You must turn the world on its head and invert the status quo. We must travel into undiscovered territories of the mind and become a student of risk. Seek out the underdog and find out everything they know. Study the geometry in nature. Look for the hidden connections in every obscure pattern. This undiscovered cosmos of information is all around us, and it is the key to visualizing the future we prefer.

To visualize our future, we must bravely dialogue with our unconscious minds. We must jump off high intellectual ledges into the primal darkness. Not everyone will do this work and not everyone can survive this work, but if we ever hope to become an evolved species worthy of interstellar travel, our cosmos will accept nothing less. Black holes and supernovas be damned, we must visualize ourselves living long and prospering.

It is this counterintuitive approach to the future that has given us great technological advancements, brilliant minds, and visionary leaders. But now we face a world in great peril. The climate is a mess, our oceans are reaching toxic tipping points, and our children are mass murdering each other in schools around the world. How do we teach future visualization, bravery, and innovation to our children? How do we help our friends, clients, and parents to understand this process?

The best way is to develop programs, classes, and workshops based on preferred future visualization. Why should we accept poverty, pollution, and hunger as realities that cannot be changed? Why not teach our children to visualize futures they want? Most inner-city children have never been asked to visualize a utopian future for themselves. Sure, we ask them what college they want to attend, what they want to be when they grow up, and how much money they want to make. But when do we give them the freedom to visualize their very own utopia and then ask them to go out and make it happen? Why do we limit our imaginations when we now know that science fiction and fantasy are becoming realities?

The future will be built in the imagination of the brave people who believe anything is possible.

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