The Discovery Channel recently announced that it would be working with movie legend Steven Spielberg to create a new epic mini-series. Titled Future Earth, the project will give viewers a look at what the world will be like in 25, 50, and 100 years. Spielberg will collaborate with DreamWorks TV and DreamWorks Animation as well as with “leading futurists, scholars and great minds of today” to create his vision of the future. Sounds like it will be a smörgåsbord of computer graphics and special effects. To be honest though, I’m skeptical about how accurate such an “epic” mini-series is going to be. I really enjoyed Spielberg’s science fiction films (like AI and Minority Report) but they always seemed heavy on emotion and light on fact. Future Earth sounds like it will be fun to watch, but I doubt it can come close to describing what our futures will actually be like.
I just don’t think we can really predict what will happen in 100 years. Could someone in 1910 have predicted 2010 to any reasonable degree? And that was before personal computers, before nanotechnology, before the discovery of DNA. Technology is accelerating, and there will be many more developments between 2010 and 2110 than there were from 1910 to 2010. Heck, there are likely to be more technological developments in the next decade than there were in the last 100 years. Exponential growth makes creating a realistic view of the far future difficult if not impossible. Looking 25 to 50 years ahead might be more reasonable, but 100 years…we might not even be organic at that point. And Spielberg’s going to make a documentary about it?
Discovery Channel is looking to make another Planet Earth, or Life – compelling mini-series full of visual wonder and exploration. I’m sure we’ll get that, but such pomp falls far short of explaining just how much we, as a species, could change in 100 years. Let’s forget for the moment that such mainstream visions of the future so often take a linear view of technology and not an exponential one. We’re going to get story, not futurism, because Spielberg is in the business of creating compelling narratives, and he’s one of the best. Yet it’s the details that surround the narrative that really have the chance to affect our world. The central plot of Minority Report revolved around precognitive psychics, but it’s the computer interfaces from that movie that are being developed today. Will Future Earth give us another enjoyable story that misses the real focus of how technology is growing? Probably so. But maybe I’m wrong. There’s always a chance that those “great minds of today” will help Spielberg present a future where accelerating technologies have guided our society into a new way of living that is outside our ability to fully understand. Either way, I’m sure I’ll end up watching it. I mean, c’mon, you can’t miss a Spielberg.
[image credits: DreamWorks via Wikicommons]
[source: Discovery Channel press release]