Kevin Kelly has a good article at Wired.com about our robotic future. He writes about our ability to invent new things to do as our old activities are replaced by machines:
Before we invented automobiles, air-conditioning, flatscreen video displays, and animated cartoons, no one living in ancient Rome wished they could watch cartoons while riding to Athens in climate-controlled comfort. Two hundred years ago not a single citizen of Shanghai would have told you that they would buy a tiny slab that allowed them to talk to faraway friends before they would buy indoor plumbing. Crafty AIs embedded in first-person-shooter games have given millions of teenage boys the urge, the need, to become professional game designers—a dream that no boy in Victorian times ever had. In a very real way our inventions assign us our jobs. Each successful bit of automation generates new occupations—occupations we would not have fantasized about without the prompting of the automation.
For as crazy as these drawings of raised and floating airports are, they sort of make me wonder if we imagine big things anymore. When’s the last time you saw a rendering or drawing of an imagined future (other than the next iPhone)? Sure we have the xPrize and that sort of thing, but what about just every day crazy imaginings and excitement? Where has that energy gone? I guess a lot of the same people who would have been drawing crazy pictures of floating airports 80 years ago probably make stuff on the web … But it doesn’t seem like that can be the whole answer.
All around awesome interview with William Gibson, who seems like one of the smartest folks around. I love his answer to why he seems to romanticize articles of the past:
It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted.
It’s sort of mind-bending, but incredibly true.