FUTURIST UPDATE: Year’s Best Stories about the Future

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Futurist Update, Year-End Special


This year THE FUTURIST featured the writing of inventor Ray Kurzweil, management futurist Paul Saffo, science fiction author Brenda Cooper, environmentalist and MacAuthur Fellow Lester Brown, nanotechnology pioneer K. Eric Drexler and roboticist and TED fellow Rodney Brooks, among many other of today’s most creative and analytic minds.


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Without further ado, here are the most popular stories we published in 2013.



Disappearing Futures

Smartphones may have a more limited future than you think (or hope) today. And the stores we buy them in could also disappear by 2030. Doctors and schools could go, too. But so might intolerance, insecurity, and other problems, according to contributors to this special crowdsourced report. Read more.

Food, Fuel, and the Global Land Grab

By Lester R. Brown

Growing demand for food and fuel has put pressure on the world’s agricultural lands to produce more. Now, a trend in “land grabbing” has emerged, as wealthy countries lease or buy farms and agribusiness in poorer countries to ensure their own future supplies. The result may be further economic disparities and even “food wars.” Read more.

Connecting with Our Connected World

By Richard Yonck

We can only really communicate with a tiny fraction of our personal and global environment. But our world and our experience of it are poised to change dramatically as everything becomes increasingly interconnected. Here’s what we can expect in the coming era of the “Internet of Things.” Read more.

A Radical Future for Nanotechnology

K. Eric Drexler

The father of the concept of “nanotechnology” shows how the goals of atomically precise manufacturing got sidetracked and where its future really is. With technologies enabling us to make things with lower costs and less resource consumption, we could all live in a radically abundant world. Read more.

Mapping the Future with Big Data

By Patrick Tucker

A little-known California company called Esri offers a “Facebook for Maps” that promises to change the way we interact with our environment, predict behavior, and make decisions in the decades ahead. Read more.

Pop Goes the Algorithm

By Christopher Steiner

When musicians like Norah Jones and Maroon 5 are “discovered” by a machine, it may be time to listen to the algorithms. But will engineers’ formulas make all music sound formulaic? A tech journalist describes how bots are not just picking the next great musical hits—they’re reaching for the musical stars. Read more.

Robots at Work: Toward a Smarter Factory

By Rodney Brooks

Many fear that a robotic takeover of manufacturing jobs will keep humans out of work. But one inventor shows how tomorrow’s manufacturing robots will be smaller, smarter, and co-worker friendly—and they’ll let manufacturers stop chasing around the world for low-wage workers. Read more.

Building a Quantum Computer

By Geordie Rose

We are changing the way we build machines, so we may soon be able to build machines that are more like us. Read more.

How to Make a Mind

By Ray Kurzweil

Can nonbiological brains have real minds of their own? In this article, drawn from his latest book, futurist/inventor Ray Kurzweil describes the future of intelligence—artificial and otherwise. Read more.

How Innovation Could Save the Planet

By Ramez Naam

Ideas may be our greatest natural resource, says a computer scientist and futurist. He argues that the world’s most critical challenges—including population growth, peak oil, climate change, and limits to growth—could be met by encouraging innovation. Read more.

Science and a New Kind of Prediction: An Interview with Stephen Wolfram

Better living through data? When a pioneer of data collection and organization turned his analytical tools on himself, he revealed the complexity of automating human judgment and the difficulty of predicting just what is predictable. Read more.

Futurists Explore the Next Horizon

By Rick Docksai

Bold ideas about humanity’s future went on full display at the World Future Society’s annual conference. Approximately 700 attendees debated game-changing developments like self-driving cars and 3-D printers, and speculated on where our world is heading and how it might get there. Read more.

2013 Futurist Magazine Blog Standouts

The Futurist Magazine’s Top Ten Forecasts for 2014 and Beyond

By Patrick Tucker

Every year, the editors of the Futurist magazine identify the most provocative forecasts and statements about the future that we’ve published recently and we put them to into an annual report called “Outlook.” And every year, we attempt to identify the ten forecasts from that report that paint the most compelling picture of the future as it exists right now. Read more.

Thirty (Plus) Ways The Internet of Things is Changing the World

By Daniel Castro

The “Internet of Things” refers to the concept that the Internet is no longer just a global network for people to communicate with one another using computers, but it is also a platform for devices to communicate electronically with the world around them. Read more.

Hi, I’m a Robot and I’m Here To Take Your Job

By Thomas Frey

A common fallacy is that people are being replaced by machines. The reality is that machines don’t work without humans. A more accurate description is that a large number of people are being replaced by a smaller number of people using machines. Read more.

Investing in the Future of Regenerative Medicine

By James Lee

Spray-on skin. Lab-grown ears. Human tissue grown in a petri dish. We’re going deep into sci-fi territory (and it is already happening). Read more.

Scenarios for the Future of Urban Farming

By Freija Van Duijne

Over many centuries, attempts have been made to get food production out of the cities. Produce comes from the land and is transported into the cities. In most western cities, abattoirs have disappeared. Markets are still there, but no longer have a central role in our shopping. Read more.

Star Trek Into Darkness: Eye Candy For The Amygdala

By Gray Scott

Yes, this is another Hollywood blockbuster depicting a dystopian future with big explosions and small innovations. However, the first ten minutes are worth the price of the ticket. I was pleasantly surprised to see J.J. Abrams using the Ancient Aliens theory and a huge wink to author Zecharia Sitchin’s work in the opening scene located on the fictional (depending on who you ask) world of Nibiru. Read more.

The Principles of Extropy: A Quarter Century Later

By Jose Cordeiro

“Extropy” is celebrating its first quarter of a century. The idea was formally introduced as a philosophy of the future in 1988, and many things have happened from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. A new millennium has been born and the philosophy of extropy is well-suited for these new times of accelerating change, full of challenges and opportunities. Read more.

A New World Culture Without Limits?

By Dan Abelow

For the past 10,000 years, the long wave of human history has been like a gentle swell, until about 200 years ago when the Industrial Revolution began. During those thousands of years – and today – our greatest obstacle is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge, the certainty that we know the world we live in. Read more.

Lines in the Sand over Synthetic Turf

By Rick Docksai

Green grass is turning out to be a very controversial subject—specifically, the merits of synthetic grasses such as Astroturf versus live “natural” grassy fields. More cities and towns than ever have been stocking up on the synthetic variety in the last few years for sports fields, stadiums, and even front lawns. Read more.

The Nine Kinds of Bad Futurists (NOT an exhaustive list)


By Alf Rehn

I’m not that taken with futurists. It’s not that I dislike all of them, not at all. I admire some futurists greatly, and others I see as consummate professionals. In fact, I even call some of them friends. Still, there are many people out there calling themselves futurists that I haven’t any time for, for I do not think are very good at what they do. Read more.

The Top Geopolitical Risks of 2013

By Ian Bremmer

It’s 2013. We’ve made it. For those of us watching from the United States, the last few days of 2012 (to say nothing of the first couple of this year) were touch and go. But here we are. Political risk has entered our vocabulary. Whether staring over the fiscal cliff, battling the eurozone crisis, trying to profit from a rising China, or taking cover from the Middle East; around the world, politics has come to dominate market outcomes. Geoeconomics now sits alongside geopolitics in matters of war, peace, and prosperity. Economic statecraft is a key component of global foreign policy. State capitalism is a principal challenge to the free market. Read more.

The Future of Music and Video Media

By Ian Pearson

With the death of HMV and Blockbuster this week, I’ve done some radio interviews on the future of the high street and one on the future of media. I wrote about retailing yesterday so today I’ll pick up on media. I wrote a while back that Spotify isn’t the future of music, not in its current form anyway, though I will admit that streaming is part of the future. Spotify will probably up its game and survive. If it doesn’t, it won’t. (I didn’t properly answer the question then of what the future would actually be. I will now.) Read more.

A Futurist Reviews Al Gore’s The Future

By Michael Lee

Al Gore may not be a futurist but he must rank as one of the most literate, cultured, well-informed and visionary politicians since Winston Churchill. Following the global success of An Inconvenient Truth he has risen to become a leading social commentator, a voice we ignore at our peril. His latest book, The Future, reinforces this growing and well-deserved reputation. Read more.

Why Armed Drones Won’t Be Banned

By Josh Calder

Concerns about the ethics of drone warfare are well-placed, but efforts to ban remote and robotic systems will likely fail. People should instead focus on strengthening the laws of war. Read more.

Fastest Way to Create New Jobs? Automate Them Out of Existence!

By Thomas Frey

Job loss is not an idle threat. Businesses have an obligation to hire the fewest number of people they can get away with, and when automation eliminates the need for an employee, the employee has to go. However, while job loss is very real and happening all around us, job creation is also happening, in way that many have not seen coming. Read more.

Back from the Dead! Debating the Science and Ethics of DeExtinction

By Patrick Tucker

Is bringing back extinct species a good idea? On Friday, March 15, the Revive and Restore Foundation and National Geographic hosted a TEDx summit in Washington D.C. to discuss the prospects. Key takeaway: this is no-longer sci-fi. The questions now are how, how much, and what happens if we do? Here’s a brief run down. Read more.

U.S. Forest Service and NASA prepare for a more wildfire-prone world

By Rick Docksai

Wildfires in the United States and elsewhere are picking up pace, and U.S. government science teams are paying attention. In an Aug. 9 virtual news conference, Wildfires and Climate Change, two NASA researchers and a U.S. Read more.

MOOCs: the color of television, turned to a dead channel

By Samuel Gerald Collins

At the moment I write this, a creeping group think has saturated both higher education (The Chronicle of Higher Education), and popular media (New York Times, Huffington Post, etc.). It’s that moment when public debate constricts to a terrifying one-dimensionality–when all manner of unwarranted assumptions attain hegemony and become the scaffolding for etiolated prognostications. Read more.

Property Self-Security: Enjoy a Well-Protected Life and World

By Dan Abelow

How will new technology respond to global needs for security and safety? Our coming digital world needs physical security for our homes, buildings, cars and property. As recognition becomes normal and widespread, “security as a feature” can be widely embedded in property. The result: We will enjoy well-protected lives in a safer world. Read more.

Waiting for the Blow: When Dread Is Greater Than Pain


By Keturah Hetrick

You’re at the dentist for a checkup. “You’re going to need a root canal. We can do it today, or you can come back and we’ll do it in a couple of weeks,” she tells you. If you think getting it out of the way now sounds like a much better option, you’re not alone. A recent study conducted by researchers at Imperial College London, University College London, and other institutions concludes that most people view the dread of pain as worse than the pain itself. Read more.

These were just a few of the stories that we featured in THE futurist magazine this year. We look forward to bringing you many more in 2014. Again, to take advantage of exclusive member benefits, and unlock full access to THE futurist and its archives, join the World Future Society today.

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FUTURIST UPDATE: News & Previews from the World Future Society is an e-mail newsletter published monthly as a supplement to THE FUTURIST magazine.
©2013 world future society • 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814 • Voice: 301-656-8274 • Fax: 301-951-0394 • Email: [email protected] • Web site: www.wfs.org • Editor: Patrick Tucker • Contributing Editors: Cynthia G. WagnerRick Docksai, and Keturah Hetrick • Publisher: Jeff Cornish