A Brief History of the Future

A Brief History of the Future
A Brief History of the Future
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Tech journalism just takes cynicism for granted, and we are not an exception. However, technology has its danger and promises too, the former of which is given a lesser importance in favor of the latter by this new documentary series. At the same time “A Brief History of the Future” hosted by Ari Wallach offers all these aspects and also enjoys the privilege to be broadcasted on PBS for free.

With business being more frequently associated with disappointment and danger caused by technology, one should also remember that it is equally true to argue that this coin has another side which should not be ignored out of naivety but because it matters greatly.

Ari Wallach is someone who refers to himself as a futurist without any apologies. He argues that he has strived to avoid losing sight of how tech, startups and innovation can change everything.

I know Ari Wallach personally – many years ago while he was still at Berkeley with my brother – though this part is purely coincidental.

A Brief History of the Future show’s theory holds that if you ask ten Americans what they think about their future; nine out of them will say that they fear it or it revolves around technology. Some of those things are why this exists.” [8] Wallach explained.

In fact, according to him, you won’t understand anything about the future when you listen to Silicon Valley publicists or warnings from “Big Dystopia,” or even forecasts made by TechCrunch writers.

Every episode in his six-episode web-series brings him into contact with scores of lonesome characters such as companies, individuals together with communities who are working towards making a better world for posterity while they may never live long enough to see it happening. It may appear totally hopeless or child-like but there are people like Wallach who see these scary scenarios unfolding before their eyes but do something even if this action seems little more than naïve or miniscule.

Even if you don’t think about that in a critical and open-minded way in terms of those futures that you create, we still wanted to bring the future into people’s living rooms who normally never think about it.” “People just don’t get exposed to it. I mean, right now there are countless cultural reasons why being cynical and critical is smart and aware. But now we’re at a point that if we continually do that, we’re going to lose the thread. We’re going to lose the narrative of the entire larger human project.” [7]

In other words, the problem isn’t pretending they aren’t there; it’s that enough people are already talking about them. However, shouldn’t someone be focusing on how others are trying to fix these problems?

There were also expected themes such as AI, automation, climate change but also food; art; architecture; governance and value which were more philosophical.

My cynical mind kept asking ‘how does this scale?’ while watching most of them. And Wallach agrees with me on this one too

“How does it scale, and is there a way to make money out of it- this is pretty much the Silicon Valleyization, the Sand Hill Road as you look at future. And that’s okay! It may go forward or not. That’s not the point. We were trying to enlighten people on different ways of thinking about tomorrow, and here are people who are already doing that. It’s an exemplary modelling action for us to understand that we have power over our own lives. Like, will all of us be living in 3D printed houses? Perhaps no. But when we think about these 2-3 billion unhoused individuals on the planet and how we’re going to house them this might be part of that,” he added.

“It’s about solution centricity but not entirely VC solution centricity. How do you solve problems today from an opportunity lens rather than a ‘we’re all gonna die’ lens which is typically what headlines are?”

Wallach’s thesis led his team around the world speaking with lots of interesting people and companies. Vertical gardens, fungus-fabricated leather, coral farming. Pete Buttigieg, Emmanuel Macron, Reid Hoffman, Grimes, Kylian Mbappé. And everyone seems relieved to discuss promise instead of menace.

When I asked Wallach where/with whom he would have liked to spend more time during production, he gave three answers: First one was a professor in Northern Japan who has an apparently effective though theatrical way of getting seniors to contemplate their next chapter by pretending they’ve traveled back from it; The other one was Lawrence Livermore National Lab where he said that they just didn’t know how great they could get; Lastly there was the death doula – someone who helps people come to terms with their own mortality (though technology is often brought up as well).

In case you’re wondering which moneyed special interest wants to calm you down with this kindly, wiser future sham… Don’t worry, I asked. And the secret organization behind this very well-made documentary is none other than the evil Public Broadcasting Service. So just like I said above, it’s not just free to stream on PBS.org and YouTube (I’ll put the first episode below as soon as it’s live), but it will be on regular old linear TV every Wednesday at 9pm — after Nova.”

This kind of show isn’t for TikTok or even streaming services according to Wallach; instead, he pointed out that it’s meant for a general audience watching television. After dinner, many millions- especially older people not yet discouraged by the promise of tomorrow- turn on their sets to see what happened in town, something from one of the networks and maybe a documentary like this.

Wallach and his colleagues have also created a version of the show specifically for use in classrooms with associated educational materials on these subjects.

“This will be a nationwide futuring curriculum that has been created which over 1.5 million educators can access through PBS education. That means like 20 million kids. It is nice. And it’s free.”

As a parting thought, Wallach noted the shows he grew up with, and how it’s “peak job” to be able to make something in emulation — though he was careful not to compare his to them — of classic shows like Cosmos, The Power of Myth and Connections.

“Cosmos changed how I think about the universe; The Power of Myth, how I think about faith, meaning, psychology; hopefully, A Brief History of the Future changes how folks think about futures and tomorrow. That’s the company that we wanted to be in.”

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