Future self

Future self

“Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we’re going to be, and then we mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen” Dan Gilbert

I find it hard to remember what I was doing 10 years ago.

After a while I can recall what my job was back then, what my family was up to and maybe the colour of the ever changing feature wall in the living room. Most specific activities are a blur unless I really concentrate on place and where I was within it. Even then the memories are patchy.

As Dan Gilbert suggests, that’s the easy part. We are much better at remembering the past than we are predicting the future.

Memory has obvious evolutionary advantages for long-lived organisms who need to know where the food and shelter can be found when the weather turns bad.

Predicting is much harder. Perhaps because we remember actual things that, at least for us, really happened. Predictions are a guess. A possibility with a likelihood. In other words, events are just as likely not to happen as they are to come to pass. There is a psychological cost to making a prediction that is never paid with a memory. Any prediction we make comes with risk to our self esteem. The further forward in time we project our guesses the more likely they are to be wrong so our ego shuts them down as a form of protection.

Well, that is one rational explanation anyway.

No doubt if I spend a few days trawling Google Scholar I could find out if anyone has positied it formally and maybe even tried to test it.

But let’s consider the consequences of humans not generally being any good at predicting our future selves.

We are easily stuck in the past often viewing it with tinted spectacles.

Our frame of reference is what has gone before, what we know, rather than what could be. Our anxiety over autonomous vehicles is a case in point.

We get very good at incredulity. So much so that we even refuse to believe what is front of our noses because unless we have seen it before it cannot be real. We’ll let the perversity of that logic slide.

It takes a lot to convince us of anything we have not already seen, heard or felt, unless its been on our Facebook feed.

We lose the ability to be rational in the face of evidence.

And we could go on.

Altogether this inability to predict the future leaves us with one binding feeling…

We hate change.

We just want everything to stay the same. It’s what we know, what we remember and what makes life predictable, reliable, certain and, please god, comfortable.

Only as Dan Gilbert points out, there is a problem. It’s called time.

“The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect.”

Many a post on this blog has ranted on about the consequences of time, what’s coming over the horizon and how poorly we are prepared for it.

If this difficulty in imagining our future self is pervasive, it offers a proximate explanation for many of these rants. We simply just don’t know how to see the future so we stay stuck in the past overestimating the wonders of the present and scared to death of change.

Heaven help us.

Will your new car be your last?

Will your new car be your last?

It is a sunny day in 2037. An autonomous electric vehicle pitches up to take you to work, complimentary with your skim latte with one. Siri is ageing now but she can still alter your order given you are really trying to reduce your sugar intake.

This routine happens one, maybe two days a week because there is not actually much office style work needed anymore. On the other days you “work” in your service jobs that are really more like recreation activities that ensure you and those you help are not sent insane with boredom.

Monday you are golfing followed by a visit to the hospital to chat with Fred who is old but has cancer and no family to visit him. On the way back you get the car to stop at the lookout on the escarpment because, after all, there is no hurry.

Tuesday you have a virtual meeting with your nerdy mates who still want to design the ultimate solution to world peace by growing enough food. The conversation is recorded, summarised and logged so later you can flag the good bits. The AI has done this a few times already so there will be very little chaff to remove. Turns out that, as usual, the gems were few and far between.

Wednesday your meetup is in the coffee shop. When the car gets to your place it has already collected a couple of your other meetup buddies who live nearby. They have to wait while you put the groceries in the fridge that ordered more milk. Obviously, the supermarket drone sent bacon and cheese too, to max out efficiency.

Thursday you don’t need the car. It’s your quiet day.

Friday comes along and you fancy a swim. The nearest beach is 70 clicks away but the train is so fast that you cover the ground almost instantly. This system of rapid public transport and small autonomous vehicles connected to transport hubs works pretty well now that most journeys are to places of interest and recreation rather than the CBD. Virtual conferencing is now so real that even the big companies that seemed to want to hang on to their boardrooms have realised that the expense of face to face dick waving can’t be justified. Given their workforce is either a robot or working from home the central office is empty anyway.

On the way back from the beach you look into a holiday via the voice-activated screen in the car that has not even looked like it would have an accident in a million years.

All your options from the last time you thought about this flash up along with suggestions from a few thoughts you voiced in the virtual chat you had earlier in the day with your cousin in Turkey. The choice is too overwhelming so you ask for the ‘our choice for you’ option that has been spot on every time so far.

It has been quite a while since you even thought of asking the AI to look for offers on buying a car. It’s not even worth the search. Cars are way too expensive to own and ownership has no additional utility.

Welcome to the new world.