The future


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Illustration by Michael Marsicano

Essay/
Cosmology
Exodus

Elon Musk argues that we must put a million people on Mars if we are to ensure that humanity has a future

Ross Andersen

Contemplating the deep future, in light of the past: philosopher Nick Bostrom at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Photo by Andy Sansom/Aeon Magazine

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Computing and artificial intelligence
Omens

When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see – human extinction or a future among the stars?

Ross Andersen

Leisure society: tourists at the Tahiti Motel swimming pool in Wildwood, New Jersey, 1960s. Photo by Aladdin Color, Inc/Corbis

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Automation and robotics
The golden age

The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil?

John Quiggin

Intelligent assumptions? At the Oxford Union, 1950. From the Picture Post feature, Eternal Oxford. Photo by John Chillingworth/Getty

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Cognition and intelligence
Intelligence: a history

Intelligence has always been used as fig-leaf to justify domination and destruction. No wonder we fear super-smart robots

Stephen Cave

Photo by Ed Freeman/Getty

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Ecology and environmental sciences
Scorched Earth, 2200AD

Climate change has done its worst, and now just 500 million humans remain on lifeboats in the north. How do they survive?

Linda Marsa

Inconvenience food. Photo by Tom Bieber/Getty

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Food and drink
Freedom from food

It takes time to plan a meal, to say nothing of cooking and eating it. What if we could opt out of food altogether?

Nicola Twilley

The Death of General Wolfe (1770) by Benjamin West. Wolfe was killed during the Battle of Quebec (1759) that decided the fate of French lands in North America. Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada/Wikipedia

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History
Are there laws of history?

Historians believe that the past is irreducibly complex and the future wildly unpredictable. Scientists disagree. Who’s right?

Amanda Rees

Photo by Gozooma/Gallery Stock

Essay/
Engineering
A fault in our design

We tend to think that technological progress is making us more resilient, but it might be making us more vulnerable

Colin Dickey

Photo by SSPL/Getty

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History
Future perfect

Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future

Iwan Rhys Morus

Tetra-nucleotide ESOM mapping of DNA fragments from microbes in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. The coloured groupings represent newly discovered species according to their DNA sequence and will aid in uderstanding organisms involved in nutrient cycling. Image courtesy Brett Baker/UTMSI/Cameron Thrash (LSU) /Olivia Mason (FSU)

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Information and communication
Perfect genetic knowledge

Human genomics is just the start: the Earth has 50 billion tons of DNA. What happens when we have the entire biocode?

Dawn Field

USA. Montana. 1980. Photo by David Alan Harvey/Magnum

Essay/
The environment
Who owns the earth?

Private land ownership is a beautiful dream gone badly wrong. It’s time to reinstate the forgotten ideal of the commons

Antonia Malchik

Martin Parr/Magnum

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Information and communication
Fast-world values

For all the smart tech, we still feel pressed for time. Are digital services the problem, or are we humans to blame?

Judy Wajcman

Fans of the fantasy game Portal 2 attending the London Film and Comic Con, July 2011. Photo by Barry Lewis/Corbis

Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
The great escape

Digital technology allows us to lose ourselves in ever more immersive fantasy worlds. But what are we fleeing from?

Damien Walter

At the Trollstigen lookout, Norway. Photo courtesy Vegard Haugland

Essay/
History of ideas
The end is not near

Thanks to science, most of us accept the deep past – so why are our imagined futures so shallow?

J L Schellenberg

The Serengeti National Park. Photo by Medford Taylor/National Geographic

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Earth science and climate
Half-Earth

Half of the Earth’s surface and seas must be dedicated to the conservation of nature, or humanity will have no future

Edward O Wilson

The dilution refrigerator for the IBM Q quantum computer, September 2019. Photo by Graham Carlow/IBM

Essay/
The future
At the limits of thought

Science today stands at a crossroads: will its progress be driven by human minds or by the machines that we’ve created?

David C Krakauer

Will the sun rise? Photo taken from the ISS on 1 March 2016. Photo courtesy NASA

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Mathematics
Future tension

Facts about the past and present are either true or false. Can knowledge of the future offer the same degree of certainty?

Anthony Sudbery

Photo by Gallery Stock

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Automation and robotics
RoboCorp

Get ready for companies that run themselves. But will the autonomous economy set us all free, or just make the rich richer?

David Z Morris

Villagers stand on top of a crashed rocket in the Altai territory, where fuel is a major pollutant. Photo by Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum

Essay/
Political philosophy
Ninety-degree revolution

Right and Left are fading away. The real question in politics will be: do you look to the earth or aspire to the skies?

Steve Fuller

Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Talk like an Egyptian

If we want to safeguard our languages, stories and ideas against extinction, we had better study Egyptology

Grayson Clary

Aerial view of the Apollo 9 space vehicle on the way from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center. 3 January 1969. By 1966, NASA directly employed a staff of 36,000, with another 400,000 people working for 20,000 contractors and 200 universities in 80 countries. Photo courtesy NASA

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The future
Where did the grandeur go?

Superlative things were done in the past century by marshalling thousands of people in the service of a vision of the future

Martin Parker

The Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of 12-13 November 1833. Courtesy Wikimedia

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The future
The end of us

Only since the Enlightenment have we been able to imagine humans going extinct. Is it a sign of our maturity as a species?

Thomas Moynihan

Commons craft; detail of a plywood farmhouse, built using a CNC machine. Photo courtesy Wikihouse

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Work
Utopia now

In 1890 William Morris imagined a world free from wage slavery. Thanks to technology, his vision is finally within reach

Vasilis Kostakis & Wolfgang Drechsler

BABEL IID Arcology, elevation, population 550,000. From “Arcology: City in the Image of Man”, original publication 1970. Photo courtesy Cosanti Foundation

Essay/
Architecture
Desert utopia

It might be pleasing to dream of arcologies, mega-cities, and space colonies – but no one can design the perfect human community

Jared Keller