Technology’s future is S-shaped

Maybe the long boom of technological disruption will slow down, ponders sf writer Charlie Stross.

We are undeniably living through the era of the Great Acceleration; but it’s probably[*] a sigmoid curve, and we may already be past the steepest part of it. [link in original]

Ah yes, that famous S-curve.  Slow to start, fast to build, massive in effect, then ultimately tapering off, like so:

Sigmoid curve plot.

The big “S”.

So we can imagine the tide of industrial-technological change rising in the 1700s, roaring into life during the 1800s, turning into a transformational riptide through the twentieth century, and then, in the 21st, gradually… slowing… down.  The rate of innovation drops.  We become accustomed to the new.  Future shock stops shocking.


Reversing the future

ImageJohn Crowley, brilliant writer of splendid speculative fiction, meditates on the future in the most recent Lapham’s. I’d like to draw attention to two main points, beyond the brooding lushness of Crowley’s prose.

First, there’s a futuring method on display.  Even if it’s tongue in cheek, the approach is both entertaining and potentially useful for group work.  The gist: reverse our expectations for the future.  You could even test it retrospectively:

if you simply reversed what the past had imagined, you got something close to the real existing present.

I’d like to try this on small groups.

Crowley then offers an example of this method, projecting one future:


New Shell scenarios

Shell Oil published a set of future energy scenarios.

Two of them are older ones.  Scramble describes a global energy panic.  Blueprints assumes stronger governmental planning and control.

Two Shell scenarios in mid-stream.

Seeing how Scramble and Blueprint play out.

Shell also released two new ones: