Yesterday one of my long-standing fears was confirmed: futurists are considered moral authorities... [A]n article entitled "Microsoft Pitches Technology That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies" ...described a new Microsoft product that is meant to be used at large events like the Superbowl, or a Trump rally, to discern “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise” in the crowd. Spokesperson Kathryn Stack, when asked whether the tool could be used to identify dissidents or protesters, responded as follows: “I think that would be a question for a futurist, not a technologist.” Can we parse that a bit?. . . I’d like to point out that futurism is male dominated, almost entirely white, and almost entirely consists of Silicon Valley nerds. They spend their time arguing about the exact timing and nature of the singularity, whether we’ll live forever in bliss or we’ll live forever under the control of rampant and hostile AI. In particular, there’s no reason to imagine that they are well-versed in the history or in the rights of protesters or of political struggle.Yeah, I read that piece when links to it deliriously proliferated on my twitter feed yesterday. Definitely I agree with her point about the profound staleness, paleness and maleness of the "discipline" of futurism. That's a point I used to hammer quite a bit here, years back, a critique that eventually condensed into the hard diamond of an aphorism: "The futurists have seen The Future... and it is a white penis." But apart from that important point, I would reiterate once again that futurism is best understood as a public relations and marketing genre masquerading as a kind of policy analysis or even analytic philosophy and that this, too, makes it utterly inapt as a source of guidance in public or personal deliberation. One might as well be guided by late-nite infomercials or televangelist scams. And I mean that analogy more literally than many people seem to realize. For the reasons why, and for the most concise but fully elaborated version of my critique of reactionary futurology, let me recommend, as usual, the piece published in Existenz: Posthuman Terrains and Futurological Discourses or, if your tastes run more to the polemical, either The Unbearable Stasis of Accelerating Change or An Open Letter to the Robot Cultists.
Setting all that aside, I would add that there are interlocking causes and contexts for the disastrous investment of the futurological with scientific and ethical authority when futurism is a pseudo-scientific moralism deserving nothing but rejection and ridicule. This is just a quick sketch, but among these contexts are: first, a general American anti-intellectualism coupled with privileged insulation that has fed serial dysfunctions of this kind throughout US history; second, the bankruptcy of Anglo-American analytic philosophy as a paradigm (futurology is in many ways the zombie apocalypse of that paradigm, I hear in "less wrong" and "existential-risk" the grunts of a discourse too dull to discern its death) after the eclipse of pragmatism and given the endless know-nothing reactionary assaults against the "postmodern relativism" and "politically correct multiculturalism" of continental thought; third, the breakdown of the academy as a source of reliable expertise in the grip of the neoliberal pincer attack of an ongoing looting, digitization, precarization of public higher education and the treatment of the profitably disinformational think-tank archipelago as an intellectually equivalent force to that embattled academy; fourth, the emergence of pseudo-disciplinary spaces like "bioethics" and "design" (and yes, "future studies" in their many variations, among these, if I may say so, too often "digital humanities") that rationalize tech sector abuses while pretending to autonomy from them, and so on.
ADDED: By the way, when I bemoan the looting and dismantlement of the academy this is not to say that I am unaware of or indifferent to the fact that the academy has never been an equitable or innocent space -- far from it. The academy has never been but should be a source of reliable and clearly communicated knowledge to help guide public deliberation over our shared problems as well as a space of intellectual exploration and provocation available to every interested citizen as well as an ongoing experimental space for practical, creative, critical conviviality, ramifying hopes, histories, strategies outward into our diverse secular republic and distressed planet. Such an Idea of the University remains urgently necessary even though it has never been realized and the ongoing demolition of the academy renders that realization ever more distant and tenuous. That is all that I am saying. The authority attaching to the deceptive and hyberbolic PR narratives of corporate-military futurism is just a symptom of the reactionary toppling of the ivory tower. Making debt-free higher education available to all, making knowledge production arising from the academy freely available to all, connecting intellectual life to worldly concerns and the academy to the community of which it is a part, protecting free inquiry and expressivity in the academy from the pressures, prejudices and parochialisms of elites, incumbents, and fashions would not just topple the ivory tower into a ruin but transform it into a beacon.