For the past 30 years, Graham T.T. Molitor has been thinking about the future. In the 1960s, as research director and speech writer with several presidential campaigns, he advised candidates to become "architects of destiny." Today, as vice president and legal counsel of the World Future Society, he is devoted to the future of futurism itself.
But Molitor does more than just think about the future. He chronicles it as well. He is co-editor of the recently published "Encyclopedia of the Future" (Macmillan Library Reference, $185), a unique source of ideas about where the world — and business — is headed. The two-volume, 1,000-page encyclopedia is as approachable as it is ambitious. It includes 450 essays from more than 400 authorities, including Daniel Bell, John Naisbitt, Alvin Toffler, and Jay Forrester. The essays cover an array of topics: the future of animal rights, law enforcement, online services, work force diversity — "everything from black holes to pot holes," Molitor jokes.
The great futurist Yogi Berra once said, "The future ain't what it used to be." Does Molitor agree? "In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes had a different idea," he says. "'There's nothing new under the sun.' But there are periods in history when great changes do occur." We are in one of those periods now." Molitor spoke with Fast Company about the future of the future and what businesspeople should expect.
What's different about the future?
The rate of change is changing. Technology is a big factor. Think about the speed of a stage coach versus a train, an automobile, or a rocket ship. We've moved through those four technologies in less than 150 years.
Demography is another big factor. The world population is now 5.7 billion people. If you look to the year 2100, it will be at least 12.5 billion. It has taken us millions of years to get this far. Now we're going to do it all over again in 100 years. The implications are phenomenal.
What should business people know about the future?
Frank Feathers, one of our experts, has a fascinating article in the encyclopedia that looks at three forces — knowledge, education, and entrepreneurialism — shaking up society. The new business paradigm is an intellectual paradigm. It's also a democratic paradigm. We are moving towards economic democracy. It all comes down to the individual: brains over brawn.
Feathers also explains that leisure, recreation, and entertainment make up about 50% of the GNP. Companies need to position themselves to provide infotainment — the convergence of information and entertainment.
The force that's going to drive the next era the next hundred years is molecular biology. I know people developing a card, about the size of a credit card, with 10,000 micro-wells on it. You'll be able to take a drop of blood, treat it across the card, and in a few hours have the results for 10,000 different disease diagnoses.
The encyclopedia lists history's most influential futurists. The list includes Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Daniel Bellas well as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Don't you worry about futurism being confused with science fiction?
If you are looking for people who intuit the future with a totally open mind, science fiction is a good place to start. Take Jules Verne. In "Rocket Ship to the Moon," he anticipated very accurately the shape, dimension, escape speed, and orbital velocity of space flight — 100 years before it happened.
What's the last thing people should know about the future?
Let me read you a quote: "The budget must be balanced, government indebtedness must be reduced, the arrogant authorities must be moderated and controlled, people should learn to work again instead of living off the public dole."
Who said that? Bill Clinton? Bob Dole? No. It was Marcus Cicero, who lived from 106 to 43 BC. Everything we do is deeply embedded in the past.
Sidebar: 4 Future Forces
Notes on where we're headed — and where we've been — courtesy of the "Encyclopedia of the Future."
Apocalypse Future — and Past
It's the oldest question there is: Is the end near? Molitor's encyclopedia includes a Chronology of the Future that extends from 47,000 B.C. (with the very first augur of the apocalypse) to the year 1032, when all the universe's stars, atoms and particles are forecast to collapse into each other in a cataclysmic inferno called "The Big Crunch."
The More Things Change?
If futurists agree on any one prediction, it's that things will be different in the future. But will they? Taxes were first imposed in Sumer in 3000 B.C., Socrates (500-450 B.C.) condemned previous generations for destroying the natural environment. A few centuries later, Julius Caesar (45 B.C.) banned all wheeled vehicles from Rome during daylight hours to diminish congestion, dust and noise pollution.
Bigger and Smaller
Futurists love to look both far into the cosmos and deep into human biology. In both cases their fascination is with life finding it elsewhere or manipulating it here. Experts calculate that 1% of all the stars in the universe could support life — that's 1021 possibilities. Meanwhile, advances in genetic engineering will lead to instant self-diagnosis of most diseases, "designer children," and transferring genetic traits between species.
Wildcards are "tools of awareness" used to suggest possibilities outside the obvious. Political wildcards: the U.S. breaks apart into autonomous nation-states; Russian and Japan form an alliance against the West. Technology wildcards : cold fusion overturns global energy patterns; business creates electronically coded clothing programmed to individual tastes. Socioeconomic wildcards: genetic profiling overturns health-care economics; mass transit replaces 50% of the cars in the United States.
A version of this article appeared in the Dec 1996/Jan 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.