Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written a piece on futurism which is making me feel, well, contradictory. Apologies for my writing: fighting a killer headache this week.
Taleb asserts that the present has changed little from the past; that “futurists always get it wrong”, and that if we wish to envision the future we should subtract from the present things which do not belong. I believe the present is so different from the past that it would be shocking to humans from even a few centuries ago. Technology is culture, and our immersion in culture makes it quite difficult to understand just how unusual we are.
My great-grandparents were immigrant farmers. Most people were: prior to industrialization in the late 1700s, the vast majority of humans grew their own food or were engaged in providing it to others. Now worldwide, only a third of our workers grow food. The US’s agricultural output has almost tripled over the past sixty years, a result of phenomenal improvements in efficiency made possible by the widespread use of petrochemicals–an energy-dense store only accessible for the past few hundred years. That same industrial revolution cut the fraction of our population employed in agriculture from 75% to only 3%.