The future is similar to an unfinished novel. It’s not like the weather, which we can only hope to forecast or see in a crystal ball. Nick Montfort contends that the future should be created, not predetermined, in this installment of the Essential Knowledge series from the MIT Press. Using the work of writers, artists, inventors, and designers (mostly from Western culture), who created and articulated the fundamental elements of the futures they imagined, Montfort gives what he believes to be important knowledge about the future. Instead of taking a futurology or scenario planning approach, Montfort reflects on the philosophers who dedicated themselves to creating the pages of the unwritten book. For example, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, and Douglas Engelbart did not see the future of computing. Three of those who survived were them.
Montfort focuses on the relationship between technological advancement and future-oriented beliefs, particularly emphasizing the growth of digital technologies. Readers gain knowledge about literary utopias, including Plato’s Republic, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, the Futurama display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and the events that led to Tim Berners-creation Lee’s of the World Wide Web. The notebook computer, according to Montfort, is a human-centered alternative to the notion of a computer as a “big brain” the size of a room. It also represents speculative design and science fiction, as well as the greatest means to envision and create the future.