The futurist Herman Khan introduced the idea of “thinking the unthinkable” as a way to loosen up the imagination in trying to forecast the future. Most time we are unable to guess the future because we are inhibited by conventional wisdom – something that everyone knows is true. For instance everyone (including me) knew that an encyclopedia written by amateurs that could be changed by anyone at anytime was simply a silly, impossible idea. That prevented anyone from forecasting wikipedia. Herman Khan stressed that we should assume what we know is wrong and begin to imagine how the unthinkable might happen.
Solar powered air zepplins.
In 1993 Brian Eno and I exchanged a bunch of “unthinkables” via email and later published them in the Whole Earth Review. A few examples of mine:
BARBECUES OUTLAWED — Because of high carcinogenic content, nothing barbecued or burnt may be sold, nor barbecue paraphernalia. Private barbecues (cannot be seen from street, etc.) become hip underground.
DIRECTED TAXES — Software gains allow a certain portion of taxes to fall to the discretion of the payer. John Public can assign X amount of his taxes toward one service, to the exclusion of another. It’s a second vote that politicians watch closely.
Computer screens (both CRT and flat screens) are found to be dangerous to the health. Working at a computer is viewed as a toxic job.
Some of Brian Eno’s:
People with lots of money give their children small companies as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Manufacturers of underwear finally realize that men have different-sized balls.
The rest can be found here.
In October 1999 I generated some “unthinkables” for the Global Business Network I thought might happen by the year 2019, or in the next twenty years. I uncovered this submission recently, and since these all seem as unlikely now 12 years later, I thought I would put them out there in case the next eight years are really amazing.
By the year 2019 …
The first irrefutable biological evidence of the only native North American ape is found – some hair and a bit of blood – which under DNA analysis proves the existence of a rare and ancient great ape known locally as Big Foot. This leads to a well-funded and concerted cryptozoological effort yielding scientifically documented encounters with the animal 2 years later.
Amazon builds its first bricks-and-mortar superstore. Gotta keep those 75 million customers happy.
Polygamy is granted legal status in the US.
The fertility rate in China drops below the replacement level, and nothing the government can do can get Chinese couples to have more than 1.5 kids each. For the first time China encourages immigration to keep its huge economy going.
A rash of new-age-techno cults sweep an exhausted Russia. The variety and zealotry of their beliefs (quantum power, northern light signals) and their remarkable influence in national politics make Californian new-age cults seem tame and Sunday-school straight.
Environmentalism is embraced by the conservative Christian right.
At the present rate I think I will be wrong on all these.