THE U.S. has always been a country in love with the future. Americans have never quite shared the traditional notion that prying into tomorrow is suspect if not downright dangerousthe sort of feeling that made Dante consign soothsayers to the fourth chasm of the Inferno. On the contrary, the U.S. readily accepted the fact that modern science established progress as a faith and the future as an earthly Eden. Yet recently, the American passion for the future has taken a new turn. Leaving Utopians and science-fiction writers far behind, a growing number of professionals have made prophecy a serious and highly organized enterprise.
They were forced into it by the fact that technology has advanced more rapidly in the past 50 years than in the previous 5,000. Men in business, government, education and science itself realize that they must look at least two decades ahead just to keep abreast, must learn to survive under totally different conditions. The new futurists, as they sometimes call themselves, are well aware of past failures of vision. Soon after World War II, top U.S. scientists dismissed and derided the notion of an accurate intercontinental ballistic missile, and as late as 1956, Britain's Astronomer Royal called the prospect of space travel "utter bilge." Relying on the atom's almost limitless energy, the computer's almost limitless "intellect," the futurists predict an era of almost limitless change. With remarkable confidence, and in considerable detail, they present a view of man not only in total control of his environment but of his own brain and his own evolution.
New Skill & Time
The exploration of the future has become a sizable business. General Electric has set up Tempo (Technical Management Planning Organization) in Santa Barbara, where 200 physical scientists, sociologists, economists and engineers contemplate the future on a budget that tops $7,000,000 a year. The armed forces have long been in the future business. The Air Force, at Wright-Patterson A.F.B., conducts studies of the whole problem of scientific prediction, also contributes $15 million a year to Santa Monica's Rand Corp. to thinkand not necessarily about weapons systems. The nonprofit Hudson Institute investigates the possibilities of war and peace along with the future in general. At the University of Illinois, Dr. Charles Osgood is conducting a "computerized exploration of the year 2000," and the Southern Illinois University is providing money and facilities for Buckminster Fuller's World Resources Inventory. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences helps to support the Commission on the Year 2000, headed by Columbia Sociologist Daniel Bell. The Ford Foundation has allocated $1,400,000 this year to a group called Resources for the Future, also supports a Paris-based organization, headed by Veteran Futurist Bertrand de Jouvenel, whose studies are known as "Les Futuribles."