In January, I launched a poll that represented a form of rehearsing the future. Rehearsing versus predicting allows us to envision possible futures. Complex adaptive systems contain multiple intersecting building blocks behaving and interacting in ways that make prediction impossible. Although we can’t predict, we can inform our rehearsing with an ever-expanding amount of insight and foresight. In addition, technology now enables us to continuously probe and learn. Learning our way forward through continuous learning loops enables rehearsing. To that end, the poll looked ahead and asked if people believed that artificial intelligence would ultimately be more impactful than fire, electricity, or the Internet. The results were fascinating.
It was interesting to see the difference in thinking across various groups — with perhaps the biggest surprise being foresight professionals. After conducting the poll, I came across an article that posed a different question: is the age of fire over? When asked the AI question, many have said that nothing will surpass the impact that fire has had (and continues to have) on society. Yet here we are at least asking a question about the future of fire. Author Lloyd Alter states that we shouldn’t just be talking about cars, stoves, or furnaces, but the bigger concept that the age of fire is over.
“Burning things seems so hopelessly archaic, like those images of humans huddled around campfires in the darkness,” writes Edic. “Burning got us this far but it is no longer the best way. We can harvest endless energy with technology. Once that transition takes place everything changes.”
Martin Edic — The Era of Burning Things Is Over
Our economic system has been extraction-based since the advent of agriculture. We transform energy as a resource into energy embodied in products and services. Might we have alternatives to burning things? The article explores the possibility that the era of burning gas for cooking may be over via induction cooktops. In the case of burning wood, it has both a climate and health impact. The article states that fine particulate matter associated with burning wood is bad for human health in a multitude of ways. Beyond these possible transitions are several other examples provided by the article:
- From heating with gas to using heat pumps
- From burning fossil fuels for power to sun, wind, and waves
- From burning gasoline in cars to electric vehicles
So, what do you think, is the age of fire over? Just another rehearsal on the path to a very different future.