Archival audioclip (Back to the Future): I’m from the future.
Lauren Goode: Alright, I’m gonna ask the question that everyone’s wondering about: What is a futurist? Is this a real job?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, I mean, I think some people imagine it’s just, you know, a guy who sits around making predictions about the future, and there are probably some people who do just that. But Noah calls himself an applied futurist by which he means that he studies trends—technological, economic, demographic, political, you name it. And then he works within institutions like the government to help them take those trends into account in their decision-making and their policies. So how should they think about the impact of AI, for instance?
Noah Raford (audioclip): I was having a conversation with a Ghanaian friend recently, and the potential for AI and all the tools which represent in that kinda larger space has for basically dysfunctional failed states and second order semi-functional states, which is most of the world in some argument, is absolutely huge.
Lauren Goode: All right, so he sounds pretty positive on AI, but we don’t actually know how that’s going to shake out yet. I’m wondering if you two talked about things he has predicted accurately in the past or some things he got right.
Gideon Lichfield: I mean, he made a pretty good call on Covid.
Noah Raford (audioclip): Called that early. I stopped going into work two months before it became a commonly accepted thing. When I had to go into work, I was wearing masks and everyone was yelling at me like, you’re freaking people out. Why are you doing this?
Gideon Lichfield: And of course we talked about climate change.
Noah Raford (audioclip): We still labor under the belief that we can stop climate change, and that’s just not true.
Lauren Goode: Huh. That’s pretty jarring to hear. What are we supposed to do with that kind of information?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, I think there was this undercurrent to the conversation with Noah, which was that being a futurist is not just about predicting the future or even about working with governments or other institutions to capitalize on it, but it’s about being ready for it emotionally. Noah’s kind of like a future therapist.
Archival audioclip (2001: A Space Odyssey): I can see you are really upset about this. You ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
Lauren Goode: Well, therapy typically leaves me feeling a little drained and like maybe I need three days to process whatever was discussed. So I look forward to hearing your conversation with Noah and then maybe you and I can cry together afterwards.
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, I mean, we may cry, but I think you’ll feel somewhat uplifted because even though he says some really alarming things, uh, I think Noah takes the premise of the show and kind of flips it on its head. For him, the question isn’t “is this the future we want?” It’s more how do we get ready for the future that’s coming both technically and emotionally. That conversation with Noah Raford is after the break.