The Anthill

Anthill 10: The Future

In this episode of The Anthill podcast we talk to historians, future thinkers, designers and sci-fi watchers about our love of predicting what’s to come.

We talk to somebody who does it for a living, Anders Sandberg, research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, who explains how he got into future studies, and what it’s like predicting the future as a day job. Thankfully, not all doom and gloom.

Back in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes predicted the future of work would leave us more time to sit back and relax. With robots taking on more and more menial tasks, he thought technology would reduce the working week to just 15 hours and the rest of our time would be devoted to leisure.

So why haven’t we got there yet? As we hear from Martin Parker, professor of organisation and culture at the University of Leicester, it will take more than just robots to make this happen; society will need to be entirely reorganised in the process. Meanwhile, Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, identifies four areas where jobs will boom – in spite of all the robots.

We delve into the history of how our ancestors imagined the future too. Selena Daly, assistant professor in Italian Studies and an expert in the Italian futurists, tells us the story of the avant-garde art and cultural movement started by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti a few years before World War I. Both destructive and provocative in its vision, it’s a case study in how visions of the future can get wound up in politics.

Dynamism of a Cyclist by Umberto Boccioni. via Wikimedia Commons

Helping us to track other visions of futures past, Nick Dunn, professor of urban design at Lancaster University who runs its Imagination design research lab, reveals his favourite dystopian and utopian visions for what future cities could look like. And Amy Chambers, who researches science communication and screen studies at Newcastle University, explains how both utopias and dystopias in science fiction have been used to help imagine a better future. Today, she says, science fiction on the small screen is taking the idea of AI and running with it, creating a range of near futures that we can all be scared of.

Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Beliefs, Self-experimentation and Fuel.

The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. Music in the futurists segment is Impending Boom by Kevin MacLeod via Incompetech, and Fausto Bongelli’s recording of Virgilio Mortari’s piece, Fox-trot Futurista. Music in the utopia segment by I believe in you, by Lee Rosevere and sound effects by dobroide. Sound effects in future studies segment from mknausscat, cydon and CGEffex.

A big thanks to City University London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios.

Correction: The section on Thomas More’s Utopia states that he was hung, drawn and quartered. He was in fact beheaded.