Posted on Monday, January 28th, 02008 by Kevin Kelly
link Categories: Futures   chat 0 Comments

One of most needed (but still absent) instruments for long-term thinking is a predictions archive. Stewart Brand and I fist conceived of the Long Bets project as a supplementary agency that would work best as part of a great prediction registry. The registry would include any and all predictions about the future. The ideal archive of predictions would include the thousands if not millions of predictions generated each day as a by-product of our ordinary speculations and inadvertent forecasts, not just those designated as a deliberate prediction. 

Like everything else it touches, the Wikipedia has the power to make hard things easy. I recently discovered Wikipedia  pages for the subject of future years — such as 2020 or 2029 and so on — can serve as a germ of what Fringehog calls a Futurepedia.


As an example there is a fantastic prediction made on the pages of 2010, concerning the pronunciation of the year 2010 and beyond.

According to a recent press release, David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, has predicted that the change of pronunciation to “twenty X” will occur in 2011, as “twenty eleven”, explaining that the way people pronounce years depends on rhythm, rather than logic. Crystal claims that the rhythm or “flow” of “two thousand (and) ten”, beats that of “twenty ten”, but the flow of “twenty eleven” beats “two thousand (and) eleven”. Alternatively, Ian Brookes, editor-in-chief of Chambers Dictionary, suggests the change will occur in 2013. And finally, the UK Times has suggested 2020 as a final timeframe for the change, saying “If people can have “twenty-twenty” vision, then surely they should also live in the year “twenty twenty.”

Some suggest that after the “twenty X” pronunciation for current and future 21st century years has taken hold, future references to early 21st century years will change accordingly from the previous “two thousand (and) X” method; thus, they say, future generations will refer to the date of the 9/11 attacks in the United States as September 11, “twenty oh-one.”

Wikipedia’s entry for the years 2020 include vernacular predictions for that year such as:

* By mid-decade, Alpine glaciers are likely to contain only half their 1970’s volume.

* NASA expects to land another group of astronauts on the moon.

* Voyager 2 is expected to stop transmitting back to Earth in the 2020s.

* Futurist Ray Kurzweil puts 2029 as the year most likely for the Singularity.

These forecasts can be thought of as the official future — what conventional wisdom expects. Even though no one thinks Ray Kurzweil is conventional, I would argue that anything that persists on Wikipedia can be thought of as conventional wisdom by definition.

If expanded greatly the official future timeline might prove to be a useful document of what we expect.

  • John H

    It seems likely that this shift in phrasing will take place by the year 2525 (if man is still alive).

  • Todd

    Pronunciation: perhaps oddly, virtually everyone I know already says (e.g.) “twenty-oh-eight” — there seemed some uncertainty in 2001/2002, but by 2003 it seemed universal. On the other hand perhaps it’s just regional (Victoria BC) or maybe I only know oddballs.

  • lillian

    Interestingly I just ran across what might be considered the reverse of this. In Robert Penn Warren’s novel “All the King’s Men” one of the characters makes a joking comment about the the year 2050, which is rendered in the text as “twenty-hundred and fifty.”

    I had to read that line a few times before it registered.

    Also, RE: Todd and the article in general, I rarely hear people in California using more than decade/year when speaking; meaning, ’03 or ’97 or ’85. 2000 is usually “two thousand”, rarely Y2K (ugh) and never “double ought.”

    However, future dates beyond ’09 are typically “twenty X” as suggested by the article.

    Oh, and John H. gets +1 for the Zager and Evans reference.

  • C

    It may be difficult to use Wikipedia as an archive for future predictions, as their guidelines require verifiability and attribution, and one of the entries on “What Wikipedia is not” is “Wikipedia is not a crystal ball”. While it may be possible to provide citations about who predicted what scenario, the events themselves cannot possibly be verifiable in the way that they mean, and I predict that such entries will be removed from the future years entries. ;)

    There is an interesting small wiki which is trying to look into the future, however. Check out http://future.wikia.com/ and examine some of the scenarios they’ve built — they’d welcome more information from current thinkers in the field, and I think it would be a perfect place to build a “timeline of future events” and other new articles. The community is fairly small at the moment — a few strong contributors from among the readers of this blog could add significant depth and form to the wiki by working harmoniously with the existing membership. Consider yourself invited!

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