A History of the Future in 100 Objects

If you aren't already familiar with Adrian Hon, you should be. This game designer and entrepreneur is one of the creators of the hit fitness game Zombies, Run! but that's on top of being a neuroscientist, a newspaper columnist, a TED speaker, and one of my co-podcasters on The Cultures. (More on that soon!)

I had the pleasure of helping to edit Adrian's latest project, A History of the Future in 100 Objects. It is by turns inspiring, frightening, thought-provoking, and touching. And its vision of the future is so clear and convincing that ever since I've read it, I see news articles daily in which his predictions are close to coming true, and sooner than I ever would have thought. Naturally, I asked Adrian if he'd do a Q&A over here at DeusXM to tell all of you a little more about this fascinating project.

For readers who don't know much about the project yet, can you talk a little bit about what History of the Future in 100 Objects is, and how it came about?

 My direct inspiration for the book was "A History of the World in 100 Objects", a radio series produced by the British Museum and BBC Radio 4. It told the story of human history, from 40,000 years ago to the present day, through a hundred objects chosen from the British Museum's collection, with each object being presented in a 10 minute radio programme.

Shortly through the series, I realised that this format would be perfect for exploring the future, as it could ground futuristic concepts in a tangible physical object. I've always been interested in the future ever since I was very young, reading science fiction by Clarke and Asimov, and I've continued that interest through school and university, where I studied neuroscience, and into my ten years of experience as a game designer and CEO.

 I knew people in the publishing industry so I definitely had the route of shopping the idea to an agent or a publisher, but I'm on the record as saying that I think authors should explore self-publishing more (I wrote a blog post called "The Death of Publishers" about which the head of Macmillan said "I disagree with everything he says but you should still read it") — so I decided that it would be more interesting to self-publish.

However, I still wanted to know if people thought the idea was good, so I went to Kickstarter in early 2011 to raise $2500 for a short print run and to pay for various bits and pieces. I raised almost double that amount and crucially established that people wanted to read such a book. Naively, I thought I could write the whole thing in a year. Of course, it turned out that writing 100 short stories while having a very demanding day job *and* also writing a column for The Telegraph was not easy, so it ended up taking two and a half years instead... 

The History is well-grounded in real and developing technology and the ways that people have adapted to new technology in the past. Did you have multiple views of the future fighting for supremacy, or was it really one clear vision to describe?

The book presents a single coherent world, but just like in our world, there's great variability between different places and between different people. That meant that I had a lot of flexibility in exploring different kinds of futures in different countries, or ultimately, planets and habitats. Still, it probably would've been much easier if I had fewer objects to write about!

 What do you think is the wildest prediction you're making? The safest?

The wildest: Probably 'Cepheid Variable', which is a story about AI communication with aliens via a Cepheid Variable star whose pulse-period has been modified by neutrinos. There's a lot in that story and I don't seriously think it would actually happen — but it's certainly a lot of fun to think about, plus it let me explore some ideas about conspiracy theories and the future of programming!

The safest: There are several very safe objects! One of the safest is '50% Unemployment', where I talk about the future of work. It's very clear to many thinkers and economists that the increasing rate of automation will eliminate a huge number of full-time, permanent jobs. It says a lot about our culture that this is not a cause for rejoicing.

Is there anything you really believed before you started writing, but that you changed your mind on during the process as you did further research?

About the objects or about the process of writing? I did quite a bit of reading about energy usage, and realised that it's going to take an awful lot longer to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It took us about a hundred years to go from wood and coal to oil, and it may take another hundred years to diversify beyond that. Thankfully that process is well underway right now, but the problem is that we're still going to see significant global warming anyway.

This was an enormous project, and took you over two years to complete. What's next for you as an independent creator? Do you have more to say about the future, or have you said everything you needed to say right now?

I have plenty more to say about the future and I'm looking forward to saying it in a more straightforward way! But I don't anticipate that being my next major project. I still have a reasonable amount of work I need to do on publicising the book, and then I want to take a break. I have a lot of ideas for non-writing projects that I want to think about, many of which are addressed in the book in various ways. I'm certain I'll return to writing properly at some point though.


The complete History is available on Amazon and Gumroad, but you can also read excerpts right now for free.


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