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99 Unanswerable Questions and the Unintended Consequences of the Future We’re Creating

by | Oct 31, 2019 | Futurist Thomas Frey Insights

Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: 99 Unanswerable Questions and Unintended Consequences of the Future We Are Creating

How do you handle questions that you can’t answer?

If, in the future, you found yourself on a jury, and you were tasked with determining the fate of a heinous criminal (think Ted Bundy), and you had the option to either sentence him to lethal injection or total amnesia, which would you decide?

With total amnesia the brain is totally wiped clean and the person would have to learn how to walk, talk, and feed himself or herself all over again.

The reason this is such a challenging question is because it gets at the heart of what we value in human life. Do we place more value on the life itself or the personality that exemplifies it?

Personally, I find questions like this to be hugely valuable because they force us to rethink the way we make decisions and what our choices today will mean for the future.

So ask yourself, “how do you handle a question that you can’t answer?”

We all approach tough questions differently, with some of us searching Google, others turning to a smarter friend, and still others using some sort of formula to list everything we know in hopes of discovering unique insights about ourselves.

But in many situations, we simply run into questions where no answer exists. These are what we call unanswerable questions, and there are tons of them.

We’ve all heard questions like, “What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?” or “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Yet, today’s technology is leading us into unchartered territory and the number of unanswerable questions is exploding around us.

Over the past century we have made some astonishing leaps forward in science and technology. While this has given us the answers to questions our ancestors would never have believed we’d figure out, we still have many overarching questions that need to be worked on.

For this reason I’ve spent the past few days jotting down some of the truly perplexing questions, most of which we may never be able to answer.

From the Beginning of Time

  1. Why does anything exist? In the beginning there was nothing. How did something come from nothing?
  2. How was the universe formed?
  3. Why was it created, and why like this?
  4. What existed before the universe?
  5. Was there ever a time when nothing existed or has something always been in existence?
  6. Are we alone in the universe?

The Concept of Time

  1. At what point did time begin?
  2. Did time exist before the universe was created, or did that come later?
  3. Does time only flow forward or are there exceptions?
  4. Will we ever be able to travel through time?
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Rethinking Physics

  1. A thousand years from now, which things will be possible and which ones will not?
  2. How big is the universe and is ours the only one?
  3. What effect will too much screen time have on us as a society 50 years in the future?
  4. Where does matter come from?
  5. What exactly is gravity?
  6. Why should we expect a universe full of chaos and randomness to be fair?
  7. Is karma real or just a human construct?

Understanding the Earth

  1. Is the Earth alive, as in a living, breathing organism?
  2. If we could make a map of the inside of the earth, what would it look like?
  3. Will it ever be possible to travel to the center of the earth?
  4. What effect does the molten center of the earth have on the surface temperature?

The Singularity

  1. What is the singularity and how will it affect me as an individual?
  2. Will the singularity happen in my lifetime?
  3. Will things be better or worse after the singularity?

Future Thinking

  1. Where does the future come from?
  2. Where does the “future” go after we experience it?
  3. Can human nature be changed, and should it?
  4. Are people more skeptical of people who claim to have answers or more skeptical of other skeptics?
  5. Will we ever discover humanoid life on other planets?
  6. What do you most want your future self to remember about you 20 years from now?
  7. What will be the biggest human advancement on planet earth during your lifetime?
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The Fine Art of Introspection

  1. Where does an idea go when it’s forgotten?
  2. Is there such a thing as inherently bad knowledge, or is all knowledge value neutral?
  3. How much control do you really have over the course that your life has taken?
  4. Why are you here, doing what you’re doing, at this very moment in your life?
  5. Did you arrive at this point in your life because you subconsciously “willed it” or because you were destined to be here?
  6. Does anonymity encourage people to misbehave?
  7. Is it more or less difficult to be successful today?

Self-Examination

  1. How will the world change if we develop an accurate way of measuring talent?
  2. Is happiness a meaningful goal?
  3. Is it possible to know what is truly good and what is evil?
  4. Will the world be better off without “bad people?”
  5. How would you know if time had been altered in some way?
  6. Are there limits to human creativity?
  7. Will we ever have a definable form of measurement for the concept of “truth?”
  8. Is it possible for us as humans to comprehend the true depths of our reality and existence

Sensory Thinking

  1. How many things can be “sensed” outside the realm of human understanding?
  2. Will it ever be possible to “replay events” that happened in the past?
  3. Do today’s technologies make global conspiracies more or less feasible?
  4. Will the advancement of today’s technologies yield a net positive or a net negative result?
  5. Will it ever be possible to communicate with people in the past or in the future?
  6. Do people have a moral obligation to improve themselves?
  7. If someone altered your memory, how would you know?

Government

  1. Will the world be better off with relatively more countries or relatively fewer?
  2. Will we still have today’s style of nation-state countries 1,000 years from now?
  3. What forms of government will be better than democracy?
  4. Should we gamify citizenship?
  5. If people were given the option of starting a new country, what features, options, or capabilities would make it more valuable than counties today?
  6. Is poverty an inevitable part of every social structure?
  7. If data scientists had the ability to accurately predict who was more likely to commit crimes in the future, how should society respond to that information?
  8. Will it be possible for countries to operate without prisons in the future? Perhaps a better way to phrase this, what comes after prisons?
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Reinventing Society

  1. Which major corporations will no longer exist 20 years from now?
  2. Will we ever be able to download our brains onto a computer storage device?
  3. Is there a limit to how smart one person can be?
  4. If you could invent one thing that would have the most significant impact on the world, what would it be?
  5. Should we terraform other planets if it means that we might be destroying undiscovered microscopic alien life?
  6. At what point is a genetically enhanced human no longer human?
  7. How long before human cloning becomes a viable option? What problems will it solve?
  8. If the human race was put on trial by an advanced group of extraterrestrials, how would you defend humanity and argue for its continued existence?

Personal Health

  1. Will we ever have an acceptable definition for perfect health?
  2. Are people today more healthy or less healthy than 20 years ago?
  3. What will the average life expectancy be 20 years from now?
  4. How long before the average life expectancy on planet earth is over 100 years?
  5. Will it ever be possible for someone to live forever?
  6. What exactly makes us human?
  7. Will we ever find a universal cure for cancer?
  8. What exactly is consciousness? Are animals also conscious?

Cryptocurrencies

  1. Will cryptocurrencies become a common form of currency in the future?
  2. How long will it be before cryptocurrencies replace 50% of national currencies?
  3. What comes after cryptocurrencies?
  4. If and when will universal basic income become a reality?

Flying Drone Tech

  1. Does the right to “bear arms” give me the right to own a drone that is armed?
  2. How long will it take for Chicago to average 50,000 drones flying overhead on a daily basis?
  3. How long before I can summon a drone to pick me up in front of my house and have it fly me to a destination three hours away?
  4. What percentage of passenger drones will have fly-drive capabilities in 2040?

Driverless Transportation

  1. At what age is it okay to put a child into a driverless car by itself?
  2. What will the fastest form of transportation be in 2050?
  3. Will people still own their own cars in the future?
  4. How long will it be before 50% of the cars on the road are driverless?
  5. Will all vehicles eventually become driverless?
  6. In what year will we reach “peak” transportation?
  7. Do we have a right to privacy in a shared driverless vehicle?

Artificial Intelligence

  1. Will it ever be possible to know everything?
  2. Will we ever have an ability to measure artificial intelligence the way we measure horsepower?
  3. Do we run the risk of becoming too dependent upon artificial intelligence?
  4. Since there is no such thing as a true game of chance, how long will it be before AI destroys our existing gambling industry?
  5. Can a society exist without laws?
  6. Should we develop ways to control emotions through technology?
  7. How long before AI causes a collapse of today’s stock exchanges?
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Unanswerable questions are the breeding ground for unintended consequences!

Final Thoughts

After thinking through these questions, perhaps the most interesting one of all is simply, “What does this all mean?”

The short answer is that all unanswerable questions are the breeding ground for unintended consequences.

While it is unlikely that we’ll ever face a robot insurrection, artificial intelligence does pose a number of troubling questions. Who’s responsible for the decisions an AI-managed system makes? How many AI-managed systems are too many?

All of these unanswerable questions need to be wrestled with, rethought, and reworked as every emerging technology forces us to reconsider the dangers that lie ahead.

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