Making predictions can be tough — Exhibit A, Harold Camping. But while prophesying the end of the world always ends badly (or always has in the past, anyway), there is such a thing as an educated guess. Prognosticators, futurists, and run-of-the-mill experts are often proved right by viewing the existing data and projecting it into tomorrow, or 50 years from now. To make ready for the next half century, check out some of these 50 books on everything from business to the biology of the future.
- I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton:
The digital media world is changing so quickly, this book by The New York Times head tech writer probably won’t see you through 50 years. But it will explain how experience, not content, will be the business model of successful companies in the near future, anyway.
- The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd:
Corporate curricula that use video games and employees electing their leaders are just two of the 20 predictions these two businesswomen are lobbing at the coming decade.
- The Future of Content by Gerd Leonhard:
Good news, consumers; this futurist thinks the old business model for content of pay-to-play is dead. The business of content producing in the future will be to add value with followers and generate trust.
- Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee:
Get ready for the protestors shouting “A robot took my job!” This duo from MIT believe such days are ahead but with preparation we can keep from leaving workers behind.
- Think Like a Futurist: Know What Changes, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next by Cecily Sommers:
Like a magician revealing the secrets of his trade, Sommers shows you how to recognize patterns and “future-proof” your business.
- Foresight 2020: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow by Jack Uldrich and Simon Anderson:
Being a futurist only pays to the extent he or she can make a business (or prevent it from losing) money. Uldrich and Anderson earn their keep by delving into 11 possible scenarios on the horizon.
- The Next Boom: What You Absolutely, Positively Have to Know About the World Between Now and 2025 by Jack W. Plunkett:
It’s going to be sunny in the U.S. in the future, and not just in Philadelphia. Plunkett’s optimistic forecast predicts bullish times for nanotech, biotech, and remote wireless sensors.
- Custom Nation: Why Customization Is the Future of Business and How to Profit From It by Anthony Flynn and Emily Flynn Vencat:
With easy-to-read prose and easily enacted advice, this recent bestseller is already earning rave reviews. Read and you’ll see how in the future, customization is king.
- The Future of Management by Gary Hamel:
You probably won’t have a robot manager any time soon. But for all those human managers out there who are basically robots now, read this book and get with the program; the future is encouraging creativity, not exerting strict control.
- Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson:
Don’t worry, oil magnates; this book isn’t meant for you. But the facts prove the costs for online business are shrinking to nil, and pricing at zero dollars might be the key to success in tomorrow’s market.
- How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil:
According to Kurzweil, his 1999 published predictions for technology in the year 2009 were 86% correct. His latest book again deals with a future in which he sees a new intelligence coming into existence that far surpasses that of humans.
- Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky:
Following up on his hit book Here Comes Everybody, technology sage Clay Shirky sees mankind become collaborators, not just consumers, in the production of new creations that will move humanity forward. LOLcats notwithstanding.
- Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World by David D. Friedman:
With his triple-threat background of theoretical physics, economics, and law, Friedman is perfectly suited to give an interesting, at-times fascinating look at AI, virtual reality, and other technological frontiers.
- The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything by Michael Saylor:
As ingrained as smartphones and tablets already are to life today, at least one “science historian” believes they will be the death of credit cards, classrooms, cash, even real estate.
- Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil Degrasse Tyson:
The rock star of the NASA crowd, Tyson is a huge opponent of the defunding space exploration is currently mired in. This book is his treatise on what we’ll miss out on if we don’t wise up.
- Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku:
Flying cars, space elevators, and robot chefs—now this is a future we can get behind, courtesy of well-known theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
- Mind Amplifier: Can Our Digital Tools Make Us Smarter? by Howard Rheingold:
The fact that it’s only 62 pages might be evidence that our attention spans are shorter, but as far as intelligence is concerned, “online instigator” Howard Rheingold makes a good case for how tech will help us solve mankind’s problems.
- Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler:
One by one, Diamandis and Kotler tick off the list of human needs and present their evidence for how innovators, “Technophilanthropists,” and new tech will help all citizens of the world not just survive, but prosper.
Environment, Energy, and Food
- Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg:
The good news is, according to this environmental journalist, the polar bears are fine. The bad news is we may be wasting our time with our current efforts to curb global warming.
- Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller:
You don’t have to be “the Decider” to be concerned about the future of energy. Berkeley physics prof Richard Muller has answers to your pressing questions on nuclear power, the viability of alternatives like wind and solar, and more.
- Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter:
The war for what we eat has already begun, and if you want to be prepared for the massive fight that’s coming with the giant food conglomerates, you’d better get this book and study up.
- The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One by Sylvia Earle:
Time‘s first ever “Hero for the Planet,” Earle is a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of our ever put-upon oceans. She lays out in no uncertain terms what our pollution and overfishing will do to this blue planet of ours.
- Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air by David JC MacKay:
As this Cambridge professor well knows, discussing the benefits of alternative energy sources can bring out the exaggerator in proponents. Steering clear of hyperbole, Mackay gives an entertaining and intriguing look into the hard data of sustainable energy.
- The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future by Laurence C. Smith:
UCLA geography professor Smith offers his measuredly optimistic take on life four decades from now; optimistic, that is, for the countries in the Arctic Rim. It’s well-researched, insightful, and doesn’t descend into the doom and gloom books like this often do.
- The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food by Josh Schonwald:
You won’t find much in the way of coming revolutions in the world of dairy, but check this one out if you share Schonwald’s passion for finding “the perfect salad.” You’ll also be treated to a lesson on what’s being done on in vitro meat production.
- Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg:
Covering similar territory to The World is Blue, lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg gives a startling look at how we get our salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. If what he describes is the future, you may want to get your fill of these tasty fish while you can.
- The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman:
We’ve all heard it said “water is the next oil,” but that’s not really the case. What is true, according to Fishman, is our need to develop a newfound respect for water and to redouble our efforts to conserve the clean stuff.
- $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner:
As downright horrible as it sounds, $20 gas might be just the tough love we need to break us of our gas-guzzling, SUV-driving, plastic-consuming ways.
- World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester R. Brown:
As you can tell from the title, this is one of those reads that won’t leave you with the warm and fuzzies. Still, it’s a crucial read by a hero of the global environmentalism movement.
Health and Medicine
- A Return to Healing: Radical Health Care Reform and the Future of Medicine by Len Saputo M.D.:
Could it be we’re finally ready to move our health care system beyond symptom treatment with prescription drugs to full-fledged healing and even prevention? This doc thinks so and makes a compelling case.
- The Future of Health-Care Delivery: Why It Must Change and How It Will Affect You by Stephen C. Schimpff M.D.:
Hopefully you don’t harbor any illusions about the U.S. having the best health care system in the country. However, longtime medical expert Dr. Schimpff has some ideas about what the improved system will look like if we cut insurance companies out of the process and get medicine back to a doctor-patient relationship.
- The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care by Eric Topol M.D.:
Cancer cell detection: there’s an app for that? Dr. Topol argues we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the intersection between medicine and technology, and that it holds the key for truly universal health care.
- The Stem Cell Hope: How Stem Cell Medicine Can Change Our Lives by Alice Park:
Although it deals more with the by now well-established topic of stem cells, Time senior science writer Alice Park’s book gives a clear breakdown of a phenomenon that is sure to play a large role in the future of medicine.
- The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care by Clayton M. Christensen, Jerome H. Grossman M.D., Jason Hwang M.D.:
With help from two respected doctors, Harvard business prof Christensen brings his innovator cred to bear on how the health care system can be salvaged for future generations.
- My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time by Lone Frank:
It turns out Gattaca was scarily prescient, right down to the fact that “personal genetics” was coming in “the not-too-distant future.” In fact, it’s here, and in the not-too-distant future you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it.
- DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz:
Kamenetz gets no argument from us that online education is the future. But for the doubters, she lays out how we got to the broken system we have today and how personalized and experiential learning will cure what ails it.
- A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown:
Required reading for anyone interested in the classrooms of tomorrow, A New Culture of Learning offers methods for adapting to a new vision of education that embraces game learning, lifelong learning, and more.
- Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America by Mary Landon Darden:
Who better to ask about the future of the university than a bunch of college presidents and higher ed experts? In her questions, Darden tackles all the pressing issues, from technology to legal concerns and the all-important question of financing.
- The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond:
Despite our specific efforts to the contrary, the world is leaving our students behind. Linda Darling-Hammond makes a strong case that major change is needed to revamp our dated education system.
- Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities by Richard A. DeMillo:
If you’re, say, a college president looking for crib notes on how to move your school into the next era of education, DeMillo has you (and teachers, students, and parents) covered.
- Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson:
Collins and Halverson give so much space to criticisms of edutech that some come away thinking they’re pessimists. The truth is the book is a balanced discussion of how best to incorporate social networks and distance learning into education.
- The Future of Education: Reimagining Our Schools from the Ground Up by Kieran Egan:
Obviously we couldn’t leave this one off the list. Prof. Egan’s dream is for “imaginative education,” and he lays out his plan for getting us there by 2060.
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein:
This bestselling, controversial book is nearly five years old now and covers events as far back as the ’70s. But considering many countries are still recovering from their run-ins with the free-market system, and U.S. foreign policy doesn’t look primed to change anytime soon, this makes a good read for what to expect in the future.
- 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers:
A co-author of 1972′s seminal Limits to Growth, Randers is back to provide a sneak peak of the entire first half of the 21st century, complete with decreased fertility and productivity and rampant global warming. Bummer.
- The Future of Power by Joseph S. Nye Jr.:
The Harvard man who coined the phrase “soft power” shines the light on the coming battle for global dominance that will be waged not on the battlefield, but in cyberspace.
- Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution by Steve McIntosh:
McIntosh tackles no less than the future of the universe with this work. It’s a great introduction to the integral thought field of study.
- The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox:
What will the Christian church look like in 2030, or 2050? Legendary Harvard theologian Harvey Cox thinks faith will be more about spirit and community in the next generations.
- The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich:
A retired U.S. Army colonel, Bacevich is no conspiracy theorist, which is why his sobering accusation that we the people have to abandon our thirst for resources before we will see an end to war.
- Page One: Inside The New York Times and the Future of Journalism by David Folkenflik:
An award-winning journalist for NPR assembles some of the most knowledgeable of his peers in the industry for an in-depth look at news in the 21st century, with the storied New York Times as his go-by.
- The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction by David Orrell:
As our parting suggestion, go meta with David Orrell’s book on the discipline of prognostication so after reading the other books, your expectations will be grounded in reality.