|There will only be one future, BUT ...|
That future will be determined incrementally by what happens next and next+1, etc.
And, at least in our little corner of the multiverse, some of our thoughts will influence actions, programs or even words that may build a future different to what might have been without those thoughts. While we will never see that alternate future, that does not diminish our responsibility to do our best. Yes, that begs the question of "best" by whose judgement? This is one big reason "values" are so contested.
Of course there are many scales of future from heat death to the moment. I diverge from others I respect by staying open to the possibility that it is well worth talking about futures far beyond what current lifespan limits, or runaway technologies, might prevent us personally connecting to. Observed consistency from place to place and time to time gives some confidence in a measure of scenario and statistical prediction.
Exit strategies for "greed is good"
There are good people who honestly believe he (and it is rarely she) who finishes with the biggest number wins. They are wrong! Even winning the game of life can be looked at from very different angles. Live the best life or leave the best legacy? Even while you are alive, your works and other legacies are quickly subservient to the actions of others, totally so after you've gone. Life or legacy, there is minimal agreement on what "good" means, though almost everybody assumes it is accurately and consistently definable. They too are wrong.
Every human has a story, and maybe a million more they're unable to tell. Remember there are a million half minutes every year and a lot can happen in 30 seconds. Recording more of those stories for posterity might be a good start. The kind of long term thinking I want to explore here would look seriously at the technological potential for reincarnating eternal souls to move from Skinnerian fiction to self fulfilling prophecy. Of course "eternal" is constrained by heat death at one end and earliest records at the other. It could equally apply to fictional, fictionalised and honestly documented first lives, which might be a good reason not to get too hung up on secrets and privacy if you see any attraction in some future reincarnate which identifies with your life being able to reexamine its approximation to your thinking in the light of how things really do turn out.
Yet it remains hard to escape the likelihood that the 1% will gain preferential access to that path and/or to Aubrey de Grey's more medical approach to self preservation. Ever more intense entanglements have seen us move from life is cheap as world population grew to a third of today's level to being so precious less than a lifetime later that we can't allow consensual exit from terminal suffering for humans that it would be rightfully illegal to deny our pets. I'm starting to see life as the true source of value, and in a non-scalar sense as its true measure. And while luxuriating as an ever privileged boomer WASAM (atheist male rather than protester) amongst the fringes of the world's most liveable city, I can indulge fantasies of impending collapse of the monetarist system as essential to finding a better way forward.
The literal beheading of privilege portrayed by Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities has only ever resulted in the temporary vacuum being filled by more of the same, so it might be time to try to improve that refilling process before attempting anything similar. My own unreasonable optimism remains focused on the possibility of an expansion of the internet's highly productive RFC process to assume unilateral control in areas suffering authoritarian strangulation.
The wider medium term field
Beyond the ever present possibility that the human project will prove unviable, or at least reboot due to a generalist cockroach potential with only fragmented traces of some soon mythologised glorious past, there are so end of dystopian futures with the flavour of Solyent Green. Let me ignore that spectrum as it won't be us that is occupying anything there.
I have had some fun with far-from-publication-ready writing within the scenario above where resurrecting partially documented characters becomes something of a sport. If and when we make progress with efficient encodings of personality and context, that scenario becomes part of a rich continuum from uploading synapse and circuit maps derived from finely sliced frozen brains to nurturing cyber assistants which can seamlessly proxy for us when we are off recreating or recuperating. An argument from how much we actually do in a lifetime suggests a digital representation of any individual should be losslessly compresible to less than a gigabyte provided it can be embedded in the common history of the world around us and our interconnections, rather than the rest having to be replicated for each of us.
Aubrey de Grey's medicalised reversing of ageing processes is my more promising part of a biological spectrum which includes deep frozen preservation and nano robot swarm interventions. There are bridges from there to the above digital scenarios and to what I see as the more consequential eggs in one basket issue which requires seeding viable value creating capability off planet. Robotic incarnation scenarios are familiar enough, but far less persuasive has been written about how we might really go about putting an old soul in a new biological body, not even in the extended Dune series where such outcomes are frequent plot elements.
It might take another millennium of remote observation and ambitious probes before we start to truly appreciate how precious our nest might be in galactic terms, so it would be really good to reduce our habitual despoiling long before that. In my ideal world, we would be aiming to quickly reach a point where indefinite life extension technologies are only allowed off planet. We also need to make conservative judgements until we find a way out of the circularity where a lifetime isn't long enough to run the research programs needed to get enough grasp on the Fermi paradox to allow us to make informed judgements about the future role of the only eukaryotic biosphere we may ever know.
Cyberspace, outer space or something yet unthought of?
I'm not sure George Lucas has any idea just how profound "bringing balance to the force" might prove to be. We go about our business in a state space where creative synergy between deterministic chaos and emergent order reigns supreme. Way too many refuse to challenge default assumptions about the Rule of Law and the hopeless assumptions it makes about the possibility of a fully ordered end state, as dead as any heat death. The ultimate role of emergent order is to accelerate the spread of chaos as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics which really does rule our cosmos. But we also need that emergent order to advantage pattern recognition, the basis of perception of beauty and danger, as well, at a lower level, as metabolic resilience.
While I bemoan the math envy of physicists which trickles down to the physics envy of other hard sciences and with ever less grounding to the hard science envy of the social sciences, there is another level at which math and logic reveal truths which extend far beyond any of those silos within silos. My problem is with those who think having a sometimes very accurate mathematical model of a process means they understand the process. There is a whole history and philosophy of science lesson here which must be skipped over but which should remind us that a century's accumulation of observations and facts might make it way past time to revisit the black boxed ideas on which those observations have been based. There is also my big lesson, in preparation, on Emergence/Systems/Complexity which uses computer-based toy worlds to explore the implications of the aforementioned creative synergy.
Does the ability to trade derivatives in milliseconds to no aggregate advantage translate into an ability to save our planet and our race from whatever next black swan emerges from our ever more intertwined systems? Or will we not be looking in the right direction when the first clues emerge? With a billion moderately intelligent observers tweeting, how do we sort the signal from the noise? Is there anything more exciting we might attempt this year than tweaking the fringes of government as usual anchored safely outside territorial waters? Or is it just time to spread the meme that one palliative care nurse is worth ten accountants? I know who we boomers need most.