Long time ago I learned about a concept, which I now call “future proofness”. I coined this term myself, but it is also present in Wikipedia. However, with a bit different meaning. In my case, the main idea was that the future technology could improve and extract additional information from your current artifacts. Let’s see couple examples.
I learned this concept originally in the context of DNA. Currently analyzing one’s DNA provides some insights, but they are not too impressive. Humanity still seems to lack deep understanding of how everything works. At the same time, there are already many things one can do with their DNA. The most obvious example - 23andMe. Spit in the box, send it their way and for $99 they will prepare a report with various peculiar details discovered from your DNA. Alternatively one can search for their relatives by their DNA.
Here future proofness comes in play. These companies get access to one’s DNA to provide their services and currently cannot do much else. However, it may not be the case in the future. One example - what if people learn to very reliably predict illnesses by DNA and then insurance companies set their contributions based on such predictions. At the same time there can be cases, which we currently even cannot imagine. Thus, from future proofness perspective one should not give away their DNA, because in the future there may be a way to extract sensitive data out of it. That’s why I personally feel uneasy about using 23andMe. Some countries consider taking DNA on their border in some cases (CNN about a similar idea in the US).
I am aware of at least one example of poor future proofness having bad consequences for a person. In 1970s there was a series of crimes with DNA left behind. Recently this material was compared to data from online services for finding relatives based on DNA. As a result a relative of a person, who committed the crimes, was matched. In the end, the criminal was arrested. Thus, leaving DNA in 1970s happened to be not future proof. Source: vox.
Another area where future proofness may play role is cryptography. Imagine that you encrypt your data and store it in a cloud. As a result the could provider theoretically has access to the encrypted version. Let’s say after 30 years the encryption method you used is not secure anymore (e.g. computation power has grown so much or a vulnerability was discovered). As a result, the cloud provider can now have access to your 30 year old data. The value of this data can be questionable, but I can still imagine this backfiring badly. Also the time span can be even shorter.
It is definitely not clear how to protect against this. If with DNA we can avoid giving away the data, here this is trickier. Theoretically we could store the data ourselves, but this is inconvenient. Another option would be to use stronger encryption parameters. However, I suspect that this will affect the performance really badly and the future security improvement won’t be that large.
Photos of faces
Another peculiar example is photos of faces. Imagine that one publishes their photo or video where they do questionable things (e.g. nudity or so). Their line of thought might be that it is very unlikely that someone from their immediate surrounding will discover this. Somewhat recently reverse face search started to appear. Basically one can upload a photo of a face and these sites show profiles in social networks with faces matching the given photo. E.g. verge reports on one of these.
Another example is using masks which hide only part of one’s face. It is very common in law enforcement to use masks which don’t cover eyes. Practicality of this design decision is hard to question. I also agree that humans struggle with recognizing someone just by their eyes. However, I could imagine some technology doing that pretty well in the future. I am not aware of any examples yet.
Using future proofness for good
There are also examples where future proofness can be used for good. Unfortunately in this case the term naming does not work well, but I will still keep it.
Robert Sapolsky in “Stress, Portrait of a Killer” (one of his documentaries) mentioned storing baboon samples frozen for years in case human develop better ways to analyze them.
Cryonics is fully based on this principle. The idea is to somehow preserve a person in a reasonable state, which could be reversed once the technology advances enough. E.g. they can be terminally ill. Once they die according to the current law, their body can be stored in a special way to minimize the damage and to keep its structure. Once the technology advances far enough to undo the effect of storage and also treat the original illness, they can theoretically be revived.
Obviously one cannot protect against everything and there are always tradeoffs between effort and security. At the same time, just knowing about the concept of future proofness can help one to avoid making questionable decisions. It is also peculiar to notice this concept being at play in many unrelated areas of life.
Happy future proof decisions!