A Personal Interview With Jacque Fresco
Was there something specific you experienced that made you first begin thinking about alternate forms of living, or was it more of a compilation of experiences?
Living through the 1929 Great Depression helped shape my social conscience. During this time, I realized the earth was still the same place, manufacturing plants were still intact, and resources were still there, but people didn't have money to buy the products. I felt the rules of the game we play by were outmoded and damaging. This began a life-long quest resulting in the conclusions and designs presented in The Venus Project.
Conditions of misery, suffering, war, and war profiteering were the incentive and inspiration for my work. I was also motivated by the seeming incompetence of governments, the academic world, and a lack of solutions from scientists. Many fail as generalists because of their over-specialization on limited aspects of social problems. Scientists, politicians, and academicians see problems from inside the system they’re in, which is what’s responsible for the problems in the first place. I am disappointed with those who worry about terra-forming other planets while our own is still full of war, poverty, hunger, and environmental neglect.
Working with drug addicts, alcoholics, and so-called juvenile delinquents in New York City convinced me that instead of working with individuals, more effective methods would deal with the societal conditions that create dysfunctional behaviors in the first place.
Can you remember your very first design moment?
Yes. When I was about 13, one of my relatives stuck his hand into a metal fan while it was on. This led me to design a fan with rubber or fabric blades. I submitted the design to some companies, but they showed no interest. Shortly after that, the product came out on the market. This was my introduction to the market place.
Once when I was 10, I designed a special candle for a religious sect in New York City. They weren't permitted to put out a candle on their holy days, so I designed one that would self extinguish at any hour they desired. I timed the burning of the candle for whatever amount of time was needed. Then I cut the wick at different points in the candle that correlated with different times and pulled the remaining wick out from the bottom of the candle.
Mr. Fresco, in noticing in your work a great faith on changes and a great positiveness towards things that seem impossible or, at least, possible in a distant future (like the sea colonisation forecast), what I’m asking myself is: where do you take this great trust in challenges from?
Working in the aircraft industry I learned a lot about planes that move in three dimensions and undergo a wide range of stresses. It was essential to consider many things that differ from static structures on the ground. There were challenges like simplifying design, eliminating conspicuous waste, and obtaining the greatest performance with a minimum expenditure of energy.
Another factor encouraging my positive attitude about problem solving was World War II when the U.S. spent billions of dollars for weapons of mass destruction in the Manhattan Project. Cost was no object and it was one of the largest and best-financed projects undertaken to that date. I realized the same energies that went into the Manhattan Project could be channeled to improve and update our way of life, and to achieve and maintain the optimal symbiotic relationship between nature and humankind. If we are willing to spend that amount of money, resources, and human lives in times of war, we must ask why we don’t commit equal resources to improving the lives of everyone and anticipating humane needs for the future in times of peace.
When scientists were called upon to solve problems of a military nature, the answers were immediately forthcoming. This demonstrated to me the ability of science and technology to solve problems when properly organized and funded, but it is shameful that these methods are not applied to solving social problems on a global scale.
It is also shameful when billions are spent on space projects for terra-forming uninhabited planets to make them habitable while our own planet is neglected, and the land, sea, and air are polluted.
In my work I am not attempting to predict the future. I am only pointing out what is possible with the intelligent application and humane use of science and technology. This does not call for scientists to manage society. What I suggest is applying the methods of science to the social system for the benefit of human kind and the environment.
A quick look at your resume shows that you are by far an ingenious person, having worked at various and different fields. When did you start engaging with Human Factors Engineering and elaborating on the perspectives of human capability?
I did it before it was a recognized profession. It began as an approach for making human procedures in technology more efficient. Soon, they started getting more production out of people in shorter times, and I realized the advantages served industry rather than people which made me uncomfortable.
What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?
We have the technology to build a global paradise on earth, and at the same time we have the power to end life as we know it. I am a futurist. I cannot predict the actual future--only what it can be if we manage the earth and its resources intelligently. Where I may differ from other futurists is that I work on actual blueprints and methodologies which can achieve a sustainable global society in which all will have a higher standard of living with greater freedom and opportunity. If we work toward this new global society, we can free the world from hunger, war, and poverty--a world humanity has failed to achieve throughout history. If civilization continues on its present course, we will simply repeat the same mistakes all over again.
You claim that we can overcome the world’s constant issues such as war, poverty and hunger. How is this possible? Are you working on any kind of solutions about these?
My entire life’s work and alternative social design are all about solutions to these problems. It is not just patch work to paper over the problems we face, but I have always worked on proposals to eliminate the conditions responsible for these problems in the first place. To properly answer this question would take volumes. I can only recommend my book The Best That Money Can’t Buy. Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
You've been compared with DaVinci. How does it feel? Does this make you feel pressured to meet these expectations?
I don’t think about this comparison at all. I am not pressured to meet any expectation except that which is available to me. If people support the project, then it will occur. If they fail to do so, we will continue with our current problems. It is not up to me. All I am able to do at this time is to present a possible alternative. The future of sustaining our species depends on the actions we take today.
I feel that I have advantages greater than Da Vinci’s such as access to more information, materials, and methods.
Are you optimist or pessimist about the future?
I am neither. It does not depend on me alone. I do all I can to help bring about a positive future which could overcome many of the problems the world faces today.
Anyone you're dying to meet?
Any person, group, or nation that will help promote or sponsor The Venus Project.
Why self taught?
Instruction in academia did not emphasize what I thought of as essential points. I was interested in the broad range of interrelated connections within the physical sciences, but formal studies isolated each branch of science. I therefore took it upon myself to integrate the separate disciplines into a synergistic whole so as to apply science and technology to the solving of global problems.
Do you have any personal heroes?
I owe a great deal to people from many disciplines who contributed to this vision. People like Jules Verne, Edward Bellamy, Howard Scott, Thorstein Veblen, H. G. Wells, Sir Jagadis Chunder Bose, Alfred Korzybski, Walter B. Cannon, Stewart Chase, Clarence Darrow, Arthur C. Clarke, Mark Twain, Jacque Loeb, Carl Sagan and others too numerous to mention.
What´s been the highlights in your life so far?
The highlight is the interest shown to The Venus Project by people throughout the world through the Internet, magazines, books, documentaries, and more.
"Foresight" is not enough for the future, we need "vision". What’s the difference between them?
Foresight to me is based on the hopes, desires, and aims of individuals, but without a practical blueprint, it is no more than science fiction. A constructive "vision" requires a methodology for achieving the desired goal of a sustainable future. The blueprint must include plans for education, health care, housing, city planning, transportation, clean sources of energy, etc.
Which projects get you excited or scare you about the future?
What gets me excited about the future are the fantastic achievements yet undreamed of, and the possibility of global unification. What scares me about the future is our inability to use our technology constructively and intelligently.
How does your design process look? How do you start working on something?
I first ask what do I hope to accomplish and what is the simplest approach to a given problem. By simplest approach, I mean given the tools and information available. If I were to design the least expensive airplane, using minimum materials with maximum strength, and a wide margin of safety, I would select a flying wing. The flying wing eliminates fuselage, tail, rudder, and stabilizer. The passengers are seated in the wing. I designed many variations on flying wings in the early 1930’s.
Social designs must be based on the carrying capacity of Earth’s resources, and not on the philosophy, desires, aesthetics, or advantages of particular people. For example, the circular design of cities is based upon a minimum expenditure of energy for maximum social gain. Architecture, when intelligently designed, will use the least amount of material for the safest and most efficient structure possible. As materials improve and change, so will architecture and the designs of cities. This will not limit advantages, but will expand amenities and the goods and services available to everyone.
Is there any one field of discipline you find most promising right now, as far as technological advancement? Architecture? Material science, perhaps?
The viewpoint of the generalist which incorporates all of the factors necessary to sustain a highly technical, advanced civilization.
Your work is really wide-ranging and covers many fields like drawing, small-scale models, 3D graphic art, architecture, writing, cinematography, and engineering; I’d like to know, how do you live the properties of these instruments?
I apply all of these different disciplines to environmental design using the present means available for global social arrangements, but I don’t see my solutions and designs as final frontiers.
First of all, how can we describe the future and the designing of it?
We develop the probable direction that the future will take by extrapolating from present day developments, technology, and trends. We also include a new and humane approach to our proposed environmental and social arrangements.
Is imagining the most important "starting point" and enough for designing?
No, imagining is not the most important starting point. The most important thing is to be specific, and not just imagine, but instead, to base our design on today’s science and technology, and apply it to the well-being of all people and the protection of the environment. This is in contrast to mere wishes, aspirations, or philosophical notions.
How do you evaluate the robot conception in the future? As in the science fiction movies, everything is going to be done by robots. Is everything going to be different or will humans be the most effective factor?
SiFi movies are written by artists and writers who are seldom qualified to describe technological developments, particularly as applied to the social system. Many express a fear of technology, and lack a deeper understanding of the humane potential of technological development. Technologies are simply extensions of human attributes.
In technologically developed countries, industry and the military are assigning more and more decision-making to machine technology. Machines will not take over, but they will eventually be assigned the tasks. Today’s machines can handle one thousand trillion bits of information per second. No humans have this capability. In the near future, the operation of a global society will be far too complex for any sophisticated group of humans to manage.
That is why I urgently advocate that society utilize cybernetics not merely for tabulation and measurement, but also to process vital information and channel it for the benefit of all humankind. Only our most capable computers can store and sort through the data necessary to arrive at equitable and sustainable analyses and decisions about the development and distribution of resources on a global scale.
The most visionary writers and futurists of the twentieth century would have had difficulty accepting the possibility of robots replacing surgeons, engineers, top management, airline pilots, and other professionals. It is no longer unthinkable that machines may one day write novels or poems, compose music, and eventually surpass humans in government and in the management of world affairs.
This is not about the morality and ethics of human participation, but a straightforward description of future technological trends.
Do we use this information effectively?
No we are not yet wise enough to use our information intelligently. Unfortunately, today we misuse and abuse science and technology. We waste our most advanced minds and resources on weapons and other destructive devices.
Watching you giving an interview at 1974 (to Larry King back then), surely comes as a surprise in terms of predicting society’ s future and suggesting alternative ways of thinking. What was the feedback you got back in the ‘70’s and what is today’s feedback?
There was very little feedback at that time because the conditions were fairly stable. It was only when society became less prosperous for the majority of people that the interest increased. If the film Zeitgeist Addendum had been made 10 years ago, it would not have gotten as much interest. Social conditions, rather than the wishes of individuals, are mainly responsible for social change.
Have your ever pondered "why are we here?"
The question "why are we here?" is a philosophical question which has no reference. Attempts have been made by theologians to answer this. Our answer is that we are here as a by-product of evolution. The scientific response is not a question of "why are we here," it is "what are the processes that generate different life forms." We also go into this in the book The Best That Money Can’t Buy, by Jacque Fresco, above on page 19 in the chapter "From Superstition To Science."
And then the last question Mr Fresco: In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today?
The Venus Project is a concept that could happen today but it is not up to me, it depends on what others do to help bring it about.