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An Eye to the New Year: Dialogue of an Almanac-Pedlar and a Passer-by

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Emilio Mordini and originally posted on his blog. He discusses his views on the coming year with reference. Be sure to click through to his original post to further the discussion. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

January unavoidably brings predictions. Old and new media rival one another to publish forecasts and more mundane prophecies around the new year; old-fashioned horoscopes, scientific foresight, experts’ opinions, they all work well in January. No one would be willing to replicate without any change even one of the last twenty years of his life -ironically noticed Giacomo Leopardi in his Dialogue of an Almanac-Pedlar and a Passer-by –we all prefer a future at random, although it is very unlikely that the future will be happier than the past.

Medical Breakthroughs

A special class of new year predictions regards medical breakthroughs.  There are many of these medical predictions (including politically oriented ones); one of the most accredited is a list published, since 2010,  by a panel of physicians and scientists convened by Cleveland Clinic.  These  Top 10 Medical Innovations are announced in October, but  they are usually “re-discovered” and amplified in January. In 2018, they include in order of relevance, 1)  Hybrid Closed-Loop Insulin Delivery System; 2) Neuromodulation to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea; 3) Gene Therapy for Inherited Retinal Diseases; 4) The Unprecedented Reduction of LDL Cholesterol; 5) The Emergence of Distance Health; 6) Next Generation Vaccine Platforms; 7) Arsenal of Targeted Breast Cancer Therapies; 8) Enhanced Recovery After Surgery; 9) Centralized Monitoring of Hospital Patients; 10) Scalp Cooling for Reducing Chemotherapy Hair Loss.

Vaccines

Ranked only sixth in this list, “Next Generation Vaccine Platforms”  is thus considered less significant than, e.g., “Neuromodulation to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea” and “Unprecedented Reduction of LDL Cholesterol”; families involved in  5 million child deaths, worldwide caused, still  in 2016, by communicable and infectious diseases,  would probably disagree. The real issue is not, however, in this cliched comment (families could be finally wrong from a global perspective), rather in what the panel describes as a medical breakthrough. According to the Cleveland Clinic panel “in 2018, innovators will be upgrading the entire vaccine infrastructure to develop new vaccines more rapidly and break ground on novel mechanisms to better deliver vaccines to vast populations (…)  Companies are finding faster ways to develop flu vaccines using tobacco plants, insects, and nanoparticles. Oral, edible and mucosally delivered vaccines, intranasal vaccines, and vaccine chips are being developed. In 2018, a bandage-sized patch for flu vaccine is expected to be on the market. These new ways of developing, shipping, storing and vaccinating are anticipated to help stave off current and future diseases and epidemics”. Similar arguments are also proposed by Innovation House in its list of 2018 top medical breakthroughs, ranking “Next generation vaccination” 5th; by the list provided by Health24, which ranks “Next-generation vaccines” 9th; and even by the list of 2018 technology breakthrough proposed by MIT Technology Review.  All these arguments are based on old rhetoric expedient – first described by Aristotle – called “enthymeme,” an argument in which a critical supporting fact is omitted or only implicitly suggested.  If one looks more in-depth, the argument about next-generation vaccines first states that significant technical innovations in vaccines are expected in 2018; second, it affirms that this will dramatically contribute to avoiding infectious diseases and epidemics; what is missed? An explicit statement about the relationship between “new ways of developing, shipping, storing, and vaccinating” and the occurence of diseases, in real human, environment, and zoonotic communities. The argument takes as granted that this relationship is linear, while it is not.

Vaccines are hardly drugs aiming to cure an individual; they are a way to modify the state of immunization of a population. A vaccination campaign fight against an infectious disease by increasing the number of hosts who are resistant (immune) to the particular microorganism that produces the disease in a community.   This modification is not a goal per se, rather it is instrumental to prevent, control, or eliminate the infectious disease. More targeted, better distributed, easily delivered, vaccines, are welcome, but 1) we know that this is only an element, hardly the most important one, in real life vaccination; 2)  there are several critical societal, economic, cultural, variables that are more important in determining failure or success of vaccination campaigns; 3) ultimately, the relationship between infections and diseases is rather complex, in many cases it is very difficult to predict from modifications of the immunity status of a population, the real evolution of  the  disease. Vaccines do not provide any certainty to the single individual, because individual immune response depends on the whole of host-pathogen interaction, including the overall health conditions, state of nutrition, pathogenic variability in hosts, the germ loads, and so.  The mere fact that one has been vaccinated does not guarantee against developing the disease – as well as it is not the sole possibility to avoid it; further preventive measures are always necessary, they are sometimes even more important than vaccination. Failing to communicate this central tenet could easily jeopardize any vaccination campaign.

Vaccination Objectives

Vaccinations have two possible objectives: 1) the elimination, or 2) the containment of the disease.  Elimination means full removing of the disease and its causal agent from a geographical area. Elimination requires universal vaccination, which is very difficult to achieve and could be even risky at the individual level. For instance, universal infantile vaccination raises the age in which the disease appears (“building up of susceptible”), and some infectious diseases may have a more severe course in adulthood (e.g., mumps), with a grave impact on population health. Moreover, the objective to drastically raise the “herd immunity,” inherent to any infectious elimination campaign, depends on many factors falling outside vaccine technology, such as modes of transmission, interspecies transmission, the degree of genetic and antigenic variation, and so. If these concepts are not communicated and well understood, vaccines could raise excessive expectations, easily followed by disillusionment and skepticism. Containment aims instead to reduce morbidity and mortality to “acceptable” levels.   In such, more frequent, cases, selective vaccination of groups and individuals is the most appropriate strategy. Also, with containment, communication strategies are thus a critical variable, because targeted groups and individuals should be convinced to take a preventive measure (vaccination), which is not asked to the majority of the population.

In conclusion, if the objective of medical breakthroughs should not be mere modifications of some biological parameters, but the real health conditions of a human population, it would have made more sense to consider current trends on data science and predictive analytics to influence individual and collective behaviors. Like it or not, they are the real breakthrough which is promising to change, for good or bad, the global vaccination scenario in 2018 and further.

Tags:  medicine  technology  vaccination 

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Jennifer Jarratt Answers Questions about Futurists on Quora

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

Jennifer Jarratt is a founding member of the APF and one of our most prominent members. This post is a collection of 3 answers she posted to Quora with links in the headings. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

How do futurists predict the future?


Thanks for asking your question, because it’s a classic one for us professional futurists to answer. We can get all huffy and say “we DON’T predict the future!” What that means really is that there isn’t one future, there are many. As you move out ahead, the level of uncertainty increases and so do the number of possible futures. You can say that there are a group of futures that are relatively probable and then on either side are a widening group of possibilities that are less and less likely. Even so, the one you decide on as the most likely is almost certainly wrong.

Being a futurist means bringing people’s attention to the (possible, alternative) futures ahead of them and encouraging them to create strategies that will be robust in most of the possibilities.

What we try to do is to create a workspace among the possible futures that people can walk around in (mentally) and begin to rethink the decisions they are making today. Scenarios are good for this.

In this process you have to keep in mind a few things, for example, most technology forecasts are overly optimistic in their assessment of time to widespread use. Social change moves relatively slowly, sometimes over generations–even in our era of social media. Also, you may need to adjust your futures work to the language people speak–some people and organizations “see” their future in numbers, some prefer stories and images.

So no, we don’t find predicting the future to be useful.

What is the most futurist thing or idea you can think about?

My answer may disappoint you, whoever you are. It’s not a brilliant new technology, the discovery of life on other planets, or the development of a drive fast enough to get us there. Although those are exciting, I must admit

As a professional futurist, the most futurist thing I can, and must, think about are the implications of change. Not just the ordinary ones, either, such as the new convenience mobile phones brought us. I think about the long-term, unanticipated consequences of change. As no doubt you can see, the mobility we gain from our mobile phones is changing our lives in small and large ways. We can’t quite see yet how this technology and associated technologies such as the Internet are changing our institutions, our political structure, the way we think, how our families function, relationships, risks in the world, and so on. To me, that’s what you need futurists for, to remind you that you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Long term, can you say we’ll still have countries and nations in the future? Or will we be virtual collections of shared, and temporary, interests? What will overcome us when or if the Internet collapses, or falters? That’s a wildcard thought, which is another aspect of the future that futurists spend time on.

You may want to ask yourself, what’s next? And will it be totally different from everything you’ve seen before?

What things predicted by futurists have proved totally wrong or been completely unforeseen?

Futurists have been wrong about lots of things, no question. A couple of things you learn when studying to be a professional futurist, however, is that you don’t make predictions and that everything you say about the future is likely to be wrong.

Your usefulness as a futurist tends to be your ability to scope out the possibilities of the future and to help people figure out the best strategic approach to the opportunities or challenges ahead of them.

As we know there are lots of people out there who make predictions about the future that turn out to be wrong. You perhaps, or they themselves, call them futurists. I wouldn’t.

Have said all that in defense of the futures studies field, I note some areas where, if you are a futurist, it is good to be careful. One is technology forecasting. It’s our experience that predictions, or forecasts of a technology’s likelihood of widespread adoption, are often overly optimistic. One example might be flying cars, which were often predicted—and indeed some have been built. But the problems of widespread adoption and popular appeal have been too big.

So timing is often a problem. Gerard K. O’Neill’s beliefs about colonizing space are years ahead of our actually being able to do it. Yet his long-term views are among those visions helping to drive people’s hopes, imagination, and discovery towards new space ventures.

You can find lots of lists online of future predictions that were wrong, mostly because those people making the predictions didn’t want to see these happen.

Sadly, we warned back in the 1980s (and based on the work of reputable scientists) that climate change was happening and was a big issue that would require new governmental, business and social macro strategies to either slow or manage its effects. We believed there would be some substantial work done on the problem and some effective global strategies in effect by today, which hasn’t really happened. We were wrong about that.

Tags:  futurist  prediction  professionalization 

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How to Unlock your Integral Futures Mindset

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Tanja Schindler and originally posted on her LinkedIn Articles. She discusses her views on Ken Wilber’s Integral Approach and its relevance for strategic foresight. Be sure to click through to her original post to further the discussion. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

It’s been a while since my last article, but some of you may have noticed that we ran The Futures School Europe in Berlin – a 3day workshop program introducing methods and tools of futures thinking and Strategic Foresight. It has been a great success, especially, due to our fantastic crowd of participants and we are excited to do more workshops in 2018.

The workshop also strengthened my view on promoting a holistic approach to Foresight, especially in Europe, a very technology driven area. If you remember, in my last article I’ve already talked about how our worldviews and underlying metaphors shape our futures thinking. To expand this thinking to an unknown area, we need to analyze those worldviews and replace them at least partial to be open for something new.

Last time, I’ve also introduced CLA, the Foresight method by Sohail Inayatullah to analyze those worldviews. Today, we will focus on another framework that supports diverse thinking and steps aside from the general Foresight approach to discover our environment in a new way by using Foresight also to discover ourselves.

A New Framework of Environmental Scanning

The Integral Futures concept describes an approach where we not only uncover the system = external world we live and its social, technological, environmental, and political drivers of change but we also analyze our behavior and underlying mental models.


“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Once we are too confident about what we think or how the future will develop we start to see only those signals that support our own beliefs while neglecting information that would prove us wrong. Therefore, foresight and especially the approach of Integral Futures enables organizations and individuals to understand our interior, exterior, individual and collective world preparing us for the uncertainty of the future. Richard Slaughter published an article about Integral Futures as a ‘New Approach for Environmental Scanning’ already in 1999 if you want to dive deeper into the topic.



In this article, I will focus on Ken Wilber’s basic framework of the four quadrants. Even with this approach, uncertainty won’t vanish completely but we can learn to manage it through exploring diverse pathways of the future. However, before we start exploring the future, we need to analyze how we currently think so we can start thinking differently.

Wilber’s Four Quadrants

Ken Wilber developed a meta-framework highlighting that besides the empirical analysis of our environment there is a deeper level of unlocking our futures thinking. This integral model describes people in a holistic context – both as individuals and within a collective. Wilber, therefore, analyzed how hundreds of researchers study their environment and discovered a pattern illustrated by his four-quadrant model:

The four quadrants are:


1.Upper-left: Intentional and represented by the ‘I’. This quadrant reflects our feelings, hopes, dreams, and intentions. It is what we think, believe and where our values are rooted.
2. Upper-right: Behavioral and represented by the ‘IT’. This quadrant describes our individual behavior, how we act and react due to our education, cultural background or intelligence.
3.Lower-left: Cultural and represented by the ‘WE’. This quadrant describes our culture, myths and social world. The stories and traditions we know because we grew up in this world.
4. Lower-right: Social (system) and represented by the ‘ITS’. This quadrant describes the system we live in and it is also where the well-known STEEP-Analysis is taking place.

Integral Futures, hence, offers a holistic approach where we first discover our own value and belief system and then identify and become aware of the consequences caused by our actions. Then, we analyze where our mental models are rooted – our myths, traditions, and bedtimes stories. Finally, we get to the exercise most Strategic Foresight Analysts jump to straight away – the environmental scanning of our external systems through frameworks such as STEEP or PESTEL (Social, Technological, Environmental, and Political drivers and factors).

In my last two blog posts, we discovered the interior world with quadrant Q1 and Q3. Therefore, the next two blog posts will focus on our exterior world, beginning with Q2. We will save everybody’s favorite quadrant Q4 for last – where I will introduce the advantages of digitalizing Foresight and exploring the STEEP factors in a new and fun way as a team and online.

Start following us for more details on how to become aware of the consequences caused by our actions in my next blog post.

Read also my previous posts:

Discover the futurist in you! – Tanja & Your 4strat team

Further Readings:

A new framework for environmental scanning by Richard A. Slaughter http://www.integralworld.net/slaughter2.html
Integral Theory and the Four Quadrants by Ken Wilber http://www.kenwilber.com/Writings/PDF/IntroductiontotheIntegralApproach_GENERAL_2005_NN.pdf
Reframing environmental scanning by Joseph Voros http://www.integralworld.net/voros.html

Tags:  integral futures  mental model  mindset 

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Jobbing or Doing?

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 17, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post by Andy Hines which is cross-posted from Hines’ own blog, Hinesight. The views in the article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the APF or its other members.

A frequently asked question I get as an educator is “can I get a job as a futurist? I tackled this important and relevant question previously. I’d like to suggest a different question, or perhaps a different approach, here. I’ll answer that question here with a question: “well, what do want to do, or accomplish?” Thus, getting a job (jobbing) versus wanting to do or accomplish (doing).

In foresight, if the answer to “doing” is money, I might point one many other fields. In other words, there are probably lots of easier ways to make money than as a futurist. But I actually encounter very little of this. More often, it’s along the lines of, “I like foresight, but I also need to make a living.” It is a quite reasonable expectation, to want to be able to support oneself and/or one’s my family.  My experience, though, is that those who become futurists are to some degree slightly unreasonable people. I mean that in a good way. That is, we are often compelled to follow our vision, even when it’s not the most reasonable thing to do. There are probably easier ways to support oneself and one’s family.

Thus, when a prospective student comes to me with lots of analysis on the potential job market or asks about starting salaries, I’m thinking, “too reasonable.” They probably won’t take the leap, and are likely to be unhappy if they do. That is, they’ll spend a good deal of their educational experience obsessing about their future job – jobbing – instead of search for what they really want to do – doing.

Of course, we get some who are just on fire for foresight and they just have to do it. I would put myself in that camp – I bought at $200 Plymouth Galaxy with no reverse gear, piled in some trash bags full of clothes, and drove south to the Houston program. I know some of you readers are nodding your heads. Probably most of our students are somewhere between this “what are the starting salaries?” (jobbing) and “hair on fire/have to do this” (doing).

“What do you want to accomplish?” is a really, really big question. Probably most prospective students aren’t quite sure what is is they want to do — I sure wasn’t — so, we go on the educational quest in large part to find that out!

In our big study for Lumina on the future of student needs, one of our conclusions was that higher education may be doing a disservice to students in being maniacally focused on job market preparation (jobbing). The alignment to the job market makes is again quite reasonable today, perhaps moreso in the recent past. Our findings suggest it will be less reasonable in the future. If we believe our findings about the future of student needs, it is more about finding purpose. The real challenge will be to find out what you want to do, and then look for the ways to do it. It will be less and less about “jobs” in the classic full-time sense and more about the work we want to accomplish. Perhaps, as has been said in other contexts, the future will be more aligned to the unreasonable, and thus more friendly to futurists.

But let me encourage you to read more in the next issue of MISC. —  Andy  Hines

Tags:  futurist  job  professionalization 

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Introducing the Museum of 2040

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 6, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Elizabeth Merritt and originally posted on her blog, Center for the Future of Museums’ Blog. You may want to click through to the original to see the images. It is about the special edition of the magazine Museum which looks at the future of museums to 2040. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF.

Introducing Museum 2040

The November/December issue of Museum mailed out yesterday, as well as going up on the web. (This issue of the magazine is available as a free download for members and non-members alike).  When you open your print or digital copy, you may notice something a little odd. We published this edition a little early—23 years early, to be exact.

This bit of chronological legerdemain serves as a prelude to the tenth anniversary of the Center for the Future of Museums, which falls in 2018. The goal of this exercise in “future fiction” is to help you investigate one possible future and think about how our organizations might respond. As you read the stories in this issue, I hope you ask yourself, “Do I think this could happen? Do I want this to happen?” And, perhaps most importantly, “Does this have to wait until 2040, or can I make it happen now?”

A Scenario

I hereby award futurist points to any reader who asks “in which version of the year 2040 do these stories take place?” Of course one of the main purposes of strategic foresight is to help us think about many plausible ways the future could play out. This issue of Museum is set in one specific future that might result from existing limits and challenges playing out over coming decades. This scenario, dubbed A New Equilibrium, was developed with the input of many people inside and outside the museum field, drawing on mainstream research and projections on demographics, technology, the economy, environment and other sectors. For example, in this version of 2040:

  • The US population is older and more diverse than it is now. The ratio of retired people to people of working age (so-called “old-age dependency”) has climbed to 38% from 25% in 2017.
  • Economic stratification has continued to grow in the past few decades. The top 10% of families now hold 85% of the wealth in the US, while the bottom 60% hold 1%.
  • In education, there has been significant growth in the number of private schools, and charter schools now serve 15 percent of the public school population (triple the number in 2014).
  • Impact philanthropy has become the dominant guiding principle of individual and foundation funding, and nonprofits are expected to provide concrete, measurable data of how they have improved the environment, or people’s lives, in order to secure support.

In the face of these challenges, museums have prospered. Attendance is robust, our organizations are financially stable, and our visitors, staff, and board members reflect our communities.

The Rules of Forecasting

The scenario in place, I sent an invitation out through the Alliance’s professional networks for people willing to immerse themselves in this version of the future, writing content that explores what museums are doing in order to thrive in the face of these challenges. A few ground rules:

  • Authors had to stay within the bounds of this particular scenario: a future created by current trends playing out over the next decades. For example, they could posit colonies on the Moon or Mars. (After all, Elon Musk is spending billions on his plans to colonize Mars, hoping to launch the first flights in the 2020s). However, they couldn’t introduce massively disruptive events such as a global fatal pandemic disease or a nuclear world war III or invoke the most extreme estimates regarding climate change.
  • Authors were only permitted to use the names of real museums if they themselves represented that institution, or obtained permission from the organization in question. For this reason, you may notice many, many museums with names similar, but not identical, to existing organizations.
  • Authors could write as themselves (from the perspective of being 23 years older than they are now), or they could invent fictional personas reflecting people they imagine will be working in our field by that time. For example, Sarah Sutton attributes her opinion piece on museums, equity, and environmental sustainability to an environmental activist named Ocean Six.

How 2040 Came to Life

Given these prompts and these constraints, what stories did people invent? In addition to Sarah’s (sorry, Ocean’s) musings on the next frontier of green, that is. Rachel Hatch, a program officer for community vitality at the McConnell Foundation, gives us a funder’s take on how museums are supporting the creative economy in 2040, envisioning how universal basic income might create a cadre of “citizen artists.”

Adam Rozan’s keynote from the AAM 2040 annual meeting explores how the very concept of “museum” has changed over time, coming to encompass roles that used to be siloed in libraries, community centers, schools, and places of worship. Omar Eaton-Martinez writes about the newly formed US Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the role museums can play in healing and remembrance. (In this future, Omar holds the position of secretary of the Smithsonian Institution where he is, in the present, intern and fellows program manager for the National Museum of American History. And President-elect Sanai Eaton-Martínez, who is creating the TRC? That’s his daughter.

Nicole Ivy, the Alliance’s director of inclusion, took over the Community section of the magazine, crowdsourcing input on what museum jobs might exist in 2040. (My favorites include poet-in-residence, digital fabrication specialist, and spiritual services director.) Together, Nicole and I tried to ensure that the magazine as a whole reflects the diversity—of race, culture, age and (non-binary) gender—we hope will come to characterize our field.

A Few Challenges

Though it is immense fun, writing from the future did pose some challenges, notably the willingness to relinquish control! While I took the liberty of writing a few key elements into the issue, our authors were the primary world-builders. As supporting researcher, I tackled another key challenge, looking for credible projections from mainstream sources to feed the writers’ work. For example, at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I found projections on labor participation that assess the impact of a growing population that is both older and more diverse.

Several authors wanted to flood various areas of the country, and we spent hours manipulating the Surging Seas Risk Zone Map to test their propositions. The rate of adoption of a given technology is one of the hardest things to project. Roy Amara at the Institute of the Future formulated Amara’s Law, which states that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technology in the short term, underestimate it in the long term. Many, many of the 2040 authors wrote about virtual reality—which, of course, is an exciting, shiny technology just beginning to come into its own. By 2040, will it be so embedded in our lives as to be unremarkable, still struggling to go mainstream, or will it have fizzled out?

Another challenge was maintaining internal consistency. Authors were given free rein to embellish this future, adding details in keeping with the spirit of the scenario’s parameters. This necessitated much tweaking as we tried to bring the details of different articles into alignment. At the twenty third-and-a-half hour, I was frantically texting authors from the airport as we tried to resolve contradictory statements regarding museum visitation in two of the features. Please point any inconsistencies we may have missed.

A Quick Thank You

My enduring thanks to all the authors who spent countless hours polishing their pieces (and for their patience with my suggested edits and tweaks.) There is a full list of their actual identities on page 54. I am particularly thankful to Susie Wilkening for creating the two-page By The Numbers overview of this future and for helping me search for all sorts of credible “numbers” to flesh out our scenario. And I want to give a shout-out to all the advertisers who supported this unconventional issue, particularly those who played along with the scenario. You will see their visions of future products and services scattered throughout.

Only Part of a Much Larger Project

Museum 2040 is only the beginning of a much longer exploration of this and other potential futures. In coming months, I will use the CFM Blog to share additional content riffing on the New Equilibrium scenario: authors sharing the thought process behind their stories as well as additional future fiction. Some essays will explore interesting plot points appearing in the magazine stories, such as the link between universal basic income and citizen artists; potential museum uses for the open, secure, distributed digital ledgers supported by blockchain; and the role of museums in national reconciliation.

You can play too! Enjoy the full issue, with our compliments, by downloading a free PDF copy here. In addition to reading and discussing the contents in your workplace, I encourage you to put your digital pen to paper and try your own hand at immersive future fiction. You can access a synopsis of the New Equilibrium scenario here, to inform your storytelling. Pitch your ideas using the comment section, below, or email me at emerritt (at) aam-us.org with the subject line Museum 2040.

As part of our tenth-anniversary celebration, CFM will publish scenarios describing other potential futures—bright and dark, mainstream and unexpected—throughout 2018, together with a guide to using these stories as a tool for institutional planning. I look forward to helping you imagine the many ways these futures may play out, as well as the strategies museums will create to thrive no matter what comes.

Tags:  future  museum  scenarios 

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Disaster Superheroes–Wearable Technology and Sensory Enhancements

Posted By Administration, Sunday, November 5, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dennis Draeger

The following is a member post written by Dennis Draeger and originally posted on the disaster preparedness website, Prepare with Foresight. It is a trend alert that playfully looks at how some emerging technologies might be used during disasters. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

Often survivalists focus on saving themselves for a variety of reasons. No one can afford to buy enough food to feed a whole community, and no one can afford to buy a shelter that will fit the whole community. Worse yet, no one can force their community to prepare for disasters.

However, there are a number of ways that preppers can become superheroes for their communities in case of disasters. Technology is driving much of this opportunity, and wearables is one of the dominant technology types making this practical. Using wearables, we can augment our senses to enable us to thrive in disasters. Whether you are searching for survivors or leading them to safety, you are going to want these devices to help you navigate safely.

The Dentist Chair

First, let’s cover a bit of explanation and history about sensory substitution. Sensory substitution is substituting one sense for another. It is about tricking one of your senses to communicate to your brain in a similar way to another sense. For example, Marvel’s Daredevil sees with his ears because of his sonar sense.

Paul Bach-y-Rita conducted experiments to help people with blindness to see objects. He sat them in a dentist chair equipped with a machine that poked them at multiple points on their lower back. Bach-y-Rita connected a video camera to the machine. The machine communicated the shape of an object to the person in the dentist chair. After training and time to acclimate to the technology, the participants were able to effectively “see” the objects displayed to the camera.

Bach-y-Rita started this back in the 1960s. He was the first to artificially augment senses to do unconventional things. Sensory substitution is still a novel idea. However, wearable technology is making it practical.

Spidey Senses

One of the most obvious examples of wearables augmenting your senses for disaster situations is the SpiderSense suit. To read the rest of the article, please visit the website that originally published it.

Prepare with Foresight has the whole 1200-word article.

Tags:  artificial augment  disaster  technology 

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Seven futures from New Scientist

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Andrew Curry and originally posted on his blog, thenextwave. It is about the 60th-anniversary issue of New Scientist. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF. 

60 years of New Scientist

I’ve got round to reading the 60th-anniversary issue of New Scientist, published in November, which tries to look forward in the general direction of 2076. There are 14 short “What If…” essays, on everything from “What if we engineer new life forms?” (we’ll need a ‘kill’ switch)  to “What if we found a theory of everything?” (it’s a very slow train coming) to “What if we discover room temperature superconductivity” (it would utterly transform our energy systems).

In this post, I’m going to review some of the essays on themes that futurists spend more time on, and pull out some of the ideas.

1. What if we create human-level artificial intelligence?

Toby Walsh, who’s a professor of AI at UNSW Australia, starts by saying that in line with other researchers, he thinks we’re 30-40 years away from AI achieving superhuman intelligence. But he’s sceptical of a singularity, for a number of reasons I haven’t seen rehearsed as clearly elsewhere.

  • The “fast-thinking dog” argument: “Intelligence depends on … years of experience and training. It is not at all clear that we can short-circuit this in silicon simply by increasing the clock speed or adding more memory.”
  • The anthropocentric argument: “The singularity argument supposes human intelligence is some special point to pass, some sort of tipping point… If there’s one thing we should have learned from history is that we are not as special as we would like to believe.”
  • The “Diminishing Returns” argument: “The performance of most of our AI systems so far has been that of diminishing returns. There are often lots of low-hanging fruit at the start, but we then run into difficulties looking for improvements.”
  • The “limits of intelligence” argument: “There are many fundamental limits within the universe. … Any thinking machine that we build will be limited by these physical laws.”
  • The “Computational Complexity” argument: “Computer science already has a well-developed theory of how difficult it is to solve difficult problems. There are many computational problems for which even exponential improvements are not enough to help us solve them practically.”

Walsh concludes, however, that even without singularity AI will have a large impact on the nature of many jobs, and a significant impact on the nature of war. “Robots will industrialise warfare, lowering the barriers to war and destabilising the current world order.” The answer: we’d “better ban robots in the battlefield soon.”

Walsh has a book on AI out later this year.

2. What if we crack fusion?

The joke about nuclear fusion, for as long as I can remember, is that it’s always 50 years away. That might be changing, though perhaps not. In 2035, if everything goes to plan, the ITER research project is scheduled to produce 500 megawatts of energy “for a few seconds,” which would make it the first fusion reactor to produce more energy than it consumes.

Even if that succeeds, there are still significant technical problems. And as Jeff Hecht notes in his article, if these are overcome, it seems that nuclear fusion won’t be the “too cheap to meter” energy that we were promised in the 1950s. Fusion reactors are vastly expensive to build, even if operating costs are modest. Nor are they carbon neutral, because of the carbon costs of construction, fuel production, and waste management. And there is also the radioactive waste to deal with, although the decay time is decades, not millennia. But the nature of the technology and its cost base means that even if it works, it’s still going to be used for baseload power. Peaks may have to be managed through renewables and storage. But it seems as likely that come 2076 nuclear fusion is still 50 years away.

3. What if we re-engineer our DNA?

Michael LePage has a little 2021 scenario in which a Japanese boy is born to an infertile father after fertility specialists have played with his DNA using CRISPR genome editing. More follow elsewhere in the world, depending on local regulation and cultural attitudes. Why would parents opt for genome editing rather than cheaper pre-implantation diagnosis (PGD)? Because germline genome editing can make dozens of changes at the same time, rather than a few.

And why stop there? There are beneficial gene variants that make people immune to HIV or less likely to become obese, for example. Perhaps as soon as the 2030s, some countries may allow these variants to be introduced…

[G]enome editing can definitely make individuals less prone to all kinds of diseases. And as it starts to become clear that genome-edited children are on average healthier than those conceived the old-fashioned way, wealthy parents will start to opt for genome editing even when there is no pressing need to do so.

On the other hand, we likely won’t be gene editing to improve personality or intelligence: “we have yet to discover any single gene variant that makes anything like as much difference to IQ as, say, having rich parents or a good education.”

LePage’s 60-year projection: states will pay for genome editing for public health reasons because the savings on lifetime health costs will far outweigh the cost of the treatment.

4. What if we end material scarcity?

This future is hard to imagine, writes Sally Adee, because scarcity is the basis of our current dominant economic system. But some people have started on this: Jeremy Rifkin, for example, in The Zero Marginal Cost Society, which describes a world where the cost of producing each additional unit of anything is all but zero. In the future, in other words, everything will look like the current music and publishing industries.

The critical technologies are fabrication devices that are highly sophisticated versions of our present 3D printers. Within 60 years time, these could be molecular assemblers (Eric Drexler’s phrase), working at nanoscale, which could “produce any substance you desire. Press a button, wait a while, and out comes food, medicine, clothing, bicycle parts or anything at all, materialised with minimal capital or labour.”

Rifkin thinks that fabricators will be the engines of a sharing economy, in which access replaces ownership; “purchases will give way to printing.” Rifkin thinks that within 20  years “capitalism…. will share the stage with its child.” In this future, says Adee, “You will have a job, but not for money. The company you work for will be a non-profit. Your “wealth”  will be measured in social capital; your reputation as a co-operative member of the species,” although it’s worth remembering that Cory Doctorow has visited this future (pdf) and it didn’t turn out well.

And, your reputation points? They might go on an antique chair that wasn’t built by a fabricator, which might be a sign of status in such a world.

5. What if we put a colony on Mars?

So the first set of non-trivial problems, according to Lisa Grossman, is that settlers would need to launch from Earth everything they need to set up the first base: “tonnes of life-support equipment, habitats, energy-generation systems, food and technology for extracting breathable oxygen and drinkable water from the air.”

The second set of problems: The alignment of the planets means that although the shortest journey time is around five months, we’ll only get 22 opportunities for that short journey between now and 2060. Landing on Mars is also tricky because of the combination of gravity and thin atmosphere: the heaviest craft that’s landed successfully is the 1-tonne Curiosity rover.

The third: It’s quite a hostile place: “high levels of radiation, the threat of solar flares, dust that covers solar panels and could rip through lungs like of shards of glass, and temperatures as low as -125℃.”

In short: “there is nothing to do there except to try not to die… The first settlers will be dependent on the home world for a very long time.” But hey; the settlers will be in constant communication with Earth. We will be able to watch them succeed or fail almost in real time.

6. What if we have to rescue the climate?

Hoovers and sunshades. We’ll have turbines that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and ships dumping minerals into the sea to reduce acidification, but that’s just the start of it, according to Catherine Brahic. Because up in the atmosphere–10 to 18 kilometres up–we’ll have a fine spray of particles to shield Earth from the sun and keep us cool.

While it sounds manageable in theory, we don’t really understand it. The best-researched approach involves spraying fine particles of sulphate into the atmosphere, but this creates regional winners and losers. Northern Europe, Canada, and Siberia would remain warmer, the oceans cooler; there would also be regional rainfall effects, with monsoons potentially drying up.

So the whole thing needs some kind of global or multilateral council to arbitrate. And the sunshade needs to be replenished constantly. If we stopped spraying (because of an international disagreement, say) the temperatures would climb in a decade or so to where they would have been without geoengineering.

7. What if there’s a nuclear war?

TL: DR? It’s bad, really bad.

Even a regional nuclear war has terrible results. For example, if India and Pakistan let off half of their relatively small nuclear stock (or a hundred Hiroshima-sized bombs), according to simulations by Alan Robock and Michael Mills, quite apart from the millions of deaths on the sub-continent, “the fires would send about 5 million tonnes of black smoke into the stratosphere, where it would spread round the world. This smog would cut solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface by 8 per cent–enough to drop average winter temperatures by a startling 2.5 to 6℃ across North America, Europe and Asia,” for five years to a decade. As Fred Pearce writes, the Asian monsoon would collapse – destroying Asia’s water system, removing much of the ozone layer, and near ice-age temperatures would shorten growing seasons catastrophically.  In short:

Nuclear winter would deliver global famine.

And that’s just from a regional nuclear war.

Social ramifications

It’s worth ending with a couple of notes from the editor in chief at New Scientist, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, in his introduction to the whole section, looking back 60 years as well as forward.

The internet, global warming, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering were all on our radar in 1956. But our ideas about how they might pan out bore little resemblance to how they have actually evolved, particularly when it comes to their social ramifications. Ubiquitous information has not created rationalist utopias. Ecological catastrophes have not culled our population and neither have super-human machines nor people, although we’re getting there.

Although the tone of the introduction is over-interested in “prediction”, he takes that scepticism into looking forwards.

Linear extrapolation inevitably fails: it’s the kind of thinking that leads people to jokily ask, “Where’s my jetpack?”, a question borne of post-war trends in transport and the space race–none of them relevant today… prediction and extrapolation are of limited use. Well, that’s fine up to a point if you need to place semi-conductor  orders, perhaps. But it is not useful if you want to work out how semiconductors are changing society.

The image at the top of this post is by Andrew Curry, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence.

Tags:  artificial intelligence  DNA  war 

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The Urban Landscape Of The Future Podcast

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Mark Sackler and originally posted on Seeking Delphi™ podcast. Mark is interviewing Cindy Frewen, the APF’s current Chair. The views expressed are those of Mark and Cindy but not necessarily of the APF or its other members.

“All cities are mad, but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful, but the beauty is grim.”–Christopher Morley


Where will you live in 2050? What will the cities of the future look like? Tomorrowland? The Jetsons? Waterworld?

Maybe they will look pretty much the same, but feel very much different. To sort out some of the possible scenarios, I sought out an expert on the urban landscape of the future: Cindy Frewen, Ph. D.

Cindy Frewen, Ph. D. is an architect and an adjunct professor in University of Houston’s graduate foresight program. She designs near-term urban futures and constructs scenarios for possible longer term futures.

Links to relevant stories appear after the embedded YouTube video below.


Podcast #13: The Urban Landscape of the Future


YouTube Slide Show of Podcast Episode #13

Cindy Frewen bio on Futurist.com

News items:

DARPA XS-1 space plane

Attacking Cancer with CRISPR gene editing

Music-making neuromorphic chip


World’s first robotic cop deployed in Dubai



Subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ podcast on iTunes / PlayerFM / YouTube

Follow Seeking Delphi™ on Facebook @SeekingDelphi and Twitter @MarkSackler

Also, Mark Sackler recently interviewed another of our members, Dr. Peter Bishop, who spoke about Teach the Future.

Tags:  city  design  urban futues 

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Who Taught the Future in 2016?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Katie King and originally posted on the Teach the Future blog. Teach the Future believes that students of any age can learn to think critically and creatively about the future and develop the agency to influence it. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF.

Last month, we sent out a survey to everyone who downloaded materials from Teach the Future’s library last year. We wanted to understand what worked for these earliest adopters and what we can do better in the future. The respondents were split about 50/50 between higher education and K-12, and about two-thirds of them were teachers or instructors.

Grade: A-

What did we learn from them? Let’s start with the good news:
•About two-thirds of respondents said they were “extremely” or “very” satisfied with the material they downloaded. No one said they were unsatisfied.
•Ninety percent of respondents said they were likely to use the material again or teach other lessons about the future.

Those data points are uplifting, but they only represent those respondents who had used the materials they downloaded. About half of respondents had downloaded but not yet used the material with their students. We also learned that nearly half of those who had used the materials said they modified them “moderately” or “significantly.”

Neither of those points was surprising. Nor did we feel that they reflected poorly on Teach the Future. I can confirm that when I was in the classroom, I downloaded many materials that I found interesting but never got around to using. I also very rarely used online materials “as-is”; my students and teaching style were my own, and my lessons and units needed to reflect them.

Lessons learned

Nonetheless, those responses reflect a need. Most educators we come across “get” why teaching the future could be valuable. They find the concept intriguing and recognize the disservice we’re doing to young people by omitting the future from classrooms. Still, few teachers make the leap to actually teach the future. That’s partly due to time constraints, which we will never overcome, but it’s also because teachers themselves were never trained to think this way nor to introduce these concepts to their students.

So, we’re focusing in 2017 on teacher professional development and support which has always been part of our plan. In fact, we individually supported several teachers last year. But we are buckling down on that effort this year with the hope that we can make educators more comfortable with the concepts and the material to the point that they don’t need us or even our Library anymore. We envision a community of educators who can incorporate futures thinking into any subject and are committed to doing so.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. If you know of a school or group of educators who want to learn how to teach the future, or if you want to sponsor educators to participate in this professional development, get in touch.

Watch Katie in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjpfNjwZh-s.

Tags:  education  future  school 

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A day in the life of a futurist Part II

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 11, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

At least two of our members have written and reflected on a day in their life. You can view Part 1 here. This post is written by Bryan Alexander for his own blogThe views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

People often ask what I do as an educational futurist.  As one answer I thought I’d share a kind of diary, to give a sense of the practical work and life.

6:30 am – rise later than usual, due to a cold and the insistence of two cats.  Check the weather outside by walking around a bit and consulting Wunderground (around 40 F; cloudy).  One of the cats charges outside for morning patrol.  Then I head back inside to start my morning news routine.

That means working through Google News, HackerNews, Inside Higher Ed, Twitter, Facebook, plus a quick scan of overnight emails for newsletters and stories forwarded by loyal readers.  I save several tabs for later rereading and possible actions.  I also note some potential details for trends: Microsoft might be aiming a light, cloud-based laptop for the K-12 market (mobile; web office; cloud computing); controversy over a sociologist visiting a liberal arts college (campus race politics; student activism); critical article about Blackboard’s strategy and reputation (LMS changes);

7:45 – 8:30 am – make coffee for Ceredwyn and bring it to her.  Make myself breakfast and eat while reading RSS feeds.

8:30 – 9:00 am – revise some presentation materials for this week.  Note some arguments among friends on Facebook.

9:00 – 9:30 am – pack for this week’s trips.  My wife talks with me about her very cool new novel project.  Our son staggers awake (he’s on vacation), and I keep one eye on him as he successfully makes himself breakfast.

9:30 – 9:45 am – share one interesting and potentially future-oriented news story across social media:

My goal in doing this is to elicit feedback; that use of social media is something I’ve been doing for years.  This morning, my own assessment of this particular project is too tentative.

9:45 – 10:00 am – Ceredwyn and I invoice two clients for this week’s operations, and discuss other financial issues.

10:00 – 10:30 – drive to nearby town in search of decent bandwidth.  No, business class Fairpoint service is neither fast nor reliable enough for me to run a webinar with assurance.

10:30 – 11:00 – set up for webinar in local public library.  Check in with organizers and make sure the tech is running. Answer emails from people concerning presentations tomorrow and Thursday.  Reply to interview query.  Discuss one professional futurists’ organization by email.

11:00 – 12:00 noon – conduct webinar for one new client.  Internet connection is solid.

Noon – 12:30 pm – grab this book from the library’s ILL service, then head off to our bank for a deposit, and then to the post office up the mountain.

12:30 pm – 5:00 pm – drive from Vermont to Boston.  At best this can take less than four hours, but I get clobbered by the city’s traffic, as ever:

90 minutes to cross 2/3rds of this cursed town.

Along the way I listen to a variety of podcasts.  Once, in New Hampshire, I stop for a phone interview.  Several times I stop to check email and social media.  Throughout the drive I meditate on virtual reality for education, the subject of Thursday’s workshop.

5:00 – 6:30 pm – check in at Logan, then get online to do some work, including this blog post.

7:00 – 9:00 pm – I’m scheduled to fly from Boston to Washington, DC.  Hopefully I’ll have room to do some writing.  If not, I’ll read about American populism and higher education.

Once in DC I’ll Metro to the hotel for tomorrow’s conference, get some work done, then fall asleep.

The most futuristic bit of today: weaving several ideas about the future of education and technology across multiple technologies, time zones, media, and nations.

The least futuristic bit: moving some pieces of wood onto another stack.  Or maybe it was holding Hunter, our biggest and fluffiest cat, very close before I left.  He hates when I leave.

Tags:  futurist  professionalization  work 

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