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This community-wide blog showcases blogs by APF members on topics they select. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this section belong solely to the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of APF.


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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) 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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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:

Tags:  education  future  school 

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The Future of Work, Freshmen Edition

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post written by Christopher Kent and originally posted by the blog of Foresight Alliance. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF. 

I had the opportunity—and pleasure—to speak to incoming freshmen at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. The topic was the future of work, with a look at how changes happening today will be reshaping work for not only these students, but all workers. I was joined by representatives from Deloitte, KPMG, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Right off the bat I was impressed, as I don’t believe I would have sought out a seminar called “Tomorrowland” during freshman orientation week. But I was further impressed with both their attention to detail, as well as the well-thought-out ideas they already had vis-à-vis their careers. One person I talked to was interested in finding ways to deliver electricity to under-served communities at affordable prices. Another came to the session with an interest in being a futurist and I succeeded in not dissuading him from this ambition.

It was an interesting day, filled with lively discussion and engaged minds. A+, would do it again.

If you are interested, my presentation is linked below. Click on notes view when it opens to see my comments.

Foresight Alliance–Tomorrowland

Also, you can read the full report, The Futures of Work, or a report overview.

Tags:  future  job  work 

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The Future of Sustainable Fashion: An Industry Meeting of Minds

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The following is a member post by Alisha Bhagat that was originally posted to the Forum for the Future blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

It’s worth three trillion dollars annually; engages complex and interconnected global supply chains; provides a vast range of consumer choice, and appeals to every conceivable rational and emotional human aspiration and motivation. There is little doubt that the fashion industry is a vast, complicated system which in some way touches practically every person on the planet.

Today, the long-term sustainability of the fashion industry (which is the world’s second-biggest polluter after oil), is under significant threat from a wide range of social, human rights, environmental and commercial governance factors.

In early November, we hosted a “Futures Salon” event to address the many challenges facing the industry and identify potential solutions to ensure fashion’s viability. Held at the Levi Strauss and Co. offices in Manhattan, the event was formatted to draw upon the expertise of over 50 invitees including fashion brand representatives, designers, and entrepreneurs.

The Viability of the Fashion Industry

A panel discussion established at the outset the industry’s unique challenges, including a system which incentivizes rapid production of a high volume of items generally disposed of after consumer use (in the US, each person discards an average of 85lbs of textiles per year – with 70lbs going straight to landfill).

The global cotton industry is also impacted by human rights issues and multiple long-term risks including climate change and drought, population growth and food scarcity.

All of these factors affecting the future of mass-produced fashion are converging to demand an urgent response. Innovations in production, consumption, and disposal are beginning to challenge the business status quo and provide opportunities for a more sustainable future:
Levi’s recently partnered with Evrnu, a textile recycling start-up, and produced its first pair of fully recycled cotton jeans; each pair made from 5 used cotton t-shirts and requiring 98% less water than a pair of virgin jeans.
•Campaigns such as “Who Made My Clothes” connect consumers with the people who stitched their clothes in an attempt to raise awareness of labor abuses.
•To curb waste, new businesses such as Rent the Runway and Le Tote allow for consumers to rent clothes rather than buy them.
•Companies such as Zady are encouraging consumers to forego fast fashion for timeless style and well-crafted pieces that will last longer.

Despite these innovations, however, much needs to be done to support a fashion industry that minimizes waste, pays workers well, and produces quality garments. A common theme which always emerges is the absolute necessity for consumer demand to increase for sustainably produced garments. All participants agreed that with many of the social and environmental issues impacting elsewhere – i.e. away from the end-market – it was difficult to get most consumers to care.

Industry attendees also agreed that the relevance of sustainable business practices needed to be emphasized at each stage of the fashion supply chain – from the production of raw materials such as cotton, to the disposal of garments by consumers at end of life.

Responding to the challenges… all along the supply chain

Recognizing the requirement of a multi-faceted approach, and as a reflection of the systems-wide methodologies promoted by Forum for the Future, industry break-out groups generated ideas and areas for further development, encompassing all stages of the value chain.

To address the many challenges of production, the need for improved financial incentives was identified, along with support for government regulation to reward companies adopting sustainability best practices. Levis, for example, challenged and incentivized their internal sourcing team to develop products that met the criteria of waterless jeans (which use on average 28 percent less water, and up to 96 percent for certain products) and now, 45% of all Levi’s products are made using waterless processes. These stories of success needed to be told, and sustainable best practices needed to be promoted by harnessing the profile of CEOs through a range of communication tactics including television and social media.

The design challenge was to create affordable and sustainable product while remaining financially viable – design being the bridge between the consumer and the finished product. In this area, biotechnology holds considerable promise, with science and new technologies combining to create fabrics that are more sustainable. Designers need to understand the capabilities of these new fabrics and learn how to work with them.

Designers do not work in a vacuum, however. It was pointed out that industry business models needed to evolve away from the short-term quarterly cycle in the fashion industry, while simultaneously accelerating innovation.

A number of strategies were identified to drive consumer demand and to make fashion purchase decisions based on their values: From a brand perspective, sustainability can be a differentiator if all other factors – especially style and price – remain competitive.

All manner of tactics can be considered: supportive government policies to encourage consumer choice, to deployment of key influencers such as celebrities and pop culture films can push consumer awareness towards sustainable choices

Rating systems and QR codes on tags will facilitate the standardization of sustainability and provide enhanced transparency through relevant and accessible information – provided that the consumer is not deluged with information overload.

Finally, industry collaboration will be vital to promoting a systems-level view to influencing the future of fashion. One successful example, the Better Cotton Initiative, achieved a 10% sustainable cotton level despite its diverse stakeholder population and time-consuming processes. Collaborations present their own challenges, however: they do not lend themselves to speed; varying levels of ambition are at play and different organizational structures (even between public and privately held companies) can impact rates of progress.

Strong corporate cultures, together with industry leadership will be required to transcend operational realities along the supply chains. In the meantime, all participants in this Futures Salon event agreed that ultimately the end consumer will be the final arbiter of the success of sustainability – not as a fashion trend, but as an industry necessity.

Forum for the Future believes that the fashion industry can be changed for the better, but that it will take collective action.

Among our programs underway, Forum’s Cotton 2040 project is focused on building demand for sustainable cotton, improving traceability, training farmers and scaling cotton recycling. Separately, through our Fashion Futures project, we created a free toolkit that can be used by businesses and educators in designing products or strategy. These tools were deployed when we hosted the design sprint with Parsons, which you can read about here. We are now looking for companies to co-host a very similar challenge with designers in the industry to inspire innovation. If you are interested in collaborating with us, please contact:

Alisha Bhagat, Senior Sustainability Advisor

Tags:  fashion  future  industry 

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How Generation Z Thinks About the Future

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

This blog post is cross posted from the blog After the Millennials which belongs to futurist consultant Anne Boysen, a full APF member. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

Do you lead a group of children and want to engage them in future thinking in an effective and meaningful way? Please fill out the contact form for workshops and futuristic gameplay. You never know what future they will reveal to you, but it can make your job leading them to make much more sense.

The most rewarding way I gain post-millennial insight comes from doing scenarios sessions with children and teens. While scenario methods like Futures Wheel, STEEP brainstorming and cross-impact analysis are typically intended to help organizations find strategies and discover new opportunities, they also allow us to discern the thought processes of those who partake in the exercise. Of course, traditional surveys, focus groups, and ethnographic research methods continue to have merit, but I find the scenario approach particularly effective in learning how young people think about the future. Providing structure without putting creative limitations on the participants, children or teens explore trends, contemporary events, and emerging issues, and are then nudged to combine their observations into plausible, internally coherent scenarios. These exercises tend to convey unspoken attitudes, perceptions, and worldviews inherent to a generation that has only seen the world of the 21st century. It gives us a preview of a brand new zeitgeist about to unfold, and which will shape our future in the years and decades to come. In other words, while useful for the participants themselves, scenarios can also provide pivotal insights for researchers.

I recently did a scenario workshop with a group of 12-year-old girls who first brainstormed various trends and then selected the two most uncertain trend variables. The chosen trends were those the tweens felt could produce very different futures. The variables were given high and low values and coordinated in a 2×2 matrix, which elicited 4 different scenario logics.

While I would never claim that these girls represent a whole generation, their insights opened the window into some of the worries, excitements, threats and opportunities young people are facing today. And many of their concerns do in fact reflect observations I find in other sources.

Main takeaways
1) Environment and Tech Engaged Less Than Politics and Economics

We started with a STEEP-exercise, which is essentially brainstorming a variety of trends categorized as Social (or cultural), Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political. The girls enthusiastically came up with 7 economic trends and 7 political trends. But surprisingly only 3 environmental and 4 tech trends were mentioned. Social or cultural trends were somewhere in the middle. This focus was unexpected at first, but it makes sense when considering which future domains represent the greater uncertainties for these kids. It’s not that kids care less about the environment and tech – quite the opposite. Gen Z’ers care deeply about environmental issues and take technology for granted, but these domains are already well-trodden paths. No one in this generation would question the existence of environmental degradation. No one questions the fact that technology has almost limitless possibilities to solve some of these problems. But that is it. This generation is well beyond “the environment is hurting” and “new tech is cool” narratives. To engage them you will have to get beyond context-less discussions around new technology and environmental degradation. Instead, Generation Z will take these discussions one step further, and bring agency and action into the picture. And here is where politics and economics come in.

The strong engagement with political trends likely had a lot to do with the election year and that the workshop took place soon after the Brexit referendum. The tweens had likely heard a lot of political buzz, which created an artificially strong interest in this topic. Their interest in economic trends was noteworthy as they seem to sense deep macroeconomic challenges associated with The Fourth Industrial Revolution. So again, the heightened interest political and economic issues are effects of deep technological shifts.

2) Corporate Concentration of Power Undermines Future Entrepreneurs

In 2013 a report from Oxford university suggested that 47% of today’s jobs will be taken over by robots and artificial intelligence in the near future. MIT professors Brynjolfsson and McAfee have popularized these ideas in The Second Machine Age and suggested that not only will technologically outsourced jobs increase income disparity, but the corporate structure itself will only have room for a few winners and many losers. This has to do with technologically enabled scalability. Network -or platform companies do not necessarily increase their operating costs when volumes increase or markets expand, which makes local competition increasingly difficult. The combination of machine intelligence and diminishing marginal costs abate the demand for, and the relative power of workers and entrepreneurs in ever more industries and professions.

The girls had an almost eerily accurate premonition of these trends. While envisioning a future where digitally caused unemployment is likely to increase, they also believed that we would have fewer small businesses because competition from the tech giants is increasing.

By contrast, MTV recently surveyed 1000 Generation Z members across the countries and found that if this generation were to name themselves, they would want to be called The Founders. And not because of some powder wigged dudes from the Enlightenment Era. This is a generation that has been spoon-fed a digital diet of YouTube fame, Instagram memes and inspirational quotes plastered on top of hedonistic images of Richard Branson.

But Gen Z consists not only of Silicon Valley hopefuls constantly comparing who can poop the prettiest rainbow and attract the most VCs. Most of these kids have ingested enough recession coal to know that unicorns are fantasy figures – at least most of them. Gen Z watched their older siblings get trophies just for showing up until they entered a job market where neither trophies nor living wages were anywhere to be found. These kids seem to have an intuitive understanding that the mechanisms that once used to lead to a steady accumulation of Volvos, 401K value, and white picket fences can no longer be taken for granted.

Surveys show that unlike Millennials who remain remarkably optimistic about the future despite current economic setbacks, Gen Z displays much more realistic expectations. Viewing the startup bonanza with a grain of salt could mean that they will plan for their careers more sensibly.

3) Increasing Segregation and Nationalization

The tweens weighed in on Donald Trump’s presidential platform as well as the Brexit vote. The group suggested we might see a future with many types of walls rising, both figurative and physically. The parallel between Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU and Trump’s nationalistic agenda did not go unnoticed. The group suggested that supranational institutions, such as the EU and maybe even UN might become weaker and that we might experience what they called “national bullying” – or bullying between nations. The concept is noteworthy because this is a generation growing up with social and emotional learning in their school curricula along with cultural globalization. The more unsavory rhetoric in the election campaign seems to have very distinct effects on this generation.

4) We Will Use Technology to Help the Environment

The group came up with ideas such as using drone-based watering systems to save on fresh water (yes, it’s a thing), increased use of rooftop solar panels, windmills, and turbines to generate energy. They even deduced that if people are going off the grid, some of the tax base would disappear because self-sufficiency would dismantle utility based taxes. In noticing the disappearing tax caused by prosumerism, the group seems to have identified yet another technologically derived trend that turned out to have political and economic consequences.

Beyond Faster, Better, Cheaper
Embedded in a futurist world where everything seems to be undergoing accelerated change, X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis recently asked in an article in Medium: “What will remain the same?” He quotes a conversation he had with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos where the king of digital distribution answers that people’s desire for lower prices and faster delivery will always persist. Is it really fair to assume the next generation will continue to put “Faster, Better, Cheaper” above all other concerns? In my research and many conversations with young people, there is a growing awareness that the products we produce and consume are part of a greater system that takes many other factors into account. Factors such as environmental impact, automation vs. human employment issues and inclusiveness are issues that matter to younger workers and consumers. In fact, when companies create their young consumer strategy nowadays one of their first checkpoints is to make sure the business fulfills triple bottom line standards (People, Planet, Profit). If kids see this, why don’t turbo-futurists like Diamandis and Bezos?

After a decade-long obsession with tech entrepreneurs and narrow-minded focus on technological prowess and new business models, we are starting to ask questions about how we use these technologies can be used to solve problems, and Generation Z is taking a lead in shifting the narratives. It seems that when you grow up between technological abundance on the one side and technological unemployment on the other, you have more important concerns than faster delivery time and pies in the sky.

Tags:  future  generations  millennials 

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Towards the future of technology for education

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 7, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The blog post below is reblogged from Bryan Alexander’s own site: The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

On June 16th I gave the closing keynote at the New Media Consortium’s annual conference. It was a big talk, with tons of images, ranting, and ideas crammed into a very busy hour.

It meant a great deal to me to address an organization which meant so much. I cut loose in this talk, making 95% of it new just for the occasion, taking a lot of risks and challenging the audience. I’d like to share recordings and material here for your use and/or feedback. So sit back and watch, listen, or read.

Here’s the NMC’s video recording:

The slides are on Slideshare.

And here are the prepared remarks. I riffed on them at points, which you can see in the video above. I’ve added several of the images as I referred to them directly, plus a very short bibliography at the very end:

“It is a signal honor to address an organization – a community – that has meant so much to me for more than a decade. NMC is a source of inspiration, learning, challenges, and many friendships. In honor of the futures work long conducted by the NMC, allow me to take you on a futuring journey for the next hour

Here’s my plan, what we’ll be exploring:
1.Some quick introductory notes
2.The short- term future
3.Some medium-term futures
4.Towards the longer term
5.What to do

1. Introductory notes

I’m going to focus this talk on the ways technology might develop in the future. This entails a risk, that of technological determinism. This assumes that technological developments drive some non-technological changes – for our purposes, to education and society. Think of how train tracks and rolling stock can enable yet constrain human actions. A related assumption: people will keep developing and playing with tech. More simply put: I’ll take the persistent drive for technological invention seriously.

I won’t be talking much about Black Swans, like a possible Singularity, or airborne Ebola, or a WWI-scale disaster, or everyone’s favorite, the zombie apocalypse. Also, I won’t dwell on most non-technological contexts (economics, policy, demographics), unusually for me.

Is the future we’re making a good one or a bad time? Americans like to see technologies and futures in terms of starkly opposed utopian and dystopian poles. I’d like the make things more nuanced, stretching futures across a utopia – reality – dystopia spectrum.

Two guides will help us forward, starting with history. We have a good sense, now, about how humans tend to create and react to new technologies, and we can extrapolate from that knowledge. Our second guide is science fiction, which informs much of today’s talk. Not only has sf been giving us visions of possible futures for more than a century, in addition to offering cognitive tools for imagining the future, but technologists and designers are increasingly influenced by what sf has already imagined. In short, if you’re not reading science fiction, you’re not ready for the rest of the 21st century.

2. Short term, to 2021

We are living through a remarkable time when revolutions are rippling through traditional education. An unprecedented boom in human creativity thanks to the digital revolution is returning storytelling and story-sharing capabilities to people around the world. And powerful changes in economics, demographics, and globalization, not to mention technology, are reshaping education. Some of schooling as we know it might not survive the decade.

Technological development rushes on. VR in now in place, with applications in gaming, storytelling, and visualization. Watch the costs drop and accessibility rise. Content is starting to appear. AR is developing broadly, for basic visualizations across many different hardware platforms. What’s next? AR and VR connect and intertwine, as the digital and nondigital worlds are thoroughly interlaced. Think Mixed Reality. Think computing in space. Watch Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap.

Meanwhile, 3d printing is growing rapidly. In education, we’ve seen it move from engineering to libraries. Think: 3d printing across the curriculum. 3d printing is also allied to new learning spaces. A DIY ethos contributes to the growth of Makerspaces and the Maker movement.

Those spaces and technologies link up with the often-heralded transition from consumption to co-creation and production, which continues. Think: student as producer, student as maker.

Meanwhile, hardware continues to shrink, as Moore’s Law keeps on going. For example, my alma mater, UM, produced a combination camera, data storage, and Wifi connection the size of a grain of rice – last year. Let’s assume hardware keeps shrinking. This will let us embed hardware throughout our environment. It will let us do more with projected displays, flexible interfaces. Contact lenses as interfaces could well appear. Mark Weiser’s dreams of ubiquitous computing are coming true.

One way of describing this world of small, embedded, invisible, and environmental hardware is the Internet of Things. This is already occurring through an enormous infrastructure build out, including: expanding into the IPv6 internet protocol; developing new middleware, OSes; building out data ownership and control systems. This should lead us to rethink privacy, data ownership and control, safety tradeoffs, and the public/ private dynamic.

At a technical level, will we rethink what a file is? Imagine an ecosystem mostly composed of streams, not documents in directories; points and flows, not files.

Will there be hyperlinks in the internet of everything? What happens to the web in a world of ubiquitous, often invisible computing? There are many incentives to not develop the web. For example, mobile apps, streaming video, AAA video games, the LMS, paywalls all offer alternatives to the open web of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention. Perhaps the web of 2021 will become like US community tv, trawled by a few humans and increasing #s of AIs. Or perhaps, as Kevin Kelly suggests, we’ll see the IoE hyperlinked and Googleable. Perhaps we’ll improve our ability to search and link across time, connecting to a site’s prior states, hyperlinking the emerging history of the web.

While we shrink some hardware devices, we send others into the air. Drones are changing public and private spaces, around the world. There are peaceful uses for delivery, photography, research, art. Some hobbyists have figured out how to add new devices to drones, such as shotguns and chainsaws. Others, like the United States Pentagon, have created still more uses in war and espionage. Drones were once largely controlled; now some are semi-autonomous, or autonomous, acting on their own. Already ethicists and insurance companies debate the implications of drone crimes, asking who’s responsible for injuries and deaths at the metaphorical hands of a literal machine. And automating jobs: Japanese firm Komatsu uses drones on construction projects to feed data to automated trucks and digging machines.

So many future trends are historical trends that won’t die or seem to cease only to lurch back into life later on. Some of you may remember p2p architectures dating back to the 1990s. The blockchain is a new realization of that concept. Not only has blockchain led to bitcoin, an interesting, messy, and potentially transformative financial development, but now, through Ethereum, supports decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO): distributed, automated enterprises. One such already functions as a fundraising and fund dispersal firm.

Meanwhile, for the next five years let’s expect more of the boring old stuff: social media, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, open source, data analytics, mobile computing, gaming, gamification, virtualization, digitization, digital storytelling, always-on media capture, always-on surveillance, hacking… There’s more, of course. There always is.

That’s all in the short term. The next 5 years. We already know all about this stuff.

3. Medium term

Let’s look ahead 10 years. To 2026.

Facebook_next 10 years_Business insider

Facebook is already looking ahead to that point and planning. Note what they want to nail down by then:

Facebook_next 10 years_Business insider -detail

Automation: so to get to 2026, let’s just assume progress, and let’s consider artificial intelligence. Not at the level of a cataclysmic, world-rebooting Singularity. Just extrapolations of current trends, along the lines marked out by McAfee and Brynjolfson. I’ll assume Moore’s law continues., and add in that quantum computing starts to appear at consumer and enterprise levels. We start talking about a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Let’s grant further, steady growth in deep learning and advanced neural networks. Count Google’s victory over the game of Go as a milestone, and Siri’s uncanny abilities as a baseline.

Then we have to rethink how we design the digital world. Maybe all of it. How does more advanced AI force us to reconceive data standards and publication, information architecture, archiving, for starters?

Mobile first to AI first world

As it advances, AI starts taking up human functions. We, humans, generate a vast and growing horde of data; this is fodder for machines. Projects are appearing every day to take advantage of improving machine analysis, like, which aims to improve your health by diving deeply into your guts to better understand their microbial life. We’ve already seen criminal analytics automated – which already has problems. Machine to machine functions keep rising, such as high-frequency trading, which has already advanced beyond regulators’ abilities to constrain. Already we’ve seen flash crashes, economic incidents, driven by the conversation among programs.

Looking ahead to 2026, imagine increasing segments of human life automated as machine-to-machine functions. We could see the emergence of a posthuman order in our lives.

Let’s add robots to the mix since automation means both AI and robots. The combination is extending into more human labor functions. This can supplement labor shortfalls (Japan, China) or replace capital with labor (everywhere). Robots + AI + 3dprinting could mean deglobalization, as we relocalize production, especially through customization and creativity.

More: we’re seeing the development of affective, emotional computing, as the Horizon Report notes. For example, we could develop emotional analysts. When will they be on par with a human baseline of emotional assessment? When will they go beyond, and how do we handle that? On another line, what does good machine translation do to professional translators and second language teaching? If we combine automation with the IoE and MR, should we anticipate the appearance of intelligence, even sentient tools?

Today we’re seeing the automation of more job functions and entire jobs. Sometimes they replace human functions, physical or mental, sometimes through expert systems. Since 1990, for the first time in centuries, automation outmodes jobs without creating new ones, perhaps leading to rising unemployment. Imagine a 2026 with persistent 10% or 20% unemployment. What does education mean in such a world?

We’re also seeing the development of automated creativity. Already operational in writing (finance, sports, weather) and images. This image is a screen cap from a neutral net recreating a classic movie – 2001 – on its own terms:

This next image was created by Google’s DreamDream, which turned my original photo of our pre-conference session into mild psychedelia:

NMC 2016 scenarios group_Google Dreamed

We’re also seeing automated assistants. For example, tools for analyzing one’s writing, which can help us edit and revise more effectively – without a teacher. We’ve seen IBM’s Watson help point to new avenues of medical research, and legal AIs help with document analysis. By 2026 will we see an AI acknowledged, or even credited as coauthor for a scholarly article?

How should we expect creativity itself to change with automation? The history of human interaction with technology suggests we should, as humans love to revise old forms and create new ones with each invented medium. So look to new ways of making art, different forms of storytelling, fresh takes on gaming, and, maybe, new forms of creativity in 2026 we lack the words to describe in 2016.

Hang on. There are plenty of reasons to resist such an automation-shaped scenario.

Objection: Humans want contact!

Answer: except when we don’t. Introverts overdose daily on human contact. People don’t necessarily prefer human interaction for unpleasant tasks. Geeks and increasing geeky culture famously are comfortable with the computer-mediated experience. Generally speaking, younger folks are happier with the digital than their elders.

Objection: Automation is too expensive!

Answer: capital continues to accumulate in this economy. That’s one part of rising inequality (cf Thomas Piketty’s R>g equation). And technology prices drop, historically.

Objection: I’m scared of machines doing bad things to me and my children!

Answer: what happens when the machines are safer and better than humans? Think of self-driving cars, while human drivers murder tens of thousands each year. Or robots in hospitals, where human accidents kill 100s of thousands every year.

4. Long term

Let’s look ahead even further. Try 2050. And let’s be open to the full range of possibilities.

What’s happening in the long range horizon is truly disruptive. We’re seeing grand challenges loom like science fiction plotlines. The specter of automation threatens to radically reformat the world of work and society, changing the world our students will inhabit while supplanting teaching and learning. And that’s just for starters.

Consider the new silicon order. Let’s consider different ways AI could unfold. Nick Bostrom at Oxford has done speculative research into the different ways AI could grow and shape the world, ranging from benign to malign to simply strange. Stephen Hawking wants us of proceeding too quickly, of allowing a dangerous force to erupt across our deeply networked world; imagine how much more threatening his warning becomes in an IoE world. There’s the dystopia of a world ruled by inhuman AI, like the classic movie The Forbin Project. Then there’s the utopian vision of Iain Banks. Imagine benign, grand, and administrative AI that simply works to improve human life. That’s a continuum of silicon-ordered 2050s.

Consider the new social order. Given sufficient automation, how do humans organize together in post-2016 forms? We might not see new jobs appear. Income inequality could accelerate to 19th-century levels. In which case, we could see two new worlds of work.

On the one hand, the mass of humans work part-time at low wages, living at a subsistence level, otherwise engaged and entertained by a rich and endless digital environment. Above them are the 1%, often deeply skilled, the owners and managers of the new digital order. There isn’t much middle class between them. Call it the new Gilded Age, or neofeudalism.

On the other hand, automation unleashes a new era in human prosperity, of digital delights and technology-enabled offline goods. New political regulations and social orders transfer enough wealth to the majority of people to enable them to lead rich and rewarding lives, which combine productive work with reflective leisure – what one British organization half-jokingly referred to as Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Again, hat’s a continuum of the 2050s.

Perhaps we combine and synthesize these movements. Technology doesn’t replace humans but extends and enriches us. We work and play in ever-closer relationship to the digital world. We are both metaphorically and literally cyborgs.

Let’s go further. These technological advances let us hacking life. At the same time as we develop silicon technology, we apply digital tools and concepts to the biological realm. New tools, like CRISPR, give us the ability to shape offspring – to edit life – with increasing precision and power. Open source biology gives new insights into life forms – and shares that knowledge widely. Consider a recent paper in World Neurosurgery, “Brainjacking: implant security issues in invasive neuromodulation”. Or consider another paper, on creating macromolecules to reduce the spread of infection within a body.

The new humanity: consider more deeply what happens when we apply these technologies to humanity. What happens to our sense of what it means to be human?

What we think of as “human” may change beyond recognition. We’re already there in 2016 with bionics and widespread, legal, even mandated psychopharmaceuticals. We’re experimenting with brain-controlled machines. nutraceuticals. We’re starting to print tissue and organ replacements. Precision medicine via bioinformatics, new imaging technologies, and nanotech medicine are coming online. New devices give some measure of sight to some blind people. A Stony Brook team used targeted light to alter acetylcholine in the brains of mammals, removing some emotional memories. We can conceive of editing human DNA via CRISPR and gene driving. Some populations live decades longer than they did just 2 generations ago; if life extension becomes even basically successful, by 2050 will we see 100 become the new 60? Meanwhile, biological indicators are increasingly used in security: retina scanning, gait recognition.

With such innovations, after such knowledge, what happens to our sense of what it means to be human?

How does public health change? Does health care become the leading American industry? What’s the public interest in editing people’s minds and bodies?

Beyond human life, we could experience a new nature. As one marine biologist, Ruth Gates, explains her new role: “Really, what I am is a futurist. Our project is acknowledging that a future is coming where nature is no longer fully natural.” None of our technological innovations occurs in a vacuum. As we alter life and grow the digital world, we also alter the earth. As we change humanity, we alter nature. We may, by 2050, speak of a new Earth.

Already some use the term Anthropocene to describe the planet after the year 1900. The Northwest passage is now open. Multiple nations are engaged in a geopolitical rush for the north polar region, which is now opening up into a new world.

That’s just the start. What happens when snows and permafrost retreat northwards, opening up lands for farming? When hot climates turn arid and desertification begins? Do more cities become like Las Vegas, artificial creations maintained solely by massive infrastructural investment? When do people flee such cities? What changes will occur in the planetary ecosystem when we produce hybrid and novel forms of life?

In a parallel to the transformation wrought by infusing human bodies and societies with increasing numbers of machines, what happens to the natural world when that world is suffused with small, networked, data-gathering devices? What happens to the thin layer of life wrapping the Earth’s rocky mantle when we achieve nanotechnology at industrial scale, or nanotechnology at consumer scale? Will digital connectivity laminate or subsume the biosphere?

In one of his novels, Iain Banks describes the infusion of computation into the world through tiny, networked devices. Others have used the term computronium to name the new material that results. Banks coins the sharper word Smatter (smart matter). By 2050, will we produce matter in labs? Or in garages? Or in forests?

What would we call this world, revised by humans and post-human technologies? Donna Haraway offers the maybe tongue-in-cheek term “Cthulhucene”.

By 2050, in short, we are hacking the world. Humans change humans, humans change the world, the new world changes humans, and so it goes. By 2050 we’ve hacked the world, and keep on doing so.

Should we envision this as a renaissance? Perhaps this new world is one where human creativity and identity is reborn through an expansion of our powers and capacities, fraught with all kinds of dangers and disasters. Perhaps 2050 is a time of human rebirth.

Maybe a new politics appears by 2050. Think of this combination: drones, perhaps perpetually aloft thanks to solar power, with big data, IOE-based surveillance, and data analytics backed by AI could yield a dictator’s ecstatic dream of total social control. Does this system elicit a new politics in thirty-five years? Perhaps, for some, they will idolize heroes of our time, like Edward Snowden and Alexandra Elbakyan. Others will abhor them as dangerous criminals. What kind of politics are described by their fans and opponents?

A new politics: for example, in 2016 a proposal appeared for casting some urban areas as Rebel Cities, spaces where surveillance is disallowed. Would such spaces be fruitful ground for shooters like the one in Orlando, as well as for creative expression? Would Rebel Cities descend into chilling cycles of escalating violence and terror, or create new forms of social amity? By 2050 has this range of thinking about surveillance become the new left-right, blue-red political bedrock?

Or, instead, after we hack the earth and transform our population, is our politics described as what Bruce Sterling calls “cities full of old people, afraid of the sky”?

Hang on. What could stop some or all of these developments from happening?

Objection: Moore’s law could slow down or stop, which might ratchet down the pace of technological innovation and production a bit.

Answer: the pace might slow, but the end state still occurs. Alternatively, we could shift energies from digital technologies to robotics and quantum computing.

Objection: we could turn our postindustrial economy into one based on the principle of no growth economies. After all, as Edward Abbee famously observed, growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Answer: you first. Seriously, try to convince people that they don’t need any more economic growth. Think of the vast equity issues involved in telling the developing world to stop. Or doing this without redistributing wealth.

Objection: a resource crash could knock these futures offline.

Answer: true.

Objection: we could voluntarily stop developing technologies.

Answer: “giving up the gun” rarely works, historically, with the rare exception of state power used against the crossbow.

Objection: a new anti-technological politics could arise, urging us to return to an older form of humanity. NeoLuddites? anti-intellectuals? New Humanists?

Trump the Game, littlebiglens

“I love the poorly educated!”

Answer: it’s possible, and something to watch for. But too many people see themselves benefitting from technologies. This will take some interesting cultural turning.

Objection: could a religious movement against new technologies arise? Frank Herbert gave us such a vision in his classic novel Dune, where a kind of crusade blocks AIs from working for centuries.

Answer: it’s possible, and something to watch for. But most religions are happy to use the technologies, in the end. So we have to anticipate a new religious movement.

Objection: various Black Swans could occur, such as an extraordinarily massive solar event or EMP strikes from some foe or the clathrate gun firing.

Answer: true. That’s the nature of very unlikely, high impact events. Will our technological society build enough resilience into its new Earth?

But before we leave, let’s go even further.

Imagine 2075.

The humans we knew from the year 2000 are a vanishingly rare type, studied by descendants of anthropologists. Artificial intelligence busily works around and above the globe, redesigning life. The biosphere has gained and lost species and entire biomes. The Earth… is transformed. Education and creativity? something else entirely.

Some inspired and creative AI and semi-human teams launch mixed reality reenactments of life in 2016.

5. What is to be done?

How can we anticipate and act strategically in the face of such potential transformation?

We are so not ready.

We currently suffer under a bad mix: the weird simultaneity of a popular and well-funded embrace of technology with strong anti-scientism and unreason. Academic disciplines are not necessarily prepared (think of how 2008 caught macroeconomics flat-footed, and what 2016 is doing to political science. We are radically divided over what constitutes human nature, as we start to hack it up. In the United States, we enjoy political sclerosis and dystopian reaction.

We have many political leaders skeptical of, if not actively opposed to civil liberties in the digital world: Trump, Clinton; Cameron; China’s gamified autocracy. Journalism is less free to report now than it was a decade ago, according to a Reporters Sans Frontières report; Turkey arresting journalists on press freedom day. Meanwhile, American tv “news” is a planetary and historical embarrassment. We maintain a horrible legacy of prejudice restricting human growth and creativity. And inequality is starting to aim for nineteenth-century levels.

So given all of that, what shouldn’t we do?

Don’t think about it.

Evade the issue by thinking of retirement. (Present generations don’t have a good record about leaving the world to the young right now)

What is to be done instead?

The blindingly obvious: collaborate with each other, across institutions, sectors, nations, populations, professions. Work through inter-institutional groups (like NMC!). Use social media. Use and be open. Read and watch science fiction.

The not so obvious, and challenging: rethink everything in terms of automation’s possibilities. Think of what can be replaced. Become a cyborg. Use futures methods.

The more challenging: Lead! You’re best placed on campuses and other institutions to inform people in context. Get political. Imagine different worlds and inhabiting them – yourselves, your institution, your children and the generation to come.

You. Help. Make. The. Future.

It isn’t something just done to you, delivered like gifts from a cargo cult. You help make the future.

Every decision you make contributes. When you craft a creative work, or teach in a certain way, or nudge a campus in one direction, or support a political candidate, or tell a story, or dream out loud, or influence younger folks, you help co-create what is coming next. Don’t be passive – it’s too late! You’re already making it happen. You are all – each of you – practicing futurists and world-makers. Do so with open eyes, and the flame of creative possibility roaring in your heart.

Thank you.”


Renata Avila, “Ciudades Rebeldes – hacia una red global de barrios y ciudades rechazando la vigilancia“.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age.

Andrea Castillo, “Can a Bot Run a Company?

Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, Peter Felten, Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty (2014).

Kristi DePaul, “Robot Writers, Open Education, and the Future of EdTech” (2015).

Lori Dorn, “The First Aerial Illuminated Drone Show in the United States Takes Place Over the Mojave Desert”.

Fully automated luxury communism: a utopian critique“.

Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble”.

Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

Rebecca Keller, “The Rise of Manufacturing Marks the Fall of Globalization.”

Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable.

“Komatsu to use drones for automated digging in the U.S.“

Ray Kurzweil,

Brooke McCarthy, “Flex-Foot Cheetah”.

Alexis Madrigal, “‘The Future Is About Old People, in Big Cities, Afraid of the Sky’”.

Babak Parviz, “Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens

Brandt Ranj, “Goldman Sachs says VR will be bigger than TV in 10 years “.

David Rose, Enchanted Objects.

Edward Snowden, “Inside the Assassination Complex“.

Avianne Tan, “Legally Blind 5th Grader Sees Mother for 1st Time Through Electronic Glasses”.

Tags:  education  future  technology 

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