Futurists

Hello and Welcome to BCM325 Future Cultures

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In this video, I want to provide a primer for thinking about the role of ‘Futurist’ and get you to contemplate how to take on futurology as part of your own work and thinking within the creative industries, whether it is working in social media management, screen production, marketing and advertising, journalism, visual communication and design or number of other fields.

[Futurologists]

Over the course of the last century, futurists, sometimes called ‘futurologists’ have been scientists, writers, scholars and entrepreneurs who have explored the possibilities for the future. It is the futurist’s job to analyse data from the past, identify current trends, and offer predictions in both factual and fictional forms. In previous videos, we have looked at those who have imagined what life might be like in the short, medium and long term future. We have talked about futurists like [H.G Wells] and [Arthur C Clarke],  [Ossip K. Flechtheim] and [Bertrand de Jouvenel]. Many Futurists work for think tanks like the Rand Corporation, which we have covered in other videos, and many futurists do work as public speakers, researchers, consultants and have TED talks and work with clients, companies and businesses to achieve specific goals in often innovative and sometimes radical ways.

[Future Futurists]

Over time, I intend to produce a series of more focussed videos on important futurists like [Marshall McLuhan], [Alvin Toffler], [Donna Haraway], and [Carl Sagan] but in this first part, I want to focus on mapping some of the connections between futurists and their ideas. This map is going to be incomplete at this stage, so I want to start with a broad understanding of people’s whose main occupation is thinking about the future and come to terms with the obligations and limitations of being a public futurist.

[Wendell Bell]

If you are familiar with the other Future Cultures videos, you will be well versed in the work of [Wendell Bell], a futurist and sociologist, who argues that there are many types of futurists. Some are innovators and inventors, some are CEOS and entrepreneurs, while other Futurists aim to educate and communicate, there is also an important category of Futurists who are also activists: [Quote]

“Other futurists, taking a long-range and holistic view of the world, have much broader and more public-oriented goals. They aim to raise the level of human understanding and consciousness about the interrelatedness of all people to each other. Despite the apparent cultural diversity in the world, many futurists believe that humans everywhere, both as biological and cultural beings, have much in common. They see similarities not only in basic needs, but also in human goals and values. They see, too, the global growth of mutuality, and the need to define the collective aspirations of all humanity…In the broadest sense, futurists hope to inform people’s expectations of the future and to help make their efforts shape the future…” Bell 1997 p.2.

[Social Responsibility]

The social responsibility of futurists, argues Elenora Massini, another futurist we have spoken about in previous videos, is not simply to aspire to transform the present with visions of utopian futures and alternatives to the present world order, but to undertake a project, in which you persuade the world to move towards a more pluralistic future through creative and imaginative analysis and productive action. A futurist must do as well as imagine.

[Common Goal]

Futurists, according to Wendell Bell, have a common goal, they seek to know: what can or could be (the possible), what is likely to be (the probable) and what ought to be (the preferable).

[Toffler]

Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock in 1970, suggests that it is the Futurists job to create the “new” and to find alternative images of the future. In previous videos we have addressed this idea of ‘images of the future’, which isn’t simply futuristic imagery, but rather policy, writing, speculation and representation of how the future might be: whether its augmented reality, biohacking, artificial intelligence, global warming or refugee support or approaches to energy, health and education.  Toffler argued that visionary explorations were needed to understand what was probably or likely to occur, and Futurists need to be able to offer a moral and ethical evaluation for what was preferable to occur. One of my [favourite quotes], which I think goes a long way to frame the type of capacity a Futurist must have, is from Toffler, who wrote that the illiterate of the 21st century, will not be those who cannot read and write, but those cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Toffler’s point that Futurists do not ignore the present is another reminder about the function of Futurists, which is to effect change now, not just at some later point. Long-term planning isn’t about enacting plans at some point in the future, it is about actively affecting action in the present that will have long term benefits and outcomes. Futurists have to be good at history, this is crucial because you can’t understand the present and plan for the future unless you have a good grasp on the past. Short term, medium term and long term planning all require you to be able to make informed decisions and implement changes in the present.

[A Map of Futurologists]

In this section, I want to provide an overview of current and past futurists and map the relationships between their overlapping interests. It is important to remember that to be a ‘Futurist’ is to take on both a persona and a perspective, which involves analysing current trends and investing time and energy into developing your own unique ideas about the future. So this is going to be a brief overview of people who call themselves futurists and will include authors, consultants, entrepreneurs, thinkers and public intellectuals, who engage in different ways and means for advising, imagining and talking about possible futures. Not all these figures in the map identify themselves as futurists or futurologists, but all have made important contributions to the way we think about the future. As I mentioned earlier I intend to follow up this video with a short series of videos highlighting the work of individuals, where we can recognise the more recent diversity that has been emerging in the field of futurology and futures thinking. Because I don’t want this video to be three hours long, and I intend to pick up on some of these topics and people in later videos, I’m going to keep my overview of some of these points on the map, very brief.

[Important Figures – prototypical futurists]

First some important Futurists. [Joachim of Fiore] was an Italian theologian in 12th century CE and founder of a monastic order, he developed a philosophy of history known as Millenarism, in which time is believed to be moving toward a fundamental transformation of society. This type of thinking changed our perspective of time, moving away from the more cyclical view of history and towards the idea that linear time was moving toward an endpoint: an apocalypse. [Roger Bacon] was a Franciscan Friar and a Medieval English philosopher who placed emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism – the recording of data through human senses and technologies – which contributed to the development of the natural philosophers and eventually the modern scientific method. [Buckminster Fuller] was a very influential architect, cosmologists, designer and a primary contributor to the development of systems thinking, which has been central to Futures Studies and the work of Think Tanks for decades. Many of you will have heard the name [Nikola Tesla], who was a Serbian- American inventor and electrical and mechanical engineer, the internet’s favourite futurist who is best known for his work on the alternating current induction motor, which made washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and other modern devices possible. [Richard Feynman] was a theoretical physicist, who specialised in quantum mechanics. He was had a beautiful TV segment call ‘Fun to Imagine’,  which is on YouTube and I will put the links in the details below. [Stephen Hawking] was an influential astrophysicist, cosmologist and author. Hawking was a professor of mathematics, who predicted the existence of black holes and supported the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. [Bruce Stirling] is another important futurist, and he now works in living design as an information technologist.

[Transhumanism]

Let’s switch for a moment, to look at some futurological topics and the futurists associated with them. Transhumanism is a philosophical movement, a school of thought, concerned with the transformation of the human condition by developing new technologies to expand human intellect and physiology and make these breakthroughs available to everyone. Transhumanists examine the benefits and ethical problems of using new technologies to improve the human condition. The earliest transhumanist thinking informed the science of eugenics and led to speculation about space colonisation, bionic implants, gene editing and cognitive enhancement.

[FM-2030] One of the first Transhuman Futurists, was F.M. Esfandiary, known as FM-2030, a Belgian, Iranian, American philosopher, author, and athlete, whose work on the “new concepts of the human” identified technologies, lifestyles and work views that would assist in transitioning humans to a posthuman status. His book ‘Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World’ was published in 1989. [Max More] The work of philosopher Max More, has help to develop the transhumanist doctrine, in his book ’Principles of Extropy’, he argues that Transhumanism embraces many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) life. However, transhumanism differs from humanism as it recognises and anticipates radical alterations to our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies. Other Transhumanists include [Ryan O’Shea] – on Twitter as @Ryan0Shea Who is very involved in biohacking ethics. [Timothy Cannon] – is another biohacker @TimTheCyborg who has his own biotechnology startup company which creates technology to augment human abilities. He has a number of personal body modifications implants and is a well known for being a cyborg. [Nayef Al-Rodhan] @SustainHistory is a philosopher, neuroscientist, and geostrategists – his work on transhumanism overlaps with the philosophy and science of the brain and he has an interest in sustainability, governance and space exploration.

[Space Exploration]

Transhumanism and space exploration connect via the concept of the Cyborg – and we will look at Donna Haraway’s work on Cyborgs in a later video –  but it was{ Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline], who in 1960 who published an essay titled Cyborgs in Space, which considered the limitations of the human body that had evolved in a terrestrial biosphere and the challenges of operating in space. They argued that rather than trying to recreate the environmental conditions necessary for human life in space, which could pop at any time like a bubble, we need to change the human body to adapt to space. They coined the term Cyborg, to refer to a human altered by technology, who could then explore space without the problems associated with the lack of gravity, increased exposure to radiation and the lack of atmosphere.  [Stewart Brand], is an author, and is a famous activist for his campaign in the 1960s which appealed to Nasa to make a picture of the whole earth from space available to the public – this resulted in the famous image known as Earthrise, which is a picture of the Earth from the Moon orbit. [Earthrise] along with other NASA images of earth, inspired multiple generations to support the exploration of the solar system. To quote Brand the image “..gave the sense that Earth’s an island, surrounded by a lot of inhospitable space. And it’s so graphic, this little blue, white, green and brown jewel,  an icon amongst a quiet featureless black vacuum. [Gerard K O’Neil] was a famous American physicist and activist for space exploration and colonisation, who developed plans to build human settlements in space. He proposed the idea of [cylindrical space colonies] giant rotating cylinders in space – 30kms long – and we are only just beginning to catch up with his vision and imagination technologically speaking. [Elon Musk] is another figure that needs their own video. Musk is an entrepreneur and engineer, and CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink and The Boring Company, and co-founder of Pay-Pal. SpaceX is a private American aerospace company building rockets and researching space transportation and exploration, with the aim of colonising Mars. Musk is driven by the idea that humanity should not have all its eggs in one basket, and that we need to be a multi-planetary species. He intends to begin operationalising plans for Mars colonisation in the 2020s.

[Transhumanism to A.I.]

An important intersection I want to point out is the connection between Transhumanism and Artificial Intelligence. [George Dvorsky] @dvorsky is a futurists and bioethicists and contributing editor at Gizmodo, and is a public speaker advocating for ethical approaches to transhumanist and artificial intelligence research. One of the goals of the transhumanist movement is to navigate the ethical dilemma of creating intelligent artificial life.

[Robotics]

Another important connection occurs between Transhumanism and Artificial Intelligence and Space Exploration, in the work of Roboticist, Hans Moravec, a futurist who made important contributions to thinking about the relationship between humans, robotics and artificial intelligence. Moravec is interested in navigating between the complacent and apocalyptic poles of posthumanism. He suggests that human identity is made up of informational patterns, and it is, therefore, possible to one day be able to download human consciousness into a computer. His ideas inform thinking in works like Ghost in the Shell and the Matrix, both texts we are going to be examining in this course. The connection between Transhumanism and Artificial Intelligence is a complex one, because a post-human condition, might mean a post-biological one.

[Singularity]

[Nick Bostrom], is a Swedish philosopher whose work on existential risk, the ethics of human enhancement and super intelligence, crosses over between AI, Robots and transhumanism. Bostrom believes that artificial general intelligence – which means AI that can perform the intellectual tasks that a human can – also known as Strong AI or Full AI – could potentially wipe out humanity in an act of precautionary self-preservation – the Terminator problem – which is a view shared by both Bill Gates and Elon Musk. There are a number of important branches and subtypes of A.I. that is beyond the scope of this video so I’m going to link to an article which provides a comprehensive breakdown.

[Ray Kurzweil]

Futurists, like Ray Kurzweil, are concerned with the notion of the technological singularity, the point at which technological innovation accelerates to infinity,  fundamentally changing the nature of what it means to be human. Kurzweil is a major futurist, inventor and transhumanist and author of multiple books on artificial intelligence and the technological singularity. He is another figure I will have to do a whole video on Kurzweil but for now, he is a link to a recent interview with him. Kurzweil’s book ‘The Singularity Is Near, is based on the concept of the Singularity popularised by math professor and science fiction author Vernor Vinge in an essay called ‘The Coming Technological Singularity’, from 1993, which will be in the readings for this week. Kurzweil is interested in the law of accelerating returns, which forecasts an exponential increase in the capacities of computers, robotics, genetics, nanotechnology and A.I. The concept of the singularity goes back to the work of computer scientist John von Neumann, and cryptologist I.J. Good following world war 2 who thought of the term technological singularity as referring to a point in time where technological advancement occurs so rapidly that it appears instantaneously. I.J Good is quote as saying that a truly intelligent machines is the last invention humanity needs to make as it will invent everything we want  after that.

[A.I. and Robot Ethicists]

Between A.I. and Robot Futurists, you have people working on the ethics of artificial intelligence, focussing on both the philosophical issues but also the programming problems of how to build ethically responsible machines. Ajung Moon is an internationally renown roboticist who works with the Open Robotics Institute. This kind of work ithe s foundation for thinking about the future of new technologies like automation and selfdrivingg cars.

[Technology]

Which brings us more generally to the technological futurologists.  I’m not sure if [Bills Gates] would self-identify as a futurist exactly, but he is an important technologist and American billionaire, co- founder of Microsoft, who has invested his fortune in philanthropy and humanitarianism, who is often speaking about the future of technology in the media. [Ted Nelson] is a technologist,  a writer, philosopher and creator of Hypertext  – next time you click on a link and are transported to a new destination online you can thank Ted Nelson, who was inspired by [Vannevar Bush] an American engineer, inventor and science administrator who proposed a device called memex (which we will come back to in a later video) in 1945 that was a type of computer that could function as knowledge creation engine, which inspired a generation of thinkers and people like [Tim Berners Lee] who designed the first iteration of the world wide web.

[Environmentalists]

Jumping now to Futurists working in the philosophical, ecological and environmental domain we see people like [Alan Marshall] who is a New Zealand author, artist and scholar contributing to the field of environmental philosophy.

[Ecological and Design]

Environmentalism, Technology and Design overlap in the work of futurist Mitchel Joachim, who is a designer of environmental cities. His focus is on resilient cities and adapting ecological principles to architecture and both urban and industrial design. His work is fascinating and I’ll shared his TED talk in the links below which features proposal for green cities, soft cars and robots built out of waste. : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQXTvJFnscg

[Writers, Artists and Creators]

Ok super quick rundown of major authors and writers who can be thought of as futurists.

 

Carl Sagan

Isaac Asimov

Hugo Gernsback: credited as creating the term science fiction – the annual SF awards – the Hugo’s are named after him.

Stanislaw Lem

Arthur C Clarke

Jules Verne: predicted aviation, submarine travel and spaceflight

H.G. Wells: possibly the first to think of himself as a futurist.

Karel Capek: invented the word Robot

Aldous Huxley

Walt Disney

Robert A Heinlein

Gene Roddenberry: the creator of Star Trek

Philip K Dick

Michael Crichton

David Brin

Ursula Le Guin

Kim Stanley Robinson: authors of the brilliant Mars Trilogy

William Gibson – cyberpunk novelist, author of the landmark Cyberpunk Sprawl Trilogy

Neal Stephenson: writer of my favourite Cyberpunk novel Snow Crash

[Women Futurists]

Ok, last final round bringing some balance to the force, with a very quick highlight a few important Women Futurists:

Darla Jane Gilroy – British Academic and Fashion Designer

Joanne Pransky – is a self-described Robotic Psychiatrist  – @roboshrink

Jody Turner  – entrepreneur, futurist and brand anthropologist @CultureofFuture

Magda Cordell McHale – was an artist, futurist and educator

Hazel Henderson – is a British futurist and economic iconoclast, who wrote the Book Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy.

Natasha Vita-More – American designer, innovator, and author.

Anne Lise Kjaer – is a London-based futurist of consumer studies and founded Kjaer Global a forecasting agency that works with major brands and corporations, like Sony and Ikea   @kjaerglobal 

Amber Case – technologist ‏ writer of the Book Calm Technology @caseorganic

Amelia Kallman, is a London-based futurist, speaker and author, who has written on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies. @AmeliaKallman

Dr Mae Jemison is the first woman of colour in space, she is an astronaut, explorer and futurist – she was famously featured in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. @maejemison

Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist and recently an author of the book the Big Nine which is examining who will have control over artificial intelligence in the future. @amywebb

Paola De Luca is a Futurist and Trend Forecasting, who a particular focus in luxury goods, such as jewelry and accessories: @DeFuturist

Carolyn Palmer is also a Fashion Futurist and Director of Content and Social at Amazon Fashion @CarolinePalmer

Shannon Grinnell is podcaster and futurist in the field of cryptocurrency, bitcoin and blockchain @speakingcrypto

[Future is Now]

So there you have it a super brief overview of the job of futurist, and the types of topics, concepts and problems they are tackling, and a highlight reel of some of the most important Futurologist past and present. Hopefully, this has inspired you to check a few of them out on Wikipedia and to follow some via Twitter.

The final point I want to make is: You don’t have to be a futurist, to think like one.

No matter what kind of job you find yourself in, or aim towards, take on the qualities of a futurologist: analysing problems and issues by examining current trends and past data, then propose potential solutions based on what is practical and possible and preferable.

And remember the Future Is Now.