Crises Ahead, Foresight Projects of Note, Forthcoming Publications, and More

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Volume 4,
Number 10
October 7, 2018

The (Warning) Bells Are Ringing

Researchers have recently raises alarms about several impending crises:

Extinction Crisis. In an editorial in Science, National Geographic chief scientist Jonathan Baillie and biologist Ya-Ping Zhang of the Kunming Institute of Zoology warn that the growth of the human population to 10 billion by mid-century will create demands for increased consumption that threaten the survival of the planet’s other inhabitants. They estimate that 20 percent of the world’s vertebrates and plants are now threatened with extinction due to humans’ degradation or conversion of more than half of the terrestrial natural habitat. Read “Space for Nature,” Science (September 14, 2018).

Demographic Crisis. In its latest Goalkeepers Data Report, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation points to demographic trends that could stall the progress made in reducing global poverty over the past 20 years. One billion people have lifted themselves out of poverty, but rapid population growth in the poorest countries puts future progress at risk. If current trends continue, the report warns, the number of extremely poor people in the world could rise. Read The Goalkeepers Report.

AI Crisis. In an interview for the education blog CMRubin World, scholar and philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute warns that the unprecedented growth of artificial intelligence has created new ethical, moral, and educational challenges. Though we can’t yet know whether the changes AI will bring will be profoundly beneficial or profoundly catastrophic, Bostrom argues that “superintelligent AI should be developed only for the benefit of all of humanity and in the service of widely shared ethical ideals.” Read “The Global Search for Education: Are We Prepped for Superintelligence?” posted by C. M. Rubin (August 31, 2018).

Jobs Crisis. “Machines will do half our work by 2025,” warns Forbes contributor Patrick W. Johnson. The threat, he observes, doesn’t come from the machines (which likely don’t care—yet) but from the engineers building them to replace human workers. “Ideally, we’d give the machines the chores we don’t feel like doing and find more productive, enjoyable work,” he writes. “Unfortunately, the world isn’t ideal.” For one thing, those who are displaced and imagine they could find other work might not have the resources to stop working and retrain for long stretches of time. “We are headed toward a period in which millions of workers and their families may be in deep trouble all at the same time. We’re going to find out whether misery really does love company.” [Emphasis in original.] Read “Machines Will Do Half Our Work by 2025,” Forbes (September 27, 2018).

Notable Foresight Projects

The Institute for Alternative Futures is preparing to release its final report for the Human Progress and Human Services 2035 project. The project “considers and constructs alternative futures for human services and human progress and how successful these may be nationally and in different areas across the country,” according to project leaders Clem Bezold and Mary Carenbauer. Working with communities, the IAF team developed scenarios to explore such issues as universal basic income, job losses and job creation stemming from increased automation, and the growing values of equity and inclusion in the United States. [Learn more.]

The ForesightWorks project of the American Society of Association Executives and the ASAE Foundation is a research initiative designed to assist associations in environmental scanning and planning for change. The steps in its approach to foresight are (1) Develop a domain map; (2) Perform an environmental scan; (3) Identify the drivers of change; and (4) Analyze and document the drivers of change. The project has produced a set of action briefs covering change drivers, with suggested steps that associations can take to respond to specific trends. [Learn more.]

New Publications

Teach the Future’s Futures Thinking Playbook by Katie King has now been published, actively engaging students in pursuing two basic questions: What might the future be like, and what can we do about it? Read online or purchase at Teach the Future.

A Very Human Future: Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World by Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, and Helena Calle is available October 17. The book explores the possibilities generated from bursts of technological disruption, social policies we need to reexamine in light of this disruption, how to better design cities for humanity, and the challenges and possibilities for jobs, income, business, and the workplace. Visit Fast Future Publishing.

Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future, Volume One: Prometheus to the Martians by Thomas Lombardo is available October 26. In this first part of a four-part series, Lombardo shows how science fiction has evolved from mythological storytelling, not just to reflect human society but also to imagine and guide its development through scientific and technological creativity. Learn more at Changemakers Books or Center for Future Consciousness.

Edinburgh Seeks Futurists

Promoter Marketing Edinburgh will choose three local futurists to participate in city futures intelligence-gathering missions to Dublin, Helsinki, and Copenhagen in November. The participants will work on behalf of the 2050 Edinburgh City Vision campaign, traveling to the assigned city for a minimum of two days and posting a video blog “about your journey to show the benefits of implementing a city vision.” The campaign began two years ago and has generated ideas from the community about what the city should be. The four themes that have emerged thus far are for an Edinburgh that is “connected, inspired, thriving, and fair.” Learn more at 2050 Edinburgh City Vision.

In Memoriam: Thomas Freeburg

Former Motorola corporate vice president, director of technology, and chief futurist Thomas Freeburg died September 17 in Geneva, Illinois. He was 75. Freeburg is credited with recognizing the importance of the unlicensed spectrum (now used for Wi-Fi), leading the team that developed a system for providing wireless high-speed Internet, and foreseeing (and helping create) the “Internet in your pocket.” [Read more.]