The Future of Ethical AI, Opportunities in Foresight, and more

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Volume 7,
Number 7
June 30, 2021

Hot Topic: AI and Ethics

Artificial intelligence research over the next decade will likely focus more on helping organizations make money and/or control society than on promoting public good, suggest participants in a new study of prospects for developing ethical AI conducted by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. Many experts studying AI development “have concerns about how advances in AI will affect what it means to be human, to be productive and to exercise free will,” the authors note.

The report drew upon the insights of numerous futurists among more than 600 thought leaders from a variety of fields, and the bulk of the report comprises the written comments participants provided explaining their responses. Among the futurists’ comments:

Jamais Cascio, research fellow at the Institute for the Future: “An AI can’t reliably or consistently handle a problem that can’t be quantified. There are situations and systems for which AI is a perfect tool, but there are important arenas—largely in the realm of human behavior and personal interaction—where the limits of AI can be problematic. I would hate to see a world where some problems are ignored because we can’t easily design an AI response.”

Esther Dyson, internet pioneer and executive founder of Wellville: “With luck, we’ll increase transparency around what AI is doing (as well as around what people are doing), because it will be easier to see the impact of decisions made by both people and algorithms.”

Douglas Rushkoff, author and professor of media at City University of New York: “Why should AI become the very first technology whose development is dictated by moral principles? … My concern is that even the ethical people still think in terms of using technology on human beings instead of the other way around. So, we may develop a ‘humane’ AI, but what does that mean? It extracts value from us in the most ‘humane’ way possible?”

David Brin, physicist and author, recommended increased attention on accountability: “If AIs are many and diverse and reciprocally competitive, then it will be in their individual interest to keep an eye on each other and report bad things, because doing so will be to their advantage. This depends on giving them a sense of separate individuality. It is a simple recourse, alas seldom even discussed.”

Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: “The real question is not whether all AI developers sign up to some code of principles, but rather whether most AI applications work in ways that society expects them to, and the answer to that question is almost 100% ‘yes.’”

Among other futurists quoted in the report are Gary A. Bolles, Stowe Boyd, Jerome C. Glenn, Kenneth Grady, Anthony Judge, Sam Lehman-Wilzig, Michael Marien, Pamela McCorduck, Concepcion Olavarrieta, John Smart, Wendell Wallach, and Amy Webb.

ReadExperts Doubt Ethical AI Design Will Be Broadly Adopted as the Norm Within the Next Decade” by Lee Rainie, Janna Anderson, and Emily A. Vogels, Pew Research Center (June 16, 2021). Download the report (PDF)

Foresight Opportunities


  • UNESCO Chief of Research, Policy and Foresight Section: UNESCO seeks a leader to oversee the Management of Social Transformation Program, Inclusive Policy Lab, Futures Literacy, and Humanities and Philosophy programs. The two-year contract position is based in Paris. Application deadline July 25. [Learn more]
  • GAO Internship, foresight and strategic planning: The U.S. Government Accountability Office seeks student applicants (U.S. citizens only) for paid internships this fall for several departments, including the Strategic Planning and External Liaison team. Responsibilities for the SPEL intern will include helping to develop tools and methods to advance strategic planning and strategic foresight programs and to promote dialogue within the accountability community. Application deadline July 7. [Learn more]

Grants and Scholarships

  • IIF Grants to Promote Research on Forecasting: The International Institute of Forecasters is partnering with analytic software developer SAS Institute to award two $10,000 grants to promote research on improving forecasting methods and business forecasting practice. Deadline for applications is October 1. [Learn more]
  • IFTF Scholarship, Foresight Essentials: The Institute For the Future is now offering financial assistance for individuals participating in its trainings in foresight essentials, scenario building, and design futures. “If you find yourself underrepresented in the field of foresight, or if you’re using foresight to create social good in your company, nonprofit, or community, please consider applying for [a Foresight Essentials Scholarship]. We’ll do what we can to help you gain this valuable skillset.” [Learn more]


  • Call for policy papers: The Asian Development Bank Institute and the ASEAN Secretariat seek policy papers on creative economy development and its role in delivering a robust and inclusive post-pandemic recovery. Selected papers will be featured during a related conference in November 2021 and considered for inclusion in an ADBI-ASEAN Secretariat publication. Deadline for submitting summaries is July 10; full papers of selected contributions are due September 30. [Learn more]
  • Call for chapters (deadline extended): Building New Civilizations: From Theory to Practice is a volume of papers to be edited by Victor V. Motti for Cambridge Scholars Publishing early next year. Motti seeks contributions that deploy the techniques of futures studies to reflect on such issues as the distinction between globalization and planetization and “the question of planetary identity and effective governance in the next era of complexity on Earth.” Deadline for submitting abstracts or introductions is August 30; the deadline for accepted contributions is December 30, and publication is targeted for February 2022. [Download call for papers (PDF)]

Moves in the Field

  • WFSF leadership: The World Futures Studies Federation General Assembly, held virtually on May 29, confirmed Erik Øverland as president and Victor V. Motti as director ex officio. The Assembly ratified the results of the Executive Board election for the 2021–25 period: Rosa Alegria (Brazil), Lucio Mauricio Henao Velez (Colombia), Tom Lombardo (USA), Alethia Berenice Montero Baena (Mexico), Claire Nelson (USA), Jaana Tapanainen-Thiess (Finland), Luke van der Laan (Australia), Helga Veigl (Croatia), and Javier Vitale (Argentina). [Learn more]
  • The Millennium Project adds node: Denmark is the newest node of The Millennium Project, announced CEO Jerome C. Glenn. It will be hosted by the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies and chaired by CIFS Senior Executive Advisor Martin Kruse. [Learn more]
  • Joshua Loughman has been appointed senior strategic planning analyst at Salt River Project, a community-based nonprofit water and energy company in central Arizona. Loughman previously was an engineering lecturer at Arizona State University and directed its Engineering Projects in Community Service program. [Learn more]
  • Mark Sackler, host of the Seeking Delphi podcast, has joined Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Inc. of Windsor, Connecticut, as director of corporate communication. [Learn more]

Revise Your Calendar: TransVision 2021

Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Ben Goertzel, and Natasha Vita-More are among the speakers expected for TransVision 2021, which has been rescheduled for October 8–10 in Madrid, according to organizer José Cordeiro. Sessions will cover recent medical advances, artificial intelligence, and robotics, among other topics.

Following the conference will be two days of tours to visit some of the area’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, returning to Madrid October 12 to celebrate Spanish National Day. [Learn more]

Transparency and Trust for Think Tanks

“[I]n an era when the American political system is increasingly defined by dark money and the questioning of fact-based research, think tanks must do more than avoid pay-to-play research,” says a new report from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

“Clearly, most cases of undue donor influence don’t come through explicit pay-for-play agreements. Accordingly, research institutions must also inoculate themselves against the potential or appearance of conflicting interests between institutional funders and those turning out research products,” it says.

This paper outlines measures U.S. think tanks can take to restore public confidence in their policy-oriented work, especially that which is funded by foreign entities.

ReadRestoring Trust in the Think Tank Sector” by Eli Clifton and Ben Freeman, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (May 10, 2021).

Recognizing Spain’s Top 40 Prospectivistas

Forbes magazine has named Spain’s top 40 futurists, or prospectivistas—professionals who “are dedicated to analyzing future scenarios, more or less distant, to prepare companies for the challenges they may face.”

Among those Forbes recognized are Adolfo Castilla, executive director of Innovation Wars and leader for the Spanish division of the World Future Society; José Mena, foresight expert who joined World Health Organization in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; Mónica Quintana, founder and director of Mindset; Lourdes Rodríguez, consultant and trainer specializing in strategic foresight, who collaborates with Teach the Future; and Ibon Zugasti, managing partner of Prospektiker and adviser to the European Commission and the World Bank.

ReadThe 40 best futurists in Spain” by Idoia Sota, Forbes (online June 8, 2021). Hat tip to Teach the Future for this foresight signal.

In Memoriam: Raja Ikram Azam

We were saddened to learn recently of the passing on January 15, 2021, of Dr. Raja Muhammad Ikram Azam at the age of 82. He was chairman of the Pakistan Futuristics Foundation and Institute and a generous contributor of his books to the World Future Society’s educational library. He was a scholar, educator, philanthropist, and poet and served as Additional Secretary Government of Pakistan. [Learn more]

Signal Thoughts

“The man who knows when not to act | Is wise. To my mind, bravery is forethought.” Euripides, The Suppliant Women (c. 421 B.C.)