Futurists as Outsiders, Breakthrough in Machine Sentience, and more

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Volume 7,
Number 4
April 1, 2021

Foresight Consultants as Outsiders

Strategic foresight has become a mainstream activity in many organizations, but futures research and policy techniques for dealing with current complex challenges clearly need to be improved, writes AAI Foresight Managing Principal Tim Mack in a new white paper, “Foresight as an Outsider Activity.”

As outside consultants, futurists offer certain advantages when helping guide clients through chaos, such as an objective view of trends affecting an organization. But one of the challenges is to identify those insiders who may be promoting a particular point of view on the organization’s current state and future goals. “I can remember numerous instances where internal special interests engaged me during consulting engagements to lobby their self-interested personal and political points of view,” Mack writes.

Establishing strong relationships among knowledgeable insiders can help the futurist outsider facilitate communications among the various factions, thus enlightening not just the consultant, but also insiders whose knowledge had been limited to their own silos.

Still, the futurist outsider must be prepared to encounter rejection or even hostility toward the foresight work that brings “bad news,” even if forecasts ultimately prove accurate. Such is “the fate of prophets,” Mack concludes.

ReadForesight as an Outsider Activity” by Timothy C. Mack. AAI Foresight Inc., Foresight Report (Spring 2021). Download PDF.

More analysis from Tim Mack: Workers who’ve survived replacement by automation are now facing another emerging threat: management by artificial intelligence, Mack writes in his latest article for AAI Foresight’s blog. AI managers can monitor employees’ call time, keystrokes, and bathroom breaks, and even automatically fire anyone taking too long with such tasks. These trends could ignite new energy in unions, he reports. ReadManagement by AI” by Tim Mack, Foresight Signals Blog (posted March 27, 2021).

Breakthrough: From Machine Consciousness to Sentience

Stephen L. Thaler, president and CEO of Imagination Engines Inc. (IEI), has published a new paper showing how an arguably sentient machine was created. The breakthrough builds on IEI’s work over the past three decades developing “the concept of artificial neural networks engaged in chaos-driven brainstorming sessions to generate new concepts and action plans,” he told Foresight Signals in an email.

Thaler describes IEI’s breakthrough as “a highly novel AI approach to represent the computational equivalent” of the mental processes of feeling and emotions we call sentience. In this approach, “whole neural nets, each containing interrelated memories of a linguistic, visual, or auditory nature (i.e., conceptual spaces) sequentially and autonomously interconnect to produce anticipatory responses to synthetic thought (e.g., A, then B and C will happen) that literally ‘grow’ on a backbone of initiating concepts likewise represented as chains of neural nets,” he explains.

As with humans, the chains of neural nets may contain “hot button” memories of especially impactful things and events that subsystems sense, triggering “the global release of simulated neurotransmitters throughout the entire array of nets, that either strengthen the ideas along with their predicted consequences or dissolve them,” Thaler says, pointing out that such surges of mock signaling molecules correspond to the mood swings we feel as real neurotransmitters such as cortical adrenaline and serotonin infiltrate our brains. After many cycles of strengthening or dissolution, only the most significant chain-based ideas survive.

The new generative AI paradigm, called Vast Topological Learning (VTL), develops subjective feelings (i.e., consequence chains and moods) for what it senses and imagines and is implemented within the flagship architecture called DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience).

“Now, after the absorption of general knowledge about the world, DABUS can conceive new ideas that span a wide range of conceptual spaces,” Thaler says.

ReadVast Topological Learning and Sentient AGI” by Stephen L. Thaler, Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness 8(1), published online February 19, 2021.

New Ventures

  • The Fork In The Road Project, launched by futurists David Houle, Glen Hiemstra, and Gerd Leonhard, will focus attention on four existential issues: climate change, capitalism, exponential technological change, and human enhancement. The goal is to sharpen the public’s recognition of these issues and stimulate “real action by leaders around the world.” [Learn more]
  • The Futurian, a new online magazine, will be “devoted to looking at how the future will be experienced,” according to Stephen Aguilar-Millan, director of research at the European Futures Observatory. He and Charlotte Aguilar-Millan serve as editors. The first issue comprises three articles examining the trustworthiness of technology, three articles on “a more practical approach to technology and the future,” and two articles emphasizing the impacts of our technology decisions today on future generations. [Learn more]

Post-Pandemic Foresight Resources

The Institute For the Future is offering two new free resources for navigating the post-pandemic era:

- Life After COVID-19: Get Ready for Our Post-Pandemic Future is a Coursera course, led by Jane McGonigal, which IFTF is making available through May 31, 2021.

- California Worker Voices: Anticipating the Future from the Frontlines (PDF) is an ethnographic study that “gives voice to essential workers risking their lives during the pandemic.” The report “uncovers pandemic-era work trends that may extend into the post-pandemic future, and it details innovative organizational approaches that could overcome the challenges gig workers face.”

Competitions and Awards

  • The Paris Institute for Advanced Study and the 2100 Fondation have partnered with the Institute for Futures Studies to launch the first Positive Future competition, focusing on The City in 2100. “We are looking for stories that show that a pleasant and sustainable future is possible, in contrast to the catastrophic anticipations that dominate current representations of the future,” the organizers say. The competition’s submission platform opened April 1, with a May 31 deadline and prizes to be awarded in Paris in September. [Learn more]
  • The Next Generation Foresight Practitioners has named Raya Bidshahri its 2020 Joseph Jaworski Main Award winner. Bidshahri, an Iranian living and working in the United Arab Emirates, was honored for her project “to create alternative pathways for schooling and help people tackle and prepare for future challenges.” NGFP also awarded its 2020 Walkabout prizes for practitioners between ages 18 and 25 to Finn Strivens of the UK “for his work using participatory methods to help young people and non-scientists to engage with science,” and Namatai Kwekweza of Zimbabwe “for her work to to drive youth friendly constitutional and governance reforms in Zimbabwe and disrupt ageist normative frameworks.” [Learn more]
  • The Knight Foundation has named Black Quantum Futurism a 2021 Knight Arts + Tech Fellow. The $50,000 unrestricted award supports artists “using new and emerging technologies in thoughtful, creative, and poetic ways to expand the field.” Black Quantum Futurism, led by Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips, is an interdisciplinary creative practice that “focuses on the recovery, collection and preservation of communal memories, histories, and futures.” [Learn more]

Reader Query: Back Issues of The Futurist

A reader interested in electric vehicle battery technology would like to hear from anyone with access to back issues of The Futurist magazine, which was published by the World Future Society from 1967 to 2014. Stephen Devaney of Aisling Advisors writes, “I have been trying to connect with a person who may still have Futurist editions from the period 1976 to 1977. During that time span there was a story on future EV vehicles and an image of a future car getting a battery swap in a ‘filling station of the future.’ I hope to obtain a copy of the story if possible (with the image).” If you can help, contact Stephen at stephen.j.devaney@gmail.com.

In the Media

  • San Francisco’s ABC News affiliate KGO asked Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute For the Future how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the world over the next five years. Among her forecasts: more hybridized (virtual and onsite) workplaces; more distance learning, with some universities forced to close; and more applications to medical schools as doctors and nurses have earned “hero” status in the pandemic. [Learn more]
  • Wired magazine reviewed the new documentary about Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, We Are As Gods, which premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest film festival. “Unprobed throughout We Are As Gods is the odd backwardness of Brand’s current circumstances, both personal and professional,” notes Wired senior editor Jason Kehe. “Personally, he’s participating in a documentary about his 80-plus years on the planet, an inherently anti-futurist project. Professionally, he’s now a champion of the so-called de-extinction movement, and that work forms the doc’s narrative through line.” [Read more]
  • Get ready for the boom, says futurist Robert Tucker, president of Innovation Resource Consulting Group, writing for Forbes. Based on his research with leading executives, Tucker says “we are about to experience an economic and social boom of epic proportions.” To prepare for the boom, he advises leaders to invest in their strategic trend-tracking skills, commit to lifelong learning, and unleash their “inner visionary.” [Read more]

New and Noteworthy Books

  • Foresight Investing: A Complete Guide to Finding Your Next Great Trade by James H. Lee (StratFi, 2021). “Invest like a futurist,” encourages this 358-page book by the founder of investment advisory firm StratFI. Professional futurist and certified financial advisor Lee explains the fundamentals of investing and deploys the tools of foresight for developing strategies that will help you identify opportunities and mitigate risks. Specific areas Lee assesses in his look for the “next big thing” include the internet of things (IoT), augmented reality, cryptocurrencies, automation, artificial intelligence, longevity science, and new sources of energy. The book (release date April 8) is a semi-finalist in Publisher Weekly’s BookLife Prize for nonfiction. Lee invites readers to order a hardback copy through Bookbaby using the discount code “friends15.” [Learn more]
  • The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st-Century Technology? by Tracey Follows (Elliott & Thompson, 2021). Follows, CEO of Futuremade consulting, explores the myriad identities digital technologies have imposed upon us—or permitted us to create—and how that alters our relationship with the world and even our own identity. [Learn more]
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, 2021). Like Nobel laureate Ishiguro’s previous venture into science fiction, Never Let Me Go, this new novel questions the impacts of new technologies, particularly those imposed on children. Moving through the intricate geometries of her perception, Klara, an artificially intelligent robot companion, calls on the powers of the Sun to cure the ill-effects of “lifting” (genetic enhancement) on her assigned young friend, Josie. [Learn more]

Signal Thoughts

“Hope,” he said. “Damn thing never leaves you alone.” Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun