Tracking AI’s Future, Remembering the Cornishes, and more

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Volume 5,
Number 9
September 7, 2019

Assessing Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning

The trajectory of artificial intelligence development has historically resembled more a roller coaster ride than the classic S-curve of technological development, notes technology analyst Randall Mayes in his review of Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis (Pantheon/Knopf Doubleday, September 9, 2019) for the Foresight Signals Blog.

After the first wave of AI development in the 1950s, which was driven by expert systems, the field experienced its first “winter” in the second half of the 1970s, as both general interest and funding declined. The introduction in Japan of parallel processing in 1980 spawned another wave of AI development. “Then in 1989, desktop computers began replacing mainframes,” and systems shifted from knowledge based to data driven, “leading to a second AI Winter,” Mayes writes. By 2006, “business began using the enhanced version of machine learning known as deep learning, which has multiple layers of nodes in the neural networks.”

Now we may be facing the third “AI winter,” according to the Rebooting AI authors, who “believe that deep learning may have too many limitations to develop the field much further,” Mayes writes. “The Third Wave of AI will determine if we experience a third AI winter or machine intelligence similar to humans.”

ReadIs Deep Learning Overhyped? A Review of Rebooting AI” by Randall Mayes, Foresight Signals Blog (September 4, 2019).

Mark Your Calendar

  • October 21 (online) Town Hall: World Future Society CEO Julie Friedman Steele will conduct an online town hall from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time to present the organization’s new features and initiatives, including improvements to its online platform. [Learn more]
  • November 9 (online) Futures Fest: The Association of Professional Futurists’ annual Futures Festival is a 12-hour nonstop virtual conference, which will run from 0700 to 1900 UTC-5 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time). Presentations this year will focus on the theme of Radical Transformations. There is no cost for registration, but APF requests a $10 contribution to cover video production and digital communications expenses. To register, contact Prateeksha Singh, [Learn more]

New and Forthcoming Publications

  • The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman (Penguin Random House, August 27, 2019). Venkataraman, a former journalist and Obama administration adviser on climate change, illustrates the tensions between short-term gratification and long-term sustainability when it comes to making decisions. Drawing on research in biology, psychology, and economics, the author suggests that improving a society’s future-oriented decision making might benefit less from moralistic appeals to honor the rights of future generations and more from promoting “behavioral contagion”—i.e., peer pressure.
  • Small Business Foresight: The Future of Your Business by Verne Wheelwright (Personal Futures Network, forthcoming). Wheelwright, author of It’s Your Future … Make It a Good One, offers strategies and tools for assessing trends and shaping the future of your business, including formulating a base scenario, exploring alternatives, and developing a vision and strategies for achieving and assessing it.
  • Work/Technology 2050: Scenarios and Actions by Jerome C. Glenn and The Millennium Project team. Reports on “a three-year international study that produced three detailed scenarios, conducted 30 national workshops in 29 countries, identified hundreds of action distilled to 93 that were assessed by hundreds of futurists and related experts in over 50 countries.” The three scenarios are “It’s Complicated—A Mixed Bag,” “Political/Economic Turmoil—Future Despair,” and “If Humans Were Free—The Self-Actualization Economy.” This 200-page report, complete with graphs, charts, and figures, is available in print for $45.95 and electronically for $25.95. [Learn more] A free, abbreviated version may be downloaded from Bertelsmann Foundation.
  • “Scientists Reporting: Top 25 Recent Online Reports on the Global Environmental Emergency” by Michael Marien will be published in the October 2019 issue of the journal Cadmus, a publication of the World Academy of Art and Science. Marien, the founder and editor of Future Survey, offers accessibly written abstracts of the most important reports published in 2018-2019, arranged in five categories: Climate, Health, and Energy; Land and Seas; Biodiversity, Food, and Water; Agendas for Action; and Overviews. He concludes with questions about how to make such research and reporting better connected and more useful—to readers, to researchers, and to leaders making decisions about the global environment.

Remembering Father and Son: Ed and Blake Cornish

As we reported in a special edition of Foresight Signals, World Future Society founder Edward Cornish died August 14 following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Below, we share some of the tributes we received from friends, colleagues, and members of the futures community.

Sadly, we have also learned that Ed’s youngest son, Blake McLeod Cornish, died less than 10 days later at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 57.

Blake was working at WFS while still in high school when I [CGW] joined the staff in 1981. When I mentioned the long job interview I’d had with Ed that summer, Blake quipped, “I think I have you beat, Cindy. A 3-hour interview? My interview was 18 years!”

I remember Blake as seriously funny, bright, and confident, traits he no doubt cultivated in theater productions at Walter Johnson High School in Rockville, Md., and leveraged in his career as an attorney. He once wrote, “I will never drop the mic. Or the bullhorn. But I will hold them at my side while I listen.”

The family has planned separate memorial services for father and son.

  • Edward Cornish memorial: Saturday, September 21, 2019, at 11 a.m., Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814.
  • Blake Cornish memorial: Friday, October 11, at 12:30 p.m., Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003.

In Memoriam, Edward Cornish

Timothy C. Mack (president, WFS, 2004-2014): I was introduced to WFS by the Chairman of the first General Assembly, John Gerba, who recruited me in 1971 to work as part of the D.C. conference staff. But it was Ed and Sally Cornish that kept me coming back year after year.

While Ed was the mind of the organization, Sally was the heart and a marvel at persuading people to do what they initially thought they had neither the time or resources to accomplish. And it was that mind and heart team that led me deeper into the Society over the years, coupled with the realization that WFS was more than just The Futurist and the General Assemblies, but in fact a global community where members from all walks of life and cultures could address their challenges and realize visions for their lives, communities and home countries around the world.

I salute Ed for having that vision in founding WFS and for modeling the volunteer passion that began with his own family (including his children), as I ended up following that path myself. But he was also an effective leader and trainer for the staff of The Futurist, producing a unique and timely journalistic product over the years that served as the model for a growing number of imitators (and sister publications) around the world. Truly he will be missed, and we shall not see his like again.

Julie Friedman Steele (CEO, World Future Society): The WFS community, its friends, and, indeed, all futurist-minded people, have lost an extraordinary international leader and pioneer whose enormous achievements in spreading futurist inspiration and thinking are unique.

It was an honor and a privilege to meet and know Edward Cornish. Running the World Future Society today is like running a baton relay, while standing on the shoulders of giants.

Ed Cornish was right—we do all have tremendous power to shape the Future.

The World Future Society is here to more than ever co-create the desired futures we want to see in the world and we are uniquely well-positioned today to carry out and collaborate on initiatives advancing our global civilization and our species—thanks to our founder and all the other legendary futurists he gathered to work alongside him at the World Future Society.

Coming from a Family Business myself, I am especially aware of how hard the Cornish family worked together to keep this organization going, including after Edward’s retirement. My thoughts are with his entire family, and so are those of the World Future Society community.

I’m humbled by all that Edward Cornish achieved—and in honor of his futurist legacy, I am grateful that we are able to launch a free version of membership available for everyone today so that as many people as possible can join us at the World Future Society to co-create the future.

Jerome C. Glenn: Ed Cornish did what no one else was willing to do in 1966: create an organization of futurists, be they right wing or left wing, scientist or artist, business or academic.

There was nothing like it then. The association cut across both ideologies and professions for scholarly and collegial discussion about the future of the world. Sure, there was RAND (1948) and Futuribles (1960) before WFS, but WFS was patterned after the National Geographic Society to be open to all.

Ed created the common ground for rational discourse on the future. Granted it was mostly Americans and still so today, but it was the beginning of talking with ‘the other’ about the future in a serious fashion.

Countless young futurists earned their rite of passage to professional status through attending and speaking at WFS conferences, writing articles for The Futurist, and participating in local WFS chapters.

Here’s to you Ed! You made a clearing in the forest of noisy silliness for clearer signals of future developments to be heard.

William Halal: The passing of Edward Cornish marks the end of a momentous era. 

I met Ed shortly after he started the World Future Society (WFS) fifty years ago when the idea was almost unheard of. He grew it into more than 30,000 paying members, organized annual conferences of as many as 8,000 people, founded The Futurist and other publications and gathered together futurists around the world into a functioning community.

Ed was modest, but he effectively harnessed the power of this pivotal idea into a force that transformed the world. WFS publications and conferences highlighted famous leaders like Alvin Toffler, Ted Kennedy and Newt Gingrich. It was common to find Ed hosting visits in his office by Herman Kahn, Daniel Bell, Isaac Asimov and other stars in the field.

Not many people are fortunate enough have a big impact, but Ed really did create a “world future society," a society focused on a future that we are struggling with even now. We should all be grateful to Ed for taking on this fascinating and crucial challenge.

Jim Dator: It is not certain there would be futures studies now if Ed and Sally Cornish had not created the World Future Society and published The Futurist which, for a while, was the only magazine “about the future” that most Americans were likely to encounter on newsstands and public libraries. The early meetings of the WFS were big circuses with every possible act in the world on display, if they could somehow find their way to the Hilton Hotel in Washington to participate. As Ruben Nelson notes, the 1980 meeting in Toronto (its first not held in DC, I believe) assembled the largest group of futurists ever under one roof. Every futures-oriented person now owes a huge debt of gratitude to them for planting the vineyard in which we all now labor.

Hazel Henderson: Ethical Markets salutes the lifelong achievements of Edward Cornish, founder and President of the World Future Society (WFS) and its magazine THE FUTURIST. I joined the WFS in the late 1960s and was inspired and intellectually awakened by my associations with Ed and so many WFS members, including Alvin and Heidi Toffler and particularly, my lifelong friendship with Barbara Marx Hubbard, who left us also in this year 2019. With my appreciation to Julie Friedman Steele, who took up the mantle as President and Chair of WFS.

Wendell Bell: Please express my respect for one of the major creators of futures studies. He was a great man.

Jay Gary: I was fortunate to find a copy of the Futurist magazine in the mid-1980s, and read The Study of the Future, his book about that time. … I am indebted to the Cornishes for their service.

Jim Burke: The world is less kind and thoughtful with his departure and he was one of the last of his kind. … Ed was a rare person who had a deep curiosity and intellect, amazing organizational skills, and an abiding kindness and humility. He was the example of a servant leader. Like many others Ed’s work introduced me to and put me on the path of foresight.

Julio Millán: There is no way to express THANK YOU, but to honor you with the prestige of daily activities. The World Future Society – Capitulo Mexicano, was formed in its time and with the support of publications such as Futurist magazine, as and others, allowed many to take an interest in the respective and above all create the future.

Marilyn Liebrenz-Himes: For many of us, Edward Cornish was the introduction to The Future, and the World Future Society. His enthusiasm and focus figuratively opened the door to studies on the unknown. Thank you Ed for leading the way.

Thomas Lombardo: Ed was great to me when I was first publishing on future consciousness and wisdom; I very much appreciated his interest in my work. His personal and professional presence and his many important contributions to futures studies was of great significance.

Zhouying JIN, China chapter of World Future Society: We [were] shocked to learn that Ed Cornish, the founder of the WFS, the pioneer of futurology in the world, had died. We are deeply saddened by the loss of such a great futurist. The death of Ed is a great loss to the world’s future academia. His vision and spirit of struggle have made indelible contributions to the futurist of the world. It is worth learning forever. Our most heartfelt condolences.

Mark Segraves: Ed Cornish was a trailblazer who looked to the future, and founded the World Future Society. He was also a dear family friend. He will be missed.