Visioning the Future, Shedding Light on Retail, and When Ellen Met Bucky

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Volume 4,
Number 5
May 15, 2018

Mack Report: Visioning the Future, Inside and Out

In his latest blog posts for AAI Foresight—“The Challenges of Participatory Futures” and “Book Review: The Future”—Managing Principal Tim Mack explores how we collectively create visions of the future and how participants outside the futures field are (or are not) included in that process. Excerpts:

The Challenges of Participatory Futures. At the request of the Washington state legislature, the William Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington and Washington State University have undertaken to create a “Road Map to Washington’s Future” over the course of 2018. Their first external step was to schedule a series of localized half-day workshops at the county level around the state. The process was to articulate a vision of the state’s desired future as expressed by local stakeholders. …

One such workshop, in Island County ... at the end of April 2018, … was attended by about two dozen representatives of local nonprofits and government entities with a role or interest in, or relevant knowledge about, the strengths and weaknesses of the statewide planning process. Accordingly, issues, challenges, and needed improvements to Washington’s planning framework at both the state and local levels were articulated, discussed, and captured. …

While the visioning process used was reminiscent of many foresight exercises, the workshop was largely planning focused, with a significant percentage of attendees representing planning departments at the county or city level. This suggested a conviction that a planning approach would provide the best path for reaching the desired future that was articulated in the workshop visioning process.

However, an issue arising in this road-map process was whether traditional planning approaches … provided the best tools for implementing the results of this visioning process. The vision of “the state’s desired future” appeared to be conceived as a single desired future, and it was unclear whose future was to be visioned. [Read more.]

Book Review: The Future by Nick Montfort. (MIT Press Essential Knowledge, 2017.) Written by an outsider to the foresight community, an MIT Professor of Digital Media, The Future takes a very interesting approach to its subject. While author Nick Montfort considers the works of futurists, he also examines the works of artists, inventors, and designers and how they have imagined the future.

Montfort takes a broad view of the future, but one skeptical of the forecasting mode as the only pathway to visioning. Instead, he examines an increasingly popular approach to social, economic, and political change—i.e., what he (and others) have called future making. The contrast he draws is between “predictions and reaction to them” and “the development of goals and progress toward them.” In short, he is focused on “an understanding of how the future has been constructed in the past and how we, today, can continue constructing it.”

However, seeking a future that seems plausible does not exclude those visions that are exaggerated beyond belief or even those that move into the region of absurdity. In fact, Montfort applauds the highly creative side of future making, making the assumption that merely thinking incrementally and plausibly does not always hit the future mark.

One example he gives is the work done over the past half century or more on the “kitchen of the future,” showcasing technologies for gadget makers as if the kitchen were still stuck in the social milieu of the 1950s and thus ignoring change in areas such as economic classes, gender roles, and urban political life. [Read more.]

Mark Your Calendar

July 14-15, Beijing: Humanity+ Global and Humanity+ China Chapter will present a two-day conference exploring “the future of humans, robots, and AIs,” to be held at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Learn more at the conference site,

August 16-20, San Jose, California: Worldcon 76, aka the World Science Fiction Convention, will feature announcements of major science-fiction awards, including the prestigious Hugo Awards for 2018. Another sure highlight will be the costumes on parade at the Worldcon 76 Masquerade on Saturday, August 18. The event venue is the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. For full details, visit the Worldcon 76 conference site,

Scenarios Shed Light on the Future of Retail

In a new report, “The Future of Retail,” Philips Lighting applied scenario techniques to explore the opportunities—and disruptions—that technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, drones, and 3-D printing may bring to future retail and shopping experiences. The goal was to explore how Philips’ lighting technologies could provide solutions for its retail-industry customers, but the scenarios themselves are worthy of consideration. The four scenarios Philips used are:

- It’s local: A vibrant hub for the community. “High street shops source and stock local goods, are run by familiar friendly faces that share a rapport with—and are co-owned by—the community.”

- It’s experiential: Big brands create big experiences. “Brands inspire customer loyalty and data exchange by personalizing in-store experiences based on customer lifestyles and providing rewards, drawing them offline.”

- It’s automated: Convenience comes first in smart homes. “Day-to-day purchases become effortless as smart services throughout your home track, predict and top up your daily basics. It’s automated, smart and simple.”

- It’s personalized: A designermaker-dominated marketplace. “Microentrepreneurs co-create with consumers, makers and brands in virtual maker studios to fill microniches and create uniquely personalized products.”

Read more or download the report from Philips.

Technological Disruption and Its Investment Opportunities

The “Visionary Innovation team of futurists, consultants, and analysts” at market-research firm Frost & Sullivan has released its annual report of “The Top Trends for 2018: The Power of Technology and Technology Companies,” focusing on how client companies might make more strategic short-term investments. Among the highlights:

- Quantum Arms Race: “Quantum computing is rapidly evolving and looks poised to achieve quantum supremacy—the ability to outperform traditional supercomputers. Key areas of focus will be encryption, AI, materials, and qubit generation.”

- The Rise of Enterprise Behavioral Science: “We expect behavioral science to enter the fast follower phase as an emerging function in the enterprise this year, with savvy companies adopting these economic and social science principles to increase worker productivity and nudge consumers toward desirable outcomes.”

“Sixty percent of companies will not see a 10-year anniversary,” says Lauren Taylor, Visionary Innovation Group principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “As platforms, business models, and technologies collide in nuanced ways, and categorization becomes challenging, these insights can be an essential reference tool for companies to devise short-term strategies as well as set long-term implementation goals.”

Read more at Frost & Sullivan.

When Ellen Met Bucky (Commentary)

Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn, who stars in House of Tomorrow, a new film inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller, recently shared the story of her unusual friendship with “Earth’s friendly genius” in an interview with the New York Times.

Many of us in the futures community have long been aware of this relationship: Both Burstyn and Fuller were favorites of World Future Society founder Edward Cornish. Ed had invited the actress to speak at the 1982 General Assembly in Washington, D.C., where Fuller was to present a demonstration of his innovative World Game. There was a Dymaxion birthday cake, and Ellen sang “Happy Birthday” to her friend, who died just one year later at age 86. It is fitting that as Ellen reaches that milestone year herself, she honors the legacy of Bucky’s work.

Read “Ellen Burstyn Honors a Friendship With a Futurist” by Kathryn Shattuck, New York Times (online April 20, 2018). View a trailer of House of Tomorrow.

Milestones and Honors

The Club of Rome is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Best known as the publisher of the groundbreaking report Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome was founded April 7, 1968, by a network of entrepreneurs, diplomats, scientists, and economists that included visionary Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei. Since its initial efforts, the Club has published more than 40 reports and launched 35 affiliated national associations. Its latest publication, released to mark the Club’s anniversary, is Come On! Capitalism, Short-termism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet (April 2018).

Rohit Talwar, founder and CEO of Fast Future Publishing, has been named a Fellow of the U.K. Professional Speaking Association, its highest grade of membership.

Futurist Opportunities

The Washington, D.C., based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation has two current openings:

- Economic Policy Analyst will “help conduct a policy research program focusing on state, national, and international policy related to innovation and economic growth.”

- Event Marketing and Production Coordinator will “schedule, plan, and coordinate the logistics for ITIF’s regular program of public events in Washington, DC (both on-site and off-site) and in Brussels.”

For detailed information and application instructions, visit ITIF’s jobs page,

Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., has posted the following current open positions:

- International Survey Methodologist will implement the Center’s methodological research objectives and provide methodological guidance for international research projects on topics such as attitudes toward the U.S. and its foreign policy and toward religion, immigration, and social change.

- Director, Data Labs will lead a diverse team of data scientists, engineers, and computational social scientists who use innovative computational methods to complement and expand on the Center’s existing research agenda.

- Research Assistant, Global Attitudes will be part of the Global Attitudes research team, which conducts public opinion surveys on major international issues.

- Research Assistant, Social and Demographic Trends will be part of the research team studying behaviors and attitudes of Americans in key realms of daily life.

To learn more about working with the Pew Research Center, visit its careers page,

Fast Future Publishing has an opening for a Marketing Manager to plan promotional campaigns for FFP publications and events, including reviewing and executing social media and Web coverage. For detailed information and application instructions, visit FFP’s "join the team" page,