The future studies experts: who needs their skills?

    05 Jul 2021

    Let’s check what European futurists have told Chas News what their work is, why the future is like a multiverse and whether futurology can be considered a science.

    The veil of secrecy has always separated us from the future. It is difficult for a person to accept his or her ignorance because any secret can hide the danger that prompts you to reveal the unknown and make sure that you are safe. Perhaps that is why since the days of the ancient Greek oracles were willing to raise this curtain. Even today, there may be people among your acquaintances who are ready to predict the future by hand or by resorting to maps.

    In an era of rapid development of science and technology, it is difficult to treat such predictors without skepticism. Especially since there are people in the world who look into the future every day without the help of crystal balls. We are talking about futurologists. Despite the fact that such a term at least evokes associations with astrology, in their work there is no hint of mysticism. Their main tools are facts and trends, as well as a little imagination.

    Creative job

    As early as the 19th century, science fiction writers began to excite their imagination to look into the future. Suffice it to mention the French writer Jules Verne, who, thanks to his own imagination, predicted flights to the moon, video conferencing, and stun guns. But despite the Frenchman’s foresight, the title of the first futurist does not belong to him, but to his British colleague Herbert Wells.

    He has also made many good predictions, from e-mail and television to the atomic bomb and genetic engineering. However, Wells was not limited to fantasy novels. In 1901, when his most famous works, Time Machine and War of the Worlds, were published, the writer published the book Expectations, which became his first non-fiction bestseller.

    In it, he speculated on how the development of science and technology will change people’s lives in the future. For example, Wells suggested that over time, more cars and trucks will appear on the roads. The spread of the latter will lead to the formation of entire companies specializing in the transportation of goods by truck. Note that at the time of publication of the book, only 15 years have passed since Carl Benz introduced the world’s first car with an internal combustion engine.

    Wells did not stop there. He noted that the streets of London and other cities, founded in antiquity and the Middle Ages, were not designed for such transport, especially in large quantities. So, to accommodate it, cities will have to expand. Needless to say, Wells’ predictions came true?

    Later, the writer did not stop looking into the future and about 30 years later he had an unusual idea. Speaking on BBC radio, he suggested that the time had come for “professors of foresight”. According to his plan, such specialists would monitor the emergence of new inventions and technologies, consider how they can change people’s lives, and prepare governments and business representatives for future changes.

    “In fact, that’s what we do,” said Klaus Ægidius Mogensen, a futurist at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies (CIFS), an independent think tank founded in Denmark in 1969. For 20 years, Mogensen has been trying to look to the future to understand what opportunities and challenges should be expected of him and what needs to be done to meet them in full force. But what does the Danish futurologist and his colleagues do, how does his working day go?

    Minority reports

    The characters of the film “Minority report” (2002) could plunge into the future with the help of seers – people endowed with unique abilities and connected to a computer system that allows them to visualize their vision of future events. The work of Mogensen and his colleagues, of course, does not look so fantastic. Even, one might say, routine.

    According to the futurist, together with colleagues, they monitor the emergence of new inventions and scientific discoveries, study reports and forecasts published by major consulting companies and international organizations (for example, on global warming or prospects for automation of various professions), identify trends and seek relationships between them. It doesn’t sound very tempting, but it’s only at first glance. Futurologists not only determine which way progress will go but also how it will affect the lives of individuals, society, and the world.

    “It is not enough just to predict the development of technology. We need to understand how people will use it in everyday life and work, how it will affect their way of life,” says Mogensen.

    Take, for example, autonomous cars. Last year, the analytical company GlobalData published a forecast according to which in 15 years the world will annually produce up to 2.3 million cars capable of moving without human intervention. The figure is impressive, but what is behind it?

    According to Mogensen, the proliferation of autonomous cars leads to the decisions of people to start buying houses rather far from work. After all, they will be able to work and rest in their car. Therefore, longer trips will be made every day, which, in turn, may affect the climate.

    There are no guarantees that this will happen. And this is another feature of the work of futurologists. “There is no single future. There is a multi-universe with many options,” says Arik Dromi, a futurist from Sweden who previously predicted the future for Volvo and now works for his own consulting group, Tempus.Motu.

     In other words, when Dromy, Mogensen, and their colleagues try to predict future events, they don’t just draw a line from point “A” to point “B.” They build several routes to different destinations and each of them has a chance to turn from a probability into reality.

    For example, the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies usually prepares four scenarios for its clients, and after the presentation asks them to choose the one that customers consider most likely. “If we have done our job well, the votes are distributed approximately equally,” said the Danish futurist.

    Of course, in some prospects, there is little doubt. For example, as the world’s population grows, the climate will change, and technology will evolve and improve. These are the so-called megatrends – obvious and indisputable changes that can affect all aspects of human life. CIFS experts identify about 40 megatrends in the modern world.

    In the case of such trends, you can look far into the future. For example, forecasts related to climate change cover the period of both 50 and 100 years ahead. However, according to Mogensen, the Institute’s clients are interested mostly in a less distant future – 5-25 years.

    By the way, who are these clients, who may be so interested in the future that they turn to futurology?

    Profitable knowledge

    “My customers are those who are willing to pay money,” jokes Arik Dromi.

    Rejecting humor, we can say that the future is primarily interested in large companies. Some even hire futurists in the state. As already mentioned, Dromy previously held the position of a leading futurist at Volvo. Similar specialists work in the automobile concern Daimler.

    Dromi says it has recently become fashionable, although companies do not always use full-time professionals wisely. “They do it for a tick, and then say, ‘Look, we have a futurologist,'” he said, adding that over time, such professionals are laid off, open their own firms, and then provide their services to the same companies in which they worked. earlier.

    The services of futurists, full-time or part-time, can be very useful for business. After all, the future does not always open bright prospects. Sometimes it hides threats that you can prepare for in advance. The British-Dutch oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell is well aware of this.

    Here they began to make predictions of the future, called “Shell scenarios”, in the early 1970s. In one of the first scenarios, the company’s experts predicted a major oil crisis. And in 1973, OPEC countries announced that they would stop supplying “black gold” to the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia. As a result, there was one of the biggest energy crises in history. However, Shell, anticipating such an opportunity, was able to prepare for it and recovered faster than competitors.

    Understanding what the world will be like in the future is not just for business. Authorities are also interested in the work of futurologists. For example, CIFS clients include the Government of the United Arab Emirates and the Scandinavian city administrations.

    Arik Dromi and his colleagues have also recently sought more contact with governments. And not developed countries, such as Sweden or the United States. According to the futurologist, his work there will not bring much results, as such states are not very interested in change.

    Dromi is more interested in Africa, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. He believes that his work here can bear the most tangible results.

    As you can see, futurology is trusted enough to be approached by large companies and governments. But can modern futurists be considered the same “professors of foresight” that Herbert Wells spoke of?

    Although the very name “futurology” suggests that we have a new branch of science, in fact it is not. Moreover, in Western countries this word is practically not used. The industry is called Future studies, and futurologists themselves do not give an unambiguous answer to what their activities are.

    “It’s 50% art and 50% science,” said Arik Dromi. According to him, futurists, like science fiction writers, create stories. And depending on how close these stories are to becoming true, they can be attributed to science, art, and sometimes pseudoscience.

    His colleague from Denmark compares the work of futurologists with the work of historians or archaeologists. “It’s just that we’re guessing what the future will be like, not studying what the past looked like,” says Klaus Mogensen. He does not consider futurology a science.

    It is also difficult to master this profession in the traditional way. So today, some educational institutions, such as the Universities of Houston and the University of Hawaii, train specialists in the field of future research. But, for example, Dromi is skeptical of such diplomas. “If someone says they have a master’s degree in futurology, what does that even mean? This is a kind of delusion,” he said. If a person has curiosity and imagination and is able to support it with real facts, then he may well become a future studies expert.

    Don’t call futurology a science. It can’t give a clear answer to the question that lies ahead; it can only outline possible options. But it is better to know at least an inaccurate future than to move and touch it. After all, behind the scenes of the secrets that separate us from the future, there may indeed be danger and it would be better to know about it in advance.

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