Authorial Bias—Mine and Others’
Each of us has both conscious and unconscious biases that influence our work. To understand conscious bias in a foresight author or consultant, you should know their world view. What are their basic theories of universal, societal, organizational, and personal change? Have they explicitly shared them? If not, find them out, if you are contemplating working with them. Know who you are dealing with. For more on unconscious bias, see our overview in Chapter 4 (Personal Foresight) and for a book intro, Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2011). As our personal sims get smarter, one of the greatest benefits we can expect is much better quantifying, visualizing and managing of our and others conscious and unconscious bias.
You can’t get an unbiased perspective. The better you know all the evidence-based competing biases that are in play in the world, and in those you are interacting with, the better you can get what futurist Buckminster Fuller called a “multi-biased” education and perspective. This will keep you mentally flexible and able to quickly pivot to the best current models, as more evidence and argument come your way, and to keep all the relevant biases mentally accessible, so you know how to relate to those who think differently from you, even when you disagree with parts of their world models.
For one example from our professional foresight community, Michael Marien is a deep-thinking futurist who has as been reviewing newly published foresight books for decades. He originally published his reviews in an incisive newsletter for the World Future Society, Future Survey (1979-2008), and now independently online at GlobalForesightBooks.org. Marien’s reviews are generally excellent, and he continually uncovers new foresight works worth knowing about, but you should also know his conscious bias. His world view leads him to expect severe Global Crises ahead.
In “Global Megacrisis?” (PDF), The Futurist (2011), Marien predicts that due to sustainability issues, led of course by climate change, global civilization will either Muddle Down or Crash (80% probability) in coming decades. The counterpoint in the same article is taken by futurist Bill Halal, who sees civilization either Muddling Up or Getting Rapidly Better (65% probability) due to accelerating scientific and technological advances.
My own bias on these complex issues puts me in Halal’s camp, with an even higher expectation (north of 90%) of a Rapidly Better Future in our technical capabilities in the next few decades. I also think that social or climate catastrophe, if we are unfortunate enough to experience them, will end up catalyzing even faster technical developments to address them. This is the theory of “catalytic catastrophes”, the idea that calamity is, unfortunately, often the greatest catalyst of positive social change.
How rapidly one expects our global science, technology, entrepreneurial, and policy capabilities to improve under the possible and probable crises ahead, and how bad one thinks the problems might get will of course have a major impact on one’s outlook, policy, and strategy recommendations. Acceleration of information, computing, communication, and nanotech and the new social resiliences they introduce seem to be rigged into the way social systems develop, as I see it. This, of course, is my conscious bias. Whether it is true or not remains to be determined by future science and practice. You, dear reader, must make your own judgment.
For science and technology accelaware (acceleration-aware) global foresight books I’d recommend reading Benkler, Bremmer, Bryce, Brynjolffson, Diamandis, Glaeser, Halal, Johnson, Kelly, Kenny, Kurzweil, Lomborg, Lovins, Morris, Naam, Pinker, Reese, Ridley, Simon, Toffler, and Wiezsacker on our lists below. These authors can help you see and use the incredible power of our accelerating societal capabilities and resiliencies, both today and in the even more technically advanced years ahead of us.
But while accelerating scientific, technological, innovation, and entrepreneurship progress seems highly likely in coming decades, including the continued rapid emergence of higher machine intelligence during this century, how quickly and how far we advance culturally (freedoms, rights, education, income equity, health care, democracy, security, environment) during this process, and how many setbacks we create for ourselves on the way, seems entirely up to us.
There are many ways our technical progress could come at a very high social, economic, and political cost, as many of the authors above point out. More than ever, we need foresight professionals to help us chart the best evolutionary paths to our inevitable developmental destinies.