Chapter 9. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Foresight is Becoming Popular

Finally, foresight is becoming “big” again in the sense that it is more popular than in previous years. This popularity, at least on the public side, will keep growing for the forseeable future, as more and more infotech and nanotech disruptions, and their second tier effects, come our way.

Professional practice has had a few foresight Winters and Springs, in an aperiodic cycle, since its birth seventy years ago. Recall the Foresight Spring of the 1960’s and 1970s, when futurists, planning, forecasting made inroads into boardrooms and governments. Then we had the Foresight Winter of the 1980’s to mid-1990’s, which reversed many of those inroads, at least for a while.

But unlike interest in professional foresight, which has waxed and waned, the general public’s interest in all things future-related has steadily grown over this same time period. Various specialty topics, like entrepreneurship foresight, technology foresight and science fiction foresight have all gained more and more members and interest. We can measure such things by the use of future-related words in published literature over time (recall Google’s Ngram viewer in Chapter 1) and by the exploding number of members of future-related groups online. Reddit futurology, as we’ve mentioned, now has over 4.5M “futurists.” That is an unprecedented number, and it will surely keep growing as science and technology get ever more interesting in the years to come.

Professional foresight is also on an upcycle again since the mid-1990s, and it’s probably safe to say that professional work is “bigger” than ever before as well. More foresighters and futurists probably work today in business and government than at any time in our history, and more will surely come.

On the public side, as machine intelligence continues to rise, we can expect popular visions of our future, both positive and negative, to become increasingly prevalent. We’ve just seen the first crop of the new AI, robotics, superhuman, uploading, and similar transhumanist-themed films. A few have been foresight-generating (recall Minority Report, 2005), though most are merely entertaining. As always, much of what is popular is a low priority for professional attention and energy. But we should always be aware of the changing popular foresight landscape, so we can understand popular visions and expectations, and keep our clients from getting overinvested in the latest fads and hype.

We also need to understand how to sell the Three Ps futures that we can see in a way that takes advantage of popular conceptions of the future, without being compromised by them. For example, you may know that synthetic biology, home automation, 3D printing, home delivery drones, basic income guarantee, bitcoin, or some new management technique are today and for the next half-decade at least highly likely to be mostly hype. They have promise, but won’t grow anywhere as fast as their boosters claim. But they are popular and perhaps your clients are enamored by them today.

Without being an outright naysayer you can gently help them see their challenges, push out their expectations horizons for these technologies or policies, and identify those few applications where low hanging fruit might actually be accessible in their present state.