Chapter 6. Futurepedia – Probable, Possible, Dystopic, and Protopic Futures

The next two chapters concern the rich and complex domain of Global Foresight, the third domain in the UPGO Tetrad of forsight domains. Global foresight is by far the largest domain, with respect to topics that must be covered, published sources, and of course, the rates of change. Global futures are also the issues that most of us like to talk about, on social media, and platforms like r/Futurology.

We won’t attempt to summarize this complex domain in this version of the Guide. Instead we direct you to read from our selected bibliography of excellent Global Foresight Books, and Global Foresight Reports. The US National Intelligence Council’s public Global Trends report, which looks out five to twenty years at the global landscape, every four years since 1997, is my current most recommended source to start with in thinking about the coming global landscape. Their foresight process gets more inclusive and effective with every report, and it shows. Global Trends: Paradox of Progress, 2017 is the best they’ve produced yet, in my assessment.

Our approach to Global Foresight focuses on two particularly useful activities, foresight production (Futurepedia) and idea production (Futureworthy). We recommend you do each of these, to some degree, at universal, personal, global (public) and organizational (private) levels.

Most important, for most of us, is to have good processes for foresight and idea production at the personal and organizational levels. We each build our own personal or organizational futurepedias, when we research the future of any topic. The Houston Foresight Research Framework in Chapter 8 (Models) offers a particularly useful approach to foresight production.

We are also building public (global) versions of each of these as 4U projects, with very modest starts (we do what we can). This chapter describes the first 4U global foresight project, Futurepedia. The next chapter introduces the second 4U project, Futureworthy, a platform to attract and develop a list of important global and local problems, and potential public domain product, service, and project ideas to address them, as an aid to social entrepreneurs.

I. Futurepedia Project Overview

futurepedia_logo_small

Global foresight needs a number of globally recognized platforms that do their best to aggregate the wisdom of foresighted crowds on a vast number of future-important topics. We now have a reasonably good Wikipedia, so we think it would be very cool to have a globally-recognized Futurepedia. Here are some thoughts along those lines.

In 2005, sci-fi author and futurist David Brin called for the emergence of a Predictions Registry, a global platform to record predictions by industry and subject area, and to provide at least social rewards to those who are particularly successful. That same year I presented the vision of a Futurepedia at ASF’s Accelerating Change 2005 conference, to begin as a mediawiki platform like Wikipedia, and invited someone in our community to help our nonprofit to start it, after which it could raise funds from its user community, like Wikipedia. No one volunteered startup funds (I believe we asked for $250K) at the time, but the project idea was now afoot.

We reserved Futurepedia.org for that purpose in 2006, and wrote it up at FERN in 2007. The futurist Kevin Kelly independently called for a Futurepedia, by the same name, in 2008. This platform is certainly inevitable, even if the name is not. We just need someone to spearhead it and fund its first few years, with as little as $250K to start. Could that someone be you? I’m sure multiple sponsors can be found,  and after a few years of such growth it can crowdfund itself the way Wikipedia does today.

For the first version, Futurepedia might be mostly a public wiki, with some integrated polling and argument mapping features, available in many languages, covering a topic that Wikipedia traditionally hasn’t allowed: structured thinking and writing about the future, in every topic people care about. Because Wikipedia’s editors consider such efforts speculative and suspect, the future just doesn’t make it into their wiki, in general. That oversight needs to be corrected, by an independent organization with a deep commitment to foresight thinking.

Some early efforts toward the Futurepedia vision exist today (for example, Forwiki for futures practices and Future.wikia.com), but none have achieved the scale and scope we envision, and few to none are led by a multidisciplinary team of academically-trained and experienced foresight professionals. The best of this work needs to be brought into a project with greater scope and ambition, with good management and a business model.

At a mature Futurepedia you will find structured speculations on possible, probable, and preferable (Three P’s) futures in science, technology, environmental, economic, political, and social (STEEPS) domains. All material will be shared in a Creative Commons share-alike license. Futurepedia will be administered as a nonprofit, initially through our Acceleration Studies Foundation, but eventually as its own Futurepedia Foundation. Like Wikipedia, once we achieve scale, we’ll do annual fundraising from our users to grow further organically. We’ll also crowdfund short, 3-minute Summary Videos, for the top of the most popular pages, to help the site become more educational for youth and lay audiences.

Building a mature, free, and high-quality Futurepedia will be a major advance in our global foresight culture. It is something all the world’s citizens deserve to have today. We reserved Futurepedia.org for this project in 2006. Now, ten years later, we’re launching the alpha version of this project, as Chapter 6 of The Foresight Guide. We really want to see this project grow, so please join us if you’d like to help!

Project Details

As in Scholarpedia, which is often of higher quality than Wikipedia, the Top Section of each page, perhaps one printed page long, will be written by a relevant foresight scholar who takes personal responsibility for curating that page. The Top Section will include links to good online pages on the history and present status of the topic. As the topic research grows, this section will link to number of slightly longer (5 pages or less) Summary Articles on the possible, probable, and preferable futures of the topic, with one of these potentially written by the curating scholar.

The Top Section and Summary Article will be written in Schools of Thought (SoT) format, where each major SoT is described in a few summary paragraphs, referencing some of the leading thinkers advancing the school, and some of their supporting publications. These sections will be anonymously peer-reviewed for reliability and will be citable as peer-reviewed publications, and yet will also be continually revised and improved, as with any wiki page. Also as in Scholarpedia, every page will have a curator, typically the page author, who maintains the page for relevance, accuracy, readability, and reliability

As in Wikipedia, which is by far the largest and most valuable of these projects, the remaining sections of every page will be publicly editable by anyone who creates a RealName account, to capture the collective foresight of our global community of foresight thinkers, professional and lay.

Interestingly, Wikipedia occasionally waffles on its policy on allowing structured speculation on the future. You can occassionaly find such Wikipedia pages as:

The Future of Robotics
The Future of Newspapers

Unfortunately, such pages are rare, and several “Future of” pages have been killed by Wikipedia editors and redirected to regular pages. In the long run, we would like our editors to create and edit more pages within the Wikipedia environment, so a top priority for the Futurepedia project will be talking to the Wikimedia Foundation and getting our pages in close compliance with their policy, and perhaps migrating a few over to their site.

At the same time, we see great value in maintaining our own independent status as well, forking select Wikipedia pages and sections where valuable for our own use, and converting them to our own future-oriented versions. Affiliation of this wiki with APF, WFS, WFSF, the Millennium Project, and other leading foresight organizations, as well as all the graduate foresight programs, would be ideal.

In the long run, a well-developed Futurepedia will likely have the following sections, among others:

1. Encyclopedia. Outlines of discussions on Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures over a wide range of STEEPS topics.
2. Polling/Delphi/Prediction Market. Tools for capturing the collective wisdom of the Futurepedia-using crowd.
3. Education. Links to frameworks, courses, and resources for professionals seeking foresight education.
4. Research. Links to pre-print communities, methods, and tools used by professionals in foresight research.
5. Employment. Links to and descriptions of foresight employers and jobs available in major cities around the world.

The Encyclopedia section will be our focus for the next few years.

Current Fundraising and Volunteer Needs

The Encyclopedia launch will benefit from both a substantial resources commitment of at least $500K, to be placed in a Futurepedia Foundation Fund, to provide a starter annuity of annual supporting funds to cover minor overhead, and provide token payments to curators of popular pages, and to our team of volunteers. We’d like to adopt a Media Co-Operative model for the nonprofit, giving back some of our annual income to all our contributors, based on reputation.

Are you interested in Sponsoring, Volunteering or Fundraising for this worthy project? At present, we need a motivated Volunteer Director to help us find sponsors, to grow this project to the size and scope it fully deserves. Perhaps you? Email us, we’d love to talk.

For now, please enjoy our starter collection of Progress Counterfactuals, stories that demonstrate the value of past foresight, had it occurred, in the perspective on progress that is offered by the storyteller. Such stories can be especially helpful and motivating to the new student of foresight, as they dramatically demonstrate it’s great value, at the right time and place. We envision these as a starting point for the coming Futurepedia site.