The IFTF Blog
2012 Interns present an Interactive Map of the Decade
This summer, the IFTF interns Alex, Dee, Eric, Sarah, and Sri designed a Map of the Decade as their final group project. Sri also built the first prototype for an IFTF mobile app, details for which can be found in this PDF.
Built in Google Earth, the map illustrates what 2022 might look like based on four different scenarios:
- Collapse, and
Each scenario has its own layer in Google Earth, so readers of the map can explore and switch between layers at whim, discovering how the same locations in a small American city take on different identities depending on how the future plays out.
Fixed ‘destinations’ on each scenario are clickable, opening descriptive textboxes. Each forecast contains roughly 20 destinations, creating an immersive, interactive Map of the Decade.
Toward the beginning of the internship, we discussed new ways to display a Map of the Decade. How could we take interesting, rich content and present it in a format that encourages autonomous exploration and deeper reading? Our discussions included embedding the forecast into an augmented reality app, so viewers of the map could explore it through their mobile phone by walking around downtown Palo Alto.
Throughout the course of the internship, staff from the IFTF volunteered their time to present on their own areas of expertise, discuss how the Institute worked, and, toward the end of the internship, brainstorm with us about content and formatting for the Map of the Decade. Jamais Cascio and Tessa Finlev were of particular help, spending a day with us to work out how to create a forecast with clear drivers and coherence between the scenarios.
Eventually, we arrived at Climate Change and Big Data as the biggest ‘questions’ behind the Map. How disruptive will climate change be in 10 years? How will humanity harness the power of data analysis? Will businesses and government misinterpret the data, hoard it, and use it to deliberately misinform the public? Or will big data be open and optimized for the betterment of humanity, a sounding board for new algorithms designed to mitigate climate change and maximize efficient use of scarce resources? Based on these drivers, we developed 4 distinct scenarios. We then created a machine with an intricate control panel that allows us to adjust each of these drivers. Watch the video below to see it at work.
Figuring out how to present our forecast well in Google Earth presented a novel challenge. Our solution was to fix each scenario in the same small city in the USA, and roughly map our data points to how the city actually works. For example, information about the future of health and hospitals was layered on top of an actual hospital; discussions about the future of learning occurred above one of the city’s major High Schools; information about the possible futures of development and poverty took place in one of the city’s lowest income neighborhoods. The city itself provided a scaffold useful for contextualizing our scenarios, and gives the map a sense of realism.
To make the forecast more personal and relatable, we developed individual personas to help tell the stories surrounding how these possible futures might impact daily life. For instance, we told the story of the future of health in each scenario based upon how Lisa, a young nutritionist, practices. In our growth scenario, Lisa is frustrated by how food stamps can be used to purchase fast food, and her patients largely live in neighborhoods devoid of grocery stores. We plot out her walk from home to the hospital where she practices, discussing the kinds of businesses she passes along the way. Many data points also have clickable links within them, which direct readers to the signals and sources backing up the scenarios.