The IFTF Blog
Urgent Futures: IFTF Advisory Council Inaugural Meeting
The futurist and sci-fi writer William Gibson (@GreatDismal) recently said, “give me a room full of either artists or criminals talking about what they might be able to do with an emergent technology, and I’ve got it, I’ve made my lunch right there…” IFTF recently brought its Advisory Council together for a meeting on urgent futures, and a similar gamut of ideas emerged.
Urgent futures are those whose scale of impact and potential for changing the human landscape are so extraordinary that we ignore them at great risk. Many of these urgent futures are obvious and underway—for example, the rapid urbanization of cities all over the world without sufficient infrastructures for the additional population. But others are less obvious and fly “under the radar.”
What kinds of urgent futures are on the horizon?
Asking a group of renowned thinkers—from anthropologist Nancy Chen to Zynga’s Kati London to game designer Jane McGonigal—to each come up with an urgent future is wildly engaging. Nancy Chen asked us to consider China’s GDP and energy costs, which are growing at the same rate—can China’s middle class rise in the shape of a green onion? The renowned interactive media artist, Scott Snibbe, posed the question, what does it mean that apps are the new corner store? These types of leading questions are influencing our research, including the future of small scale manufacturing and chartering new drivers in technology.
Other council members offered new products and insights. Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain aired a beautiful short production that crowdsourced readers all over the world to give voice to a revised Declaration of Inter-dependence. Her urgent future not only highlights the technological bonds that foster creativity, but the human bonds that require cooperation. When every person has a phone with a camera, Shlain thinks the world will look more like a film or photo to be shared.
And as much as sharing is our future, robotics professor Ken Goldberg advised that we are also entering an age where surveillance looks more like co-veillance—humans monitoring each other’s activity—and increasingly “robo-veillance.” As with any technological development, there are cautions for the future use of these tools. What will our privacy look like in a future filled with more eyes on each person?
Right now our world looks like a blue marble from far away. But what happens when the planet is less blue? Scientist and activist J. Nichols reaffirmed the urgency of our waterways, and the knowledge that since we protect less than 1% of our oceans, they lie downstream from our entire economy.
IFTF researchers presented alongside the advisors. Rachel Hatch offered a glimpse into the future of our memory, where we start to prioritize how to find information we store over knowing information itself. Researcher Jake Dunagan challenged the group to envision a new form of governance, one that can withstand the immense influence of humans on this epoch.
Our advisor Joi Ito ended his presentation with a call for “nowism”: the importance of using compass directions instead of maps and looking at systems over objects. Rather than being stuck in the present or past, these scenarios and inspiring talks have grounded us more firmly in the future, and its most urgent questions. While neither criminals nor all artists, the urgent futures this group described would make Gibson’s lunch any day. For our part, IFTF will be using these urgent futures, and our advisory council, as inspiration for our continued research in 2013.