Science fiction

I love it when journalists say something to the extent of, “it may sound like science fiction, but….” Well, it may sound like science fiction but next year is 2010. 2001 was eight years ago. No one expects to see a giant foetus hovering above the Earth, but we can certainly expect times to change and technology in particular to advance. Technology may not be the primary driver of social change, but technological advances honestly deserve greater respect than an inane comment like, “it sounds like science fiction.”

Martin Cooper freely admits he was hugely influenced by Star Trek when he invented the world’s first cellular phone for Motorola. Does this still seem like science fiction? Of course not, so why can’t modern man, at least those of us living in the top ranked economies, begin to expect technological change? I believe this highlights the importance of respect to society’s creatives. Science fiction has long been seen as a genre based niche. Only sf authors who crossed the genre threshold were ever revered as literary. For a long time, Orwell, Huxley, and to some extent Verne and Wells were the only futuristic fiction authors revered for their literary ability.

As more science fiction authors have transmigrated to the great holodeck at the edge of the universe (died), more authors are being recognised not just for their influence on technology and society but also on the literary world. The Library of America’s editions for Philip K. Dick are a prime example. Yet, many still see sf as a genre for children.

Futures studies receives similar derision perhaps due in part to certain ideological similarities to sf. I must admit, its ideological similarities to sf are what attracted me to futures studies. As futures studies/ strategic foresight have gained greater respect in the business world, so has science fiction. There would appear to me to be a relationship either between people’s acceptance of speculative fiction and their acceptance of practical applications or vice versa.

In the “I can’t believe its not science fiction” category, virtual reality devices can now simulate touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. A couple of months ago, the University of Tsukuba in Japan developed a set of tiles which will allow VR junkies to have a range of mobility while remaining in the same area inside a room. Star Trek’s vision for a holodeck may not be far off. If so, what are the cultural implications? Will this technology eventually be commercialized with great financial support from the porn industry much like VHS and the internet? Or will other cultural developments converge to make VR more an educational technology as many wish the internet to become to a greater extent?


Future Savvy by Adam Gordon

When I first ran across the book information online, I did not recognize the author’s name. The book’s tag line, “Identifying trends to make better decisions, manage uncertainty, and profit from change,” confused me. Does Gordon have a plural view of the future and therefore discuss multiple scenario forecasts, or was he referring primarily to baseline trend extrapolation so common with many business books? Either way, the book sounded interesting as it attempts to separate the wheat from the chaff to discern the usable aspects of the shock and awe implied by most forecasts.

On further research, I found out that Gordon worked with Coates & Jarrett, a preeminent US futurist consultancy.  He is also a graduate of the University of Houston Clear Lake MS program in Futures Studies.  Therefore, the book is from a scenario planning futurist perspective while remaining objective enough to criticize himself, his colleagues, and other forecasters.

He covers ways to recognize forecast intentions, the quality of the data on which forecasts are founded, the spin placed on forecasts interpretations, our own individual assumptions about the future, how consumers drive and block change, other drivers and blockers, the limits of quantitative forecasting, a systems perspective, alternative futures forecasts, applying forecast filters, and more than 40 questions to use in evaluating any forecast.

“The expectations and desires or fears that a forecast sets in motion influence the actual future that emerges.”

“A flexible and hedged view of the future that is ‘somewhat correct’ is obviously more useful to people than a wrong prediction however singularly asserted.” So, “while we cannot completely rely on foresight studies,” or the advice of trained futurist professionals, “to ignore them is fatal.”

I would continue with the quotes, but I am afraid of quoting at least 50% of the book and violating the copyright. As a student of futures studies myself, I must confess that the book challenged my own assumptions of the future and of forecasts. The systems application to futures alone is worth the price of the book.