It has been said that foresight as a field has occasionally been short on systems thinking. I do not mean systems thinking as a discrete discipline in itself, which has had its ups and downs over the years, but instead as a through understanding of logistic structures and cross-disciplinary dynamics. In this context, it is also the case that engineering (especially electrical engineering) has not always had a significant voice in setting policy on renewable energy systems development, especially in the United States.
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Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, once said to me (when I worked for him) that studying the future was not so useful as the past, as that was where he found guidance for most of his business decisions. Unfortunately, this was less than a year before he overleveraged his massive merger and acquisitions campaign and the stock value of WPP on the London Stock Exchange fell almost 80% in under a week.
As part of its executive education webinar series on workforce planning in the “next normal,” Vanderbilt University hosted a Zoom lecture June 23 on “Technology Foresight: Predicting and Planning for the Future” led by Professor Andy Van Schaack of the School of Engineering Management. The goal was to present futures techniques needed to redesign workforces for a new business landscape.
Not all doctors view artificial intelligence (AI) with favor. However, instead of replacing medical personnel, using AI capabilities allows doctors and technicians to deliver medicine that is more personalized, proactive, and effective. This includes preventive medicine by proactively monitoring early warnings of illnesses, combining digital connectivity and AI analysis, and focusing on wellness in a cost-effective manner.
The future is a peculiar place, in that it often seen as uninhabited, like a chessboard, where if a series of strategic moves occur, the responses will predictability be this or that. In other words, if people are involved, we all already know how they will react. Perhaps that mindset arises by the enormous amounts of attitude/motivation-related data now being collected—as Edward Snowden reports in his memoir, Permanent Record—with that outcome in mind. But of course Snowden himself is an example of how the actions of a single person can lead to cultural sea changes.
In 1984, political scientist Philip Tetlock observed at a meeting of the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee on American Soviet Relationship how contradictory many authoritative predictions the participants held on the future of the Cold War. As well, he noted their dismissal of the opinions of equally qualified colleagues on the committee.
Robotics has gotten a bad name in some circles from too many screen scenarios and “what if” thinking about manufacturing assembly lines that has often overreached actual development. However, robotics in medicine is seeing breakthroughs in post-stroke physical therapy and post-injury rehabilitation.
Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities (University of Chicago Press, 2015) has an unusual approach for a book on foresight. First, it is actually based in the discipline of architecture and spends a substantial amount of time looking at plans never built due to lack of funding, client change of heart, and catastrophes of all sorts.
Evolution and foresight are not usually considered in the same sentence, except in the area of conscious evolution, but both disciplines consider how things change and what forces shape that change. Classical evolution has long been seen as glacial and thus not especially relevant to humanity’s social, economic, or political dynamics. Darwin believed that natural selection was a very slow, almost imperceptible process, proceeding in evolutionary time.
In contrast to science fiction novels and short stories, movies have increasingly been a team effort. Accordingly, various futurists have been able to work in partnership with production staff, providing content and design advice for landmarks of science fiction. 2001: A Space Odyssey had Arthur C. Clarke on board from the beginning, which produced a vision which continues to be quite persuasive 50 years after its release in 1968.