Apollo’s Futurist, The State of Robotics Innovation, OTA’s Comeback, and more

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Volume 5,
Number 8
August 4, 2019

Hot Topic: Mission Accomplished

Last month’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission—the “giant leap for mankind” resulting in man’s first steps on the Moon—featured a host of documentaries and reflections on how that mission was accomplished.

Notably among these looks backward, Jerome C. Glenn shared that his Millennium Project co-founder, Theodore J. Gordon, was the manager of the third stage of the Apollo rocket. (Gordon had included the employment listing “Director, space stations/planetary systems, McDonnell Douglas, 1953-1968” in his biographical sketch for the World Future Society’s professional membership directory.)

In recognition of all of Gordon’s accomplishments, Destrée Institute director general Philippe Destatte announced that a “Ted Gordon” room had just been dedicated at the new headquarters of The Destree Institute‒Wallonia Policy Lab in Namur, Belgium.

“Fifty years ago I was a very lucky young man who happened to be in exactly the right place at the right time doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Gordon writes. “Lucky, because not many people get that chance. The first steps on the moon are a piece of history that will never repeat itself, but there are many other first steps, many unsolved challenges out there, and we are all lucky to be part of a community that is brave enough to think it can help solve them.”

Future missions. NASA’s Artemis mission is aiming to return humans to the Moon and ultimately get us to Mars. But, as Gordon hints, space isn’t the only target for Apollo-like missions to inspire today’s futurists.

The European Commission has announced five research and innovation missions that will be part of Horizon Europe: Cancer, Climate Change, Healthy Oceans, Climate-Neutral Cities, and Healthy Soil and Food. “Inspired by the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon, the European R&I missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world.” [Learn more]

Robotics Innovation in America: Event Report

Robotics and AI are the “two most important technologies going forward to improve the United States,” according to Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. ITIF organized a panel discussion on Capitol Hill, held July 16, 2019.

Kicking off the presentations was Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania), co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Robotics Caucus, who noted that the nation grows fastest when it embraces innovation. “Robotics and related fields will be major drivers of the global economy in coming decades,” he said.

Dire warnings about unemployment resulting from new waves of technological innovation “never came true in the past,” Atkinson pointed out, and “they won’t come true in the future.” In fact, the United States is not adopting robotics as fast as it should, he argued, because we’ll need to increase productivity to help pay the bigger entitlement bills coming up with the retiring baby boomers.

Other participants on the panel were Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation; Eric Krotkov, chief science officer for Toyota Research Institute; Stuart Shepherd, Universal Robots regional sales director for the Americas; David Vasko, director of advanced technology for Rockwell Automation; and Collin Sebastian, head of software products and engineering for SoftBank Robotics America.

Read more:Event Report: The State of Robotics Innovation in America,” Foresight Signals Blog (July 20, 2019).

Visit event page, ITIF.

OTA Redux

The congressional Office of Technology Assessment could reopen as soon as this year, as the House Appropriations Committee has voted to provide $6 million in initial funding, according to news reports. The funding is part of a bill Congress will vote on in September. OTA, shut down due to budget cuts in 1995, had provided Congress nonpartisan research and recommendations on emerging policy issues affected by new technologies. Among the new OTA’s proponents are Reps. Sean Casten (D-Illinois) and Mark Takano (D-California), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), and Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

ReadOTA making a comeback? House Dems eye shuttered office to combat Silicon Valley” by Mary Pflum, NBC News (July 22, 2019).

AlsoHouse spending panel advances measure boosting congressional funding” by Katherine Tully-McManus, Roll Call (May 9, 2019).

Signal courtesy of Bryan Alexander and Association of Professional Futurists.

Classroomless in Houston

The University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight recently did away with the physical classroom and conducted all classes virtually via Zoom. Program director Andy Hines analyzed the experiment in his Hinesight blog, weighing the virtual classes’ pluses and minuses. A reduction in technical issues was one advantage of going entirely virtual rather than mixing virtual and physical classroom experiences, he reports. But the loss of community building in face-to-face learning was one of the trade-offs. “There is less opportunity for serendipitous meetings, or hanging out after class that used to take place when we were fully virtual.” [Read more]

Futurist Opportunities and Moves in the Field

  • Resources for the Future, based in Washington, D.C., is seeking a director of research planning and operations. The incumbent will be responsible for the research department’s financial planning, human resource planning, and other general management functions. [Learn more or apply]
  • The Millennium Project has added Iceland as its 65th node, to be led by Karl Friðriksson, managing director of Innovation Center Iceland, and hosted by the Icelandic Center for Future Studies.
  • Data futurist Nick Curcuru has joined Venuetize, a “technology platform for smart space solutions,” in the newly created role of senior vice president of analytics and customer engagement. Curcuru previously was vice president of global big data consulting at Mastercard.

Foresight Resources and Publications

  • The Pursuit of Virtue: The Path to a Good Future by Thomas Lombardo. Wood Lake Publishing, 2019. Here-and-now fixations on material well-being and technology-enabled distractions have left us “lost and forlorn, drowning in an overpowering present,” writes psychologist and futurist Lombardo, director of the Center for Future Consciousness. This concise volume shows how our capacity for future consciousness can help us develop the character virtues necessary to build a wiser and more fulfilling future for ourselves, our communities, and the planet.
  • Futures & Foresight Science is a new journal edited by George Wright of Strathclyde University (UK), with associate editors George Cairns of Queensland University of Technology (Australia) and Heiko von der Gracht of Steinbeis University Berlin (Germany). The editors invite papers that address methods for aiding anticipation of the future and that document the applications and usefulness of futures methodologies. The first two issues of may be viewed free: Volume 1, Issue 1 (March 2019) and Volume 1, Issue 2 (June 2019), Guidelines for submitting papers are available at Wiley Online Library.
  • The Journal of Futures Studies has published two special issues devoted to Design and Futures, edited by experiential futurist Stuart Candy of Situation Lab and Cher Potter of University of the Arts London. The two special issues feature 30 peer-reviewed articles, essays, and interviews from some 50 scholars and practitioners around the world, Candy says. Part one appears in the March 2019 edition of JFS (Volume 23, Number 3) and covers ethnographic experiential futures, the politics of designing future visions, storytelling, and more. Part two, in the June 2019 edition (Volume 23, Number 4) covers world building in science fiction, a futures-design-process model for participatory futures, using the future at NASA, and more.
  • Future Matters is a new newsletter published by Intelligent Future Consulting, led by Seattle-based futurist speaker, author, and consultant Richard Yonck. Each issue will include original articles, curated content, and links to upcoming events, including Yonck’s speaking engagements. “Our goal is to bring you insights into emerging technologies that might impact your business, personal life, and society.” [Learn more]

Foresight Report: Frontier Technologies as Sustainability Solutions

AAI Foresight has released a new Foresight Report by NASA scientist Dennis M. Bushnell. Expanding on the author’s previous writings, this free white paper offers an overview of emerging frontier technologies, major ongoing and prospective societal issues, and the potential for new solution spaces, including renewable energy and storage, the gig and DIY economies, tele-living, cyborgism, electric transportation, energy-generating buildings, halophytes for energy and food production, and the combination of AI, robotics, and autonomous technologies.

ReadFrontier Technologies and the Human Future: Sustainability Solutions” by Dennis Bushnell. AAI Foresight (Summer 2019).

Download PDF.

Browse the Foresight Reports library.