On Reading the Past, Artificial General Intelligence, Messages in a Time Capsule, and More

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Volume 8,
Number 5
April 28, 2022

Reading Futures Past

In our work to understand and shape the future, we must also make time to read (and hopefully learn from) history. In my latest post for the Foresight Signals blog, I offer my own reading list of a variety of histories, including biographies, memoirs, and research on topics ranging from tulips to oil.

Currently on my nightstand is The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (1991) by Daniel Yergin. In the section on war and strategy, Yergin describes the military losses that could be attributed to the lack of fuel to keep aircraft and tanks on the move in World War II.

“Shortage of petrol! It’s enough to make one weep,” Yergin quotes German Field Marshal Rommel. The lament immediately called to mind the line of Russian tanks that were stalled on their way into Ukraine earlier this year, giving me a kind of backwards feeling of déjà vu.

Of course, reading the past is most useful before we attempt to write the future. Philosopher George Santayana expressed this most clearly in the aphorism with which most of us are very familiar: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

ReadRead the Past, Write the Future” by Cindy Wagner, Foresight Signals blog (April 22, 2022).

Survey on Artificial General Intelligence

Fast Future and London Futurists have posted three webinars reporting on an online survey about the implications of artificial general intelligence (AGI). The webinars, hosted by Rohit Talwar and David Wood, cover key findings and points of agreement and disagreement arising from the survey.

The nearly 200 respondents from 42 countries comprised invited contacts of Fast Future, London Futurists, and The Millennium Project’s UK and Iceland nodes. “The results were fascinating—and provocative,” the team reports, and suggest priorities for preparing for AGI’s potential disruptions to individuals, businesses, and societies.

“If we don’t get the initial conditions ‘right,’ for AGI and don’t have in place a global governance system for AGI when it emerges, then artificial super intelligence (ASI) could evolve … not to our liking,” wrote The Millennium Project’s Jerry Glenn in an email.

[Learn more or view the webinars, Part 1 (March 24), Part 2 (March 31), or Part 3 (April 3)]

News and Moves in the Field

  • IDPro® has named futurist Heather Vescent executive director and president of the global nonprofit association for the digital identity profession. As a strategic foresight consultant, speaker, writer, and filmmaker, she has focused most recently on cybersecurity, augmented intelligence, fintech, and cryptocurrencies. [Learn more]
  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Scotland’s National Academy) has appointed International Futures Forum Chair Philip Rycroft and Director Graham Leicester as Fellows of the Society. “This offers [IFF] the potential to contribute more directly to RSE’s work, including in the realms of longer-term policymaking and in adding the concept of ‘transformative innovation’ to the portfolio of ideas and recommendations offered by RSE in all areas,” according to the IFF website. [Learn more]

Inspirations: Ireland’s Census Time Capsule

What’s your name? How old are you? Who else lives at your residence? And what would you like to say to people in the year 2122?

Ireland’s 2022 Census, which took place April 3, asked the usual household questions but included an invitation to share a message to future generations in a Time Capsule. These messages could be anything from recipes to family histories, favorite memories, or future predictions. The messages, along with other Census forms, will remain confidential until released to the public a century from now.

“Can you picture historians, descendants and future generations, in one hundred years’ time, reading the messages that we will put on our census forms?” the Census site ponders. “What insights will they get about our lives in 2022? Will they feel a strong connection with us, as we do now when we look up the individual census records from 1901 and 1911?”

Visit Ireland 2022 Census and the national archives

Recommended Readings and Resources

  • 2022 Tech and Science Trends Report,” Future Today Institute. Each of 14 volumes covers a different cluster of tech trends, such as AI, the Metaverse, health and medicine, and global journalism. Freely available until May 20.
  • Creating a Future-Ready, Equitable Higher Education System” (report), Institute For the Future, with support of College Futures Foundation. Opens with a scenario, “A New Climate Grant Multiversity,” that envisions “an integrated regional education system united by a common goal: to build community wealth and wellbeing.”
  • A Planetary Crisis” by Alexandra Witze, Science News (March 12, 2022). “The roots of understanding this climate emergency trace back more than a century and a half. … Today we know that climate change and its consequences are real, and we are responsible.” [Recommended by Bob Chernow]
  • A futurist predicts the 3 biggest disruptions to how we’ll travel” by Devin Liddell, Fast Company (April 7, 2022). Airports will need fewer parking spaces, but bridges will need more lanes. “Put bluntly: The infrastructure we have in one era isn’t the infrastructure we’ll need in the next.”
  • 50 Best Futurism Blogs and Websites,” FeedSpot (April 18, 2022). Feedspot’s team ranks the top blogs based on “traffic, social media followers, domain authority and freshness.” The top 5 listees are Futurism, Futurity, Future Timeline, Singularity Hub, and NextBigFuture.com. Others include David Brin’s Contrary Brin, Gizmodo’s io9, Thomas Frey’s Futurist Speaker | DaVinci Institute, and Houston Foresight.

Signal Thoughts

“The balance of nature is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment.” Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962