Futures studies (also called futurology) is the study of postulating
possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and
myths that underlie them. In general, it can be considered as a branch
of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. Futures
studies (colloquially called "futures" by many of the field's
practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what
could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic
and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine
the likelihood of future events and trends.
Unlike the physical sciences where a narrower, more specified system
is studied, futures studies concerns a much bigger and more complex
world system. The methodology and knowledge are much less proven as
compared to natural science or even social science like sociology and
economics. There is a debate as to whether this discipline is an art
or science and sometimes described by scientists as
2.2 Early 20th Century
2.4 Further development
Probability and predictability
4.1 Futures techniques
4.2 Shaping alternative futures
4.3 Weak signals, the future sign and wild cards
4.4 Near-term predictions
Trend analysis and forecasting
4.5.2 Potential trends
4.5.3 Branching trends
4.5.4 Life-cycle of a trend
4.5.5 Life cycle of technologies
6 Applications of foresight and specific fields
6.1 General applicability and use of foresight products
Fashion and design
6.3 Imperial cycles and world order
6.6 Government agencies
6.7 Risk analysis and management
7 Research centers
8.1 Notable futurists
9.1 APF's list of most significant futures works
9.2 Other notable foresight books
9.3 Periodicals and journals
10.1 Foresight professional networks
10.2 Public-sector foresight organizations
10.3 Non-governmental foresight organizations
11 See also
13 External links
Futures studies is an interdisciplinary field, studying yesterday's
and today's changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and
professional strategies and opinions with respect to tomorrow. It
includes analyzing the sources, patterns, and causes of change and
stability in an attempt to develop foresight and to map possible
futures. Around the world the field is variously referred to as
futures studies, strategic foresight, futuristics, futures thinking,
futuring, and futurology.
Futures studies and strategic foresight are
the academic field's most commonly used terms in the English-speaking
Foresight was the original term and was first used in this sense by
H.G. Wells in 1932. "Futurology" is a term common in encyclopedias,
though it is used almost exclusively by nonpractitioners today, at
least in the English-speaking world. "Futurology" is defined as the
"study of the future." The term was coined by German professor
Ossip K. Flechtheim in the mid-1940s, who proposed it as a new branch
of knowledge that would include a new science of probability. This
term may have fallen from favor in recent decades because modern
practitioners stress the importance of alternative and plural futures,
rather than one monolithic future, and the limitations of prediction
and probability, versus the creation of possible and preferable
Three factors usually distinguish futures studies from the research
conducted by other disciplines (although all of these disciplines
overlap, to differing degrees). First, futures studies often examines
not only possible but also probable, preferable, and "wild card"
futures. Second, futures studies typically attempts to gain a holistic
or systemic view based on insights from a range of different
disciplines, generally focusing on the STEEP categories of Social,
Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political. Third, futures
studies challenges and unpacks the assumptions behind dominant and
contending views of the future. The future thus is not empty but
fraught with hidden assumptions. For example, many people expect the
collapse of the Earth's ecosystem in the near future, while others
believe the current ecosystem will survive indefinitely. A foresight
approach would seek to analyze and highlight the assumptions
underpinning such views.
As a field, futures studies expands on the research component, by
emphasizing the communication of a strategy and the actionable steps
needed to implement the plan or plans leading to the preferable
future. It is in this regard, that futures studies evolves from an
academic exercise to a more traditional business-like practice,
looking to better prepare organizations for the future.
Futures studies does not generally focus on short term predictions
such as interest rates over the next business cycle, or of managers or
investors with short-term time horizons. Most strategic planning,
which develops operational plans for preferred futures with time
horizons of one to three years, is also not considered futures. Plans
and strategies with longer time horizons that specifically attempt to
anticipate possible future events are definitely part of the field. As
a rule, futures studies is generally concerned with changes of
transformative impact, rather than those of an incremental or narrow
The futures field also excludes those who make future predictions
through professed supernatural means.
Sir Thomas More, originator of the 'Utopian' ideal.
Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah argue in Macrohistory and
Macrohistorians that the search for grand patterns of social change
goes all the way back to Ssu-Ma Chien (145-90BC) and his theory of the
cycles of virtue, although the work of
Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) such
as The Muqaddimah would be an example that is perhaps more
intelligible to modern sociology. Early western examples include Sir
Thomas More’s “Utopia,” published in 1516, and based upon
Plato’s “Republic,” in which a future society has overcome
poverty and misery to create a perfect model for living. This work was
so powerful that utopias have come to represent positive and
fulfilling futures in which everyone’s needs are met.
Some intellectual foundations of futures studies appeared in the
mid-19th century. Isadore Comte, considered the father of scientific
philosophy, was heavily influenced by the work of utopian socialist
Henri Saint-Simon, and his discussion of the metapatterns of social
change presages futures studies as a scholarly dialogue.
The first works that attempt to make systematic predictions for the
future were written in the 18th century. Memoirs of the Twentieth
Century written by
Samuel Madden in 1733, takes the form of a series
of diplomatic letters written in 1997 and 1998 from British
representatives in the foreign cities of Constantinople, Rome, Paris,
and Moscow. However, the technology of the 20th century is
identical to that of Madden's own era - the focus is instead on the
political and religious state of the world in the future. Madden went
on to write The Reign of George VI, 1900 to 1925, where (in the
context of the boom in canal construction at the time) he envisioned a
large network of waterways that would radically transform patterns of
living - "Villages grew into towns and towns became cities".
In 1845, Scientific American, the oldest continuously published
magazine in the U.S., began publishing articles about scientific and
technological research, with a focus upon the future implications of
such research. It would be followed in 1872 by the magazine Popular
Science, which was aimed at a more general readership.
The genre of science fiction became established towards the end of the
19th century, with notable writers, including
Jules Verne and H. G.
Wells, setting their stories in an imagined future world.
Early 20th Century
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells first advocated for 'future studies' in a lecture
delivered in 1902.
According to W. Warren Wagar, the founder of future studies was H. G.
Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific
Progress Upon Human Life and Thought: An Experiment in Prophecy, was
first serially published in
The Fortnightly Review
The Fortnightly Review in 1901.
Anticipating what the world would be like in the year 2000, the book
is interesting both for its hits (trains and cars resulting in the
dispersion of population from cities to suburbs; moral restrictions
declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of
German militarism, the existence of a European Union, and a world
order maintained by "English-speaking peoples" based on the urban core
between Chicago and New York) and its misses (he did not expect
successful aircraft before 1950, and averred that "my imagination
refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its
crew and founder at sea").
Moving from narrow technological predictions, Wells envisioned the
eventual collapse of the capitalist world system after a series of
destructive total wars. From this havoc would ultimately emerge a
world of peace and plenty, controlled by competent technocrats.
The work was a bestseller, and Wells was invited to deliver a lecture
Royal Institution in 1902, entitled The Discovery of the
Future. The lecture was well-received and was soon republished in book
form. He advocated for the establishment of a new academic study of
the future that would be grounded in scientific methodology rather
than just speculation. He argued that a scientifically ordered vision
of the future "will be just as certain, just as strictly science, and
perhaps just as detailed as the picture that has been built up within
the last hundred years to make the geological past." Although
conscious of the difficulty in arriving at entirely accurate
predictions, he thought that it would still be possible to arrive at a
"working knowledge of things in the future".
In his fictional works, Wells predicted the invention and use of the
atomic bomb in
The World Set Free
The World Set Free (1914). In The Shape of Things
to Come (1933) the impending World War and cities destroyed by aerial
bombardment was depicted. However, he didn't stop advocating for
the establishment of a futures science. In a 1933
BBC broadcast he
called for the establishment of "Departments and Professors of
Foresight", foreshadowing the development of modern academic futures
studies by approximately 40 years.
At the beginning of the 20th century future works were often shaped by
political forces and turmoil. The WWI era led to adoption of futures
thinking in institutions throughout Europe. The
Russian Revolution led
to the 1921 establishment of the Soviet Union’s Gosplan, or State
Planning Committee, which was active until the dissolution of the
Gosplan was responsible for economic planning and
created plans in five year increments to govern the economy. One of
the first Soviet dissidents, Yevgeny Zamyatin, published the first
dystopian novel, We, in 1921. The science fiction and political satire
featured a future police state and was the first work censored by the
Soviet censorship board, leading to Zamyatin’s political exile.
In the United States, President Hoover created the Research Committee
Social Trends, which produced a report in 1933. The head of the
committee, William F. Ogburn, analyzed the past to chart trends and
project those trends into the future, with a focus on technology.
Similar technique was used during The Great Depression, with the
addition of alternative futures and a set of likely outcomes that
resulted in the creation of
Social Security and the Tennessee Valley
The WWII era emphasized the growing need for foresight. The Nazis used
strategic plans to unify and mobilize their society with a focus on
creating a fascist utopia. This planning and the subsequent war forced
global leaders to create their own strategic plans in response. The
post-war era saw the creation of numerous nation states with complex
political alliances and was further complicated by the introduction of
Project RAND was created in 1946 as joint project between the United
States Army Air Forces and the Douglas
Aircraft Company, and later
incorporated as the non-profit RAND corporation. Their objective was
the future of weapons, and long-range planning to meet future threats.
Their work has formed the basis of US strategy and policy in regard to
nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and the space race.
Futures studies truly emerged as an academic discipline in the
mid-1960s. First-generation futurists included Herman Kahn, an
Cold War strategist for the
RAND Corporation who wrote On
Thermonuclear War (1960), Thinking about the unthinkable (1962) and
Year 2000: a framework for speculation on the next thirty-three
years (1967); Bertrand de Jouvenel, a French economist who founded
Futuribles International in 1960; and Dennis Gabor, a
Hungarian-British scientist who wrote Inventing the
Future (1963) and
The Mature Society. A View of the
Future studies had a parallel origin with the birth of systems science
in academia, and with the idea of national economic and political
planning, most notably in
France and the Soviet Union. In the
1950s, the people of
France were continuing to reconstruct their
war-torn country. In the process, French scholars, philosophers,
writers, and artists searched for what could constitute a more
positive future for humanity. The
Soviet Union similarly participated
in postwar rebuilding, but did so in the context of an established
national economic planning process, which also required a long-term,
systemic statement of social goals.
Future studies was therefore
primarily engaged in national planning, and the construction of
Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring, which helped launch the
environmental movement and a new direction for futures research.
By contrast, in the United States, futures studies as a discipline
emerged from the successful application of the tools and perspectives
of systems analysis, especially with regard to quartermastering the
war-effort. The Society for General Systems Research, founded in 1955,
sought to understand cybernetics and the practical application of
systems sciences, greatly influencing the U.S. foresight community.
These differing origins account for an initial schism between futures
studies in America and futures studies in Europe: U.S. practitioners
focused on applied projects, quantitative tools and systems analysis,
whereas Europeans preferred to investigate the long-range future of
humanity and the Earth, what might constitute that future, what
symbols and semantics might express it, and who might articulate
By the 1960s, academics, philosophers, writers and artists across the
globe had begun to explore enough future scenarios so as to fashion a
common dialogue. Several of the most notable writers to emerge during
this era include: sociologist Fred L. Polak, whose work Images of the
Future (1961) discusses the importance of images to society’s
creation of the future; Marshall McLuhan, whose The Gutenberg Galaxy
(1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) put forth
his theories on how technologies change our cognitive understanding;
and Rachel Carson’s The
Silent Spring (1962) which was hugely
influential not only to future studies but also the creation of the
Inventors such as
Buckminster Fuller also began highlighting the
effect technology might have on global trends as time progressed.
By the 1970s there was an obvious shift in the use and development of
futures studies; it’s focus was no longer exclusive to governments
and militaries. Instead, it embraced a wide array of technologies,
social issues, and concerns. This discussion on the intersection of
population growth, resource availability and use, economic growth,
quality of life, and environmental sustainability – referred to
as the "global problematique" – came to wide public attention
with the publication of Limits to Growth, a study sponsored by the
Rome which detailed the results of a computer simulation of
the future based on economic and population growth. Public
investment in the future was further enhanced by the publication of
Alvin Toffler’s bestseller
Future Shock (1970), and its exploration
of how great amounts of change can overwhelm people and create a
social paralysis due to “information overload.”
International dialogue became institutionalized in the form of the
World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), founded in 1967, with the
noted sociologist, Johan Galtung, serving as its first president. In
the United States, the publisher Edward Cornish, concerned with these
issues, started the World
Future Society, an organization focused more
on interested laypeople.
The first doctoral program on the Study of the Future, was founded in
1969 at the University Of Massachusetts by Christoper Dede and Billy
Rojas.The next graduate program (Master's degree) was also founded by
Christopher Dede in 1975 at the University of Houston–Clear
Lake,. Oliver Markley of SRI (now SRI International) was hired in
1978 to move the program into a more applied and professional
direction. The program moved to the
University of Houston
University of Houston in 2007 and
renamed the degree to Foresight. The program has remained focused
on preparing professional futurists and providing high-quality
foresight training for individuals and organizations in business,
government, education, and non-profits. In 1976, the M.A. Program
in Public Policy in Alternative Futures at the University of Hawaii at
Manoa was established. The Hawaii program locates futures studies
within a pedagogical space defined by neo-Marxism, critical political
economic theory, and literary criticism. In the years following the
foundation of these two programs, single courses in Futures Studies at
all levels of education have proliferated, but complete programs occur
only rarely. In 2012, the Finland Futures Research Centre started a
master's degree Programme in Futures Studies at
Turku School of
Economics, a business school which is part of the University of Turku
in Turku, Finland.
As a transdisciplinary field, futures studies attracts generalists.
This transdisciplinary nature can also cause problems, owing to it
sometimes falling between the cracks of disciplinary boundaries; it
also has caused some difficulty in achieving recognition within the
traditional curricula of the sciences and the humanities. In contrast
to "Futures Studies" at the undergraduate level, some graduate
programs in strategic leadership or management offer masters or
doctorate programs in "strategic foresight" for mid-career
professionals, some even online. Nevertheless, comparatively few new
PhDs graduate in Futures Studies each year.
The field currently faces the great challenge of creating a coherent
conceptual framework, codified into a well-documented curriculum (or
curricula) featuring widely accepted and consistent concepts and
theoretical paradigms linked to quantitative and qualitative methods,
exemplars of those research methods, and guidelines for their ethical
and appropriate application within society. As an indication that
previously disparate intellectual dialogues have in fact started
converging into a recognizable discipline, at least six
solidly-researched and well-accepted first attempts to synthesize a
coherent framework for the field have appeared: Eleonora
Masini (sk)'s Why Futures Studies?, James Dator's Advancing
Futures Studies, Ziauddin Sardar's Rescuing all of our
Futures, Sohail Inayatullah's Questioning the future, Richard
A. Slaughter's The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, a collection
of essays by senior practitioners, and Wendell Bell's two-volume work,
The Foundations of Futures Studies.
Probability and predictability
Some aspects of the future, such as celestial mechanics, are highly
predictable, and may even be described by relatively simple
mathematical models. At present however, science has yielded only a
special minority of such "easy to predict" physical processes.
Theories such as chaos theory, nonlinear science and standard
evolutionary theory have allowed us to understand many complex systems
as contingent (sensitively dependent on complex environmental
conditions) and stochastic (random within constraints), making the
vast majority of future events unpredictable, in any specific case.
Not surprisingly, the tension between predictability and
unpredictability is a source of controversy and conflict among futures
studies scholars and practitioners. Some argue that the future is
essentially unpredictable, and that "the best way to predict the
future is to create it." Others believe, as Flechtheim, that advances
in science, probability, modeling and statistics will allow us to
continue to improve our understanding of probable futures, while this
area presently remains less well developed than methods for exploring
possible and preferable futures.
As an example, consider the process of electing the president of the
United States. At one level we observe that any U.S. citizen over 35
may run for president, so this process may appear too unconstrained
for useful prediction. Yet further investigation demonstrates that
only certain public individuals (current and former presidents and
vice presidents, senators, state governors, popular military
commanders, mayors of very large cities, etc.) receive the appropriate
"social credentials" that are historical prerequisites for election.
Thus with a minimum of effort at formulating the problem for
statistical prediction, a much reduced pool of candidates can be
described, improving our probabilistic foresight. Applying further
statistical intelligence to this problem, we can observe that in
certain election prediction markets such as the Iowa Electronic
Markets, reliable forecasts have been generated over long spans of
time and conditions, with results superior to individual experts or
polls. Such markets, which may be operated publicly or as an internal
market, are just one of several promising frontiers in predictive
Such improvements in the predictability of individual events do not
though, from a complexity theory viewpoint, address the
unpredictability inherent in dealing with entire systems, which emerge
from the interaction between multiple individual events.
Futurology is sometimes described by scientists as
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In terms of methodology, futures practitioners employ a wide range of
approaches, models and methods, in both theory and practice, many of
which are derived from or informed by other academic or professional
disciplines , including social sciences such as economics,
psychology, sociology, religious studies, cultural studies, history,
geography, and political science; physical and life sciences such as
physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology; mathematics, including
statistics, game theory and econometrics; applied disciplines such as
engineering, computer sciences, and business management (particularly
The largest internationally peer-reviewed collection of futures
research methods (1,300 pages) is Futures Research Methodology 3.0.
Each of the 37 methods or groups of methods contains: an executive
overview of each method’s history, description of the method,
primary and alternative usages, strengths and weaknesses, uses in
combination with other methods, and speculation about future evolution
of the method. Some also contain appendixes with applications, links
to software, and sources for further information.
Given its unique objectives and material, the practice of futures
studies only rarely features employment of the scientific method in
the sense of controlled, repeatable and verifiable experiments with
highly standardized methodologies. However, many futurists are
informed by scientific techniques or work primarily within scientific
domains. Borrowing from history, the futurist might project patterns
observed in past civilizations upon present-day society to model what
might happen in the future, or borrowing from technology, the futurist
may model possible social and cultural responses to an emerging
technology based on established principles of the diffusion of
innovation. In short, the futures practitioner enjoys the synergies of
an interdisciplinary laboratory.
As the plural term “futures” suggests, one of the fundamental
assumptions in futures studies is that the future is plural not
singular. That is, the future consists not of one inevitable future
that is to be “predicted,” but rather of multiple alternative
futures of varying likelihood which may be derived and described, and
about which it is impossible to say with certainty which one will
occur. The primary effort in futures studies, then, is to identify and
describe alternative futures in order to better understand the driving
forces of the present or the structural dynamics of a particular
subject or subjects. The exercise of identifying alternative futures
includes collecting quantitative and qualitative data about the
possibility, probability, and desirability of change. The plural term
"futures" in futures studies denotes both the rich variety of
alternative futures, including the subset of preferable futures
(normative futures), that can be studied, as well as the tenet that
the future is many.
At present, the general futures studies model has been summarized as
being concerned with "three Ps and a W", or possible, probable, and
preferable futures, plus wildcards, which are low probability but high
impact events (positive or negative). Many futurists, however, do not
use the wild card approach. Rather, they use a methodology called
Emerging Issues Analysis. It searches for the drivers of change,
issues that are likely to move from unknown to the known, from low
impact to high impact.
In terms of technique, futures practitioners originally concentrated
on extrapolating present technological, economic or social trends, or
on attempting to predict future trends. Over time, the discipline has
come to put more and more focus on the examination of social systems
and uncertainties, to the end of articulating scenarios. The practice
of scenario development facilitates the examination of worldviews and
assumptions through the causal layered analysis method (and others),
the creation of preferred visions of the future, and the use of
exercises such as backcasting to connect the present with alternative
futures. Apart from extrapolation and scenarios, many dozens of
methods and techniques are used in futures research (see below).
The general practice of futures studies also sometimes includes the
articulation of normative or preferred futures, and a major thread of
practice involves connecting both extrapolated (exploratory) and
normative research to assist individuals and organizations to model
preferred futures amid shifting social changes. Practitioners use
varying proportions of collaboration, creativity and research to
derive and define alternative futures, and to the degree that a
“preferred” future might be sought, especially in an
organizational context, techniques may also be deployed to develop
plans or strategies for directed future shaping or implementation of a
While some futurists are not concerned with assigning probability to
future scenarios, other futurists find probabilities useful in certain
situations, such as when probabilities stimulate thinking about
scenarios within organizations . When dealing with the three Ps and
a W model, estimates of probability are involved with two of the four
central concerns (discerning and classifying both probable and
wildcard events), while considering the range of possible futures,
recognizing the plurality of existing alternative futures,
characterizing and attempting to resolve normative disagreements on
the future, and envisioning and creating preferred futures are other
major areas of scholarship. Most estimates of probability in futures
studies are normative and qualitative, though significant progress on
statistical and quantitative methods (technology and information
growth curves, cliometrics, predictive psychology, prediction markets,
crowdvoting forecasts,[better source needed] etc.) has been made
in recent decades.
Main article: Futures techniques
Futures techniques or methodologies may be viewed as “frameworks for
making sense of data generated by structured processes to think about
the future”. There is no single set of methods that are
appropriate for all futures research. Different futures researchers
intentionally or unintentionally promote use of favored techniques
over a more structured approach. Selection of methods for use on
futures research projects has so far been dominated by the intuition
and insight of practitioners; but can better identify a balanced
selection of techniques via acknowledgement of foresight as a process
together with familiarity with the fundamental attributes of most
commonly used methods.
Futurists use a diverse range of forecasting methods including:
Causal layered analysis (CLA)
Education and Learning
Failure mode and effects analysis
Social network analysis
Shaping alternative futures
Futurists use scenarios – alternative possible futures –
as an important tool. To some extent, people can determine what they
consider probable or desirable using qualitative and quantitative
methods. By looking at a variety of possibilities one comes closer to
shaping the future, rather than merely predicting it. Shaping
alternative futures starts by establishing a number of scenarios.
Setting up scenarios takes place as a process with many stages. One of
those stages involves the study of trends. A trend persists long-term
and long-range; it affects many societal groups, grows slowly and
appears to have a profound basis. In contrast, a fad operates in the
short term, shows the vagaries of fashion, affects particular societal
groups, and spreads quickly but superficially.
Sample predicted futures range from predicted ecological catastrophes,
through a utopian future where the poorest human being lives in what
present-day observers would regard as wealth and comfort, through the
transformation of humanity into a posthuman life-form, to the
destruction of all life on
Earth in, say, a nanotechnological
Futurists have a decidedly mixed reputation and a patchy track record
at successful prediction. For reasons of convenience, they often
extrapolate present technical and societal trends and assume they will
develop at the same rate into the future; but technical progress and
social upheavals, in reality, take place in fits and starts and in
different areas at different rates.
Many 1950s futurists predicted commonplace space tourism by the year
2000, but ignored the possibilities of ubiquitous, cheap computers. On
the other hand, many forecasts have portrayed the future with some
degree of accuracy. Current futurists often present multiple scenarios
that help their audience envision what "may" occur instead of merely
"predicting the future". They claim that understanding potential
scenarios helps individuals and organizations prepare with
Many corporations use futurists as part of their risk management
strategy, for horizon scanning and emerging issues analysis, and to
identify wild cards – low probability, potentially high-impact
risks. Every successful and unsuccessful business engages in
futuring to some degree – for example in research and development,
innovation and market research, anticipating competitor behavior and
Weak signals, the future sign and wild cards
In futures research "weak signals" may be understood as advanced,
noisy and socially situated indicators of change in trends and systems
that constitute raw informational material for enabling anticipatory
action. There is some confusion about the definition of weak signal by
various researchers and consultants. Sometimes it is referred as
future oriented information, sometimes more like emerging issues. The
confusion has been partly clarified with the concept 'the future
sign', by separating signal, issue and interpretation of the future
A weak signal can be an early indicator of coming change, and an
example might also help clarify the confusion. On May 27, 2012,
hundreds of people gathered for a “Take the Flour Back”
demonstration at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK, to oppose a
publicly funded trial of genetically modified wheat. This was a weak
signal for a broader shift in consumer sentiment against genetically
modified foods. When Whole Foods mandated the labeling of GMOs in
2013, this non-GMO idea had already become a trend and was about to be
a topic of mainstream awareness.
"Wild cards" refer to low-probability and high-impact events, such as
existential risks. This concept may be embedded in standard foresight
projects and introduced into anticipatory decision-making activity in
order to increase the ability of social groups adapt to surprises
arising in turbulent business environments. Such sudden and unique
incidents might constitute turning points in the evolution of a
certain trend or system. Wild cards may or may not be announced by
weak signals, which are incomplete and fragmented data from which
relevant foresight information might be inferred. Sometimes,
mistakenly, wild cards and weak signals are considered as synonyms,
which they are not. One of the most often cited examples of a wild
card event in recent history is 9/11. Nothing had happened in the past
that could point to such a possibility and yet it had a huge impact on
everyday life in the United States, from simple tasks like how to
travel via airplane to deeper cultural values. Wild card events might
also be natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, which can force
the relocation of huge populations and wipe out entire crops to
completely disrupt the supply chain of many businesses. Although wild
card events can’t be predicted, after they occur it is often easy to
reflect back and convincingly explain why they happened.
A long-running tradition in various cultures, and especially in the
media, involves various spokespersons making predictions for the
upcoming year at the beginning of the year. These predictions
sometimes base themselves on current trends in culture (music, movies,
fashion, politics); sometimes they make hopeful guesses as to what
major events might take place over the course of the next year.
Some of these predictions come true as the year unfolds, though many
fail. When predicted events fail to take place, the authors of the
predictions often state that misinterpretation of the "signs" and
portents may explain the failure of the prediction.
Marketers have increasingly started to embrace futures studies, in an
effort to benefit from an increasingly competitive marketplace with
fast production cycles, using such techniques as trendspotting as
popularized by Faith Popcorn.[dubious – discuss]
Trend analysis and forecasting
Trends come in different sizes. A mega-trend extends over many
generations, and in cases of climate, mega-trends can cover periods
prior to human existence. They describe complex interactions between
many factors. The increase in population from the palaeolithic period
to the present provides an example.
Possible new trends grow from innovations, projects, beliefs or
actions that have the potential to grow and eventually go mainstream
in the future.
Very often, trends relate to one another the same way as a tree-trunk
relates to branches and twigs. For example, a well-documented movement
toward equality between men and women might represent a branch trend.
The trend toward reducing differences in the salaries of men and women
Western world could form a twig on that branch.
Life-cycle of a trend
When a potential trend gets enough confirmation in the various media,
surveys or questionnaires to show that it has an increasingly accepted
value, behavior or technology, it becomes accepted as a bona fide
trend. Trends can also gain confirmation by the existence of other
trends perceived as springing from the same branch. Some commentators
claim that when 15% to 25% of a given population integrates an
innovation, project, belief or action into their daily life then a
trend becomes mainstream.
General Hype Cycle used to visualize technological life stages of
maturity, adoption, and social application.
Life cycle of technologies
Because new advances in technology have the potential to reshape our
society, one of the jobs of a futurist is to follow these developments
and consider their implications. However, the latest innovations take
time to make an impact. Every new technology goes through its own life
cycle of maturity, adoption, and social application that must be taken
into consideration before a probable vision of the future can be
Gartner created their Hype Cycle to illustrate the phases a technology
moves through as it grows from research and development to mainstream
adoption. The unrealistic expectations and subsequent disillusionment
that virtual reality experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s is an
example of the middle phases encountered before a technology can begin
to be integrated into society.
Education in the field of futures studies has taken place for some
time. Beginning in the
United States of America in the 1960s, it has
since developed in many different countries. Futures education
encourages the use of concepts, tools and processes that allow
students to think long-term, consequentially, and imaginatively. It
generally helps students to:
conceptualize more just and sustainable human and planetary futures.
develop knowledge and skills of methods and tools used to help people
understand, map, and influence the future by exploring probable and
understand the dynamics and influence that human, social and
ecological systems have on alternative futures.
conscientize responsibility and action on the part of students toward
creating better futures.
Thorough documentation of the history of futures education exists, for
example in the work of
Richard A. Slaughter (2004), David Hicks,
Ivana Milojević to name a few.
While futures studies remains a relatively new academic tradition,
numerous tertiary institutions around the world teach it. These vary
from small programs, or universities with just one or two classes, to
programs that offer certificates and incorporate futures studies into
other degrees, (for example in planning, business, environmental
studies, economics, development studies, science and technology
studies). Various formal Masters-level programs exist on six
continents. Finally, doctoral dissertations around the world have
incorporated futures studies. A recent survey documented approximately
50 cases of futures studies at the tertiary level.
The largest Futures Studies program in the world is at Tamkang
University, Taiwan. Futures Studies is a required
course at the undergraduate level, with between three and five
thousand students taking classes on an annual basis. Housed in the
Graduate Institute of Futures Studies is an MA Program. Only ten
students are accepted annually in the program. Associated with the
program is the Journal of Futures Studies.
The longest running
Future Studies program in North America was
established in 1975 at the University of Houston–Clear Lake. It
moved to the
University of Houston
University of Houston in 2007 and renamed the degree to
Foresight. The program was established on the belief that if history
is studied and taught in an academic setting, then so should the
future. Its mission is to prepare professional futurists. The
curriculum incorporates a blend of the essential theory, a framework
and methods for doing the work, and a focus on application for clients
in business, government, nonprofits, and society in general.
As of 2003, over 40 tertiary education establishments around the world
were delivering one or more courses in futures studies. The World
Futures Studies Federation has a comprehensive survey of global
futures programs and courses. The Acceleration Studies Foundation
maintains an annotated list of primary and secondary graduate futures
Organizations such as Teach The
Future also aim to promote future
studies in the secondary school curriculum in order to develop
structured approaches to thinking about the future in public school
students. The rationale is that a sophisticated approach to thinking
about, anticipating, and planning for the future is a core skill
requirement that every student should have, similar to literacy and
Applications of foresight and specific fields
General applicability and use of foresight products
Several corporations and government agencies utilize foresight
products to both better understand potential risks and prepare for
potential opportunities. Several government agencies publish material
for internal stakeholders as well as make that material available to
broader public. Examples of this include the US Congressional Budget
Office long term budget projections, the National Intelligence
Center, and the United Kingdom Government Office for Science.
Much of this material is used by policy makers to inform policy
decisions and government agencies to develop long term plan. Several
corporations, particularly those with long product development
lifecycles, utilize foresight and future studies products and
practitioners in the development of their business strategies. The
Shell Corporation is one such entity. Foresight professionals and
their tools are increasingly being utilized in both the private and
public areas to help leaders deal with an increasingly complex and
Fashion and design
Foresight and futures thinking are rapidly being adopted by the design
industry to insure more sustainable, robust and humanistic products.
Design, much like future studies is an interdisciplinary field that
considers global trends, challenges and opportunities to foster
innovation. Designers are thus adopting futures methodologies
including scenarios, trend forecasting, and futures research.
Holistic thinking that incorporates strategic, innovative and
anticipatory solutions gives designers the tools necessary to navigate
complex problems and develop novel future enhancing and visionary
The Association for Professional Futurists has also held meetings
discussing the ways in which Design Thinking and Futures Thinking
intersect and benefit one another.
Imperial cycles and world order
Imperial cycles represent an "expanding pulsation" of "mathematically
describable" macro-historic trend. The List of largest empires
contains imperial record progression in terms of territory or
percentage of world population under single imperial rule.
K'ang Yu-wei and French demographer Georges Vacher
de Lapouge in the late 19th century were the first to stress that the
trend cannot proceed indefinitely on the definite surface of the
globe. The trend is bound to culminate in a world empire. K'ang Yu-wei
estimated that the matter will be decided in the contest between
Washington and Berlin;
Vacher de Lapouge foresaw this contest between
United States and Russia and estimated the chance of the United
States higher. Both published their futures studies before H. G.
Wells introduced the science of future in his
Four later anthropologists—Hornell Hart, Raoul Naroll, Louis Morano,
and Robert Carneiro—researched the expanding imperial cycles. They
reached the same conclusion that a world empire is not only
pre-determined but close at hand and attempted to estimate the time of
As foresight has expanded to include a broader range of social
concerns all levels and types of education have been addressed,
including formal and informal education. Many countries are beginning
to implement Foresight in their Education policy. A few programs are
Finland's FinnSight 2015 - Implementation began in 2006 and though
at the time was not referred to as "Foresight" they tend to display
the characteristics of a foresight program.
Singapore's Ministry of Education Master plan for Information
Technology in Education - This third Masterplan continues what was
built on in the 1st and 2nd plans to transform learning environments
to equip students to compete in a knowledge economy.
Future Society, founded in 1966, is the largest and
longest-running community of futurists in the world. WFS established
and built futurism from the ground up—through publications, global
summits, and advisory roles to world leaders in business and
By the early 2000s, educators began to independently institute futures
studies (sometimes referred to as futures thinking) lessons in K-12
classroom environments. To meet the need, non-profit futures
organizations designed curriculum plans to supply educators with
materials on the topic. Many of the curriculum plans were developed to
meet common core standards.
Futures studies education methods for
youth typically include age-appropriate collaborative activities,
games, systems thinking and scenario building exercises.
Wendell Bell and Ed Cornish acknowledge science fiction as a catalyst
to future studies, conjuring up visions of tomorrow. Science
fiction’s potential to provide an “imaginative social vision” is
its contribution to futures studies and public perspective. Productive
sci-fi presents plausible, normative scenarios. Jim Dator
attributes the foundational concepts of “images of the future” to
Wendell Bell, for clarifying Fred Polak’s concept in Images of the
Future, as it applies to futures studies. Similar to futures
studies’ scenarios thinking, empirically supported visions of the
future are a window into what the future could be. Pamela Sargent
Science fiction reflects attitudes typical of this
century.” She gives a brief history of impactful sci-fi
publications, like The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov and
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. Alternate perspectives
validate sci-fi as part of the fuzzy “images of the future.”
However, the challenge is the lack of consistent futures research
based literature frameworks. Ian Miles reviews The New
Science Fiction,” identifying ways
and Futures Studies “cross-fertilize, as well as the ways in which
they differ distinctly.”
Science Fiction cannot be simply considered
fictionalized Futures Studies. It may have aims other than
“prediction, and be no more concerned with shaping the future than
any other genre of literature.”  It is not to be understood as
an explicit pillar of futures studies, due to its inconsistency of
integrated futures research. Additionally, Dennis Livingston, a
literature and Futures journal critic says, “The depiction of truly
alternative societies has not been one of science fiction’s strong
points, especially” preferred, normative envisages.
Several governments have formalized strategic foresight agencies to
encourage long range strategic societal planning, with most notable
are the governments of Singapore, Finland, and the United Arab
Emirates. Other governments with strategic foresight agencies include
Canada's Policy Horizons Canada and the Malaysia's Malaysian Foresight
The Singapore government's Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF) is part
of the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister's Office. Their
mission is to position the Singapore government to navigate emerging
strategic challenges and harness potential opportunities.
Singapore’s early formal efforts in strategic foresight began in
1991 with the establishment of the Risk Detection and Scenario
Planning Office in the Ministry of Defence. In addition to the
CSF, the Singapore government has established the Strategic Futures
Network, which brings together deputy secretary-level officers and
foresight units across the government to discuss emerging trends that
may have implications for Singapore.
Since the 1990s, Finland has integrated strategic foresight within the
parliament and Prime Minister’s Office. The government is
required to present a “Report of the Future” each parliamentary
term for review by the parliamentary Committee for the Future. Led by
the Prime Minister’s Office, the Government Foresight Group
coordinates the government’s foresight efforts. Futures research
is supported by the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (established
in 1980), the Finland Futures Research Centre (established in 1992),
and the Finland Futures Academy (established in 1998) in coordination
with foresight units in various government agencies.
In the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice
President and Ruler of Dubai, announced in September 2016 that all
government ministries were to appoint Directors of
Sheikh Mohammed described the UAE Strategy for the
Future as an
"integrated strategy to forecast our nation’s future, aiming to
anticipate challenges and seize opportunities". The Ministry of
Cabinet Affairs and Future(MOCAF) is mandated with crafting the UAE
Strategy for the
Future and is responsible for the portfolio of the
future of UAE.
Risk analysis and management
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December
Further information: Global catastrophic risk
Foresight is also applied when studying potential risks to society and
how to effectively deal with them. These risks may arise from
the development and adoption of emerging technologies and/or social
Special interest lies on hypothetical future events that have
the potential to damage human well-being on a global scale - global
catastrophic risks. Such events may cripple or destroy modern
civilization or, in the case of existential risks, even cause human
extinction. Potential global catastrophic risks include but are
not limited to hostile artificial intelligence, nanotechnology
weapons, climate change, nuclear warfare, total war, and pandemics.
Houston Foresight Program, University of Houston
Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies
The Foresight Programme, London, Department for Business, Innovation
The Futures Academy, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland
Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at
Institute for Futures Research, University of Stellenbosch, South
Institute for the Future, Palo Alto, California
National Intelligence Council, Office of the Director of National
Intelligence, Washington DC
Machine Intelligence Research Institute
Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), Berkeley CA
(Previously known as the Singularity Institute )
Tellus Institute, Boston MA
World Futures Studies Federation, world
Future of Humanity Institute
Main article: Futurist
Several authors have become recognized as futurists. They research
trends, particularly in technology, and write their observations,
conclusions, and predictions. In earlier eras, many futurists were at
academic institutions. John McHale, author of The
Future of the
Future, published a 'Futures Directory', and directed a think tank
called The Centre For Integrative Studies at a university. Futurists
have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers, with
examples including Alvin Toffler,
John Naisbitt and Patrick Dixon.
Frank Feather is a business speaker that presents himself as a
pragmatic futurist. Some futurists have commonalities with science
fiction, and some science-fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke,
are known as futurists. In the introduction to The
Left Hand of Darkness,
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin distinguished futurists from
novelists, writing of the study as the business of prophets,
clairvoyants, and futurists. In her words, "a novelist's business is
A survey of 108 futurists found that they share a variety of
assumptions, including in their description of the present as a
critical moment in an historical transformation, in their recognition
and belief in complexity, and in their being motivated by change and
having a desire for an active role bringing change (versus simply
being involved in forecasting).
Main article: List of futurologists
Peter C. Bishop
Arthur C. Clarke
Richard A. Clarke
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (Flight)
Nicolas De Santis
R. P. Eddy
Hugo de Garis
Aldous Huxley ("Brave New World")
Stanislaw Lem (″Summa Technologiae″)
George Orwell ("Nineteen Eighty-Four")
Kim Stanley Robinson
Michel Saloff Coste
Mark Stevenson ("An Optimist's Tour of the Future")
Alvin Toffler ("
Jules Verne ("From the
Earth to the Moon")
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells (World Brain)
APF's list of most significant futures works
The Association for Professional Futurists recognizes the Most
Significant Futures Works for the purpose of identifying and rewarding
the work of foresight professionals and others whose work illuminates
aspects of the future.
L’Art de la conjecture (The Art of Conjecture) (Bertrand de
Limits to Growth
Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows) (2008)
The Art of the Long View (Peter Schwartz (futurist)) (2008)
Foundations of Futures Studies (Wendell Bell) (2008)
The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human
Intelligence (Ray Kurzweil) (2008)
Futures Research Methodology Version 2.0 (Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J.
Gordon, eds.) (2008)
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Jared Diamond)
The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Richard Slaughter, ed.) (2008)
State of the World (book series) (Worldwatch Institute) (2008)
The State of the
Future (Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J. Gordon) (2008)
The Black Swan (Taleb book) (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) (2012)
The Biggest Wake up Call In
History (Richard Slaughter) (2012)
Prosperity Without Growth (Tim Jackson (economist)) (2012)
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Jørgen Randers)
Food for the City (Stroom den Haag) (2013)
Teaching About the
Andy Hines and Peter C. Bishop) (2014)
The Five Futures Glasses: How to See and Understand More of the Future
with the Eltville Model (Pero Micic) (2014)
Future: All that Matters (Ziauddin Sardar) (2014)
Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World (Emma Marris)
What Works: Case Studies in the Practice of Foresight (Sohail
Other notable foresight books
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of
Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and
Time Travel (Michio Kaku)
Physics of the Future: How
Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our
Daily Lives by the
Year 2100 (Michio Kaku)
Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance,
and Empower the Mind (Michio Kaku)
The Age of Intelligent Machines
The Age of Intelligent Machines (Ray Kurzweil)
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (Ray Kurzweil)
Future Is Better Than You Think (Peter Diamandis)
Brave New World
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st
Century (George Friedman)
Future Shock (Alvin Toffler)
Thinking About the
Andy Hines and Peter C. Bishop)
The Third Wave (Alvin Toffler)
Futurewise: Six Faces of Global Change (Patrick Dixon)
Our Final Hour (Martin Rees)
The Revenge of Gaia
The Revenge of Gaia (James Lovelock)
The Skeptical Environmentalist
The Skeptical Environmentalist (Bjørn Lomborg)
Surviving 1,000 Centuries Can We Do It? (Roger-Maurice Bonnet and
Paris in the Twentieth
Century (Jules Verne)
The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto (
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels)
An Anarchist FAQ
An Anarchist FAQ (Iain McKay)
Homo Deus: A Brief
History of Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari, 2016)
Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes, Richard A. Clarke
and R. P. Eddy
Periodicals and journals
Futures & Foresight Science
Journal of Futures Studies
World Futures Review
Technological Forecasting and
International Journal of Forecasting
Futurist (magazine) (World
Foresight professional networks
World Futures Studies Federation
Association of Professional Futurists
Public-sector foresight organizations
National Intelligence Council
NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts
Government Office for
Science (United Kingdom)
MiGHT - Malaysian Industry Government Group for High Technology
Non-governmental foresight organizations
Club of Rome
Institute for the Future
Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies
The Arlington Institute
The Venus Project
Long Now Foundation
Machine Intelligence Research Institute
Strategic Foresight Group
Future of Humanity Institute
Project 2049 Institute
Future Council, Germany
Acceleration Studies Foundation 
List of emerging technologies
Human genetic engineering
Outline of futures studies
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BBC NEWS - UK - Move to new planet, says Hawking". bbc.co.uk.
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Futurology
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Futures studies
Future at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Far future in religion
Far future in science fiction and popular culture
Timeline of the far future
Eternity of the world
Unit of time
Daylight saving time
History of timekeeping devices
sundial markup schema
Time and fate deities
Wheel of time
Philosophy of time
A-series and B-series
B-theory of time
Multiple time dimensions
Static interpretation of time
The Unreality of Time
and use of time
Time-based currency (time banking)
Time value of money
Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow
Geological history of Earth
Absolute time and space
Arrow of time
Theory of relativity
Time translation symmetry
Time reversal symmetry
Dating methodologies in archaeology