Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Wed 30 Jan 13 13:15
Scott, Bruce -- the demographics analogy feels spot-on. In my own scenario and world-building work, creating just for myself or to undergird an independent project, that's the approach I like to take (and Bruce, for the record, I am again in awe of your prose -- you capture that 2080 feeling in a few short sentences in a way I only wish I could). For client-facing stuff, as a working futurist, this approach has its risks. Most of the time, the scenarios and forecasts are created at least in part by the clients in workshops, and they're usually not as well-versed in the climate science as we are. Trying to build climate change in as a context element, affecting everything, can too easily lead to it disappearing into the background, or functionally replaced by something like "sustainability." Pulling it out and making it an explicit driver is more likely to push the clients into thinking about it as a real issue -- but here the risk is making it seem like an exogenous factor outside of our influence. These risks *can* be avoided, but it's something that I have to give close attention over the course of the engagement. That's the thing about being a working futurist: I have to balance an ability to think big, think philosophically about the possible futures we face with the practical, hands-on work of using forecasts as a tool for organizations making present-day decisions. I can't just dismiss either one. The practical stuff pays the mortgage, while the philosophical stuff makes the practical side meaningful. <keta>, thank you for those links. It's good to remember that "adaptation" has a strong emotional and psychological component, that it's not simply a mechanical process. <jonl>, one thing that IFTF has been doing lately that I'm extremely pleased with/proud of is a real effort to build new models of 21st century governance. The recently-concluded "connected citizens" digital workshop was a remarkable bit of idea generation: http://www.iftf.org/future-now/article-detail/congrats-to-all-connected-citize n-players/ One thing that keeps showing up as we consider many of these big issues: the people who hold political/economic power are the ones who stand to lose if we take real, immediate action. It's rare for the incumbent powers to willingly give up -- but it does happen. Men voting in the US to extend the vote to women; Gorbachev dissolving the Soviet Union. It might be useful to dig into these kinds of events to see what we can learn.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 31 Jan 13 09:13
Well, if being eloquent about reality can fix it, then maybe I can preach to Brother Fire like Saint Francis did, and the smokestacks will shut off just like that!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Feb 13 13:14
It's worth a shot. One of the problems I have with futurism (or future studies, futurology, forecasting, prediction, etc.) is that it's inherently a high level exercise that can't get much into the details where, as we all know, the devil resides. The best hard science fiction does get into the details somewhat, and can be useful in steering our assumptions and setting our expectations, but it doesn't focus on problem resolution. I like the concept of design fiction, ficton that has a deliverable. Viridian design was useful in coming at climate change from a different angle, not hand-wringing or gut-wrenching environmentalism, but a design movement that could probe for "bright green" solutions. Then again, 2012 was the best year ever, I hear. http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-week/leading-article/8789981/glad-tidings/
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Sun 3 Feb 13 10:51
The beauty of a scenario approach with multiple simultaneous futures is that you can get into the weeds of details a bit without losing too much of the forecast. It's a delicate thing, though; I've seen far too many scenarios (including some of my own) that ultimately read like bad science fiction: flat, uninteresting characters doing boring things in a world that's overly-detailed in its descriptions of minutiae. As I understand it, in science fiction you build the speculative world to service the story; with scenarios, you build a story to service the speculative world. Two things unrelated to this. The first is that, as I may have mentioned earlier in this conversation, I've been going through what is now a longer-than-a-month-long arthritis flare-up, and occasionally that leaves me without much energy for doing things such as writing. Apologies for the sporadic disappearances. The second, and hopefully more interesting, is that in about a month I'll be heading to the DC area to participate in a government-sponsored exercise looking at the potential drivers and signals of non-state use of chemical/biological weapons. I'm not an expert in the field, so what I'm bringing to the table is a facility with thinking through implications, making connections, and articulating different future possibilities. This is one of the things that makes being a futurist fun. Not all of the work is the same "let's help a big company get bigger" corporate work. Sometimes you get to work on stuff that's even more nightmarish.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 3 Feb 13 17:00
How do you prepare for something like that?
From Paul Raven via E-mail (captward) Mon 4 Feb 13 03:01
Jamais; "As I understand it, in science fiction you build the speculative world to service the story; with scenarios, you build a story to service the speculative world." I just spent the whole weekend putting together a presentation that argues exactly this point over the course of about 25 minutes; you just did it in a sentence. So while I'm a bit irked at my own lack of concision, I'm kinda relieved to find I hadn't come to an outlying conclusion. :) (That said, and detouring slightly into sf criticism mode, I'd argue that the "world extrapolated from the novum" mode of sf is pretty antiquated by this point, and largely only found in short stories published by the 'Big Three' magazines. That said, they're predominantly being replaced by more literary work that sidelines the speculative-exploration side of things, but hey, I guess the Singularitarian lobby has stepped up to fill the boosterism gap as far as outlandish Panglossian skiffy is concerned... )
Gail (gail) Mon 4 Feb 13 09:47
Thanks for Paul for emailing the comment, and now as a bystander I need help. I get "Panglossian" since I read Candide long ago, but can anybody around here parse "outlandish Panglossian skiffy" please? Not following...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 4 Feb 13 12:43
Science fiction derived from baseless optimism. ("Skiffy" a rendering of "sci-fi").
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 4 Feb 13 13:30
> How do you prepare for something like that? Increase my dose of anti-depressants. Try to catch up on some of the relevant literature on the state of chem/bio weapons (in my case, having a friend from college who went on to become the executive director of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists helps). But for the most part, my role in this is not to be an expert in the weapons or even the non-state actors, but to listen for ways to make otherwise hard-to-spot connections. Paul: Would you really say that big world building is no longer part of big time SF? It may be my own reading biases at work, but Charlie Stross, Iain Banks, and Vernon Vinge all seem to still be at it. Gail: "...outlandish Panglossian skiffy" = science fiction (scifi=skiffy) that portrays ridiculously wonderful or transformative futures, largely without consideration of downsides, problems, or bugs in the system.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 5 Feb 13 09:03
Got it. Towards utopian rather than towards distopian. Thanks.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Tue 5 Feb 13 09:38
To be careful, it's going towards an unmoored, irrational utopianism. We should be careful not to sweep away all positive future scenarios at the same time; some are more plausible than others.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 6 Feb 13 07:12
Funny, I just happened to reread Roger Zelazny's The Last Defender of Camelot last night. Summary: Lancelot lives 1000 years and is there when Merlin wakes up in the present day. Merlin is ready to go right back to utopian worldbuilding and Lancelot says, not so fast, human nature has not changed much, the world is way too complex now, and a pure idealist with power will end up doing way more harm than good. I wanted to add another to my list to look at for places to start now - Christopher Alexander, the architect, author of A Pattern Language. Especially look at the last chapters of A Luminous Ground, Book 4 of his Nature of Order. In those chapters he argues that you can "feel" order (the presence or absence of "living structures"), and in fact that one of a designer's most practical tools is honing one's attention to how the abstract rules applied to the design result or dont result in an emotional substance. ><keta>, thank you for those links. It's good to remember that "adaptation" has a strong emotional and psychological component, that it's not simply a mechanical process. Thanks for putting my comment in that context. I personally don't think you can separate the two, but the reality is that most everyone begins with the assumption that they are self--evidently separate. That's what got me to thinking and remembering Alexander.
From Scott Smith via E-Mail (captward) Wed 6 Feb 13 07:26
amaisyou're correct when you point out the dangers of a binary approach to drivers. Subtlety, and knowing when to surface an issue and when to deal with it in the background are where the skills come in. Forecasting in this sense isn't a machine process. It also depends on the method or tool being used. Even scenarios can be a little too binary. It's more analogous to cookingknowing who you want to push with new flavors, and who has a bland palate. Knowing when and how to foreground the issue of climate change is important, just as knowing when aging (to use my earlier example) is a critical driver and when it's more of a background factor. Not all drivers are created equal in all circumstances. I agree that in some situations, 'sustainability' can be where facing up to climate change goes to die, much like hiding the need for alternatives behind 'resilience'. Another important skill is knowing when to quietly block the escape routes so critical, in some cases existential, issues aren't able to be swept away or sugar coated. To rephrase my original response: climate change is now a given (we're deep into the process of changing), and how we treat that given in forecasting is driven by context. Great stuff by the way.
. (mirmir) Thu 7 Feb 13 11:05
hello <cascio> do you venture any opinions about the shape of the future social ethos? to put another way, do you think the current social ethos of technique & engineering will control the consensus in say, 2050?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Thu 7 Feb 13 13:50
Hi <mirmir>. That's an interesting question, if I'm interpreting it correctly -- would you mind saying a little bit more about what you mean?
. (mirmir) Thu 7 Feb 13 15:57
if i have interpreted your previous posts correctly--and please correct me if i haven't-- there is a current scientific and materialist, can-do, engineering and technical ethos as to how our society agrees to tackle our immediate and looming challenges. and i wonder if you think this controlling consensus will hold through the next 50 years.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 8 Feb 13 08:36
Jamias, along those same lines, how about the future in terms of the ways we manipulate the very data we use to find and forecast trends, along with the shift to mobile as the 'seventh media' (as outlined by Tomi Ahonen. I caught this article by Wired, about the coming changes in what is being termed the 'worldstream': http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/02/the-end-of-the-web-computers-and-search-a s-we-know-it/
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 11 Feb 13 11:45
Hi folks. Sorry for the sudden silence. <mirmir>, the "controlling consensus" will almost certainly be scientific, but the engineering and technical mindset will very likely change. Replace engineering and [hard, material] technology with biology and ecosystems. The science is still there, but the perspective is more Rachel Armstrong than Elon Musk. <tcn>, I suspect we're still in the early days of figuring out how to co-exist with the (soon to be) zettabytes of information we create. Indexing, search, the Google-type interactions are fine, but are limited -- they're becoming as clumsy as the typical file/directory model for hard drive filesystems. We need something that can spot subtle, second and third-order connections. This would probably be considered AI, but the question is whether building an Artificial Intuition system would lead to something more profound.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 11 Feb 13 12:14
Jamais, do you use game theory in planning strategies for future scenarios?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 11 Feb 13 12:32
I don't, but I know that there are some more quantitatively-focused foresight strategists who do. I take a more inductive/abductive approach. I haven't seen good evidence (yet) that a more quantitative, formally-structured methodology obtains significantly better results. It will happen at some point, possibly soon.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Tue 12 Feb 13 15:01
Just FYI: I have a new essay at the University of Minnesota's new environmental magazine Ensia -- "Shaping the Anthropocene" http://ensia.com/voices/shaping-the-anthropocene/ Two bits of phrasing I use in the piece have already started to show up in people's comments about the essay: "Anthropoforming" and "the rats & kudzu future."
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 13 Feb 13 07:38
Sobering. Hadn't realized we were that far gone. But, it's good to face the realities of scenarios ahead. Thanks for that.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Feb 13 18:46
Many thanks to Jamais Cascio for taking so much time with us. Jamais is working on a book, and we hope to have him back when it's published. Meanwhile, you can find more from Jamais at his blog, http://openthefuture.com.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Thu 21 Feb 13 19:06
Thanks for the conversation, folks! And thank you, Jon, for the invitation.
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