World Future Society Conference 2010

This is the 3rd year I’ve attended the WFS Conference and it’s a difficult event to describe.  You might imagine a collection of Nostradamus-like individuals, making predictions about the future, and I’ll admit it; this conference does have a larger proportion of older, bearded men than most conferences I attend.  However, the vast majority of attendees are completely serious professionals who are in the business of making informed predictions and hedging bets against uncertainty.  All of us participate in futuring – at least all of us that have ever made a budget or participated in some kind of strategic planning. The difference between your futuring and the futuring that these folks do is that they’ve gone the extra mile to learn the tools of long-term foresight planning.

What follows are the snippets of wisdom (mostly from tweets) that I collected at this year’s WFS Conference.

WFS: Scenario Building Workshop (Adam Gordon, @FutureSavvy)

Scenario planning is used when your institution is not governed by “well-behaved change.”  The idea is not to make a single prediction about what will happen in the future, but to explore the options, looking for commonalities in the cone of plausibility.

  • If you’d like to see the slides from the Scenario Planning workshop, here’s a link to a 2008 version of Adam Gordon’s presentation.
  • Well-behaved change happens in predictable environments: information rich, not prone to technology upheavals, well-established markets, stable players, high barriers to entry, a stable regulatory environment, consistent demand, or no great social pressures.
  • Badly behaved change: uncertain technology evolution, uncertain demand for products/services, uncertain performance of new business models, unstable macro-economic conditions (inflation, interest rates), shifting values, shifting morals, shifting preferences, shifting regulations.
  • Scenario planning is NOT determining the most likely outcome & planning for it, it IS assuming every important outcome might occur, and planning the best business options for each case.

WFS: Education Summit

I have hopes for what the WFS Education Summit could be … but it’s not there yet.  The problem is that the Education Summit is a mix of K-12/Higher Ed folks with no clear direction about whether the discussion is about teaching futuring skills or predicting the future of education and technology related to education.  Personally, I think that many conferences look at the “edge of learning” – what’s going to happen.  The specialty at the WFS Conference should be on linking educators who teach aspects of futuring skills in their educational programs.

With that in mind, here are some resources and links about Foresight/Futuring Education that might be helpful to you or your college:

If what you are looking for is really how to prepare graduates FOR the future, or introduce skills that will withstand the rapidly-shifting job market of the future, then you might find these links helpful:

WFS: Humans 2020 (Ramez Naam, @ramez)

  • Presentation on Humans in 2020 by @ramez can be found here.
  • It is acceptable in society to bring someone who is below the human baseline up to the baseline.  It is societally unacceptable to take someone AT (or above) the human baseline of intelligence and enhance it further.
  • It is considered socially acceptable to use medical intervention to improve lower cognitive abilities or to combat loss of cognitive function (especially as you age).
  • The same biological discoveries that cure disease are also the ones that can enhance humans. Power to heal = power to enhance.
  • Our genome is basically digital – it encodes us with a finite number of “bits” (ATCG). A gene sequencing facility looks like a server farm for a data center.
  • How much of who you are is coded by your genes? See slide #39.  [really, you should go look, it's shocking!]
  • Wouldn’t it suck if your parents make genetic decisions for you (code you for an artist) … but then you’re bitter your whole life.
  • Prediction: Parents WILL readily opt to do genetic manipulation to remove diseases.
  • Shuddering at the thought of a virus to carry genetic modification in adults. At the same time, if I can have a faster metabolism …

WFS: Internet Evolution (@Pew_Internet)

  • Two-thirds of adults are now using the cloud for something in their life. 61% of those adults are on social networks.
  • Bandwidth doubles every 2 years, but I would argue that it only doubles for those that already have it. The haves/have not gap widens.
  • Bumper stickers about the future of the Internet: The cloud is the 3rd phase of the Internet. -Mike Nelson [would love the rest of these, but I couldn't catch them fast enough and there were no slides or visuals to make it easier]
  • Nelson recommends reading “Let IT rise” from the Economist (subscription required).  You can get part of “Let IT rise” (Economist article) free here.
  • The cloud is going to be the platform that enables the Internet of things.  We will have 100s of net-connected devices. -Mike Nelson [... once again, what about the population that lacks broadband internet?]
  • Most of this presentation was simply results published on the Pew Research Center website (they have an RSS feed if you click on Subscribe in the upper right-hand corner). If you’ve never read their reports, you should start.

WFS: Building the Human Mind (Ray Kurzweil)

  • Note: You’ve probably seen Ray Kurzweil on TED Talks: How Technology Will Transform Us.  If not, go watch that, this was a more up-to-date version of that talk.
  • Whether you agree with the coming singularity or not, the research is certainly interesting.  If you go to KurzweilAI you can subscribe to receive all the links to the latest scientific research that support the eventual interface between humans and technology.  Prepare for the singularitweets. ;)  #
  • So many mentions of the exponential curves of invention … it’s so nice to hear in a presentation when you teach math. #wf10 # As a matter of fact, you could easily play a game of “Math Bingo” where you count the number of times the words exponential, log-log plots, or linear are used in a Kurzweil presentation.
  • How long do you go without updating the software you use? But we haven’t updated our genes in 1000 years.
  • “If this is all going to happen anyways, why don’t we sit back, party and let it happen .. because of course, then it WON’T happen.”
  • “The tools of disruptive change, in every field, are in everybody’s hands … FB, Google, all started by couple kids with laptops.”
  • Very cool animation on “The Law of Accelerating Returns” that takes us through history of technology. Wonder if it’s on the web? Anyone know?
  • Kurzweil is using a slide deck, but many of the slides are a mix of static images with an CG animation. Seamless and very cool. However, I’m not sure if the animations are distracting … do I stop listening when there’s an animation to watch? Hmmm.
  • I wonder if Kurzweil has a graph of the average amount of information we have to process as adults in each decade of human existence.
  • “Ignoring exponential progression would be a mistake [speaking about photovoltaic technologies]
  • In 15 years, according to models, we will be adding 1 year of life expectancy every year.
  • Kurzweil slides at http://www.KurzweilAI.net/pps/KurzweilPowerPoint and in a truly old-fashioned way, they will DOWNLOAD to your computer when you go there instead of bringing you to a site where they just play.  They wouldn’t OPEN on my computer, but I can confirm that they did download.

WFS: Levers of Change in Higher Education (Maria H. Andersen, @busynessgirl)

Thanks WFS staff for letting me do a fill-in presentation for a cancelled session. I am grateful for the opportunity to reach a wider audience!

WFS: The Future of Men and Women (Karen Moloney)

  • Housework is feminism’s final frontier. Very unequal distribution in the U.S.
  • Thought experiment: What would happen if there was a sex-specific pandemic?
  • Note: I’m not sure how much information I got from the talk, but it was well-designed and entertaining.  Plus I got a book suggestion to get the information I want. :)

WFS: Future of Faith: Conflict or Creativity (panel)

  • Cosmodeism: Evolution of the cosmos creates God- not God created the cosmos-that’s the proposition advanced by Tsvi Bisk (who made me flashback to sermons I listened to in my youth).
  • Some of the graphs about religion are available at AtlasOfGlobalChristianity (go to sample pages). They are great and I wonder if they’ve considered putting the data through Gapminder?  I think all libraries should buy this book – it is a great resource, but mere mortals? It might be out of our price range.
  • Did the influence of television shift the culture of religion? Good question. We’ll have to include this in our themed studies this fall.
  • Really enjoyed Rex Miller’s part of the Future of Faith talk, where he discussed the four “Ages” of religion: Oral, Print, Broadcast, and Digital [good speaker and presentation, would recommend]
  • How will religious groups get things done in the future? For 500 years we’ve relied on the institutional structure to get things done. The new “institution” is collaboration. The adaptive challenge will be dealing with the loss of the “institution”
  • Thought: Professional organizations are built around physical institutions (at least physical conferences) What does this shift mean for them?

WFS: Future of Academia (Bryan Alexander)

  • Unfortunately, I have no tweets from this talk, which was great.  I lent my WiFi to Bryan and didn’t want to burden the signal by using it myself.
  • Five Visions for Liberal Arts Campus (Scnearios) – which is a great thought experiment for those of you planning for the future of Higher Education (the prezi is here)
  • NITLE Predictions Market

Books, etc.

Just for Fun (other suggestions)

Conversations

The thing that makes the WFS conference so unique is that you are interacting with people from all over the world and from all sorts of different disciplines and professions.  In the same room at any presentation there are educators, military personnel, scientists, technology experts, authors, press representatives, students, business leaders, religious leaders, and of course, professional futurists.  The space between presentations is roomy (usually 30 minutes or more) and the conversations that you find yourself wandering in to are incredibly stimulating.  This year, I had several conversations that will push me to do even more reading and video watching (especially at the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) Archive … not even sure how to BEGIN here).

Final Thoughts

I attended three game design conferences this year, and the presenters are starting to have this tradition of making the second slide the games they’ve been playing recently.  In all seriousness, at WFS, I think the second slide should be the Science Fiction you’ve been reading recently.   After my experiences last year at WFS 2009, I wasn’t sure I would come back – the conversations and networking had been great, but the presentations in the general conference were mostly “misses.”  However, at WFS 2010, most of the presentations I attended were “hits” so I’m thinking that I’ll probably find a way to attend (and hopefully present) at WFS in Vancouver, July 8-10  in 2011.

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