Over the weekend of July 24-26, 2015, I attended the World Future 2015 conference in San Francisco, CA. Hosted by the World Future Society (WFS), one of the leading futurists communities, this annual gathering of futurists from around the world allows participants to learn new foresights skills, discuss current significant issues, and to explore topics outside of their immediate field of work.
New to futurism and taking my first steps into it at this conference, I was entirely thrilled by the fundamental concepts of futurism and eager to learn methods to bring back to my own work. I spent the entirety of that Thursday attending the “Trends +: From Insights to Integration” masterclass, and the following two days were spent catching as many sessions and speakers as possible, each falling into a variety of topics including Technology & Innovation, Business of Foresight, and Global Issues.
Join me in this recap of my conference highlights and takeaways, and jump into the comment sections with any thoughts or questions!
Note: Given the length of the recap, I’ve split it into 4 parts, each in a separate post. There is a Table of Contents at the bottom of each World Future 2015 post if you want to skip to specific parts.
What is a futurist?
President of the World Future Society, Amy Zalman, giving her opening remarks.
Futurism, a field still emerging into our corporate world, is the study of technological, environmental, societal, and political trends in conjunction with the use of strategic foresight to define probable future scenarios that better inform decision making. Futurists tend to view questions from a broad and unconfined perspective, allowing them more room for creativity than more traditional analytics would. These methods can apply to a wide range of topics, including technology, education, and media.
A futurist is not someone who predicts the future, but rather someone who will explain how a future scenario might develop and why certain factors could drive it there. Given the nature of such a task, it is impossible to assume that any one futurist’s view is entirely unbiased; but gaining perspectives from different biases results in a more realistic discussion outcome. For instance, take the the recently heated topic of the future of artificial intelligence. Without the pessimistic stance, we would likely not consider the risks associated with creating a powerful new super-intelligence. Yet without the optimistic stance, we would not be driven to create a new technology that could greatly benefit humanity in a variety of ways.
One notable tangent - I was surprised to learn that the majority of modern-day futurists were middle-aged, white males - this was even highlighted in the conference booklet:
Over the weekend, several of the few female attendants also made a point of highlighting this to me - including one who’s presence easily commanded a small discussion group I was part of and promptly cut off a man who had been repeatedly cutting me off. She later told me how great it was to see the rarity of a young woman involved in this community, and that she felt it was important to her to help make sure we were heard. Not even a week after the conference, a fantastic article was published that discussed the lack of gender diversity in the field.
Okay, back from the tangent! The World Future 2015 was a tremendously enriching experience, and since attending it I have already found myself incorporating these ways of thinking not only into my work, but into all facets of my life. We often put blockers on our own progress and innovation because we only think about what we already know and already see, but allowing our minds to open up to seemingly improbable or overwhelmingly far-off possibilities allows us so much more room for growth. All that we know today is a product of what we thought yesterday; logically if we want to reach our goals we must frame them in our vision of tomorrow.
With that, let’s move on to Part 2 and discuss the masterclass...