Hello fellow readers,
In this post I’ll introduce futurists, some people with a very special occupation.
Unfortunately, about half the population are dead from the neck up. I’ve found that one of the things that makes a successful company is only hiring alive people. If you continue with that, you can have a pretty good company.
I would dare to say that 95% of the world population lives aimlessly. They are predictable beings, following a well known path. We draw them dots on their maps and all they have to do is join the lines.
monkey see, monkey do!
A true no-brainer. Why look further, it’s the easy solution.
Everyday you hear the same types of conversations from the same type of people going through the same phases in their lives.
Even when they pitifully try to be unique by endorsing an emerging trend it just turns them into phonies. How many times have you noticed a fashion style infecting regions over a period of months.
Certainly, we have multiple ethnicities, cultures, morphologies, but the big idea is still relevant.
Just a bunch of walking clichés.
It doesn’t take much to get out of the mob, just creativity. Creativity is acting in unexpected ways, ways that weren’t on those well drawn lines.
The hard reality is that the percentage of living people won’t raise. Your average dude will always be your average dude. It’s way too comforting to know that everything will go well just by flowing through life without risks.
It’s an unconscious behavior. It’s what evolution has brought us, a safer way to our deathbeds.
If everyone is so straight forward why not use and abuse it? That’s what the brain waves of some of the smartest persons on earth do, the futurists.
Take a step back.
Take a BIG step back.
Can you foresee where our civilization is going? Can you get out of the current mindset, account for what it is and find all its blind spots? Can you say something about our future that isn’t already known by all of us? Can you see the big movements and tell us where this is leading? What is the masses looking for, what are their current and future needs? What technology will spurt out?
This is what futurists do, they are the visionaries of their time. They are constantly trying to clean the windows of their perception that have been darkened by society. They want a clear and objective view.
They research and predict events, inventions, big movements, changes in mentalities, everything related to human progression and behavior.
Futurists or futurologists are scientists and social scientists whose specialty is futurology, or the attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present, whether that of human society in particular or of life on Earth in general.
It can be used in a multitude of disciplines, any place that needs decision making. When facing a dilemma and in need of a clear strategy a group of futurists is a great option.
The range where it can be applied is extremely wide, it opens a lot of opportunities.
Where and who are futurists?####
We could say that by joining the results of the researches that everyone that has a job related to foresight would give futurists. However, it’s not a bunch of dispersed unrelated people that are gathering statistics about market shares, weather, psychology, and others, that make up futurists.
They do have a projected vision to accomplish their job but futurology seeks further.
Futurists are usually gathered in what we call “Think Tanks”, which are non-profit research institutes.
This article explains well in what consist those institutes.
Their slogan is:
To be the world’s most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis.
They stand up to that reputation with modesty.
Thirty-two recipients of the Nobel Prize, primarily in the fields of economics and physics, have been involved or associated with RAND at some point in their career.
NB: Each prize is worth US$1.2 million
Other than think tanks there are organisations and places that gather futurists. I cannot vouch for the liability of those organisations, as the wikipedia article also mentions.
- WSF (World Future Society).
- Association of Professional Futurists
- Emergent By Design
You can also find them in organisations that do long running bets, which I’ll discuss later in this article. Or, simply scattered around the internet.
Well Known Futurists####
Both of them worked for the RAND organisation and both of them have worked on extraordinaries and revolutionaries theories.
What Is Needed To Be A Futurist
Being a futurist is not easy. It’s not about lying down with burning incense and chanting voodoo songs until you get a glimpse of the future. It’s a quest to fight yourself and society’s ideologies within yourself.
The Zeitgeist, spirit of the time, is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time.
The Wikipedia article mentions “a particular period of time” but this could also be a particular geographical spot. For instance, different countries have different Zeitgeists, different through time and place.
That might explain why traveling is a great method to open yourself.
Each of those “spirits of time” have blind spots. They put you in such condition that anything outside of the current ideologies is unimaginable.
What futurists do is dig in those blind spots, employing and mixing knowledge coming from fields such as psychology, mathematics, computer science, economics, sociology, history, and biology.
If there’s one thing we can learn from human history it’s that it always repeat itself over and over again. It’s the same cycle, the same pattern but with different actors and different scenes.
There are explanations anchored deep inside our brain for that, we’ll discuss some of them.
Psychology is the study of mind and behavior.
Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behavior, while also exploring the physiological and biological processes that underlie cognitive functions and behaviors.
Isn’t it the perfect definition. By understanding how human beings think we can definitely get out of the blind spot and have an objective opinion. Once we do that we can move on and deal with the problems we are facing.
The branches of psychology that interest the futurist are not the ones applied to single individuals but the ones applied to big populations.
Group dynamics is a system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a social group (intragroup dynamics), or between social groups (intergroup dynamics). The study of group dynamics can be useful in understanding decision-making behavior, tracking the spread of diseases in society, creating effective therapy techniques, and following the emergence and popularity of new ideas and technologies. Group dynamics are at the core of understanding racism, sexism, and other forms of social prejudice and discrimination. These applications of the field are studied in psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, education, social work, business, and communication studies.
That seems more interesting than the generic psychology definition. With group dynamics we are focusing on movements within society.
Sociology is a broad subject but important to the futurist.
It’s true that social sciences are exhaustive in reading content but you can’t avoid them if you want to wake up to the world.
Here’s a list of topics that are good reads to get started with sociology:
- Social psychology
- Group cohesiveness
- Group conflict
- Realistic conflict theory
- Discontinuity effect
- Relative deprivation
- Poverty threshold
This is the tip of the iceberg.
Game theory is the study of strategic decision making. Specifically, it is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”
How do relations morph when facing problems and decisions? Which individual will prevail? What are the best choices to make in certain situations considering the current population? Those are all questions that are answered by game theory. (The Evolution of Cooperation)
They do it using mathematical models, matrices of decisions, sometimes accompanied by evolutionary programming concepts to be able to anticipate decisions through a changing environment.
The emergence and abundance of cooperation in nature poses a tenacious and challenging puzzle to evolutionary biology. Cooperative behavior seems to contradict Darwinian evolution because altruistic individuals increase the fitness of other members of the population at a cost to themselves. Thus, in the absence of supporting mechanisms, cooperation should decrease and vanish, as predicted by classical models for cooperation in evolutionary game theory, such as the prisoner’s dilemma and public goods games.
This virtual lab has examples of situations studied by game theory with visual outputs.
To get the idea: A recent article called Natural police from the aeon magazine put forward a beautiful display of game theory and how it can be inspired by the animal kingdom. It’s the perfect example of Good Games, or Via Freedom to Coercion.
A research by David Rand shows a schema of how game theory can be applied to current capitalist societies.
The Compleat Strategyst is the best introduction book to game theory.
Plenty of research papers on game theory are available on the rand website.
Probability, Predictions, and Bets
Information about previous events and history, theories of anticipation, and game theory gives us access to situational statistics that help calculate the probability of something happening or not.
This is just speculation but with the right data it can be put to good end.
Some take it a step further and wage huge amounts of money over long prediction bets.
Here are some websites for prediction bets:
An internet writer, gwern, has a long article about the prediction market.
A prediction can be broken up into 3 steps:
Gwern’s association with the black market doesn’t remove the hostility about those kind of places.
However, all of this is equivalent to betting at the casino if the persons involved don’t support their claims with real objective data.
Moreover, it’s good to note that most companies do those kind of statistical analysis when predicting how much material they’ll need to buy to refill their stocks.
Futurists simply use that technique as a mean to an end. It’s not statistics that’ll give them the idea of the century.
Evolution is the Pandora box to human secrets. It’s the root of all causes.
Most psychological theories ignore evolutionary processes and their values. But plenty, if not all, phenomena can be explained through evolutionary psychology.
This field of study is about proving that group behaviors in today’s society is the effect of some ancestral behaviors in the hunter-gatherer society and that we act this way as a mean of survival.
The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology is the best resource available on the subject.
Rulers Of The World
Now that you’ve got a bit of an idea of what futurists know about, you can grasp how powerful they are. It’s as if they knew exactly what was going to happen to the world. They could get control of the trends in a positive way for mankind or do the opposite.
Considering that futurists are working their brains inside think tanks we might assume that some powerful entities can steal their research, or ask for their help.
Rulers can take control of the masses and mitigate revolts or unwanted responses.
Humankind needs a revolution!
Not a violent revolution but a revolution in the learning process. Children should all be taught about their roots, about evolutionary psychology. If we could institute in them the understanding of life it would make living in society better. We are adaptable beings, we can drift from our chosen path, the path chosen by millenniums of history.
If only that was possible…
I hope that after reading this article you’ve taken a liking to those fabulous persons that are futurists. I hope you’ll also try to unplug yourself from your zeitgeist.
You might think that you did but did not. We cannot know.
UPDATE (2015-09-13): The web-magazine Nautilus just released an article called “Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot “ which discusses why cultural blindspots. It gives a general overview of the commoners’ perspective of the future and not the futurists’. It emphases how personal preferences and opinions, which are subjectives, distort our view of the future.
This over- and under-predicting is embedded into how we conceive of the future. “Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggested to me, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behavior is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.
They bring an excellent argument demonstrating the effect of culture:
As the theorist Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in Antifragile, “we notice what varies and changes more than what plays a larger role but doesn’t change. We rely more on water than on cell phones, but because water does not change and cell phones do, we are prone to thinking that cell phones play a larger role than they do.”
However that’s exactly what futurist deal with, cultural and behavioral changes. Futurists are above the simple-minded opinions which are brought in the article.
UPDATE (2016-01-26): I noticed that I forgot to mention DARPA as a think tank.
Darpa has some really huge and innovative projects going on such as the auto cyber-counter attack AI game they’ll do next year at defcon. Ideas that reminds you of movies such as the Mind’s Eye.
One thing that reminded me of this article is how DARPA gets its first funding. They used Policy Analysis Market, market analysis to raise their money. It consists of predicting things that will happen in the trade market.
Surowiecki is a very strong advocate of the benefits of decision markets and regrets the failure of DARPA’s controversial Policy Analysis Market to get off the ground. He points to the success of public and internal corporate markets as evidence that a collection of people with varying points of view but the same motivation (to make a good guess) can produce an accurate aggregate prediction. According to Surowiecki, the aggregate predictions have been shown to be more reliable than the output of any think tank. He advocates extensions of the existing futures markets even into areas such as terrorist activity and prediction markets within companies.
Another thing I should’ve mentioned and that is quite interesting is the Wisdom of the Crowd theory. It shouldn’t be something new after reading this article but still has its spicy part. Here’s a link with more indepth talk.
UPDATE (2016-03-01): I’ve found new articles, researches, and data on certain subjects related to this article.
About the prediction market, there’s an ongoing project called augur which relies on the wisdom of the crowd principle and runs on a peer to peer network called etherreum.
This is very interesting, I’ll keep up-to-date on the progress.
Here’s a technical video about it.
A member of the IEEE fondation wrote an article listing everything that could be used to predict the futur using the wisdom of the crowd: here. He mentions a lot of social media as asyncrhonous methods, and using game-like play to make people interact.
On social interaction, I’ve just discovered the British Cohort Study, which is a study of people over a very long period of time. This shows a lot of social trends that have been moving us around the last few years.
On futurist in the work field, an interview with a futurist at Ford came out (here). It’s interesting to see the value of a futurist in such a big corporation. She has to see the big picture!
UPDATE (2016-03-09): I realized something crucial while listening to multimedia (by mistake); Marketing campaigns are deployed based on factors related to the fields of the futurist.
The campaign I heard was about baby milk. We are currently in March, Spring season. It’s the only time of the year they do such campaign. I made the link between multiple factors: The time is well chosen, they analyzed the birth dates of the babies, deduced the high months, and subtracted 9 months to get today.
This is a great example of how statistical analysis of a population is used to predict events. On average people conceive their babies in Spring, in this case, thus by manipulating the minds using preloading is one of the best marketing tactic one can use.
Preloading is influencing subjects before the event. Think about a movie’s pre-release trailers. They use desired outcome words such as “The best film you have ever seen!” This technique works great when introducing anything. Preloading is a component of a social engineer attack.
On a side note, breast milk is always better than fake milk.
I’m updating this post with a link to a study that should help people start in the game theory and social study. Just to get the grasp and the immensity of it. Here’s the link to the Calhoun experiment aka the “utopia experiment”.
It talk about the r/K theory but that’s not directly mentioned in the article.
One of most shocking experiments performed by the behavioral researcher is known as the Mouse Utopia Experiment.
During the experiment, a group of eight mice were living in ideal environmental conditions. The utopian universe provided rodents with unlimited access to everything necessary for the animals to survive. The mice were provided with food, water, and nesting material. Everything was available at their paw tips.
Although the beginning of the experiment seems ordinary, the course of the study, as well as the results, are quite astonishing.
What exactly did the experiment look like?
UPDATE (2016-03-11): The last update can be generalized.
“The baby season” is actually an effect of how the environment, namely, the weather and sun affects human behavior. Just like with plenty of other animals.
A fun example is how they affect the sleep pattern of people. The more sunny it is the earlier people will wake up, same for warmth.
And this applies on a grand scale. No need to gather huge statistics
on the subject.
Down the road we’re no different than cats, dogs, and many other animals.
I used to like a columnist called Jann Burner. He wrote some posts a long time ago that are philosophical but reflect changes happening today. Many other writers have done the same.
UPDATE (2016-10-23): Some links related to prediction market.
UPDATE (2017-02-27): Facebook released a forecast platform.
It is called prophet and we have yet to see what it’s capable of with the amount of resources avaible to facebook.
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