Narrowing down the indicators

Here’s a good example of narrowcasting the future.  One Chinese leader apparently sees only three (3) economic indicators as worth tracking:

In a 2007 cable made public by Wikileaks, [Le Keqiang] … explained that he only looked at three statistics to gauge the health of the economy: (1) Bank lending, (2) Electricity consumption, and (3) Rail cargo volume. 

This is an example of an old futuring technique.  The predictor selects a handful of subtle stats (rail cargo!) and argues for their global importance.  It goes against the many factors approach, as well as against complex simulations.

What about GDP?

GDP figures are “man-made” and therefore unreliable, Li said…

By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth. All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are “for reference only,” he said smiling.”

Wikileaks cable source is apparently here, but that’s timing out for me this morning.

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Using Google Trends to glimpse the future

What does Google Trends tell us about future trends embedded in search?  ZeroHedge offers an intriguing test case.

One term seems to have suddenly spiked upwards:


Tyler Durden interprets:

It seems the fears of real ‘bank runs’ are becoming virtually ‘viral’ – not a good sign for the stability of the fictional-reserve-banking-dependent status quo.

Uh oh.

The next 25 years: The Futurist

The Futurist presents an interesting set of predictions for the next 25 years.

Many involve science and technology, from organ printing to space travel.  Climate change appears, as do responses to energy problems.

One concerns education:

Learning will become more social and game-based, and online social gaming may soon replace textbooks in schools. The idea that students learn more when they are engaged — as they are when playing games — is helping educators embrace new technologies in the classroom. In addition to encouraging collaborations, games also allow students to learn from their mistakes through trial and error.

Six futuring tactics

Here’s a nice, basic set of tactics for thinking about the future.

  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • Magnify the edges through extremes. 
  • Explore outside of your field or industry for analogous behaviors. 
  • Create human-centered view. 
  • Try it on for size. 
  • Get tangible: Introduce and encourage experiments.

(thanks to Lisa Spiro chez Diigo)

Math to predict history

Here is an intriguing (and very short) talk by the lead of Harvard’s Culture Observatory., a/k/a the Culturnomics guys.  Michel quickly outlines several ways of using math to understand history.

Note the final point, about using digitized books to build up forecasting models.

Apparently Michel is one of the guys behind Google’s nGram viewer.

(via Radio Freethinker)

Looking over the next decade

An April Institute for the Future meeting reflected on major trends for the next decade.  It’s an interesting set,  “six fundamental shifts defin[ing] a landscape of change”:

  • Hyper-urbanization: From strategies of enclosure to open strategies for the shareable city
  • Deindustrialization: From pipeline infrastructures to agile energy ecosystems
  • Dematerialization: From large-scale manufacturing to just-in-time manifestation
  • Social Production: From institutional wage labor to networked micro-contributions
  • Information Intensification: From information overload to cognitive prosthesis
  • Biomolecularization: From individually responsible intelligent organisms to complex ecosystems of biologically distributed intelligence

The same meeting also offered a nice way of thinking through the gap between present and future trends, which they call the two-curve problem:

We find ourselves facing a gap between the familiar past and an alien future. Our incumbent path is predicated on trends that may well have reached their peaks, yet the emergent path has not yet taken shape. The props of our historical strategies—open spaces, cheap fossil fuel, abundant natural resources—are in decline. But new alternatives are not yet ready for prime time. 

An interesting gap.

The post-copyright Singularity

What happens if today’s copyright regime extends to a post-Singularity human consciousness uploading future? Tom Scott offers a satirical glimpse.

(via Hacker News)

Futuring water

Interesting post about the future of water.  For one thing, the author worries that we’re not futuring hard enough about it:

As yet, there’s no futures market for water. (is that true?)

For another, Lisa Margonelli notes the possibility of water-driven geographical transformation:

He sees businesses shifting out of areas that fail to reach agreements around water, and towards areas with easy water. And when the jobs go, the people will follow. What area “in the U.S. is best positioned for water? The Great Lakes. I see the Rust Belt flourishing over the next 30 years, while people will leave places like Colorado.”

That “he” is “Bill Brennan, a principal at the water hedge fund Summit Global Management.”  How many water hedge funds are there?

Note, too, the possible rise in old tensions: inter-regional, rural vs urban, environmentalists vs developers.

Bad Faith: Naomi Schaefer Riley and the War on Public Education

Bad Faith: Naomi Schaefer Riley and the War on Public Education.

The above post makes a decent argument about the dustup over Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog entry on African American Studies programs.  The argument is that it fits alongside the parries of Santorum over higher education – each being a part of a war on public higher education education that is ramping up in earnest.   I don’t know how much worse this coming war could make it for institutions of higher learning (or if it is better to see these as rearguard buttresses against increasing public funding if we ever see an economic recovery.) But either way it seems like some kind of data point in the political atmosphere around higher ed.

Wikifying the deep future

Here’s a dizzying, fun looking into the deep future from Wikipedia, their page called Timeline of the far future.
Far and deep indeed:

Key.svg Years from now Event
Five Pointed Star Solid.svg 36,000 Ross 248 passes within 3.024 light years of Earth, becoming the closest star to the Sun.[3]
Five Pointed Star Solid.svg 42,000 Alpha Centauri becomes the nearest star system to the Sun once more.[3]
Noun project 528.svg 50,000 According to the work of Burger and Loutre,[4] at this time the current interglacial ends, sending the Earth back into an ice age, assuming limited effects of anthropogenic global warming.Niagara Falls erodes away the remaining 20 miles to Lake Erie and ceases to exist.[5]
Five Pointed Star Solid.svg 50,000 Because of tidal acceleration, the astronomical day will now be about 86,401 SI seconds. Under the present day timekeeping system, a leap second will need to be added to the clock every day.[6]
Five Pointed Star Solid.svg 100,000 Proper motion (the movement of stars through the galaxy) will render the constellations unrecognisable.[7]The hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris will have likely exploded in a hypernova.[8]
Noun project 528.svg 250,000 Lo’ihi, the youngest volcano in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, will rise above the surface of the ocean and become a new volcanic island.[9]

…and that’s just the short-range stuff.

(via Hacker News)