Futuring media

2020 Media Futures is a fine example of a collaborative futuring project.  The topic is specific (Canada’s media landscape), but the practices are quite general.

2020MF uses a variety of futures methods:

  • Environmental scanning, or signals from the media future.  These are primarily news stories, arranged under general futures rubrics (Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Political, Values, or STEEPV) and media-specific topics (books, tv, etc).
  • Trend analysis.  2020MF determined a series of likely, powerful forces, again arrayed against STEEPV categories.
  • Driver identification, or the forces underpinning the already-selected trends and signals.  Read the full page for a good description of how they managed the group work.
  • Critical uncertainties, the powerful forces which could still appear in very different forms, unlike trends.  Note the way these are very industry-specific:

Critical uncertainties for Canadian media in 2020.



New Shell scenarios

Shell Oil published a set of future energy scenarios.

Two of them are older ones.  Scramble describes a global energy panic.  Blueprints assumes stronger governmental planning and control.

Two Shell scenarios in mid-stream.

Seeing how Scramble and Blueprint play out.

Shell also released two new ones:


A map of the next decade: the IFTF released a fun set of scenarios for the next ten years.

Why fun?  Because they proclaim these are all unlikely.  “too fast to be believable” is one set.  And “Type 2 scenarios depend on the conjunction of too many improbabilities”.

Decade map.


A big-picture scenario

Here’s a classic scenario process, presented by Jamais Cascio.  Very useful example of the form.

Start with two drivers:

Right now, the overriding challenge facing us is the global environment, especially the climate. We’re seeing climate disruption-linked events happening faster and harder than was expected, even while the world’s moving backwards in terms of carbon controls (e.g., Canada filed the paperwork to withdraw from Kyoto in order to be able to exploit the tar sands, Germany’s carbon emissions are increasingly rapidly as they replace nuclear plants with coal, China is being China, etc.). The only place that’s seeing any real improvement is (believe it or not) the United States, and that’s because fracking is allowing us to swap natural gas in for coal. 

There’s also the state of the global economy. A mild improvement in the US as well as fear fatigue has allowed us to think that the worst is over, that everything will be okay in Europe, etc. That’s not necessarily so, and it wouldn’t really take much to tip us back into the “it’s all about to fall apart” anxiety of a year or so ago.

Next, make a continuum out of the two – nice twist: (more…)

Four futures for 2030

An interesting futures example, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” (National Intelligence Council) sketches out some geopolitical directions.

It begins by identifying a set of drivers, or “Megatrends”.  These include: increased individual empowerment; diffusion of global power (decline of US unipolarity); certain demographics (some countries age extensively, while there are also , “a still-significant but shrinking number of youthful societies and states”; growing urbanization; a potential resource crisis (the “food, water, and energy nexus”).

The authors also mention a bunch of “game changers”, problems which could also warp things: governance problems, economic fragility, rise of conflict, regional instability, new technology.

Using these drivers and selected game changers, the report presents four scenarios.

  • Stalled Engines. The bad one: “Under this scenario, the eurozone unravels quickly, causing Europe to be mired in recession. The US energy revolution fails to materialize, dimming prospects for an economic recovery… global economic growth falters and all players do relatively poorly”.
  • Fusion, the happiest, in some ways: “With the growing collaboration among the major powers, global multilateral institutions are reformed and made more inclusive. In this scenario, all boats rise substantially.”
  • Gini Out-of-the-Bottle.  That’s “Gini” as in the famous inequality coefficient.  Economic inequality booms, and “the lack of societal cohesion domestically is mirrored at the international level. Major powers are at odds; the potential for conficts rises. More countries fail, fueled in part by the dearth of international cooperation on assistance and development. In sum, the world is reasonably wealthy,but it is less secure as the dark side of globalizationposes an increasing challenge in domestic and international politics”.
  • Nonstate World.  The decline of states and their replacement: “Formal governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful. Multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs,and others that are used to cooperating across borders and as part of networks thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than “weight” or “position.””.

In comparing US outcomes, the team offered this intriguing view of what national GDP might look like as a proportion of global output.  Note which scenario is best for that condition:

US GDP as portion of global, broken down by scenarios.

Also in this project: a nice set of black swans, and a group blog for surfacing ideas..

Two scenarios for the future of higher education

University Business published an infographic about changes in higher education.  It includes these two scenarios:

Two scenarios from University Business.The pair are preceded by a quick list of drivers, mostly technological: mobile devices, cloud computing, streaming video, for-profit education, etc.

Note the main divergence, some change versus lots of change.

One MOOC future

Here’s one way MOOCs could grow into a major education force, according to a New America Foundation director.

Note the way Carey blends in current developments, grounding his scenario:

Some accredited colleges—don’t forget, there are thousands of them—will start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credit. They’ll see it as a tool for marketing and building enrollment. This is already starting to happen. The nonprofit Saylor Foundation recently struck a deal whereby students completing its free online courses can, for a small fee, take exams to earn credit at Excelsior College, a regionally accredited nonprofit online institution.

Pressure to accept MOOC credits will build and gradually move up the higher-education food chain. Public officials eager to offer credible low-cost options to parents and students fed up with rising college prices will pile on. Many will question the quality of MOOC’s, but that’s the great thing about empiricism—courses can be evaluated and knowledge assessed.

Some organizations will develop businesses devoted exclusively to credible, secure assessments of what MOOC students have learned. Security and integrity will always be issues for online learning… But these are solvable problems. Thrun’s MOOC company, Udacity, is forming a partnership with the textbook giant Pearson’s VUE testing-center service for exactly this reason…

It’s unclear just how far such a change would go.  How many institutions, especially liberal arts campuses, would be able to refuse the MOOC and maintain themselves.

(image by Alan Levine)

Scarcity and hierarchy, four scenarios

Peter Frase offers an excellent scenarios quartet based on two major drivers, resources and social organization.  Specifically, Frase builds up two poles: resources, from extreme scarcity to sheer abundance; political structures, from an egalitarian social world to a hierarchical one.


Egalitarianism and abundance: communism
Hierarchy and abundance: rentism
Egalitarianism and scarcity: socialism
Hierarchy and scarcity: exterminism

Read through each one.  Frase does a fine job of teasing out implications, then connecting with all kinds of ideas and current forces.  Copyright law, Leonid Kantorovich, Star Trek, solar power, Karl Marx, and Luis von Ahn.

Scenario mistakes to avoid

Jamais Cascio offers a list of ten mistakes scenario-builders make.  Very useful to keep in mind.

The ones which irk me, personally:

  • The only changes that matter are technological changes,
  • People just want to talk about which brands they use and how stuff works
  • When in doubt, copy from a science fiction TV show or movie.

The dark side of augmented reality

What are the negative consequences of widespread augmented reality, a la Google Glasses?  “Sight” (2012) is a short science fiction video imagining some of them.  Spoilers after the embed.

The protagonist (or villain) is cut off from some of the world, as e27 observes.  He has little opportunity to experience things physically (does he taste the food, really?) or intuitively (the entire date is augmented).  Gamification blots out experience, and cheapens it.  Finally, bad actors can abuse the system.

It’s useful to compare “Sight” to “Google Glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself” (2012).  The latter differs in tone, being comic rather than dystopian, but also in subjects.  “Google” identifies another set of AR problems: communication misfires, physical injury, ad spam, and police surveillance.

As forecasting tools, these kinds of anticipatory sf videos are quite useful.

(via HackerNews)