Futurists in the Media: September 2016 Highlights

Futurist in the media logoSeptember began with the passing of Australian futurist Richard Neville. He was a prominent 1960s counter-culture figure in Australia, and his satirical magazine landed him in prison in Australia and in the UK. He later evolved into calling himself a “practicing futurist” and was known for being a provocateur.

There was news of a new book released by “Technology vs. Humanity” by futurist Gerd Leonhard. An interesting note for futurists is that it was published by the foresight firm “Fast Future,” who has made a move into publishing futures books. And, of interest to our program, one of the editors is alum April Koury! The book explores the question: “how can society stay in control as machines enter deeper into our lives, our bodies and eventually our brains.” It looks at how humans are constantly struggling with the urge to upgrade and automate even to the point of how much bio-tech is too much in humans. Is there a line that if crossed could be a turning point of humanity of mixing man and machine?

A book that asks these serious questions and comes from a humanist and futurist could help gain even more traction for professional futurists. It helps raise the awareness that we aren’t just trying to nail down when cars will fly. We are looking at serious topics that could change the course of humanity.

Also this month Ray Kurzweil, of Google and a Singularity University fame (among other things), discusses the large shifts and rapid trajectory of information technology and computing power, energy, nanotechnology, robotics, health and longevity. Another popular keynoter, Jack Uldrich, offered the following quip when asked what the future will look like: “predictably unpredictable.”

It was interesting to note that the financial press highlighted the hiring of a “Health IT Futurist,” Mark Anderson by Innovaccer Inc, a Silicon valley based Big Data analytics company. It’s the first time we’ve seen Health IT Futurist as a title.

Last but not least, Ford’s in-house futurist Sheryl Connelly shared her day-to-day approach and how she manages being an organizational futurist in an interview with thememo.com. Our students would be interested in how she became an organizational futurist: “My path to becoming a futurist has been a very unlikely one. I studied finance in undergrad, have a law degree and masters in business administration. My first assignment with Ford was answering the customer service line. Then I went onto sales, wholesaling product to Ford dealers. The opportunity to join the trends team was an unexpected one. I didn’t even know the position existed.” — Waylon Edens


Forest Futures: 3D Printing with Wood

3D printing technology has developed at an astonishing rate and in many surprising directions in recent years. The range of objects that can be printed now includes everything from homes to clothing, and the materials used include various metals, ceramics, glass, food, various types of human tissue, and many more — the list keeps growing. [See a 3D printed chair below] As the cost of 3D printing continues to decline, it is likely to disrupt many fields.

3d-wood-chair3D printing with wood is in its infancy, but a consortium is being developed by the Swedish government agency Vinnova to develop integrated materials and manufacturing process to produce large-scale 3D printed wood-based objects. The goal of the project is to develop sustainable materials of the future that can be produced locally. According to the project manager Mikael Lindström, “Our vision is to radically change the way we produce everything from furniture, accessories and structural elements to entire buildings. In that way, we lay the groundwork for a new chain of products and services based on 3D-printed wood.”

One source of wood for 3D printing is the 70 million tons of wood waste produced by the construction industry every year in the US alone. An estimated 60% of this waste could be used for 3D printing.

This transformative technology is developing rapidly and has the potential to produce significant direct and indirect effects on the forest products industry, related manufacturing industries, and forestry. Likely effects include expanded wood products markets, increased demand for timber and wood fiber, and lower CO2 emissions due to an increase in locally produced and environmentally friendly materials.

The Houston Foresight program and the US Forest Service Northern Research Station are developing and implementing a horizon scanning system for the USDA Forest Service, Strategic Foresight Group. We will use our blog to feature interesting scan hits from the project.— Dave Bengston

APF Global Futures Festival Open to Public

The APF is opening up the Sept 16 APF Global Futures Festival / V-Gathering to the general public free of charge.apf-futures-festival

This gathering offers interactive presentations from leading futurists around the globe. Four different blocs of regional presentations are timed so that you can “follow the sun for 12 hours of hands-on content and discussion.”

Several Houston Foresight alum will be among the presenters, including:

  • Dennis Draeger, Computer-Aided Futuring
  • Cindy Frewen, Urban Futures
  • Andy Hines, The Foresight Competency Map
  • Christopher Manfredi, The Future of Consciousness

Please tell your foresight and futures-oriented colleagues and friends to join us. Register here. http://apf.org/event-details/2274248/

Futurists in Media Q3 Update: Toffler and the Demise

Futurist in the media logoPerhaps the biggest story this quarter was the death of Alvin Toffler. As expected, it brought forth a “demise of futurists” story. This time from the New York Times: where are the futurists? and a follow-on from Slate on “the muddled legacy of Alvin Toffler.” Toffler’s prominence triggers a quick reflection on where foresight stands that inevitably ignores the lower-profile work that continues to go on, and emphasizes a perceived lack of high-profile items, thus the demise story. We’ve seen this pattern over the years. On the one hand, there seem to be far fewer of these negative stories than there used to be – we have a collection of real doozies from the past. On the other hand, as a field we have not filled the media void with positive stories about the work that is going on. I suspect we have an opportunity here. And there are some positive stories appearing. For instance, the Times had a nice story featuring the work of Houston Foresight alum Jerry Paffendorf Mapping Detroit, Inch by Inch.

To our credit, we are working on the foresight story. It didn’t “pop” in the media, but the APF published a competency model that was featured on the Department of Labor’s site regarding “competency models in action.” It’s solid stuff, but not a very sexy media story. It is a piece of the story, as we slowly move toward some consensus on who we are and what we do. More work in that regard is happening. In the meantime, though the void exists, and most of what is covered are keynotes on futures-related topics.

The Q3 FIM stats include 137 articles focused on “futurists,” which is down from Q2 – likely that the summer is a bit slower. Our analysis suggested 41 of these were “fresh” mentions (some were repeated on multiple days) of relevance to foresight and professional futurists. Our media savvy friend Jack Uldrich came in at 14 mentions this quarter, while normally prominent Ray Kurzweil of Google came in with just two mentions this quarter. tied Uldrich this quarter with nine mentions as his public speeches continue to draw the attention of media outlets. So, 41 unique mentions in 90 days is one unique mention every three days. As we continue to see — the public is [still] not being overwhelmed by professional futurists!

Jim Breaux’s Oil Systems Model in Perspectives

breax oil systems modelIt was great to see the oil systems model developed by Houston Foresight alum and Adjunct Faculty Jim Breaux highlighted in the August issue from the Perspectives wiki. Our program has long used material from the site’s author and publisher, Gene Bellinger. The wikis is part of his “Perspectives Project,” which was “established by and for those who believe a systemic perspective provides the best foundation for creating effective approaches for dealing with challenges and shaping a better tomorrow. Our purpose is surfacing noteworthy relationships and their implications, to provoke thought, foster deeper understanding, create insights, and enable more effective action.” Right up the foresight alley!

On the wiki, Bellinger does a voice-over explanation of how he interprets Jim’s model in a 3 minute video clip. Thanks to Jim for spreading the word about the good work coming out of our program! andy Hines

“Future of Students Needs” Work on Lumina Site

It is great to see the follow-up work we did for the original “Future of Student Needs 2025 and Beyond” get published on the student-powered section of Lumina Foundation’s website. A key recommendation of the original work was to set up a portal for students to provide input into the discussion on the future of higher education.

future of student needs

So much of the work being done and discussion takes on the institutional perspective – the student voice is often overlooked, so we thought it would be cool to have students engage with our content about the future.

After some internal discussion, the client agreed and we worked with smallbox, a design agency, to provide content for the site. Wmicrosite teame commissioned a separate and smaller team and generated a wide range of content about the future of student needs that was designed to provide an interesting and interactive experience for site visitors. In the picture from left to right – top row: Andy Hines, Alex Whittington, Johann Schutte, Maria Romero; bottom row: Katie King, Jason Crabtree, Ben Lummis, Will Williamson.


There’s quite a range of interesting material to play with: the full report, key insights, blog posts, emerging needs, and more to come! Andy Hines

Houston Foresight at WFS/APF 2016

The Houston Foresight program was once again well represented at the WFS/APF annual conference held this year in Washington DC from July 22-24. Congratulations to Julie Steele and the new team at WFS for simply pulling this conference off, given that they took over only a few months before the conference. As usual, I spent more time focusing on APF matters, an doing a lot of catching up with old friends.

WFS Best of Houston

Our 16th “Best of Houston” session was another great success. The students shared the highlights of their projects as well as commenting on their experiences as foresight students. This year’s session featured four students:katie johan eric ciara 1


APF Activities

The APF had its sold-out Pro Development Day at the Hillyer Art Space in the artsy Adams Morgan neighborhood. [Apologies to anyone who was unable to get in – the room was packed to capacity]. It was a very lively mix of advice, talks, and group discussions. My personal favorite was a two-hour reflection by Hawaii futurist Jim Dator on his career as a futurist.

The 2016 APF Most Significant Futures Works Awards were announced on Saturday evening. I have been involved with running this program since its inception and I think it’s really important to recognize good foresight work. I am very pleased to note that our own Professor Emeritus Oliver Markley has become a two-time winner of the MSFW award. He won a prize for editing the “Symposium on Intuition in Futures Work,” an article collection published in the Journal of Futures Studies. The full list of winners is below:

Category 1 Advance The Methodology And Practice Of Foresight And Futures Studies (Note: All three are equal winners….no “places”

  • Scenario Exploration System; Laurent Bontoux (JRC), Daniel Bengtsson (former JRC), Aaron B. Rosa (HRCFS), John A. Sweeney (HRCFS/CPPFS)
  • Symposium on Intuition in Futures Work, Edited by Oliver Markley, Article collection, Journal of Futures Studies, Sept. 2015.
  • What Works, by Sohail Inayatullah

Category 2 Analyze a Significant Future Issue

  • The Future of Protein. The Protein Challenge 2040: Shaping the Future of Food. Forum for the Future, Report, 2014.

Category 3:  Illuminate the Future Through Literary Or Artistic Works

  • Humans Need Not Apply, by CGP Grey, Video


We did not have any winners at the APF Student Recognition competition this year. It suggests increasingly tough competition. Last year, our students swept the individual graduate school category, and I thought this year entries were quite on par. So, it’s like we’ll have to up our game for next year!

In Other News….

Dr. Hines gave the pre-conference Master class “Introduction to Foresight,” which is a terrific opportunity to introduce people to the future, and how we teach the future at Houston Foresight. He also presented the final version of the APF Foresight Competency Model. He and the team worked on it for much of the last year, and it was great to see it come to fruition. – Andy Hines

Futurists in Media Q2: Less Use of “Futurists”

Futurist in the media logoIt occurs to me that a new category we might monitor is how often futurist appears in “scare quotes.” When we say someone is a doctor or lawyer, we don’t put it in scare quotes. But many times “futurist” is, i.e.: so-and-so is a “futurist” who is going to…. A scare quote is a “phrase to signal that a term is being used in a non-standard, ironic, or otherwise special sense. They may be used to imply that a particular expression is not necessarily how the author would have worded a concept.” The latter interpretation fits with the emergence of the accidental category we’ve developed for tagging the articles. This category captures those usages of futurist where we found that the author was called a futurist, most likely without their consent, or we could infer that their primary professional identity was not as a futurist, but they were focused on a future-oriented topic and thus adopted futurist as a descriptor. Remember, anyone can call themselves a futurist. For that matter, anyone can call themselves a doctor, but they aren’t typically allowed to operate without credentials.

For example, I found the following header in one of the pieces: “How to be a futurist.” I’ll remove the name to protect the innocent: “[So-and-so] was a software programmer for Makerbot and a grad student from MIT’s Media Lab when he got asked to be a futurist consultant for the TV series Minority Report, which launched last year.” And he goes on to provide tips on being a futurist. There ya go!

That said, I check all the pieces in this last quarter and had a measly three scare quotes: two for futurist and one for clairvoyant. I think that’s progress. My recollection is that these square quotes used to be use much more frequently, so it’s good that they seem to be less necessary.

The Q2 FIM stats include 207 articles focused on “futurists.” Our analysis suggested 58 of these were “fresh” mentions (12 were repeated on multiple days) of relevance to foresight and professional futurists, that is, not about the art movement or band. Our media savvy friend Jack Uldrich came in at 9 mentions this quarter. Ray Kurzweil of Google came tied Uldrich this quarter with nine mentions as his public speeches continue to draw the attention of media outlets. So, 58 unique mentions in 90 days is two every three days. As we’ve been seeing — the public is not being overwhelmed by professional futurists!

Andy Hines

Alum/Professor Cindy Frewen in the New York Times on Housing

Apparently, it’s New York Times week for Houston Foresight alums. After posting a story about Jerry Paffendorf’s appearance, I learned that our own Alum and Adjunct Faculty Dr. Cindy Frewen, She is quoted in the Times on July 20 in an article, “Future Houses: 3-D Printed and Ready to Fly.” Cindy has a background as an architect and has an ongoing interest in the future of cities. Here’s the quote:cindy

“Look at what happens when cities shrink,” says Cindy Frewen, an architect, urban futurist and adjunct professor at the University of Houston Foresight Graduate Program. “It’s not pretty. Look at Detroit.” As a quarter of its population drained out of the city from 2000 to 2010, tens of thousands of buildings became hazards instead of homes.” There’s more…so check out the whole piece.

A shout out to Cindy for mentioning our program, and it was noted by the UH College of Technology in their Communication Update. Thanks Cindy! – Andy Hines


Alum Jerry Paffendorf’s Mapping Work in the NY Times

Houston Foresight alum Jerry Paffendorf’s entrepreneurial activities continue to gain recognition – last week he was featured jerry paffendorfin the New York Times, in piece called “Mapping Detroit, Inch by Inch.” Some of you may remember his incredibly clever entrepreneurial purchase of a vacant lot in Detroit that he mapped and parceled out into one-inch square lots and sold to folks for $1 a square. [I should have bought one!] It was part of a larger effort to digitally map the city in order to provide the city with better information about the state of properties – ultimately to help fight blight. That successful activity lead to more work in digital mapping. Jerry is currenlty the CEO of Loveland Technologies, which has grown beyond his successful efforts in mapping Detroit to the San Francisco Bay Area. He has built a business with a growing team “dedicated to putting America online parcel by parcel.” They work with governments, developers, neighborhood groups, and individuals to gather and present information about property in clear, actionable ways.

Jerry’s work is an excellent example of entrepreneurial futures — — it was great to see his work recognized and a shout-out for plugging the Houston program!