Forest Futures: Catch ‘Em While They’re Small

A valuable tool for fighting large wildfires are manned aerial water tankers that can carry anywhere from hundreds to thousands of gallons of water or fire retardant.  The Forest Service has stated in the past that it is well-served by the flexibility provided by moderate-sized aircraft, as opposed to large jets such as 747s or IL-76s.  But in the future, could this flexibility be enhanced even further by the trends we are now seeing in sensor and small automated aircraft technology?

Consider if the “Internet of Trees” was a reality, where within the forest any fire, whether started by lightening or other cause, could immediately be detected by the nearby trees; in essence, raising the alarm themselves.  Real-time analysis of the trees’ data – augmented by that of the ubiquitous insect-sized flying sensors already in the area – provide the precise location, type, intensity, and apparent growth pattern to the new blaze.  It’s not occurring in an area where natural fires are allowed to burn on their own, so the automated system swings into immediate action.  The signal is broadcast to multiple stations in the vicinity.  These aren’t manned ranger stations, but rather small solar-powered shelters for aerial drones.  A few of them are occupied constantly, others in the area were filled only recently, thanks to the accurate predictions for a high likelihood of lightening strikes in that region over the course of the next 48 hours.

With a new fire detected nearby, the pre-positioned drones are activated.  Some are small, nimble, high-endurance reconnaissance craft that flit to the hotspot to assess the effectiveness of the overall response and are more stable than the insect-sized sensors in the chaotic air currents surrounding the blaze.  Most of the drones are larger tanker aircraft, each capable of carrying 10 kg (22 lbs), or almost three gallons of water or retardant.  They arrive shortly, converging in a swarm from all points of the compass.  By the time they show up, the recon drones have pinpointed the extent of the fire, which is only a few minutes old and has spread only a few meters so far.  The tankers go to work in a coordinated fashion:  each in turn drops its liquid cargo precisely where it will do the most good, then heads away to refill, either at a nearby stream or, in drought conditions, at the water supply cached at the nearest drone shelters.  Meanwhile, others arrive, delivering a constant rain of three gallon drops on the struggling fire, until nothing remains except a cloud of steam and a patch of blackened underbrush.  The tankers then depart the area for their bases, as the recon drones hover above, keeping watch against flare-ups, measuring the welcome drop in ground and air temperature, and sending an after-action report to the Forest Service monitors.

Fortunately, this one had been caught in time.  But occasionally, a fire grows too fast for such early preventive measures.  In such a case, the automated system still plays a key role by delaying and guiding the spread.  This buys time and reduces damage, until firefighters can arrive in the area to confront the blaze using more traditional and powerful means.  Kurt Callaway

(image from https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/files/2012/12/wildfire-5-300×172.jpg)

Save

Save

Student Foresight Design Challenge

Teach the Future and KnowledgeWorks are co-hosting a student foresight design competition through March 27. The competition is open to any U.S.-based, 13-18-year-old student interested in creating a scenario about the future of education with an optional artifact from the future (an illustration of an object or scene from a future world). See Competition details.

Katherine Prince, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight, explain, “Youth participants can work on their own or with the support of an adult facilitator, who may be a teacher, an after-school program facilitator, a museum educator, a homeschooling guide, or anyone else who works with young people.” She added, “KnowledgeWorks and our partner, Teach the Future, will supply five custom activities and supporting materials to guide the creation of submissions that are informed by changes on the horizon. The full set of activities is estimated to take approximately 2.5 hours. Participants can select from or modify them as needed or can take another approach to creating competition submissions.”

This creative process can build important skills and engage students in a new way of thinking about themselves and their futures. In addition, student work will be eligible to be published by KnowledgeWorks, and winners will receive an iPad Air 2 or a $150 VISA gift card.

“We look forward to seeing many ways of imagining what #FutureEd might look like. Again, we encourage you to sign up to learn more and to spread the word about the competition to others!” Prince concluded. “Student voice is an important but underrepresented perspective on the future of learning. We hope that the Imagine FutureEd competition will help bring it to the fore.” — Dave Ramirez

Save

Spring Gathering 2017….More Details

The details are rolling in for the Spring 2017 Gathering (here’s a flyer). First, let’s talk about the Saturday conference. I am very excited to announce that Christian Crews & Laura Schlehuber of Kalypso Foresight are going to take us through their Systems Scenarios approach. I have wanted to see this for years….finally! In the afternoon, we have a  session with Dave Bengston of the US Forest Service, who we have been working with for the last year on horizon scanning and scenarios. He’s going to lead us through an exercise using Joel Barker’s Implications Wheel — very cool if you haven’t played with that, (and very cool if you have)! The rest of the afternoon will be a series of shorter pieces feature excellent work on tools, methods, projects from students, alums, and faculty  – a potpourri of good futures work. The very rough agenda at present is below (we still have a few afternoon slots open)

9:00-12:00 Working with Systems Scenarios, Christian Crews & Laura Schlehuber, Kalypso Foresight

12-1:00 Lunch

1:00-2:00 Dave Bengston, US Forest Service,  Implications Wheel Exercise

2:00-5:00 Mini-Cases (15 to 30 minute sessions) Topics & speakers so far include (slots still open):

Sean Daken, Foresight & Entrepreneurship; Eric Kingbsury, Foresight Games; Oliver Markley, Intuition in Foresight; Bo Roe, Scanning Source ID; Mark Sackler,  Futures Podcasts; Lee Shupp, Foresight student work; Jason, Swanson of Knowledge Works…..

The full Friday and Saturday schedules are mapped out below.

Friday April 21

Dinner    Goode’s Tacqueria   5pm

(4902 Kirby Drive; 713.520.9153) (link)

Drinks, hookah, chat  TBD      7pm-???

Saturday April 22

“Good Futures Work ”   UH Cameron Building   (link ) 8:30-5

Dinner & Pool Party  The Hines home   directions    5:30-??

Where to stay:  UH Hilton (link)

We look forward to seeing you. Please drop me an RSVP so we can make sure we have enough space and food for everyone (ahines@uh.edu). — Andy

Save

Save

Save

Foresight Student Bes Baldwin to intern at Evonik Creavis

Foresight student Bes Baldwin will be doing an internship this summer and fall at Evonik Creavis in the Corporate Foresight group in Marl, Germany. Evonik is a globally active chemical company, with their Foresight team centralized in Germany. Creavis is the strategic innovation unit of Evonik, focusing on mid- to long-term innovation.

There are five full time staff on the Foresight team with different backgrounds, including one, Björn Theis, who teaches in the Master’s degree Foresight program at Freie Universität Berlin.  The Foresight team is supported by “Foresight Partners” from other units of the company. These people support the Foresight Team on projects in innovation foresight (i.e., identification of potential new products) and strategic foresight (e.g., scenario analyses).

We are very pleased for Bes and it is great to develop a relationship with Evonik Creavis for the Foresight program. We’ll look forward to Bes’ report when she gets back.  – Andy Hines.

Student Craig Perry Describes the Field

When I tell people I’m pursuing a degree in “foresight” at the University of Houston, they often look at me funny. “Futures studies,” I add hopefully, knowing I’ve probably just confused them even further. Perhaps it’s the prospect of studying something that hasn’t happened yet, or the notion that there’s more than one possible future out there for us to choose from, but neither of these formulations of my chosen field seems to ring a bell for most folks. But as soon as I say I’m studying to become a “futurist,” the metaphorical light bulbs begin to flicker – and likely for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, self-styled futurists have carved out a niche in the popular imagination that’s based largely on myth. Some are famous for making bold predications about the future, as if we were all headed inexorably toward a destination certain – when any serious student of the subject knows that the road ahead has far too many twists and detours to accurately map. They often market themselves as visionary “thought leaders,” neglecting to mention that the skills they’re peddling are readily obtainable at several institutions of higher learning around the world (including, of course, my alma mater). Futurists have also become synonymous in certain circles with business consultants who look for long-range opportunities to increase their clients’ profit and ensure market dominance, but this neglects the vital role foresight plays in supporting government and other non-profit endeavors. Many futurists seem particularly enamored with technology, suggesting machines will someday transform our world into something unrecognizable – as fantastic, perhaps, as the New York World’s Fair and “The Jetsons” must have seemed to previous generations, who had yet to learn how far they’d been led astray. Then again, such images of the future – whether “futuristic” promised land or dystopian science fiction – play an important role in shaping the choices we make today, and the plans we make for tomorrow. As an aspiring foresight professional, I’m about to embark on a career in an obscure field with a short and sometimes sketchy history, which nevertheless offers serious practitioners the opportunity to profoundly impact where we go from here. For me, foresight is about improving our understanding of how the world works, and directing our energies to making the world work better – whether by maximizing scarce resources or promoting human rights or, yes, even leveraging technology to solve problems. By considering a wide array of possible futures – from the bleak to the sublime – futurists like me have the opportunity to help chart the best course forward. Just don’t ask me to predict where we’ll end up! Craig Perry

Save

Forest Futures: Flash Towns in the Forest?

There are a great variety of things we have to look forward in the near future:  automated vehicles and aircraft for travel; the increasing ability for drones to provide service and goods on command; the capability of personal communication devices to leverage peer-to-peer connections; semi-luxurious, yet highly portable shelters and modular tents; the ease of working remotely at any job from nearly any location one can connect to the “Net”; the rise of the gig economy, with a corresponding flexibility for one’s personal movements and schedules.  What might the interaction of these technological and social trends lead to?  One possibility is what might be called “flash towns”.

With the increased connectivity between individuals in urban areas, a common phenomenon is for groups to people to materialize quickly and with no warning in a highly organized and purposeful way, usually in public places.  The purpose may be harmless, as with sudden political or artistic gatherings which just as quickly disperse.  Or it can be more nefarious, as when miscreants use the same process and technology to show up suddenly en masse to conduct what’s sometimes called a “flash rob”.

In the future, might the sophistication of organized groups of people bring the same phenomenon to scenic and isolated regions within the great expanse of American national forests?  Such “flash towns” would be sudden convergence of tens, or even hundreds, of people who have coordinated a time and place to meet far away from it all.  Arriving at a suitable glade or hilltop in automatically-piloted flying cars, they bring their modular tents or larger shelters and equipment with them or they’ve arranged for the gear to be separately delivered by drone carriers at the same time.  Within barely an hour, a quiet, picturesque meadow far from any road or station becomes a lively mini-metropolis for a day or perhaps a long weekend.  Solar cells in the tent fabric and wireless charging power everything on-site.  Tents and cabins are connected together to keep out the weather and to form communal spaces, providing a balance between interior and exterior.  Peer-to-peer links ensure all residents can stay connected and satellite coverage keep everyone plugged in to the outside work as they play, work or socialize.  The remoteness of their “town’s” location is part of the draw and it’s a guarantee of no neighbors for tens of kilometers in any direction to disturb or to be disturbed by.  At the agreed-upon time, the hamlet evaporates onto the four winds, often before they are even detected, let alone confronted.  The impact of flash towns could be uncertain.  Ideally, the residents will follow the philosophy of LNT:  “leave no trace”; but that depends a lot on the people.  Forest managers must be prepared to locate and deal with trash and other sanitary debris, disturbed vegetation, and stressed wildlife in nearly any location, without regard to road or established campsite proximity.  In the worst case would be security or rescue scenarios involving a large number of people in extremely isolated patches of woodland or mountain. Kurt Callaway

Save

Student Joe Murphy: A Description of the Field

It is the task of the futurist is to inform decisions by critically studying the future, comparable to how historiographers examine and synthesize the past. Foresight is a science and an art but it is not clairvoyance.

I am a futurist finishing a Master’s of Science degree in Foresight through the University of Houston. In this description of strategic foresight practice, the field of professional futurists, I submit its value proposition of research and creative thinking about what lies ahead to the wider test of your input.

Strategic Foresight is not a grandiose appellation for futurists designing for the gap between the present state and the optimal future. Futurists do not make predictions (yes or no judgments on discrete occurrences) or see visions. Be wary of futurists claiming the future is declaratively X or Y. Seek out professional futurists who ask questions with you to co-create diverse paths. Like academics who offer the most value by helping refine and navigate the problem, futurists provide frameworks to guide through the investigation and the design of prospective futures.

I share common concerns about attention-seeking celebrity and “crackpot” futurists and I believe that the work of a futurist should be more gadfly than glittery. My philosophy of foresight is rooted in asking questions. “What if,” “why not,” and “how might” launch investigations, some may say interrogations, into future directions. We ask to challenge assumptions and seek unseen connections. The outcome of our futures work should be a mindset of questioning more than a set of predictions.

Futurists assist describing the futures which reflect our values, our destination myths. The work of futurists to understand the future could not happen without historians’ critical hindsight, theories and patterns of change. History is one-third of Foresight. The rest of the story is what futurists do.

What Futurists Do

Professional futurists stand apart from others plying quantitative and qualitative forecasts. We explore alternative futures springing from breaks in trends, design preferred futures, and adapt strategy. When chaos shocks statistical models, futurists divergently ask; “what could cause the trajectory to change and in what directions, “Whose actions could alter drivers in the web of implications?” With the power of narrative, professional futurists employ visioning and ideation alongside subject experts to craft stories of possible, plausible, and probable scenarios that get around our biases in and of the present.

The chaotic future is not predictable, but armed with systems thinking we do not shy away from investigating the structure and behavior of complex futures. We scientifically subject data points and theoretical frameworks to testing.

The major output of Foresight is creative thinking, overlapping academia in this sense of learning how to explore relevant pasts, fashion critical insight about surrounding environments, and providing new contributions. Other outputs include preparing for disruptions, filling the next user needs, decreasing uncertainty, efficiency in getting to failure faster, and effectiveness in projects’ long-term promise.

Healthy futures require skepticism. Futurists are required to explain how we increase confidence, contribute results, improve judgment, and how the strategies we inform are more closely aligned with emerging landscapes. Ask professional futurists why and how and expect analytical methods. If futurists can increase our ability to strategize creatively and systematically than a disregard for their work is an easy trap to avoid.

Foresight +

My path to Strategic Foresight included study of Physics and Business as well as experience in Librarianship and technology. Every professional futurist brings their own diverse experience to foresight training: I know futurists who hail from design, military, finance, energy, insurance. Before studying Foresight, I was a Science Librarian at Yale University. Much of my work involved serving the past and preparing for the future’s opportunities and complications so I now apply librarian expertise in “the ask” to craft critical questions about joint futures. Much of librarians’ value is in convergent synthesis of data, application of information, and translation of information into knowledge. I am a data-driven futurist by training and empathize with our future through literature as artifacts of our cultures.

I am also completing an Executive MBA program and am as grounded by day-to-day operational needs as I am stretched by long-term considerations. Yet rather than tempering, this MBA has multiplied my ability to prototype and frame constraints to bridge present states with goals. The foresight management confluence provides an economic basis of futurists’ contribution of closing gaps in organizational success and future readiness of projects.

A bachelor’s degree in Physics similarly grounds while expanding my competencies as a futurist. Science provides STEM frameworks for problem solving, studying change and deep causes, and the structure of reality alongside a creativity-extending sense of wonderment.

These anchors; scientist, manager, librarian, along with formal training ensure that my work as a futurist is accountable to evidence, that my divergent multiple futures are answered with convergent analysis. I use data to make projections and know when imagination needs to be inserted as well as systems dynamics, design thinking, and challenging our biases. With critical insight, I define limits and know when the past ceases to be a good indicator of the future. I apply my ethos to consider the stakeholders of the future and the future for all stakeholders in all contexts.

Synthesis

The Master’s of Science degree in Foresight worth of techniques puts to ease fears of madness without methods. I worry that we professional futurists have not communicated well enough the value of researching the future. Futurists impute critical analysis yet are judged by outcomes of prediction fail rates instead of contributing ways of thinking.

As with history and science, the future is never a perfectly complete story. Futuring is iterative as we adjust our understanding. We can each think like futurists by challenging assumptions and our preconceptions of the future.

We cannot afford a lack of tactics for addressing the future. If you are less than fully convinced that this outlined practice of foresight provides value to your work be it as a futurist or other, please do share your critique and additions so that we may continue to refine and grow.

Joe Murphy, foresight student and former Librarian. Libraryfuture@gmail.com
EMBA, San Francisco State University, Summer 2017.
Master’s of Science in Foresight, University of Houston, Summer 2017.
Master’s of Library & Information Science, University of Hawaii 2006.

Reflecting on Futurists in Media 2016

As futurists, we learn to be patient and take the long view. So, when something catches our attention, we catch our breath and compose. Because…..the 4th quarter tracking results of Futurists in Media reported 106 relevant hits, compared to 24 in the 4th quarter of 2015, which is a 341% increase if my math is right. Again, let’s not get carried away with a single data point. But is there a potential uptick of coverage of futurists in the media? Not enough data to say yet, but we’ll keep our eye on it.

A few other observations from the last year.

  • In terms of who’s getting covered, most of the coverage is still related to press releases or articles about upcoming keynotes by futurists. Futurist speaker Jack Uldrich in particular continues to generate coverage, but there are many other keynotes being mentioned. Interestingly, organizational futurists continue to gain a lot of coverage. Ray Kurzweil of Google and Sheryl Connelly of Ford are by far the most prominently mentioned. (Of course, Kurzweil made his name well before Google.)
  • It is interesting, but perhaps not totally surprising that relatively few APF members were mentioned. Doing project work is not likely to generate news headlines. APF  member mentions were about the same as a category that we call “accidental” futurists, that is, when someone who does not identify as a futurist is called one by the writer/publisher of the story.
  • The most heartening news. The coverage is overwhelming neutral to positive, which anecdotally speaking is a nice improvement. A little dust-up with the passing of Toffler, triggering the predictable “futurism is dead” story that seems to accompany the passing of famous futurists. And we even had a story about fewer sightings of futurists in “square quotes.” Of the 282 relevant hits last year, fewer than eight were judged to be negative, and only half of those were deliberately hostile towards futurists. Historically, there were far, far more negative and hostile stories.

We’ll keep tracking. Not quite enough data yet to make substantial conclusions, but starting to see some interesting developments. – Andy Hines

Spring Gathering now April 21 and 22….and other news

A quick update on what’s happening as begin the Spring 2017 semester!

The Fall Newsletter  is out.

Spring Gathering now April 21 and 22. We just updated the dates for our  Annual Spring Gathering to April 21 and 22 (previous dates were on Easter Weekend, oops). The theme is “Good Futures Work.” We are very excited to have alums Christian Crews and Laura Schlehuber of Kalypso Foresight sharing their “Systemic Scenarios” methodology with us in the morning. In the afternoon, we’re going to do a bunch of smaller sessions (15–30 minutes). We have several student sessions lined up, and we’ll also have Dave Bengston, our sponsor at the US Forest Service, joining us for module. Still time for you to propose an idea and grab a slot!  As a largely virtual program, we deliberately choose one event each year that you must be physically present to attend. It’s a great chance to mix with alumni, students, faculty and friends of the program, and strengthen your ties to our foresight community.

Research Projects. One of the shifts that has been taking place in our program as we are now situated in a Tier 1 Research University is that we are expected to carry out research (and of course bring in some research dollars). So, if you’d like to work with a student team, and would like to help the program by helping us bring in some money, we would be super grateful. We just finished a project on “The Future of Residency and Foreigner Affairs in Dubai” with our partners the Future Foresight Foundation. I led a team with faculty member Alexandra Whittington as the project manager, and four students: Katie King, Eric Kingsbury, Maria Romero, and Mark Sackler. We are also pleased to continue working with our friends at the US Forest Service on horizon scanning and scenarios. We have a new project with certificate grad Clay Bunyard of Kimberly Clark, and we’ve just signed a training project with the ad agency Leo Burnett!

More students….and faculty appreciation. We’ve have 46 active students this Spring, making it 90 total this academic year (the most we’ve had since 1998 when we were still at Clear Lake).  It’s great to have these healthy numbers, but I want to shout out some appreciation for our faculty how have to deal with a greater workload: Jim Breaux, Cindy Frewen, Terry Grim, Kaipo Lum, Wendy Schultz. Alexandra Whittington. Y’all work so hard….and we know it’s for love and not the money! We all appreciate you so much! Andy Hines

Futurists in the Media: What it Means to be a Futurist

Futurist in the media logo

Futurist may not predict the future, but we can anticipate one question we will all get: What does a futurist do or What is a Futurist? In fact, we practice Elevator Speeches in our curriculum to have a ready response. It’s interesting to learn about how professionals respond. Marketplace.org asked that very question and similar others to futurist Amy Webb in “What it means to be a Futurist.” Amy is the author of “The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream” a new book on tech trend prediction and she owns her own firm , the Future Today Institute, specializes in forecasting trends in technology.

When asked what futurists do, Amy replied “Futurists are people who specialize in lots of different disciplines and the focus is not to predict what might happen next, but instead to forecast given what we know to be true today and doing extensive modeling using evidence and data, what might be the possible scenarios tomorrow and what do we do about it?

Another interesting response was to: “do you ever look backwards?” She answered ” Of course I look backwards. That’s another really, really fascinating thing to me. Everybody has fetishizes the future and yet they forget the past. So we’re in a cycle of people freaking out about AI, but this exact same cycle goes all the way back to the invention of the light bulb and then again with cars. And then again with computers but none of these technologies happen over night. That’s the whole point of the book, and the clear message I think for anybody in business and that is you have to pay attention to what’s happening right now, you have to look back in time, to what has already happened, and you also have to be paying attention to what’s possible, what might happen in the future.”

More articles like this can really help raise awareness and about what futurists do and how we can help. — Waylon Edens

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Futurists in Media by waylon edens. No Comments