Good Futures Work Agenda!

Friday April 21 


Dinner    Goode’s Tacqueria   (4902 Kirby Drive; 713.520.9153) (link)


Drinks     Axelrad Beer Garden TBD    (1517 Alabama Street 713.597.8800) (link)

Saturday April 22

8:30-5:00 University of Houston, Isabel Cameron Bldg, 4235 Cullen Blvd, 77204  (link)

8:30-9:00 Breakfast

9:00-12:0o Working with Systems Scenarios, Christian Crews & Laura Schlehuber, Kalypso Foresight

12-1:00 Lunch provided

1:00-2:30 Dave Bengston, US Forest Service,  Implications Wheel Exercise

2:30-5:00 Mini-Cases (15 minute sessions) Topics & speakers: 2:30-2:45 Break; 2:45-3:00 Eric Kingbsury, Foresight Games; 3:00-:315 Oliver Markley, Intuition in Foresight; 3:15-3:30 Mark Sackler,  Futures Podcast;  3:30-3:45 Sean Daken, Foresight & Entrepreneurship; 3:45-4:00 Bo Roe, Scanning Source ID;  4:00-4:15 Lee Shupp, Foresight student work; 4:15-4:30 Katherine Prince & Jason Swanson, Framework Adaptation; 4:30-4:45 Peter Bishop, Combining Uncertainties into a Manageable Number of Scenarios

5:30 pm-????: Dinner (pizza & beer/wine) & Pool Party  The Hines home, 714 E 9th St, Houston, 77007   directions

Questions: or text/call 832.367.5575. — Andy

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Reality is about to encounter the next big thing!

Technology continues to move at blinding speed.  In less than 5 years, it is projected that the “latest and greatest” of trends, virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR), will see world-wide revenues of over $160 Billion. In 2016, that figure was $5.2 Billion!  This increase in revenue is reflective of a technology that will shape current markets and create new ones seemingly overnight.  In many ways, we are at the dawn of a new age.

As this technology opens new and exciting doors for everyday users, it will also create unique business opportunities.  Many new VR and AR based businesses will be created.  Meanwhile, existing and traditional business models will need to discover ways to utilize VR and AR to retain and attract customers.  Much as the internet revolutionized commerce, VR and AR will do the same.

As with the internet, the dangers associated with the spread of VR and AR technology will not be initially understood.  The massive amounts of data being generated and captured by this technology will be rich targets for hackers and cyber-terrorists.  As a UH foresight student, who works in the cybersecurity industry, the signs of the impending storm are as ominous as dark clouds over the prairie! Companies will need to understand the risks of embracing this tech before fully deploying it to customers.  Cybersecurity, however, has traditionally been reactionary in nature.  New foresight based approaches to these issues are needed to ride out the storm.

Can the cybersecurity lessons of the past be enough for companies to adequately prepare to protect their customers’ data before jumping into the pool of VR and AR?  Are we ready for the new reality? — Mike Ivicak


After Brexit, Whither Europe?

After months of anticipation, the United Kingdom triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this week, marking the beginning of the end of its membership in the European Union. As an aspiring futurist living in England, I had a front-row seat to last year’s “Brexit” referendum – and it’s unexpected outcome. Thankfully, I had already contemplated the future of the EU in one of my University of Houston foresight courses, and realized the breakup of this bloc is but one of several plausible scenarios:

EU Unraveling: “Brexit” may inspire copycats, as other EU members demand concessions, threaten to leave, or even eject underperforming states. In this scenario, the Schengen agreement would likely break down as border controls are restored amid social, economic, and security concerns.

Continental System: A chaotic “Brexit” would offer a cautionary tale for Eurosceptics, as the EU balance of power shifts back to Germany and France, potentially leading the way to closer integration. If EU leaders find a way to address security concerns and refugee flows through closer cooperation and burden sharing, and the Eurozone improves economic performance through greater fiscal union, progress towards a federated EU “superstate” could eventually resume.

Europe à la Carte: A “never closer union” is the most likely scenario, with core EU members committing to case-by-case integration while others opt out or are left behind in a “two-speed” Europe. More policy areas would be subjected to intergovernmental control, relaxing Schengen and Eurozone commitments to preserve political consensus, while the European Commission and Parliament further decline in influence.

After Capitalism: Zero Marginal Cost Society

N0 jobs? No ownership? No capitalism? No problem. For Jeremy Rifkin, a post-job and post-ownership future will propel humanity to a next level of humanity: the Homo Empathicus. Rifkin’s promise is that technology will liberate humanity from its material pursuits, so we can better focus on human relationships.

The title of the book is inspired by the massive economies of scale provided by digitization: once software or a digitally recorded film is uploaded to the internet, the cost of reproducing the file is essentially at zero marginal cost. Rifkin envisions an ambitious reorganization of society, as he predicts that “zero marginal cost” will be applied to other areas:

  • Free renewable energy to power local communities.
  • Free products made by free labour (automation & 3D printing), designed for free (open source), and powered by free energy (renewable)
  • Free communication via the internet for humans and machines (Internet of Things)

Free is perhaps a generous hyperbole, but what Rifkin argues is that the cost associated with these three components have been reaching lower and lower towards zero marginal cost. The decline in cost will allow each community to become self-sufficient, paving the way for decentralization and the return to a society centered around communities.

Rifkin’s vision, of course, is neither far-fetched nor entirely unique. We already have Wikipedia to Coachsurfing and nascent IoT systems to solar power microgrids in Germany. His vision builds on various “new economies” ideas that are well known, such as the blockchain, sharing, collaborative, and open source economies.

Energy Sources & Human Consciousness?

Rifkin attempts a sweeping narrative of human history, where energy is the main paradigm that drives human development and even humanity’s social consciousness. From wind power to coal, Rifkin sees energy behind the drive towards urbanization (windmill power), formalized religion (hydraulic agriculture), and so on. Free energy via renewables is the next step to the next stage of human development.

Such view of history strongly echoes Don Edward Beck’s “Spiral Dynamics” concept, which describes a deterministic view of humanity’s sociocultural evolution from selfish individualism to emphatic collectivism. In Beck’s Spiral Dynamics, the end goal of humanity is reaching “collectivism” and “cosmic spirituality.” Along similar lines, Rifkin calls the end state of humanity the Emphatic Civilization, where humanity becomes globally connected as networked collectives, communalized in resource allocation, and emphatic in human behavior.

Ambitious Ideas, Many Assumptions

The book makes vast and generous assumptions of human behavior. Rifkin assumes that post-abundance – a world of free labour and energy – will turn humanity into an “Emphatic Civilization”. However, it could just easy turn into a Wall-E scenario where humans, emancipated from the demands of labour and survival, enjoy permeant distractions of materialism and vapid media consumption.

There are also the practical questions of who will pay and own these new systems of energy, IoT infrastructure, and manufacturing automation robots. It is not a given that it’ll be run by communities or cooperatives. Jason Lanier, a researcher at Microsoft, argues that the current titans of technology– from Uber to Google and Amazon – are pushing us towards corporate centralization of control. Lanier warns us that whoever owns the servers controls the world. This does not enable the Emphatic Civilization that Rifkin envisions.

Much Needed Optimism?

When reading Zero Marginal Cost Society, it is tempting be distracted by Rifkin’s cheerleading enthusiasm and ambitious, yet awkward, attempt to cobble together a grand narrative of human history. Yet, as a work about the future, Rifkin is successful in surveying our current era of technological upheaval, connecting them together, and extrapolating a plausible, better humanity. Indeed, given the global sense of uncertainty today, Rifkin optimistic vision of how humanity can move forward is a welcome contribution.

Note: This is part of the series of discussion at Houston Foresight on the topic of After Capitalism. — Daniel Riveong

IP and Business Citizenship

US Policy on IP could have long reaching effects

In the first month of the new US administration we have collectively seen several mile markers towards alternative future scenarios. The president has projected a bias towards US innovation, development, and economic growth – the associated potential for shift in IP policy and the operation of the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) is intriguing.  The outgoing USPTO director had strong connections to future oriented avenues of innovation with history in Silicon Valley (Google) and AI research (MIT). While Trump has broadly signaled his personal value of IP in reference to his and his family’s brands and books, he has not yet nominated a replacement. Jeff Sessions brings a strong point of view on patent regulation having opposed the America Invents Act in 2011 that implemented a shift from “first to invent” to “first to file” and included a series of provisions for inventors to extend protections. His primary objections were related to the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying of the new regulation to maintain protection against generics.

Let’s consider Trump’s dim view of corporate inversions, and strong perspective on home grown economic growth. A new equilibrium “American IP First” scenario could distinguish rights based on the filer’s country of origin. Patents granted to US companies or individuals would receive preferential benefits (duration of protections, filing priority, etc.) vs. foreign initiated applications.  While certainly not a primary platform point, it’s a highly plausible tactical move that could have VERY long reaching and long range strategic implications for globally operating entities. — Bo Roe


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

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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


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 ( — Andy




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