Foresight student Joe Murphy interviews futurist Glen Hiemstra

Joe Murphy Librarian UH Foresight

Joe Murphy

Popular Mechanics recently published an article, “How to See the Future,” that discusses the work that futurists do and notes that one can earn a degree in futures studies. I reached out the futurist who was interviewed for the article, Glen Hiemstra, and he shared deeper insights with me below.

Hiemstra noted that he defines futurist work as consisting of three major streams:

  1. Forecasting: developing methodologies for anticipatory thinking and then making observations about probable futures –  trends and developments – best exemplified by the various forms of environmental scanning.
  2. Developing pictures of possible futures, best exemplified by scenario planning and also by science fiction writing. Exploring “what if” possibilities.
  3. Defining preferred futures, a process for assisting organizations (or individuals for that matter) to envision preferred futures and then refine those images into a preferred vision and from there into a set of strategies or steps that will move them in the preferred direction. This activity may, and usually does, involve preliminary steps that involve the first two forms of futurist work.

His work has involved all three primary activities. He is an avid consumer of those who specialize in forecasting or imagining possible futures, and he works with clients to make sense of the patterns of change and opportunities that these forecasting and imagining activities produce. In some work – presentations for example, or certain workshops – the task starts and pretty much ends with an exploration of future trends and their strategic implications.

With clients involved more deeply, there is a desire to produce a new vision and plan, and in these engagements he spends time developing images of preferred futures, and then sorting and refining those images to craft a true new vision for the preferred future. While a preferred future vision can be developed in a single retreat or workshop, most often such work involves deeper engagement with an organization over time, with a series of retreats, workshops and meetings. Often there is some process for involving not just a task force or management team, but also for seeking input from a wider circle within or even from everyone in an organization. The vision work then usually leads to a process for defining values, mission, strategies, actions and some kind of follow up or monitoring process for tracking how well the organization is doing in seeking its vision.

The increasing awareness of futurists and their work reflects the important value that foresight contributes. Seeing the future that we want is as critical as seeing the alternative futures hinted at by trends. Thank you, Popular Mechanics and author Lara Sorokanich for the insightful piece on futurists and for covering the work of futurists. Thank you deeply to Glen Hiemstra who went above and beyond in responding to me and elucidating that key area of futurists’ work of preferred futures. — Joe Murphy, Foresight student


Promising Technologies in Forest Monitoring

New technologies in forestry monitoring

  • Terrestrial LiDAR
    • Ground-based approach generating “a high number of points … able to describe with high accuracy the understory of the forest (Henry et. al. 2015)
    • “Potential to estimate in a standardized and automatic way tree diameters, tree height, tree volume, and thus tree biomass” (Henry et. al. 2015)
    • Suggests potential for tech deployment by independent stewards on the ground. This means that a measurement system will be available for forest measurement crowdsourcing in areas which are difficult to assess from above or are heavily utilized.  Ground-based LiDAR can be utilized by hikers, bikers, campers, or travelers that wish to help the US Forest Service obtain ongoing metrics as they pursue their own outdoor activities.
    • terrestrial-lidar
  • Airborne LiDAR
    • Airborne LiDAR is useful for assessing larger areas by creating a manageable view of the canopy concerned with canopy height and density of trees. This approach is more broad than ground based Li-DAR.  Airborne LiDAR is limited by point density, that is, as the trees become thinner, the data becomes less-accurate.
    • Drone deployment will be a game changer for Airborne LiDAR as it is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and does not require a conventional pilot to be effective. The introduction of unmanned LiDAR systems marks a new stage in forest metrics efficacy.
    • arial-lidar
  • Spaceborne LiDAR
    • Spaceborne LiDAR has the potential to monitor and influence global natural resource management. Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) is a spaceborne LiDAR instrument deployed to measure ice-sheet elevations and changes therein over time.  Secondarily, “forest canopy metrics can be generated form the GLAS waveforms (Lefsky et al. 2005; Simard et al. 2011; Xing et al. 2010), and these metrics can, in turn be used to generate estimates of aboveground biomass or carbon (Baccini et al. 2008; Boudreau et al. 2008; Saatchi et al. 2011)”
    • ICESat2 is another spaceborne LiDAR instrument “having a smaller footprint than the previous one … this new instrument will have a blue-green wavelength system that is optimized for ice sheets, not for forest, and will thus only be able to map canopy heights in forests with cover that does not exceed ~70% (Goetz and Dubayah 2011).
    • spaceborne-lidar
  • Radio detection and ranging technology
    • “The ability of a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is used to improve the resolution beyond the limitation of physical antenna aperture.  Basically, the ability of a SAR system to detect structures of different sizes depends on its frequency.”
    • C-Band, being of short wavelength, is very good at quickly saturating the forest and is therefore more useful in denser biomass areas.
    • L-Band is a longer wavelength which has been used to measure biomass in much thinner areas such as the Savannah.
    • radar
  • Stereoscopy and photogrammetry
    • Three-dimensional imaging
    • Much cheaper alternative to laser scanning data when “modeling key forest attributes, such as tree or forest canopy height” (Straub et al. 2013).
    • Can be effective in measuring difficult-to-measure variables “such as course and fine woody debris and has been shown to be useful to assess forest biomass even in tropical areas (Ottmar et al. 2001; Alvarado-Celestino et al. 2008)”.
    • high-def-imaging
  • Very high-resolution optical imagery
    • Limited by the effects of pollution and angular photography.
    • Able to convey a much more comprehensive image with respect to color and detail in comparison with only airborne LiDAR technology
    • Can be combined with airborne LiDAR for a very comprehensive approach
    • Can be attached to drones to cut down on costs and man hours  stereography
Posted in Forest Futures by Will Williamson. 1 Comment

Futurists in the Media: November 2016 update

Futurist in the media logoThe last month has seen a mix of mentions about organizational futurists and keynoters. Mentions are increasing and we are seeing more quality hits on professional futurists compared to what we call “accidental” futurists (those who are assigned the title by others [media or marketers] or simply pick it up themselves].  And we have not recently found mentions where futurist is listed in  “scare quotes.”

Topic include financial information on the idea of planning to be alive at 100. Alas, we still see the ever-present “P” word (prediction) but this time its used to grab attention to the current state of Foresight in “how to predict the future.” From the pulse of foresight we go to the future of Iowa’s farms and are introduced to the idea of farm drones ). Says futurist Thomas Frey: “The person operating the farm will be more like the conductor of an orchestra with all the machines and equipment taking directions from the farmer.” He projects that rural ares set to benefit from technology such as goods delivered by Drones.

Other November topics included, “AI generations” and jobs in the future for young people moving into the workforce, a disruption in the jobs that sit in front of the computer is coming, and a peek at 2036 and what we can possibly expect. There is a great piece in Scientific American: “What Can Futurists Teach Us About Imagination?”  It explores question such as: Are there psychological and social benefits to imagining the world, and our lives, decades in advance? And if so, what does it take to become good at imagining the far future? How do you evaluate skill, success and impact? What obstacles might prevent someone from being able, or willing, to practice far-future thinking – and how can we help people overcome them?” — Waylon Edens

Houston Foresight Scenario Workshop in Dubai


Maryam Abdulrasool Abu Maleh, Maryam Mohmmed Bin Hammad al Saabri Dr. Andy Hines, Faisal Abdullah Bin Belaila, Dr. Rami Salah Abdalla Al Gharaibeh

Our research program continues to gain momentum. In November, on behalf of the Future Foresight Foundation, Dr. Hines led a team from the General Directorate of Residency & Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in Dubai through a scenario planning and implications workshop. The project is exploring how the work of the GDRFA will be different out to 2030. In addition to the scenario planning activity, the project involves a horizon scan and a final report that pulls it all together.

Dr. Hines is the principal investigator. Alexanda Whittington is leading the project and responsible for the ongoing activities. We are being ably assisted by four Master’s students: Katie King, Eric Kingsbury, Maria Romero, and Mark Sackler.

It has been a great learning experience so far. Along with our project explore the future of forestry (highlights on our blog), we are quite pleased to provide real-life project experience for our students.

Forest Futures: Wood Skyscrapers

rains-1Tall buildings made of wood have been reaching skyward in many cities around the world recently. Using cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, an innovative technology in advanced composites, low-value wood can safely, sustainably and cost-effectively be used for commerical construction. Shown to the right is a photo of the Wood Innovation and Design Center (and one of its floors) in Prince George, British Columbia. This wood building is over 100 feet tall. Much taller wood buildings have been proposed, such as a 1,000-foot-tall wood skyscraper in London.rains-2

Two US examples, and winners of last year’s US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, include a 10 story condo in New York City and a 12-story combined office and apartment building in Portland, Oregon (artist’s rendering below and to the left). In a press release announcing these two prize-winning buildings, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that “next-generation lumber and mass timber products are becoming the latest innovation in building construction.”

Innovative rains-3new technologies and building systems have enabled longer wood spans, taller walls, and higher buildings, and continue to expand the possibilities for wood use in construction.”

Implications of widespread use of CLT technology and other “mass timber” products include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to conventional building materials like steel and concrete, and long-term storage of carbon in wood construction. An unexpected implication could be a reduction in catastrophic wildfires: Increased sustainable use of abundant, low-value wood for tall buildings and other biomass uses could help reduce the buildup of “hazardous fuels” (forestry terminology for excess flammable material in fire-prone ecosystems), which are helping to drive larger and more intense megafires. Fewer large wildfires would also mean a reduction in the massive amount of CO2 released from these fires, lower costs for firefighting, less damage from fires, and greater safety for wildland firefighters and residents. Smokey Bear would be proud! — Michael T. Rains, USDA Forest Service

Welcome Foresight Fall 2016 New Students

glenn-akinsGlenn Akins serves as Assistant Executive Director of a large faith-based non-profit. Based in Richmond, VA. He spent last 36 years helping churches pioneer their next chapters of service to their communities. Coaching, conferencing, and consulting comprises the bulk of my work. He enjoys learning and acquiring new skill sets to improve his service among our constituents. Though a product of Midwestern cities, he has spent most of his adult life in the Southeast and has enjoyed the cultural differences. His primary hobby is raising Old English Sheepdogs.”


Bes Pittman Baldwin has a broad research background that includes preclinical research and development of novel implantable cardiovascular devices anbespittmanbaldwind clinical trials experience in oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, neurology, and women’s health. She served in a variety of roles at academic research organizations and biotech, pharmaceutical, and CRO companies, including positions in project management, clinical site monitoring, research protocol development, data quality assurance, research study coordination, analysis of global feasibility, and development of country and site strategies for projects in all phases of clinical development.  Bes currently works for a global pharmaceutical company based in Belgium, crafting operational strategies for clinical trials of drugs in development.”

James Doughman is a born and raised Texan and currently resides in Spring, TX with his daughter and fiancee. He currently works within the Cyber Defense Departmeprofile_jdoughmannt at AIG as a, CISSP Certified, Information Security Analyst. He has gathered valuable skills while previously working as a System Administrator, Network Engineer, Forensic Analyst, and PCI-DSS Compliance Consultant. James graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in Computer Science specialized in Information Assurance. His hobbies include motorcycles, firearms, and technical tinkering.”


“Steve Lohrenz is a Principal Consultant with a technology company.mephoto He has 18 years of experience in IT having been a network administrator, programmer, systems analyst and software architect before his current role. He currently resides in California with his wife and son, thave also lived in Ireland and Montana. His hobbies include hiking, aikido and developing cool things with software.”



Yasamina (‘Mina) McBride is pursuing the MS in Foresight to help organizations and individuals both anticipate and exact more influence over the environment of continuous change yasamina-mcb_webthat exists in the 21st century. Currently, she works with a team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and Global Environment. The team produces Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership programs designed to enable senior leaders to learn powerful new strategies that position sustainability as a driver of organizational engagement, authenticity, agility, innovation, and change-capability. As a corporate and independent trainer, she has led corporate training programs, produced and facilitated workshops, developed curricula, and designed instructional materials. An ALB graduate from Harvard University, her research interests include peak performance and how to affect behavioral change on an organizational and individual level.”

Tim Morgan has had a lifelong fascination with the future. A natural optimist, he has constantltnm-casual-headshot-2016y looked forward to how technological and social changes could improve life for everyone. To this point, Tim’s primary outlet for futurism has been a voracious reading habit in science and technology related fields along with philosophy, sociology, economics, history and a host of other subjects. His interest in the future lead him to Science Fiction at an early age. This interest culminated in becoming president of the Dallas Future Society between 2011-2015. The Dallas Future Society is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to promoting Literature, Science, Art, Music primarily via literary Science Fiction conventions, lectures, and other events. Several years ago, Tim attended our week-long certificate course and finally found the time to pursue the full degree.”

1220384Natalie Pacheco has over 13 years of experience working for a Fortune 500 Financial Services company in San Antonio, TX. Her experience has varied from call center operations, speech to text analytics, agile project management, and interactive voice response systems. She currently works as a decision scientist, where she helps the company make the best decisions backed by data. Her undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Business with a focus on accounting. Natalie spends her free time reading, painting, baking, and learning ballet. She and her husband, Jason, have two ‘fur-babies’. A cat named Chicken and a dog named Rainbow.”


Ileana Perez is currently a pre-graduate student seeking the Certificate in Strategic Foresight. Employed as the financial coordinator for the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston. Received Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston in 2013.”





Dave Ramirez has experience in increasingly responsible roles within marketing at several companies. Notably, he has served as marketing director for two publishing companies where he wasstudent-dave-ramirez responsible for managing all marketing, licensing, operations, and sales activities. One company focused on the energy industry and the other company developed fantasy and sci-fi graphic novels and children’s books.During this time, he has managed large, complex events & product launches in several large cities including New York, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Frankfurt, Germany.
His leadership has helped his employers win several industry awards. Lastly, Dave also has extensive experience assisting start-ups with marketing strategy and communications technology. He also has a BS in media studies from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.”

Andrea Ratzlaff was born and raised in the Ozarks in Arkansas, she moved to Virginia in 1997 and outside of 6 months living in San Diego have been there ever since. After earning a BS in Nursing in 2004 from Old Dominion University, she spent about 6 years working as an ICU nurse. In 2007, she began her MS in Nursing, but had to put that on hold about a year into it due to life (read kids!). From there she worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator for the major oncology group in my area for almost 7 years. Most recently, she has been working as a contractor for a medical software company based in New York and finally getting back to school to finish her graduate degree. When she’s not working or studying, she’s busy spending time with her three kids, reading, or traveling.”

riveong-profile-v1Daniel Riveong loves to connect the dots between individual behaviors, social dynamics, and the technology that enables them. He has over 18 years of experience in technology and advertising. The past few years, he has conducted a few foresight workshops in Asia. Most recently, he helped establish the first data science training program in Indonesia. Previously, he led the Asian regional office for a San Francisco-based digital consultancy. A relentless learner, he has attained certificates in design thinking, risk management, and data science from UC Berkeley, Stanford University, and Coursera/John Hopkins, respectively.”

student-bo-roeBo Roe is passionate about leading creative teams to drive business growth through culturally relevant innovation. Over the past 11 years, he has led projects in Brazil, China, Colombia, Japan, France, Mexico, Switzerland, Turkey, and the US. In his most recent role as Director, Innovation at Newell Brands, Bo and his team led over 100 future-oriented innovation sessions delivering over 300 innovation platforms currently in development. His professional experience includes global work in consumer insights, creative problem-solving facilitation, innovation strategy development, and industrial design. Bo holds a B.S. in Industrial Design from Georgia Tech and a graduate certificate in Creativity, Innovation, and Change Management from the State University of New York. He has completed consumer insights training at both RIVA and the Burke Institute. Bo is defined by his insatiable curiosity, recently spending his spare time taking photographs from high altitude balloons, sailing, brewing beer, and dancing with his wife, two kids and dog to made up songs in the kitchen of their mid-century home in Kalamazoo, MI.”

student-cydi-whitecottonCyndi Whitecotton is a Behavior Researcher who enjoys connecting people to their favorite organizations through meaningful experiences. I’m currently researching how people perceive, interpret, interact and respond in a media rich world. Her focus to date has been on the decision-making processes users experience as they adopt or reject digital technologies. Additionally, she applies best practices in the areas of content analysis, user experience and quantitative behavioral research. By combining her knowledge in the areas of Media Psychology, Technology and Futures Work, she can assist organizations to create for how their audiences live and work in this digital age.”

Forest Futures: Concentrated Cities amongst Wilderness

Though seemingly a polar opposite, the topic of the future of cities and urban environments is quite germane to the conversation about the future of forests and forestry. Societies interaction with forest products, spaces, and the very construct of wilderness will change depending on how the future of urbanization comes to pass. One key uncertainty at play here is how urban centers coexist with the surrounding geography.

In their article entitled The 2050 City, Kiss, et al. develop a series of urban infrastructure models to explore how the North American cities of the future might evolve to exist.  They outline two base land use areas, the Urban Core (the legal city limits where people live, work, play) and the Urban Infrastructure Area (the land area required to generate the inputs that enable the Urban Core — energy, consumables, food, water collection, etc.). In the present day arrangement the UIAs are widely dispersed and not necessarily adjacent to the populations they serve.  They are also quite large in comparison; the New York City UIA of 2010 for instance is 52 times the size of its Urban Core.

Three levels of environmental footprint for Northeast US cities (Kiss et al.)

Three levels of environmental footprint for Northeast US cities (source: Kiss, et al.)

Kiss et al. outline the plausible efficiencies, conservation, consumption behaviors, and shifts in agriculture that could drive down the land area requirements for new and growing Urban Cores.  Their premise is based on these two areas being co-located to create highly self-sufficient, independent cities surrounded by wilderness.

An alternate future of self sufficient cities surrounded by wilderness (Kiss, et al.)

An alternate future of self sufficient cities surrounded by wilderness (source: Kiss, et al.)

The open question for Forest Futures is how the variety of managed land purposes exist as spaces in this scenario.  Likely, portions of a zone of commercial forestry product use would overlap the Infrastructure Area.  Zones designated for recreational, ecosystem conservation, and carbon sequestration might then be quite distant.  Would green spaces within the Urban Core then act as surrogate spaces for engagement with nature? Might seamless high speed autonomous transportation make the distance irrelevant?

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Posted in Forest Futures by Bo Roe. No Comments

Foresight Certificate Boot Camp Registration for 2017 now open

We are pleased to announce that registration for the 2017 UH Foresight Certificate is nemail-advertisement-2017ow open.

The five-day course will take place January 16-20 (and also May 1-5) at the Hilton hotel right on the campus of the University of Houston. Peter Bishop kicked off the first certificate back in 2009 and we’ve been running them 2 or 3 times each year ever since. It is affectionately known as “boot camp,” as we essentially cover an abridged version of our “Introduction to Foresight” course in 5 days. I really enjoy the diversity of participants we get; they come from corporations, government agencies, NGOS, non-profits, education, consultancies….pretty much from anywhere. Most participants have some sort of foresight role – or are about to begin one — and need an immersion in the basics. That’s just what you’ll get! Hope you can join us.

Sign up here

Email Alex ( with questions about registration and Andy ( about content.

Forest Futures: Hotdogs Made of Trees?

This is exactly what the doctor prescribed. The fat substitute of the future! This isn’t quite what I was expecting to find when scanning for the future of forest products, but the implications are intriguing. Newsweek Europe highlighted the new plan which could soon allow hot-dog lovers to consume your favorite foodstuff free of guilt and without the nagging need to go for a run to burn fat-substituteoff the calories afterwards.

Borregaard is a Norwegian biorefinery with a global reach. They are in the planning stages of a new product called, Sense-Fi. The food material has the texture and mouth feel of fat without the calories or other associated factors that come from high-fat foods. Microfibrillated cellulose is a waste product that is created when trees are turned into timber. While plants grow hundreds of billions of tons of cellulose yearly; currently only a small fraction is implemented for human use.

Lots of money (I’m talking billions) is already being invested into the development of this faux fat. It brought me to the question, “Can fat-friendly and tree-friendly exist in the same product? There may be hesitation from both food gatekeepers and trees rights activists, but the obesity problem this product could help alleviate may be worth the debate. It’s worth mentioning that Norway has the lowest adult obesity rate among all OECD countries (10% in 2012). Countries like the U.S. struggle somewhere around the 30% mark. The research was kicked off ten years ago by the Paper and Fibre Institute in Trondheim, Norway, and use has already been approved in the U.S. A plant in Wisconsin is in the early stages of selling the product to the U.S. food industry.

The term superfood has become a ploy in the marketing world, but Sense-Fi is not only saving calories from fat, but can also bulk up ice cream, condiments, and yogurt. It gives the same texture and mouthfeel as fat, but instead of extra calories, it provides extra fiber which aids in digestion and leaves one feeling full faster. While this substitute can solve the obvious food-related issues in the U.S., its use offers the greatest alternative to food deficiencies in developing countries where basic nutrition continues to be a challenge. So what does this mean for the future of forest products? Does the impact stop at allowing new streams of revenue for what was once considered waste, or is this a herbivore takeover of carnivore proportions? What are your thoughts surrounding the uses and implications of such a product? Liah Johnson

Student Dave Ramirez on Software’s Right to Life

“Within 50 years a legally binding “right to life” (a right not to be terminated or shut down with violation punishable as a capital offense) will be granted to software by some nation on Earth, effectively giving constitutional “human rights” to a software system.”

My reasoning is based on three ideas. First, everything physical will be digital. Nearly everything we do in the physical world now has a digital fingerprint of some sort. Additionally, the meteoric rise of IoT will happen long before 2065. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, there will be nearly 21 billion IoT devices. Imagine what another 45 years will bring. Thus, IoT will eliminate any remaining physical world-only vestiges.

Second, except for rare, mostly ceremonial reasons like weddings or graduation announcements, for instance, all of our communications already are digitally-enabled but our laws have not kept up. Social media is presenting some real world legal concerns. Facebook, for example, estimates 8,000 of its users die every day. It now has 30 million accounts held by dead people—that number will continue to grow. We have laws to address issues arising from our death related to physical concerns but not for digital concerns like determining who has access to our digital accounts.

As a move in this direction, Facebook advises users to add a “legacy contract” to grant limited control of your account to others after you die. After your legacy contact posts a final message, the company converts your profile to a memorial: your friends will never change and only remembrance messages can be posted. I think it’s plausible that we will have laws that will grant “right-to-life” to our social media accounts to help preserve them to ensure companies don’t deleting a dead users accounts without going through some discovery process. This is even more likely given the convergence of social media communications with IoT by 2065. Note: This step doesn’t doesn’t assume that the software in question needs to be self-aware to be given “human rights.”

Finally, a Kurweillian Singularity AI could lead to a self-aware digital avatars of ourselves. In the timeframe given, it’s likely that we will use social media avatars (i.e., software systems) to communicate with each other. So, instead of our current human user-on-software-on human user method, it will be software-on-software, humans have been removed from the interaction equation. We already are seeing some early indicators of this with the large spike in venture capital-backed Bot Startups.

Another, indicator is with our changing attitudes towards death itself. Millennials show more interest in preserving their digital stuff rather than their physical bodies and belongings. For example a grieving AI developer, Eugenia Kuyda, modified a bot into into a “living” memorial of her murdered best friend. She and her company combined Google’s TensorFlow with their own neural network software. By programming all of the hundreds of communications she had shared with her deceased friend over the years into her bot, she and her team created a chat bot that responds exactly like her friend used to do, thereby effectively granting him new life.

By 2065, it’s likely that personalized chat bots could become so good it will be impossible to distinguish them from the real thing (Kuyda, recently received $4.42 million in VC funding for AI chat bots). And if these bots are embedded in everything (IoT) we have, it will be very difficult to pull the plug and disconnect them without laws to address our future “avatar human’” rights when we die. — Dave Ramirez