Wendy Schultz visits Intro to Foresight class to discuss images of the future

Wendy Schultz is futurist at Infinite Futures and former professor of Foresight at UH. She was a guest lecturer in the Intro to Foresight class this week where she presented on images of the future. Wendy cited the foundational text, The Image of the Future by Fred Polak as key influence for understanding the role images play in understanding and creating the future.

An image, as Wendy explained, is not necessarily just a visual representation. Images can be narratives, songs, poems, artifacts, dances, gestures or other methods of storytelling as well. These images are a part of our interior landscape and often actively inform our world-views and expectations.

Images of the future, or images that sell their audience a certain vision for future are everywhere. We find them in advertising, science fiction, fashion editorials, design renderings, mythologies, religion, political agendas and even our own dreams.

Wendys presentation included various images across multiple mediums which depicted 5-7 generic archetypes of how the future might play out. These archetypes, or reoccurring stories about the future that Wendy sees all the time are outlined in the following table.

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Wendy went on to talk about differing images of the future across cultures, specifically about differences between European and American guiding images. She concluded with touching on her concern with the lack of a uniting universal image and rise of fundamentalist images across the world.

Professor Andy Hines also shared some thoughts on Wendy’s lecture on his blog, where he adds references to methodologies and frameworks suggested by Wendy for analyzing images of the future.

Attached below are a few of the lush images of the future Wendy curated in her presentation. Can you match these images to the archetypes/scenarios outlined in table above?

University of Houston Foresight student work featured in Futurist magazine

futuristso2013_animationThe World Future Society conference was in Orlando, Florida on July 10th and 11th this summer. The annual conference provides a “neutral forum for exploring possible, probable and preferable futures.” The WFS also produces and distributes a magazine publication titled THE FUTURIST, which covers events and trends that are relevant to thinking about the future. The latest issue of THE FUTURIST included an article highlighting the “Best of Houston Foresight” presentation at the World Future Society earlier this year. University of Houston graduate students Laura Schlehuber, Kurt Callaway and Jim Breaux each presented projects they undertook as a part of their coursework in the Foresight program.

Laura Schlehuber presented on the future of national performance indicators. Laura’s presentation argued that relying on solely on Gross Domestic Product as a measure of progress is problematic. She shared other metrics that create a more holistic representation of a country and its citizens well-being. One such metric is the GPI, or Genuine Progress Indicator. GPI supplements economic data with social and environmental factors which gives policy makers a more-complete picture when planning for the future.

Kurt Callaway spoke of the future of harvesting material resources from asteroids and comets. His presentation laid out the strategies and hurdles we face in exploiting the rare-earth minerals found in outer space. Kurt argued that if we can “mine platinum and other expensive metals in space, their prices will plummet and they can be used in new ways.”

Jim Breaux spoke on the future of emergency preparedness. His presentation imagines the implications for disaster recovery in a future fueled by population growth in the costal United States. The presentation laid out scenarios for how housing regulations, home costs, private disaster recovery businesses practices and government funding might be affected in the future.

Videos of the student presentations were posted to our blog earlier this summer, and can be found here.

The World Future Society’s next conference will be held in San Francisco, California the weekend of July 24th at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.  Reduced rates are currently available for those who register early.



SingFit Wins Skullcandy Body Computing Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.32.28 PMRachel Francine, co-founder and CEO of Musical Health Technologies, is a UH Foresight Alum. She believes that the Future of Medicine might be… Music!

Music Health Technologies recently presented their first-of-its kind mobile application titled SingFit at the eighth annual University of Southern California Body Computing Conference. The conference was designed to discover how new advances in sensing technologies might leverage music to improve the health of millions of people. Cutting edge research from top academic institutions indicates that regular singing can have profound health benefits for people with autism, dementia, chronic respiratory disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and various other hard-to-treat health conditions.

SingFit won first prize at the Conference by demonstrating how their product can combine data from various sensors with information from a patients medical history to administer music  as medicine for controlling stress and managing mood.

Rachel Francine stated in a recent press release that “when we launched the company, we wanted to create a product that could have an immediate, transformative impact on the lives of people who use it.” Rachel added that the best part of the conference was”the real support we got from the established medical community and learning about all of the work that is being done to speed the innovation and distribution of digital health.” Personalized medical intervention might become available to patients even sooner than Music Health Technologies had anticipated!


Ross Schott’s work with Singularity University featured in The Telegraph

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 2.16.39 PMRoss Shott, managing director of the graduate studies program at Singularity University is an alumni of the Houston Foresight program. Singularity University, a small unaccredited institute in northern California, is a Futures education initiative co-founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil. Its mission is to help solve some of the planet’s greatest humanitarian problems, such as famine and climate change. The Telegraph recently published an article about the exciting work happening at the institute with an accompanying video that leads off with words from Ross himself.

In addition to running the graduate studies program at Singularity University, Ross also teaches a course in the Foresight department at UH titled Advanced Strategies for Futures Planning. Ross has an excellent business background as outlined with his work with Psyphers Group where he does strategic consulting, executive coaching, and leading-edge research into human potential. Ross is concurrently completing a doctorate in the psychology of human performance at University of the Rockies.  Ross knows how to innovate, plan, and implement change and we are delighted that he will be sharing strategies for doing so with students in the Houston Foresight program this spring.

Laura, Jim, Katie, Omar and Andy travel to Indianapolis to present Student Needs project

Kaite, Laura, and Andy right before beginning our presentation at the Lumina Foundation.

Kaite, Laura, and Andy right before beginning our presentation at the Lumina Foundation.

On September 26th, Foresight students Laura Schlehuber, Katie King, Omar Sahi, and Jim Breaux (now also a faculty member in the program) along with Professor Andy Hines travelled to Indianapolis, Indiana to present the Student Needs project to the Lumina Foundation. The presentation included key findings from the two dozen strong group of faculty, alums, and students who gathered to research and discuss emerging student needs in terms of living, learning, working, playing, connecting, and participating in the year 2025 and beyond.

The student team and Andy engaged in some role playing which included a mock focus group as a means to interact with the audience and deliver the content. The presentation came together beautifully and generated some very useful discussion around our student-centric research and how it intersects with the goals of the Lumina Foundation.

Heather Schlegel’s work on the reputation economy featured on CNN

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 4.00.32 PMHeather Schlegel, a student of the Foresight program has been busy speaking, producing a TV series, and hosting a Podcast on the future of money, identity, relationships and humanity. She recently completed a report on reputation currencies commissioned by the Institute of Customer Experience. An excerpt from the report was featured in the Future Finance section of CNN.

Heather makes a case for why reputation is crucial to the new ‘Sharing Economy’. Airbnb, Uber and eBay all use reviews and referrals to create a system of trust between users in their communities. To read the full article and learn more about why reputation is the currency of the future, click here. 


Ten Books for Prospective Futurists

If you had to suggest ten books that a prospective futurist should read – starting from a tabula rasa (limited or no previous exposure), what would be on your list? It’s hard to do, and I cheated a little bit, by offering other suggestions and grouping them under loose categories or types.

1.Introductory Overviews

  • Ed Cornish, Futuring: The Exploration of the Future, World Future Society, 2003 (Update of the 1977 Study of the Future)
  • Wendell Bell, Foundations of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era: History, Purposes, and Knowledge, Volumes I and II, Transaction, 1996. (A description of the emerging discipline of futures studies. Volume I covers forecasting and Volume II is about values.)
  • John Smart is working on a Foresight Guide that should be out soon and promised to be quite useful

2. Conceptual deep dives

  • Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Art of Conjecture, Basic Books, 1967. (Explores how ideas about what may happen in the future can influence deciding what actions to take in the present)
  • Willis Harman, An Incomplete Guide to the Future, San Francisco Book Company, 1976. (Describes ways to think about the future)

3. Classics (my favorite)

  • Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, Elsevier, 1973. (The role of images of the future throughout history and in the present)

4. Classics (other)

  • Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1984. (One of the most influential books ever written on the future. It argued that the pace of change was outstripping human capacity to deal with it.)
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Harper & Row, 1933. (A dystopian novel of genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals)
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887, Signet, 2002. (A utopian novel about a 19th century Bostonian being transported to the future)
  • Yoneji Masuda, The Information Society As Post-Industrial Society, World Future Society, 1981. (Prescient preview of the information society)

5. Applications

  • Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, Doubleday, 1996. (Business book with lots of stories how scenarios impact organizations.)
  • Kees Van Der Heijden, The Sixth Sense: Accelerating Organizational Learning with Scenarios, John Wiley & Sons, 2002. (More theoretical approach to the practice and benefits of scenario thinking)

6. How-to

  • Andy Hines, & Peter Bishop, Thinking about the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight, Social Technologies, 2007. (Guidelines on how to do strategic foresight from leading practitioners)

7. Science Fiction

  • William Gibson, Neuromancer, Ace Books, 1984. (Pioneering cyberpunk novel)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, Spectra, 1993. (Story on the founding a colony on Mars)
  • Bruce Sterling, Heavy Weather, Bantam, 1994. (Story about a world with drastically altered climate and weather)
  • Iain Banks’ Culture novels (Space operas in distance future w/ thoughtful treatments of advanced AI)

8. Tech-driven future

  • Ray Kurzweil , The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Viking 2005. (How exponential growth in information technology is leading us toward a “singularity” in which life as we know it is unrecognizable on the other side)

9. Environment-driven future

  • Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, Universe Publications, 1972. (Classic projection of exceeding planetary capacity derived from a systems model; See also the 20- and 30-year updates confirming initial model)
  • Richard Slaughter, Biggest Wakeup Call in History, Foresight International, 2010. (Comprehensive, thorough and integrally-informed analysis of the pending environmental disaster if action is not taken)

 10. Futurist profiles

  • Joseph Coates, & Jennifer Jarratt , What Futurists Believe, World Future Society, 1987. (Interviews with 17 leading futurists of the time with analysis and summary)

– Andy Hines

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Student Needs 2025+ project in the Daily Cougar

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.44.37 PMThe Student Needs project is in the news again! The Daily Cougar recently published an article which includes commentary from students and alumni who participated in the project. The article discusses why the report was commissioned, and specifically why a student-centric perspective was made a priority when conducting research.

As Andy mentions in the article, “Our research was not aimed at suggesting what universities should do — our purpose was to paint a picture of what students and their needs looked like.”


Amir Bar Presentes at the Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education

Dr. Peter Senge presenting at STDM conference

Dr. Peter Senge presenting at STDM conference

Amir Bar, an alumni of  the Human Resources Development program at UH developed a tool to help students learn concepts from the Systems Thinking course in the Foresight program. He recently had the opportunity to present the flashcards he developed at the Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling for K-12 conference in Boston, MA.

In a recent correspondance, Amir reflected on his experience.

“My presentation focused on a project I created while taking a special topics course with Dr. Peter Bishop in 2012. As a graduate student in the HRD program and a Systems Thinking Course student, I was looking to create a mobile learning product that would help students master key terms in Systems Thinking. The outcome was a set of 31 “SmartCards” in which each card offers printed information on a term along with a QR code with access to an online module, including among other things a two-minute video of Dr. Bishop introducing the term.

I received very positive feedback at the conference, and I was asked by many to bring the SmartCards to market and make them available for teachers. I am currently working with Dr. Bishop on increasing the deck to 45 terms, and we hope to make them available by the end of the year.”


An example from the deck of flashcards Amir Developed.

Save the Date: Spring Gathering 2015 on “Technology Acceleration”

Houston Foresight Spring Gathering 2015: Technology Acceleration
April 17-18, 2015
University of Houston, Cameron Building

salon 110We have seen astounding changes in technology in the last century. What’s more, several types of technological change have accelerated over this time period, particularly those associated with digital and nanotechnologies. Some say accelerating scientific and technological change have in turn become the prime drivers and accelerators of business and social change.

No one is better qualified than futurist John Smart (and friends) to lead us in a discussion of this emerging future on Saturday April 18th. It’s a sneak preview of a foresight elective course that John has agreed to teach for us this summer. John asks: Please come to the Spring Gathering, we need your collective friendship, humor, and intelligence to accelerate this course into the catalog!” We’ll look at technology acceleration from several complementary perspectives.

Universal Acceleration

Is technology acceleration the next “substrate” in a multi-billion year history of accelerating universal complexity development?

Technology, Wealth, and Social Acceleration.

We’ll look at digital and nanotechnology acceleration, how those drive accelerating trends in wealth production, entrepreneurship and digital social actions (sharing, collaboration, and activism), and ways these accelerating trends and actions impact the world’s great problems.

Quantification, Simulation and Foresight Acceleration

As Big Data, social sharing, sensors, maps, simulations, and algorithms proliferate, many new collective and machine intelligence foresight tools and methods are emerging: predictive analytics, statistical models, crowdsourcing/funding, ideation, innovation and prediction markets. How do we evaluate and use the best of these for our clients?

Globalization and Societal Convergence and Deceleration

As technology-enabled globalization and wealth production accelerates, developed economies are demonstrating many convergent economic, environmental, security, and political processes, and decelerating on several measures (population growth, conflict and crime, individual energy use), and in speed- and cost-to-capability in many areas (from health care to law to defense), making some social futures more regulated and predictable than ever before.

Biologically-Inspired AI, Intelligent Agents, and the Singularity Hypothesis

New AI paradigms like Deep Learning are making great strides in language understanding, machine vision, analysis, and pattern recognition. Trustable machine intelligence might emerge in our cars, robots, digital platforms, and personal intelligent agents in coming years.

Social Challenges and Failure States

There are many social challenges and failure states we might see in a world of continuing technological acceleration, including increasing digital and income inequality, erosion of democracy and privacy, terrorism and conflict, pandemic, failing education, addiction and dependency, resource scarcity, and global warming and other environmental catastrophes. How can better foresight help us and our clients achieve the best and avoid the worst of what may happen in an ever faster future?

And, of course, we’ll have the usual fun and social activities with dinner and margaritas on Friday night and the annual pool party on Saturday after the conference. Details will be coming soon. For now, save the date and come for some fellowship and fun this spring! Andy Hines