Tech 1313 Explores Jobs and Robots

The Houston Foresight Program introduces futures thinking into a few undergrad glasses. One is led by Alexandra Whittington called TECH 1313 (The Impact of Modern Technology on Society). She recently took several of her students to attend a Lecture on the UH campus:  “Whose Job Will Be Taken Over by a Robot?” by Dr. Rodica Damian. The students learned that the biggest risk of artificial intelligence in the business world is the polarization of jobs and income amplifying economic inequality in society.  Dr. Damian spoke of the fear of fewer middle class jobs and the need to prepare people with adequate education for a future where robots/AI could take 10-40% of jobs.

Artificial intelligence is one of the class topics for TECH 1313  taught by UH Foresight graduate and adjunct faculty member, Alexandra Whittington.  The course provides undergrads at UH the opportunity to learn the Framework Foresight process traditionally taught in the Foresight graduate program.  This semester, undergrads in Alex’s class are researching the future of drones, smart phones, 3D printing, and AI, to name a few examples of the topics being covered.  At the end of the semester the students present the findings of their study, highlighting ethical concerns and social implications.  The course emphasizes technological literacy and citizenship, with the UH Framework Foresight approach forming the basis of how to research and construct future scenarios. — Alexandra Whittington

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First impressions of futurists in the media

As the new Fall 2018 FIM researcher, I thought I would share some first impressions. Almost all the articles about futurists have been positive or neutral, with only a few truly negative. Even when used in a non-futurist context, however, the “borrowed” term has had a positive connotation. It seems to be OK – dare we say “cool” — to be a futurist in music, shoe, wearable tech, or clothing design. But that cool factor doesn’t seem to transfer over when discussing foresight as a professional discipline.  Why is this?

Perhaps it’s because the field is still pretty new. Not too long ago futurists were viewed suspiciously, sometimes as charlatans, in spite of the good work I’ve come across as a student. Foresight only recently emerged after WW2 – a newborn when compared to many other disciplines. The World Future Society was founded in 1966. The first graduate programs in Houston and Hawaii began in 1970s.

That said, we’re not the only new field. The first computer science degree program was offered at Purdue in 1962, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) formed in 1963 as a merger of two other scientific organizations. Peace and conflict studies, earthquake/structural engineering, subatomic physics, planetary geology all took hold as formal disciplines in the 20th century with formal academic curricula and professional organizations standing up shortly after. Why do we never see something like “planetary shoes”, “peace and conflict smart watches”, or “structural engineering trousers?”

Maybe this borrowing of the futurist term could actually be put to good use.  The city of Baltimore, fast food giant McDonalds, and the British store Marks & Spencer have taken what could have been seen as negative vernacular (B-more, Mickey D’s, Marks and Sparks) and, instead of fighting it, embraced it.  When one searches for Bmore on the Internet, it resolves to Baltimore.  When one searches for Mickey D’s, it resolves to McDonalds; and when one searches for Marks and Sparks, it resolves to Marks and Spencer.

Now it’s our turn. We’re futurists; let’s figure out how to take this borrowing – a sign of interest in what we’re doing, and use it to good advantage. Lloyd Chesley

Student Craig Perry’s Review of Superforecasting in APF Compass

In the July 2017 issue of the APF’s Compass, foresight student Craig Perry reviews Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, by Phillip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner. The book, which has received mixed reviews, though mostly positive, puts forward the possibility of making fairly accurate short-term predictions about the future through multiple-source evidence gathering, probabilistic thinking, teamwork, score keeping and a willingness to “admit error and change course”. Ask most futurists in the field of futures studies and in association with the APF and you’ll hear that people in our field don’t make predictions, as predicting the future is impossible. Rather, we forecast a baseline or expected future based upon trends, which can be seen as early indicators of emerging change, cycles, projections and stakeholder intentions, and plausible alternative futures by addressing uncertainties revealed in weak signals of change (i.e., ideas, issues, events, etc.) that surface through environmental monitoring and scanning activities and can unfold in any number of ways. In his review of the book, Craig offers professional futurists insight for reconciling the dichotomy between predicting the future and forecasting the future, as gleaned from the authors.

Craig points to a 4-year research study,  The Good Judgment Project, sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and conducted by author Philiip Tetlock along with others, whereby participants hedged their bets on probabilistic predictions with respect to potential world happenings up to 12 months in the future. The study, organized as part of a government-sponsored forecasting tournament, “conclusively demonstrated” the success of a number of participants in reliably predicting the near-term future. Labeled superforecasters, these participants outperformed an IARPA control group, intelligence analysts, other competitors and prediction markets, such that their skill is viewed to be real foresight, as noted by Craig.

For professional futurists, Craig states that the implications of the empirical data in support of the authors’ claim that it is possible to predict the future “in some situations and to some extent . . .” are two-fold: one, “any intelligent, open-minded and hardworking person can cultivate the requisite skill to become a good forecaster; and two, “with the notable exception of numeracy, the same qualities possessed by ‘superforecasters’ are among those highlighted in the [APF’s] foresight competency model.” He asserts that superforecasting is advantageous to professional futurists, “even if it raises as many questions as it answers,” and believes it introduces “some much-needed rigor into futures studies”.

What do you think? Grab a copy of the book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, and let’s debate it. — Kimberly Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

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Houston Foresight Produces On the Horizon Special Issue: Student Needs 2025

Houston Foresight advances its endeavor to produce high-quality foresight work that helps businesses, governments, institutions and even students anticipate and prepare for the future by publishing 11 out of 13 articles featured in On the Horizon’s 2017 special issue: Student needs 2025 and beyond. Production of this collaborative work by UH faculty, students and alumni on behalf of Lumina Foundation points to emerging student needs with respect to a student’s life as a whole and the innovative responses required to address them.

The articles contributed by Houston Foresighters to this On the Horizon special issue are:

  • “Why student needs” – by Andy Hines (UH faculty) and Juan Suarez (Lumina Foundation project sponsor), pp. 141-144 — highlights three ways in which the study on student needs took a unique view of higher education, centered around a theme of focusing on student as opposed to institutional needs.
  • “Framework foresight for exploring emerging student needs” – Andy Hines, pp. 145-156 — demonstrates how the Framework Foresight method can be effectively used for exploring the future of a topic such as student needs.
  • “The future of student life: living” – Maria Romero (alumni), pp. 157-160 — points to shifting values relative to student health and wellbeing.
  • “The future of student life: learning” – Katie King (alumni), pp. 161-164 — suggests students will increasingly gravitate toward new learning models focused on experiential learning, personalized learning and non-traditional education systems if needed.
  • “The future of student life: working” – Jason Swanson (alumni), pp. 165-168 — touches on the critical uncertainty posed by AI, automation and general technological advances and how they will reshape work.
  • “The future of student life: playing” – Laura Schlehuber (alumni), pp. 169-172 — explores how purposeful play is spreading into virtual space.
  • “The future of student life: connecting” – James Breaux (alumni), pp.  173-176 — finds that students will become increasingly connected to their extended families, communities and AI, using technological interfaces to facilitate such connections.
  • “The future of student life: participating” – Johanne Schutte (alumni), pp. 177-180 — proposes hacking as a form of civic participation, points to ways in which students may become actively engaged in civic life, including through the use of hacking, and purports the need for strategic reconciliation between hackers and the hacked for the greater good of society.
  • “Nine emerging student needs” – Alexandra Whittington & Andy Hines, pp. 181-189 — indicates that nine emerging needs of future students could be used strategically by higher education institutions to guide and inform planning, as well as to generate innovative ideas for university offerings.
  • “Future of student housing” – Yasamina McBride (student), pp. 190-196 — argues that many on-campus housing facilities meet the need of today’s students not those of future students increasingly attracted to technologically improving virtual classrooms, and recommends assessment of these trends by universities so as to make better choices for their campuses.
  • “Emerging student needs disrupting higher education”, pp. 197-208 – Andy Hines — points to two potential disruptive shifts for higher education (a shift in the balance of power from institutions toward students, and a shift in the purpose of higher education away from job preparation), and considers practical and social implications of these shifts.

We would also like to acknowledge the review team: Peter Bishop, Terry Collins, Terry Grim, and April Koury. Thank you so much for making sure the articles were up to standard!

Kimberly Daniels

Photo source: https://www.luminafoundation.org/fosn-insights

 

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Introducing Kimberly Daniels as the Fall 2017 Foresight GA

The baton has passed once again to a new GA this Fall – introducing Kimberly Daniels!

Kimberly is a full-time student that recently relocated to Houston after several years of doing development work in West Africa. She began the program a year ago, has already completed seven courses, and is in line to graduate in  Spring 2018. She has just landed an exciting year-long fellow position with KnowledgeWorks, so she is keeping herself quite busy. She recently completed an internship with the Forest Service on our Forestry Horizon Scanning project and has produced two impressive newsletters for them — as well as scanning and blogging.

Kimberly came to us with a Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL), Strategic Foresight concentration, in hand from Regent University, so we’re quite honored to have her in our student body. She continues her transformational community development work both stateside and overseas. And this year, she won an Honorable Mention in the APF Student Recognition Program for her outstanding project on “The Future of Poverty in Burkina Faso in 2030.”

Please join me in welcoming Kimberly to this important role for the Houston Foresight Program. Andy Hines

 

The 2017 APF Seattle Gathering: Global Health Futures

Attendance by some at this year’s Association of Professional Futurists (APF) conference, held in Seattle, WA July 27-29, was delightfully nostalgic on one hand, and aspiringly forereaching on the other. Seattle was the original gathering location for the APF in 2002, the year it was founded, where this year’s agenda of exploring human health and well-being in relation to the earth and its ability to sustain us also involved a passing of the baton from veteran members to the next generation of APF’ers commissioned with the task of taking the organization forward into its next 15-year study of and practice with respect to the emerging future. Others in attendance, perhaps for the first time or following a number of recurrent times, were collectively enthused at this APF conference being in many ways exceptional with respect to pre-gathering tech-driven events, conference sessions and speakers, a post-gathering hiking event as well as the comradery among professional futurists, educators and students. As in prior years, foresight professionals, educators, alumni and students in association with the University of Houston’s (UH) Foresight Graduate program“Houston Foresight”— were populous in number among conference attendees, and perhaps, most excited by the outcome of Friday evening’s awards presentation in recognition of notable achievements in futures work.

In recognizing the futures work of professional futurists and those in academia, the APF strives to present models of excellence for emulation by foresight practitioners as well as for greater understanding by others. This year, the APF recognized people along three areas of achievement: APF Leadership, Most Significant Futures Work and outstanding student work—tier-awarded acknowledgement through the APF Student Recognition Program. The Houston Foresight community proudly accepted awards across each of the three areas of achievement.

APF Leadership

  • Dr. Peter Bishop: retired Associate Professor and Director of the UH Foresight Graduate Program, Founder and Director of Teach the Future  — recognition as a founding APF board member, creating/developing the APF Professional Development seminars, and for long-time service as the Membership Chair.
  • Jennifer Jarratt: UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters alumni, a Consultant/Coach with Leading Futurists — recognition as a  founding APF member, past Board Chair, first Membership Chair, and Chair of Professional Development and Nominating Committees.
  • Dr. Andy Hines: UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters alumni, Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of the UH Foresight Graduate Program, speaker, workshop facilitator and consultant through his firm Hinesight — recognition as a founding APF member, first Board Chair, past Executive Director, Chair of the Most Significant Futures Work and Professionalization Task Force, and Compass editor.
  • Jim Matthews: UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters alumni, Founder of the Futures Network LLC — recognition as a founding APF member, Treasurer, first Chair of the Finance Committee, creating a stable financial system, and and Compass editor.

 

Most Significant Futures Work (among the dozen judges were UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters alum Jim Lee, Certificate alums Robin Jourdan, Liz Alexander and Dave Hamon, as well as Emeritus Professor Dr. Oliver Markley)

We salute Dr. Andy Hines as one of this year’s award winners. Dr. Hines’ submission falls under Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies —

  • Let’s Talk about Success: A Proposed Foresight Outcomes Framework for Organizational Futurists, Andy Hines Journal of Futures Studies, June 2016, 20(4):1-20. Introduces a framework to help organizational futurists and their clients get clear on intended outcomes and the achievement of success involving the integration of foresight into the organization.“Significantly advances the foresight profession by helping to resolve one of the most vexing problems facing the professional futurist: “How to define and measure success at four inter-related levels (Practitioner, Project, Organizational, and Field), in each of three principal phases of futures work (Learning, Deciding and Acting).”

 

The Student Recognition Program (among the judges were UH  Foresight Graduate Program former Adjunct Professor Terry Grim, Masters alums Dr. Kay Strong and Dr. Verne Wheelright, and Certificate alum Dr. Liz Alexander).

Each of our three graduate student individual submissions won recognition for outstanding work by students in futures studies —

  • 2ND Place: The Future of Quantified Self – Personal Sensors and Analytics, Tim Morgan, UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters candidate.
  • Honorable Mention: The Future of Poverty in Burkina Faso, Kimberly Daniels, UH Foresight Graduate Program Masters candidate.
  • Honorable Mention: The Future of Outdoor Recreation, Bo Roe, UH Foresight Graduate Certificate Program.

A surprise for all present at the awards ceremony physically and online was the announcement of a new category of recognition, The Frewen Award, in honor of our very own Dr. Cindy Frewen, UH Foresight Graduate Program alum and Adjunct Professor, for 7 years of dedicated service as APF Board Chair. Under Dr. Frewen’s leadership, APF membership has grown to be 500 strong, and has expanded to include regional gatherings, professional development opportunities, the Compass, and online Futures Conference, and mentoring program and more.

Hats off to all of our Houston Foresight 2017 APF Award winners, and their strong contribution to the foresight field. And cheers to those in our foresight community already thinking about the 2018 APF Awards program and submissions for recognition of exceptional futures work.  —- Andy Hines and Kimberly Daniels

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Apple in the Forest

Foresight is about aligning decisions in the present with the future that is emerging, something Apple has been doing, to some extent, over the decades. At a time when technology began to dominate the global market, Apple must have understood the trends that were driving change, including mobile internet and web browsing, digital connectivity, LCD displays, palmtop computers, etc. The company’s decisions supporting iPhone, iPod and iPad innovations, to name a few, helped influence the future Apple desired, a future we’re living in today. But while these present-day technologies had been Apple’s core business, positioning Apple as the dominant global brand from 2011 to 2013, and again in 2015, it isn’t content being known as simply a hardware company, as “hardware, software and services” are combined to produce a cohesively whole business. What’s more, Apple appears to have some understanding, once again, of the emerging future—a future 10 to 30 years out, influenced by a present-day movement towards global sustainability.

Consider Apple’s joint-venture with Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, the world’s largest producer of wind turbines, with respect to Apple’s commitment of “powering all of its facilities around the world with 100 percent renewable energy”. As well, take note of Apple’s 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report, which highlights Apple’s achievements and continuing efforts toward using only responsibly-sourced product packaging. Then, there’s Apple’s commitment to “stop mining the earth altogether” in moving towards a “closed-loop supply chain” or circular economy, whereby all new products will be made with 100% recycled materials. These are just two examples which show that Tim Cook isn’t producing the same type of Apple that we’ve seen before, but an Apple that engages foresight so as to align its “whole-business” activities with the emerging future. This, in a nutshell, is Apple’s story.

What does Apple’s move towards global sustainability mean relative to forest futures? For starters, in 2015 Apple announced a 5-year partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “to transition Chinese forests into responsible forest management by 2020”, including establishing long-term market incentives for producing responsibly sourced paper. Also in 2015, Apple purchased forestland in Maine and North Carolina through the Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund, allowing its use of renewable/regenerative resources for product packaging needs. Apple’s move towards sustainability in alignment with the emerging future is protecting “some of the world’s most important forests“—a step towards climate-change mitigation, and something for which future generations will appreciate. Kimberly Daniels

Photos 1 & 1 source: https://images.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Responsibility_Report_2017.pdf

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Houston Foresight Spring 2017 Newsletter

Just realized that I neglected to post the Spring Newsletter put out by our Department. This issue includes:

  • Foresight: A Description of the Field, by student Joe Murphy
  • Foresight Student Bes Baldwin to Intern at Evonik Creavis
  • Reflecting On Futurists In Media 2016
  • Congratulations to Our Fall 2016 Graduates: Gandhi Bhakthavachalam, Maria Romero, and Johann Schutte.
  • Hines Graduates from Cougar Chairs Leadership Academy
  • The Foresight Spring Gathering – 2017

— Andy Hines

Forest Futures: Economic Growth or Degrowth?

Since the 1972 publication of Donella Meadow’s Limit to Growth, many proponents of long-term future sustainability and the survival of man given the steady depletion of finite resources yet the exponential growth of populations, the deterioration of our natural environment as well as economic stagnation, among other things, have advocated for a global response that includes population control, income or wealth redistribution and/or a “fair share” consumption of available resources. Then there’s the more recent debate as to whether societies should shift to a new economic paradigm, whereby strategic ideas and political actions intersect at a point of degrowth as opposed to economic growth in order to reverse man’s plight towards an uncertain future, which in some scenarios involves economic collapse. That there now is an expanding movement in favor of a successor-system to capitalism, commonly referred to as “after capitalism“, brings to mind the thought of an alternative, perhaps, evolutionary social order that not only is preferable to some as compared to the current one shaped by industrial development, but also may conceivably be the better system if societies are to be characterized by sustainable living —arguably the outcome of a “steady-state economy“.

Those oriented towards “a political commitment to growth“, with expectations of limitless continuing economic growth well into the future, may someday find this existing capitalistic-influenced paradigm to be unsustainable. As historical trends suggest, global economic growth stimulated by increasing natural resource use, both renewable and nonrenewable, as well as over-consumption has been linked to widespread environmental and social impacts. Moreover, from a purely economic standpoint, the future of economic growth seems somewhat bleak, given forecasts that suggest that on a global scale, future growth rates will not come close to what they had been in the past, but instead, will “diminish and, presumably, come to an end.” Thus, ideas are emerging of convival and participatory societies, where reduced harmful environmental and unjust social impacts engender environmental sustainability and social equity. Some believe  a degrowth economy can be designed so that there are compensation-based livelihoods and opportunities for those who want them, and decentralized, democratic cooperatives for sharing resources.

What is an important implication of a degrowth economy relative to forests futures?  A sustainable degrowth economy will lead to improved ecological conditions over time, given the reduction in consumption of certain natural resources. The reduced consumption of fossil fuels, for example, will mean less carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, and therefore less reliance on forest carbon sinks as a climate-change mitigator, as “forests can never cancel out or ‘offset’ emissions from fossil sources.” Rather, forest carbon sinks tend to increase the concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions that are released in the atmosphere, thereby causing further planetary warming. — Kimberly Daniels

 

Photo 1 source: http://degrowth.weebly.com/index.html

Photo 2 secondary source: https://entitleblog.org/2017/02/07/beyond-the-limits-of-nature-a-social-ecological-view-of-growth-and-degrowth/

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After Capitalism: Post Growth Economy

In the 1921 Czech play called “R.U.R.”, a scientist decries that his robots are used as war machines. The scientist envisioned robots as emancipating humans from the hardship of labor. His colleague replies that their company’s shareholders gave them no choice because the “[Shareholders] dreamed of the dividends. And on those dividends humanity will perish.”

Is this 400 year old bond to blame for inequality and environmental destruction? The Dutch East Indies Company was the first multinational company to issue bonds and shares to the public. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ninety years after R.U.R’s warning about shareholder greed, the Post Growth Institute has sought to move away from an economy drive by the “dreams of shareholders.” For the institute, the current economy is not sustainable, in terms of dwindling natural resources and increasing social inequality.

Not-for-Profit Companies

The institute’s post-growth economy concept borrows on many discussed economic ideas, such as the circular economy and the commons economy, as means to shift humanity to live within its means. Its more concept is that of the non-profit corporation, which differs from cooperatives, benefit corporations, and traditional non-profit organizations. The Post Growth Institute defines the non-for-profit companies as:

“100% of any profits these businesses make must be reinvested into the business or community. So, not-for-profit really means not-for-private-profit; no more incentivising selfish behaviour.”

The institute argues that not-for-profit companies are the ideal hybrid between innovative, but private profit-driven, businesses and socially-focused, but charity dependent, non-profit foundations.

The Not-For-Profit concept differs from co-ops and triple bottom lines organizations. Source: Slideshare.net

The institute believes that such a not-for-profit structure can transform corporations into vehicles for wealth distribution. Profits, instead of going to shareholders or the top management, would circulated back into the economy.  The lack of shareholders and private owners distinguishes the Post-Growth Institute’s concept of not-for-profit companies from social enterprises, B-corps, and C3 companies.

Without private profits, the institute believes that corporations would not be as incentivized for profit maximization.The assumption is that without profit maximization the push for increased material consumption would decrease, thus improving quality of life and improve the environment.

Shifting Social Values

Jennifer Hinton and Donnie Maclurcan, co-founders of the Post-Growth Institute, identified several trends that they say make non-profit businesses timely and critical: the decline of equitable growth due to inequality created by the current growth-focused economy, a generational shift towards purpose-driven work, and increasing social sensitivity to social and environmental issues.

Hinton and Maclurcan argue that a shift from for-profit to not-for-profit businesses will generate a profound shift in humanity’s well-being, as the culture of “ubiquitous marketing and the culture of consumerism” will lose its luster when companies do not need to push for profit maximization to keep shareholders happy.

Rethinking Corporate Charters

The Post-Growth Institute’s view of rethinking the corporate charter, that is, the purpose and structure of a company is not a novel concept.  In Indonesia, companies in the natural resources industry are required to perform CSR. While in Germany, companies over 2000 employees are required to allocate labor representatives to over half of its board of directors.

Closer to Post Growth Institute’s concept, countries from Thailand to the United Kingdom have established laws allow for social enterprise-focused businesses, ones that are not focused on either non-profit nor shareholder-return maximization. The corporation is, of course, an arbitrary legal concept and can be changed. The not-for-profit company concept could be the next step.

What other key socio-economic concepts should we re-examine to shift from a unsustainable, growth-based economy to one of abundance and sustainability? — Daniel Riveong