NEWS12 March 2019

Futurology: a way to ‘bridge the gap between complex data and the decision-makers’

AI Impact 2019 Media News Technology Trends UK

UK – By combining analysis and data with a creative mindset, researchers can create a vision of the future that is palatable to decision-makers, according to Scott Smith, managing partner at Changeist.

Smith was talking at Impact 2019 in a session hosted by Jay Owens, research director at Pulsar.

Owen was joined by a trio of speakers, who each discussed their area of expertise in futurology — building scenarios by mapping alternative worlds, probable futures and likely futures; prototyping as a means of making tangible objects and films to bring those scenarios to life; and narratives that shape stories around those scenarios to "reach out to wide audiences".

"We've always been telling stories about the future," Smith said. "Thousands of years ago we were telling stories about what we think is going to happen [in paintings daubed on cave walls], sometimes through primary sources and sometimes through secondary sources."

Today, the notion of speculative storytelling may be fundamentally the same, but it has grown in sophistication. By combining data and analysis and using it to shape a narrative, research-heavy insights can be made more palatable to less receptive audiences, Smith said, "a way to bridge the gap between complex data and the decision-makers themselves".

Meanwhile, Anab Jain, co-founder and director at Superflux, debunked a number of myths around the future. Adages including "the future is a new beginning, the future is shiny, and the future is exponential growth" were readily dismissed.

"The assumption and a common fallacy is that what happens now will continue to happen in the future," she said. "The fallacy of extrapolation is that things will continue to grow in the future. The future can't be seen but it can be imagined. 

"We have learned in our work that one of the most powerful means of effecting change is when you demonstrate the future consequences of their decisions and actions."

Jain illustrated this with an apartment installation of a London flat as it might appear in 2050, at first glance a comfortable living space, but which on further inspection has been adapted for future living, with smart fridges unable to order goods because of their scarcity and areas set aside for experimental food production.

Lastly, Paul Graham Raven, science fiction writer and postdoctoral researcher at Lund University in Sweden, told the audience: "You sell stories for far bigger fees than we do and you've got people thinking of them as truths."

He talked about a project he worked on for housing charity Shelter envisaging a future of housing and homes in 2030. Working with Kantar, a series of scenarios were created that Raven then illustrated with a series of short stories.

"If scenarios are like the like the Google Maps app on a phone, then scenarios like Shelter are the StreetView of the future," he said.