Futurism as collaborative pattern matching

Futurists are always in the heat when futurism is discussed from a pragmatic perspective. Yes, futurists and forecasters do predictions in one form or the other. And yes, these predictions are sometimes wrong and sometimes right. There was e g an article in Slate with the title the Future of Futurism where the writer tried to understand which kind of futurists are the best and argues that techno-realists like John Robb are the best because they see the complexity and understand some fundamental things that the others apparently don’t.

I also likes what John writes and think it adds a lot to understanding the present and the future so I wouldn’t argue with the opinion as such. What I would argue against is the shallow perspective in which it is possible to grade futurists according to the accuracy in their predictions.

When Jamais Cascio were formulating the 12 things journalists need to know to be a good Futurist/Foresight reporter I felt uneasy. It was a really good idea, but I saw most if them was missing the real point. (Maybe the reason is that I am not the target audience for the advice). I was wondering why I felt that way and realized it was due to these advices seemed to fall into the trap of talking about forecasting and other results of the work of futurists as individual predictions. The consequence was that he meets the traditional one-issue-at-the-time-journalists at their own level of analysis, which I think is the reason that I felt it largely missed the point. I think it would be better to argue that the value of forecasts are a bit more complex and not just simple forecasts. Why not just use the last of Jamais’ advice to explain this point:

12. “The future is process, not a destination.” — Bruce Sterling

When focusing on the quality of individual predictions I think we fail to see that they really are small parts of an emerging pattern or lens we collaboratively are putting together. The more pieces we can integrate the better lens we will get. A lens through which humanity can perceive and identify what is relevant for our long term future. To say that one or the other of these predictions are wrong or correct is of course possible but usually misleading.

I think the value of a futurist should be measured by the broader contribution they do to the the forecasting discussion, not in his or her predictive accuracy for one or another of the predictions. I think the best futurists are those that have identified and described the best pattern which helps organizing the zillion of facts we can see around us. Futurists are in a sense (like poets?) “synthesists” who are interpreting to world around us and is involved in formulating and developing lenses which help the rest of us see the whole world in “a grain of sand”. Each prediction is just a one-dimensional piece seen by a person looking on the world through a unique multi dimensional lens. It’s the lens that is interesting!

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