Futures studies take
four classic types:
The first type of futures studies includes fantasy, science fiction, art, and "utopian studies" groups. The World Future Society (WFS) engages primarily in the second and third types, e.g., what types of preferred futures do our nations and institutions seek, how do we develop consensus, and how can we best implement collective vision.
The WFS seeks to engage a broad, international dialog in preferred futures work, including United Nations futures efforts. To a lesser extent, the WFS also engages in exploratory future studies (e.g., utopian studies). But predictive futures studies, the primary focus of the ASF, is presently underrepresented within most futures organizations, including the WFS. In our opinion, this is due to a present scarcity of developmental systems theorists in the modern futures community (more). As a result, many conventional futurists still maintain that the future, even in its broadest framework, "cannot be predicted."
Yet it is clear to developmentalist thinkers that there are dozens of trends, most of them computationally derived, that have been highly predictable for decades, and a few (e.g., a generalized Moore's law, growth in processing, storage, input/output, bandwidth, and other informational measures, the technological aspects of Herman Kahn's Multifold Trend, etc.) for centuries. Fortunately, there are a growing number of technology researchers, IT managers, and some change-aware futurists (e.g. Richard Albright, Brad De Long, George Gilder, Robin Hanson, Ray Kurzweil, Nathan Mhyrvold, and Hans Moravec) who have engaged in nearer-term predictions of accelerating change in information and communication technologies. This in turn is allowing increasingly testable and falsifiable models of computational trends to emerge within the futures studies community.
The Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) is a nonprofit community of 3,100 systems theorists and futurists, focused primarily on predicting, understanding and managing what appear to be inevitable, physical developmental trends in science and technology, and how those trends impact our business and humanist agendas. ASF's efforts may be called "developmental future studies," whereas the large majority of traditional futurist organizations, focus primarily on "evolutionary" future scenariosmapping the space of the possible and preferable, rather than primarily extrapolating the shape of the statistically inevitable, convergent, and permanent.
Specifically, ASF research seeks to understand why increasingly fast, powerful, smart, and autonomous computational systems appear to be inevitably emerging, whether they will exceed human level complexity during this century, as hundreds of scholars are now proposing, and if so, what we can do today to make that apparently inexorable developmental path better serve human ends.
ASF is therefore much more focused on scientific, technological, business, and humanist issues in accelerating change, primarily involving technological innovation, diffusion, assessment, and policy. This includes such specific topics as growth in artificial intelligence, computational autonomy (the increasing human-independence of technological systems), evolutionary developmental computation, human-machine symbiosis, technological security and transparency, network platforms, personality capture, the conversational user interface, and other issues of the coming Symbiotic Era.
As models and measurements of accelerating change improve in coming years, we expect the social and technological choices relevant to these issues to receive significantly greater public and professional attention.