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Futurology

Objectives And Characteristics

Future is to be created, as it does not yet exist. Also the events are interrelated, as changes in some components will affect the future. This indicates that there are many "futures," but the one that will finally emerge is already determined by the events of the past. Thus the emergent future comes out of all possible futures—where anything might happen. These are further limited to probable futures, which are most likely to happen and already shaped by the immediate past. Futurists would like to work for the most preferable or a desired future. Thus planning for the future presupposes importance of three factors: the interlinking of events, a vision of the future and ideas for different events that would ultimately lead to the desirable future, and time. Time is related to the importance of short-term, medium-term, and long-term planning for realization of the future. A convenient time frame for studying the future are: near-range: up to a period of one year; short-range: up to a period of five years; medium-range: from five years to twenty years; long-range: from twenty years to fifty years; and far: beyond fifty years.

Some characteristics of this new field of study as noted by Olaf Helmer (1978) are that its function is primarily predictive and not explanatory; it constructs tentative models for which no hard data about the future is available; often the intuitive judgment of the experts is the main guidance; and, most important, it is highly multidisciplinary.

However, views and perspectives about future studies differ. One view tends to project it as a way of providing "decision-makers with operationally meaningful assistance in the form of information and analysis" to facilitate better decision-making and looks upon future studies work as an "objective exploration of what future has to offer" (Helmer, p. 764). However, against this trend for confining future studies merely to forecasting in utopian areas, there are those who want future studies to lead forecasting "to planning, decision, and creative action" and require that futures research be responsive to global challenge ahead. This demands an increasingly holistic and global, more explicitly normative, and increased participation. The fundamental assumption in future studies is that interventions can change the future; this also implies assumption of responsibility for the process of changing the future. Together with its multidimensional and interdisciplinary character, creation of awareness about the desirable future, making people conscious of the effect of their action on the future, and acting as a pressure group mark the uniqueness of this field.

One common method of prediction is to extend current trends, but such interlinked and interacting systems, as futurology deals with are generally of the common adaptive type. These exhibit a range of nonadditive effects that simply cannot be summed to give the overall effect. However, even in such cases, computer-based modeling comes to help. One such mathematical modeling resulted in the widely circulated and criticized "Limits of Growth" concept published in early 1970. Methods developed since 1970 include the Delphic method, trend-impact analysis, cross-impact analysis, structural analysis, technology-sequence analysis, decision and statistical modeling, relevance trees and morphological analysis, science and technology road-mapping, scenarios and interactive scenarios, and the state of the future index method (see, for example, Glen and Gordon, 2003). In spite of such skeptics' declarations as "Futurism is dead" and that the futurist window to the world of tomorrow is just a "mirror reflecting the prejudices and preconceptions of one's own time" (Jones), futurology is going strong, with professional futurists helping their clients "draw the maps of the future and identify the obstacles (and opportunities) along the way" (Wagner). Much development in the field of ecology and sustainable development results in international cooperation in decreasing global warming and ozone hole depletion, and can be attributed to this field. Things are happening at all levels, projects like restorative development are future-inspired action plans. Rapid developments in the new field of science and technology such as NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science) have led to a plethora of futuristic writings in these fields (see Eric Drexler [1987]; Ray Kurzweil [2000]; Rodney Brooks [2002]; John Brockman [2002]; Douglas Mulhall [2002]).

To state a truism, future begins where history ends, and it is befitting to conclude this entry with a quotation from Francis Fukuyama's much acclaimed "End of History and the Last Man":

The unfolding of modern natural science has had a uniform effect on all societies that have experienced it, for two reasons.… technology confers decisive military advantages on those countries that posses it, and given the continuing possibility of war in the international system of states, no states that values its independence can ignore the need for defensive modernisation. Second, modern natural science establishes a uniform horizon of economic production possibilities. Technology makes possible the limitless accumulation of wealth, and thus the satisfaction of an ever expanding set of human desires. This process guarantees an increasing homogenization of all human societies, regardless of their historical origins or cultural inheritances. All countries undergoing economic modernisation must increasingly resemble one another; they must unify nationally on the basis of the centralized state, urbanize, replace traditional forms of social organizations like tribe, sect, and family with rational ones based on function and efficiency, and provide for universal education of their citizens" (pp. xiv–xv).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brockman, John, ed. The Next Fifty Years. New York: Vintage, 2002.

Brooks, Rodney. Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

Cornish, Edward. The Study of the Future. Bethesda, Md.: World Future Society, 1977.

Drexler, Eric. Engines of Creation. New York: Anchor Books, 1987.

Fukuyama, Francis. End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Glenn, Jerome C., and Theodore T. Gordon. Futures Research Methodology. Washington, D.C.: Millennium Project/American College for the United Nations University, 2003.

Helmer, Olaf. "The Research Task before Us." In Handbook of Future Research, edited by Jib Fowles. London: Greenwood Press, 1978.

Jones, John. "The Amateur Prophets." Available at http://www.ensc.sfu.ca/people/faculty/jones/ENSC100/future/node4.html

Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000.

Mulhall, Douglas. Our Molecular Future. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2002.

Polak, Fred, L. The Image of the Future. New York: Oceana Publications, 1961.

Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970.

Wagner, Cindy. "Futurism Is NOT Dead" (editorial for The Futurist). Available at http://www.wfs.org/futurism.htm

Paramanonda Mahanta

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Formate to GastropodaFuturology - Objectives And Characteristics, Bibliography