Alternative Futures

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Sample predicted futures, as of 2003, range from predicted ecological catastrophes, through a utopian future where the poorest human being lives in what present-day observers would regard as wealth and comfort, through the transformation of humanity into a posthuman life-form, to the destruction of all life on Earth in (say) a nanotechnological disaster.

Futurists have a decidedly mixed reputation and a patchy track record at successful prediction. For reasons of convenience, they often extrapolate present technical and societal trends and assume they will develop at the same rate into the future; but technical progress and social upheavals, in reality, take place in fits and starts and in different areas at different rates.

Many 1950s futurists predicted commonplace space tourism by the year 2000, but ignored the possibilities of ubiquitous, cheap computers, while Marxist expectations of utopia have failed to materialise to date. On the other hand, many forecasts have portrayed the future with some degree of accuracy. Current futurists often present multiple scenarios that help their audience envision what "may" occur instead of merely "predicting the future". They claim that understanding potential scenarios helps individuals and organizations prepare with flexibility.

Many corporations use futurists as part of their risk management strategy, to help identify so-called wild cards - low probability, potentially high-impact risks.[1] Every successful and unsuccessful business engages in futuring - for example in research and development, innovation and market research, anticipating competitor behavior and so on.

Near-term predictions

A long-running tradition in various cultures, and especially in the mass media, involves various spokespersons making predictions for the upcoming year at the beginning of the year. These predictions sometimes base themselves on current trends in culture (music, movies, fashion, politics); sometimes they make hopeful guesses as to what major events might take place over the course of the next year.

Some of these predictions come true as the year unfolds, though many fail. When predicted events fail to take place, the authors of the predictions often state that misinterpretation of the "signs" and portents may explain the failure of the prediction.

Marketers have increasingly started to embrace future studies, in an effort to benefit from an increasingly competitive marketplace with fast production cycles, using such techniques as trendspotting as popularized by Faith Popcorn.

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