There are various concepts to understand in order to generate a deep understanding and appreciation of the study of the future.
Studying the Future
Apocryphology the study of fictitional worlds that may on the surface be a work of future theory but is actually just an attempt at daydreaming, and is classified as escape literature rather than interpretative or practical literature. Theorizing about the future is not mere daydreaming, nor the work of much of science fiction such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and StarCraft, to name a few. A discipline has evolved from humanity's need to feel secure about the coming of the future, and search for hope and improvement in the quality of life manifested in many of the world's religions. That said, the end-of-the-world scenarios that have been revealed through religions, and which is more concerned with symbolism and rewarding the good, also fall under this class of future theory.
Futurology is an analytical, reasoned-out prediction of the future, and is what this site is concerned with. This takes the form of forecasts by company analysts, trends in oil prices and fashion design, etc. Though many different versions of the future abound, the study is much more difficult to master and its general principles must be learned through study.
Futures studies is the discipline of exploring possible ends that the beginnings of today and yesterday will transform into. It is a rapidly expanding area of research that has ever increasing impacts on success, both for organizations and individuals, due to the fact that society is so rapidly changing. Many predictions have been turned into reality. Science fiction authors have made many technological predictions, both correct and incorrect, starting with Jules Verne, Herbert Wells and Alexander Belyaev.
Predicting the future is by no means an easy task, and requires considerable erudition, creativity, wisdom, and insight. This is because the future will certainly not be the same as it is today, and if we use what we see around us today to predict the future we will not add into play components from both the past and the future. No one predicted the power of a nuclear explosion before Einstein, who knew his physics. Likewise, no contemporary of Volta predicted the impact of electricity. The amount by which the world can change in just a few decades is beyond comprehension, and clearly beyond prediction. However, part of the joy of forecasting is the process of exploring the possibilities and of searching for future truths.
See main article: Certainties
In the realm of futures studies, there are few certainties indeed. Those that exist will likely exist for all time. A few of them follow.
- Only the existence of something can cause something else to exist (These two should be related.)
- Logical procedures and the resultant Mathematical formulas
- There will always be change in the universe.
- Universal laws (entropy will always increase)
- Human nature will remain constant (though this can be interpreted in many different ways)
- The farther we predict the future, the more uncertainty is involved.
See main article: Uncertainties
In any attempt at theorizing upon the future, a given amount of uncertainty exists; and as the theory becomes more specific or forecasts further into the future, that amount of uncertainty increases. Certainties and uncertainties come mainly through analysis of current trends, laws of society, and laws of nature.
Points of Divergence
Points of Divergence are particular, specific changes that have far-reaching consequences. Examples include the Schrodinger Equation, the Manhattan Project, and 95 Theses, to name a few. These points of divergence should be labelled in any theory, primarily because they are not likely to happen yet are necessary for the remainder of the theory to be supported. Note that certain events--such as Quantum Theory, which came from the Schrodinger Equation; the bombing of Hiroshima, which came from the Manhattan Project; and the Diet of Worms, which came from the 95 Theses--are NOT points of divergence because they follow logically from the parent event which WAS a point of divergence. Points of divergence are direct causes for alternate timelines, as explained below.
See main article: Timelines
Timelines are chronologies of a duration event (such as World War 2) and consist of a string of events that occur within a particular time, place, or topic frame. Timelines generally diverge from particular changes, or points of divergence, such as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Because there are so many possible points of divergence, and because each one acts as a watershed that splits a future into two separate futures, the sheer number of timelines quickly becomes lengthy, and form groups based on how late into the future the point of divergence occurs. One way to deal with this is to establish a Time Tree, in which the one present splits into a few forseeable near futures and multitudes of marginally forseeable far futures. In this Wikia, this can be done by establishing the Points of Divergence as disambigulation pages that serve as a "fork in the road".
Rate of Change
One difficulty that futurologists may be encountering is what's often viewed as an ever-quickening rate of change. The idea is that not only is progress advancing, but the rate of that progress (the rate of change) is also increasing. In addition, the rate of THAT rate of change is also increasing, and so is THAT rate. The rate of change can be modeled by the equation
for which the derivative and antiderivative (the rate of change of, and the amount of progress caused by, respectively) are also e^x. Every degree of change is increasing by the same degree of change.
This would mean that, for a futurologist, the amount of change that one sees in the last 100 years would repeat itself in only a few decades (such as 2020-2060, or 2060-2080). If true, this translates into a tremendous burden when predicting beyond twenty years into the future; one would need to careful that, in one's predictions, more and more technologies would be discovered faster and faster in any timeline.
There are, however, some challenges to the idea that the pace of change is increasing. Physicist Jonathan Huebner of the Naval Air Warfare Center recently conducted an analysis in which he found that the number of key innovations per person peaked in the last 19th or early 20th century, depending on which criteria he used. Huebner (2005) suggests that the slowing pace of technological development is probably linked to either "an economic limit of technology or a limit of the human brain that we are approaching" (p. 985). If true, then the pace of change may well slow rather than gain speed in coming years, making the more extreme visions of the next century less likely to occur.
Article: Template:Rate of Change
The mind can only do so much in a given time, and for one mind to analyze a tremendous body of data can be overwhelming. Therefore, our minds unconsciously turn to an age-old method called oversimplification in order to make sense out of the confusion. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE for predicting the future, and we must try our best to make our future timeline as complex as possible and as complete as possible, for there will always be things left out. A manifestation of this is the Single Advancement Problem, the tendency of forecasters to tacitly assume that only one significant technological change will happen in society, but meanwhile everything else will stay same as it is right now.
Many science fiction stories and many futurist scenarios suffer from the "single advancement" problem. The author takes us 20-70 years into the future to tell a cautionary tale about one specific technological development (that they are most interested in), but sacrifices the believability of the future world. Even advanced thinkers routinely ignore the complex interplay of changes in different technological areas. Nanotech proponents ignore developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, space aficionados ignore expected advances in biotech and genetics, etc.
Given the tremendous variety and possibility of the world, it is unlikely that any one trend will continue forever. For example, the exponential increase of horses on city streets led to predictions that the streets would soon be knee-deep in horse manure. For example, one forecaster devised a Dyson Sphere -- a thin orb surrounding the sun 23 000 times the size of Earth -- and believed that one day humanity will actually build one. However, the amount of time needed for such a venture will be so great that in the interim there will be something else developed, which will cause the construction of the said Dyson Sphere to be canceled. Another example can be seen in the "more power in the future" approach, modeled by bombs to nukes to a planet destroyer seen in Star Wars and Ender's Game. It is very unlikely that trends will remain THAT constant.
In crafting a vision of the future, many forecasters jump to the conclusion that their theory must be right because it makes sense to them, or because they feel particularly strongly. An example would be that "Christianity will be the religion of everyone in the world". That was expected centuries ago during the Holy Wars and has still yet to happen, and probably never will because there are fanatics in all religions. Another example, that socialism will prevail, was also thought definite by Karl Marx and has yet to prove the validity of his claim. Clearly, one must be careful in saying that something will occur with absolute certainty.
Articles related to the Future Wikia, as opposed to the future itself...