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Futurology: Prediction

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Methods of Prediction

Technology Foresight Method

Technology foresight is a prediction methodology for determining the most likely technological developments in the mid-term future. It is defined as "Systematic attempts to observe the longterm future of science, technology, the economy and society, with the aim to identify the emerging technologies that will probably produce the greatest economic and social benefits”.

In technology foresight projects the producers and users of science and technology in the innovation system are brought together to develop a common vision of the future developments. The timeframe of foresight usually ranges between 10 and 30 years. From the timeline given by this method, theorists may craft the rest of society, taking into consideration the tenet that social, political, and economic patterns revolve around technological advancements.

Scanning Method

Environmental scanning is an approach to detecting hidden clues about the future in available information sources. It can be described as the activity of rapidly surveying news media, digesting the literature of science, the literature of popular culture, the literature of just about everything. Environmental Scanning is performed prior to a foresight study and is considered a pre-requisite to any futures studies. For details see Scanning.

The connections between various discoveries that one may scan from one's surroundings may not be particularly obvious. However, to a person versed in scanning, "everything fits". After a while news about technological developments stop being mere curiosities and become the results of particular events and situations that had already occurred.

Extrapolation Method

Trend analysis (trend extrapolation) is a forecasting method based on identifying, based on historical data and observations, an ongoing change. The point of trend analysis is to identify the trend early, while it is still likely to continue in the future.

Quantitative trend analysis deals mostly with data as opposed to information. Statistics pertaining to the subject are gathered and plotted along a time axis to produce a curve, which can be extrapolated into the future. An example of a quantitative trend is Moore's law, improved fuel efficiency of cars, the annual number of transplants and the number of cybernetically enhanced humans.

Of course, the further in time the extrapolation, the greater the uncertainty of the event happening and there is no guarantee that the variable will continue to change the way it did in the past. This kind of trend analysis is normally used to draw attention to the forces that could change the extrapolated pattern. More sophisticated analysis (e.g. time series analysis) can be used to try to reveal different patterns.

Trend analysis can also be used to identify qualitative trends, where the quantitative data cannot be obtained (example: globalisation). Characterising such trends requires creative and systemic thinking and is one of the most challenging aspects of futures research.

Scenario Method

Scenario analysis is one the most popular and widely used method in futures studies and foresighting. The scenario based planning methodology is an analytic framework tool used for ordering one's perceptions about alternate future environments in which today's decisions might play out. Scenario planning is NOT a predictive mechanism, but a way to manage uncertainty today.

Scenario analysis is a process of analysing possible future events by considering alternative possible outcomes or scenarios (using expert judgment, rather than quantitative forecasts). Each scenario developed tells a story about an "alternative" future world and encourages those who explore it to "stretch" their imaginations and suspend their preconceived judgments in order to develop a perspective on complex events contained in that world.

Existing or newly formulated strategies and policies can then be tested against the future scenarios. The method is a powerful planning tool because it is based on the idea that the future is unpredictable; it enables one to ask what the future might hold and to identify relevant actions that can be taken today, no matter how the future turns out.

Delphi Survey Method

The Delphi Survey technique is a popular method used in prediction. It involves a panel of experts that judge the timing, probability, importance and implications of factors, trends, and events regarding the problem in question. The basic idea of the Delphi method is as follows:

  • create a list of statements/questions
  • have the experts give their ratings/answers/etc.
  • make a report - send it out to everyone
  • have the experts revise their answers
  • make the second report

For more information, see Delphi method.

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