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Futurology (futures studies) is the study of the medium to long-term future, by extrapolating present technological, economic or social trends, or by attempting to predict future trends. Extrapolation is just one of many dozens of methods and techniques used in futures research (as scenarios, Delphi method, brainstorming, morphology and others). Futurology also includes normative or preferred futures, but the real contribution is to connect both extrapolated (exploratory) and normative research to explore better strategies.

A futurist (also "futurologist") uses varying proportions of inspiration and research. The term excludes those who make future predictions through supernatural means, and also usually excludes those people who attempt to forecast the short-term or readily foreseeable. (For instance, economists who forecast movements of interest rates over the next business cycle would not generally be considered futurists, whereas those predicting the relative wealth of nations in a generation's time may well be.)

Several authors became recognized as futurists. They researched trends (particularly in technology) and wrote books describing their observations, conclusions, and predictions. Initially, they followed a cycle of publishing their conclusions and then beginning research on the next book. More recently, they have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers. Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt are two prominent examples of this class. Many business guru s present themselves as futurologists.

Futurists have some things in common with the writers of science fiction, and indeed some sci-fi writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, have been regarded as such. The writers themselves often reject this label. For example, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists, not of writers: "a novelist's business is lying".

Some attempts have been made at cosmological futurology, attempting to predict the long-term future of the entire universe, typically predicting either the heat death of the universe, or a cosmic Big Crunch.

Futurology, although sometimes based on science, cannot follow the scientific method, as it is not falsifiable except by waiting for the future to happen. They can and do, however, apply many scientific methods.

Futurists have a decidedly mixed reputation and track record of success. For obvious reasons, they often extrapolate present technical and societal trends and assume they will develop at the same rate into the future, and technical progress in reality goes in fits and starts - for instance, many 1950s futurists believed that by now space tourism would be commonplace, but ignored the possibilities of ubiquitous, cheap computers. On the other hand, many forecasts were accurate.

Predicted futures, as of 2003, range from predicted ecological catastrophes, to a utopian future where the poorest human being lives in what would be regarded as wealth and comfort in modern terms, to the transformation of humanity into a posthuman lifeform, to the destruction of all life on Earth in a nanotechnological disaster.

ISAC ( ) maintains a page listing several types of futurist definitions.



Topics in futurology

Books predicting the future

See also

External links

  • A Futurist's Toolbox : a guide to methods and tools used by the UK government in medium & long-term trends forecasting
  • Foresight Exchange : On-line market for predictions
  • Future 25 : Open project to enhance our abilities to address problems arising in the long-term future
  • Humanity's Future : Challenges, possible catastrophes, and timeline
  • Links to the Future from Strategic Futures International
  • Long Bets : Predictive bets by public figures
  • Political Futurists and Radical & Utopian SF Authors
  • Principia Cybernetica : Links on future development
  • Progress and its Sustainability by computer scientist John McCarthy
  • Shaping Tomorrow Environmental scanning and trends research firm
  • Futures Wiki - The Global Future, 50 Years Out

Last updated: 02-04-2005 11:03:17