There have been lots of fascinating things (as always) floating around online to spur some new thinking and inspiration related to futures work and study!
If you follow this blog, you may know that I do regular posts about things I find that relate to areas of interest – future of government, well-being, social problem/solution-building, higher education, ethics in tech, and other related topics. You can scroll through some previous posts along these lines here. I curate this for those who are in my particular field of social work education – but also for others that may have common interests. This is a way that I personally/professionally track “signals” that I see, compare, combine and consider about what may be coming!
Excited to share that earlier this summer, I became a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. I’m very intrigued and inspired by the work they do there, and the varied and diverse fields of practice that their team includes. My sabbatical should provide some needed time and space to delve into so many of the interesting projects and explorations they have in play. If you’re interested in learning more about them – they have a fantastic conference once per year (called a 10-year Forecast Summit). This year the theme is about the future of power…a timely and vital topic. Information about the gathering is here. I will be there!!
The Future of Food and Agriculture
Thinking about how to grow food and feed people in the future is something that many in the futures world are thinking about and many scientists are exploring and experimenting with. How about this idea from an international design competition in 2017 – a vertical farm skyscraper? Nothing short of amazing. Along those lines – I noted a couple of other pieces in recent media concerning this topic. The United Nations recently (June 2019) had an international symposium on the future of food and nutrition – you can view the program here. Just a quick read of what was discussed is very illuminating. How will big technology (including artificial intelligence) influence the future of food production/farming? Some more innovations having great potential to influence the future of agriculture are here. Of course, climate change is now and will only continue to be a powerful force influencing everything about a future of agriculture. This piece addresses some of the most important opportunities associated with this issue. This article suggests that Indigenous People (not surprisingly) have methods and knowledge that are deeply needed and relevant as these issues are navigated. Note that the Institute for the Future has a whole lab dedicated to the future of food and food systems. There are some really interesting projects that have come out of this area.
Futures Thinking and Tools
You may recall that I recently had the chance to attend a gathering on the future of nursing facilitated by well-known and regarded futurist, Amy Webb. I reviewed one of Amy’s books “The Big Nine” on this blog as well. Recently, the Harvard Business Review published a terrific, short-form article about how foresight and strategic planning can work together to produce greater impact. If you want to dive deeper, I also recommend her book “The Signals Are Talking,” which I just finished reading, but haven’t had a chance to review on this blog yet.
Intriguing, inspiring and important piece by the BBC on “the perils of short termism” as our planet’s greatest threat. This idea is frequently discussed in futures work – and in many respect – foresight is the opposite of, or anedote to, this limited set of perspectives.
UN Sustainability Goals 2030.
Ever feel like we ought to be doing a better job keeping our eye on the future of humanity in general? I have gotten very interested in the United Nations International Sustainability Goals of late, and honestly – I’m wondering why we aren’t talking more about them in social work (special thanks to those who are…but I’d like to see more!!). I find these goals to be truly visionary, developed by global voices, and actionable both politically and from scholarly perspectives. Here’s another nice overview. And, they obviously lay a groundwork for a progressive and human/planet-centered future. I’m intending to learn more about how and where social work can, is, and should be incorporating these frames and tools into our work. I’m also interested in whom, in the futures world, is building off of/interacting with these frames as part of their practice. Enthusiasm aside, there is always an important (and constructive critique – these goals aren’t a panacea and they are far from perfect). Important dialogue is emerging globally to continue to improve, refine and assure independence from larger economic and political drivers. P.S. Want to have fun with an app? The Sustainability Goals group even has an app you can upload to find other folks near you working on goals that you are interested in. Smart and interesting!
Books I’ve Been Reading!
Just finished reading “Fix the Future” by Andrew Keen. I liked a lot of things about it! Thumbs up. Here’s a review. Will probably do a review at some point.
Also just finished reading “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code” by Ruha Benjamin. Huge thumbs up on this one! Will definitely be doing a review with strong implications for social work. I would go so far as to say social workers and social work scholars should run out and get this book ASAP. Important and significant implications for our work and scholarship. Here’s a review.
There is always more to learn and consider regarding the future of AI and what it means for humanity and the future. I found this brand new article quite interesting – invite an anthropologist to weigh in! I’m always looking for articles and resources that shed new light on the challenges and variations associated with evolving our systems of ethics faster to keep ahead of new developments and applications of AI. This piece came out last year (on challenges associated with ethics and AI) – but has a terrific timeline that I found quite helpful and interesting. Here’s another recent piece that compares AI ethics guidelines with other frames related to law and human rights – and suggests the latter may actually be more constructive in achieving more ethical aims. I found this particular blog post, by Ph.D. Student and researcher on human-computer interaction (and related power dynamics), Ali Alkhatib to be particularly moving as he explores issue of power and which stakeholders get to weigh in on vital matters of AI impacts by stating “the voices, opinions and needs of disempowered stakeholders are being ignored today in favor of stakeholders with power, money and influence – as they have been historically…” Note he is critiquing a new effort at Stanford called the “Institute for Human Centered Artificial Intelligence.” As a social worker, I have found this need for increased power analysis, creative and meaningful engagement of real people in democratic spaces advising and contributing to a future where AI grows in prominence to be urgent to a future that is good for all.
Shout out to Dr. Desmond Patton for an impactful, inspiring and activating recent piece about why social workers belong in artificial intelligence and the tech sector in general!
MIT’s “Future Factory” featured on 60 Minutes
There was a great segment about MIT’s Media Lab on a recent episode of 60 Minutes – well known in futures circles. The piece gives a really interesting perspective on how the lab works. So many interesting implications here for the future of humanity – and how “innovation” is framed, discussed and produced. While I am impressed (and even “gobsmacked!!) by what I see in this episode (I am a fan of their work), as a social worker I worry that these increasingly elite spaces threaten to be challenged as their own echo chamber, with limited voices and actors taking center stage. While I admire so much of what they do (and there is some attention to issues of social justice in their work) – is there a critique needed that ultimately could/should open and broaden the impact and value of the work done in this important space? With a decidedly “pro tech” and even “tech utopian” kind of lens – it seems that ideas and innovations that relate to other ways of thinking or being (Indigenous, Afrocentric, or other perspectives for example) are excluded. I have a bias (that is backed up by lots of good research on innovation) that the more perspectives around the table – the more meaningful and far-reaching the innovation! Note: MIT Media Lab has also been in the news in the last couple of weeks regarding upheavals with the revelation that some money from unsavory sources was revealed.
The Future of Law and the Legal Profession
A few months ago, I did a review of the highly impactful book “The Future of the Professions” on this blog (which I continue to recommend to anyone who will listen). This past month, I had occasion to meet with an attorney who was most interested in the future of the legal profession and on her way to becoming trained as a futurist here in Portland. After getting together, I came back to do a little searching about what I could find to help her get started on her journey. Dr. Susskind is back at it with some specific scholarship and thinking about the legal profession. Here’s a talk he gave at Harvard Law School on this topic (from 2017), an article, and a review of a new book he’s written on the future of law and the legal profession. All of this has enormous implications to help other professions (and for the purposes of this blog – social work) understand how the changes occurring in the world are indeed changing and evolving professions, whether the professions themselves are attending to this or not. I found these resources to full of sparks, insights and linkages to lots of futures topics.
The Future of Work
Here’s another glimpse of what some are saying about the future of work. Focused on “globotics” – this is a summary of a new book by author Richard Baldwin about evolution/revolution going on before our eyes, but not necessarily with our consent or participation. Looks interesting – but I haven’t read it yet.