To celebrate my first “Blog-iversary” I thought I’d take the opportunity to reformat all of the emerging futures terminology I’ve gathered and shared in one place for easier access. I’ve heard from readers that this has been a helpful orientation to some useful cross-disciplinary ideas. I’ll likely keep adding to this as time goes on! Enjoy and share. We are more ready to build the future we want, if we keep learning together and widening our capacity to grow, shift, resist and/or create as the need arises!
Agroecology. Imagine agricultural practices that were rooted in ecology and implemented with a keen eye and ethic of gentleness to the earth and sustainability. That is what “agroecology” is all about.
“Agroecology is concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts” (Miguel Altieri). More information here.
Anthropocene. In short, it refers to a new era where humanity has impacted the earth’s storyline in an irreversible way. While it doesn’t suggest we are defeated…those who seek to name this “new” period in the earth’s life cycle, alert us to the very real risks and dangers this new phase involves.
Black Swan Theory. Based on the idea that unexpected and devastating events will always be part of life, and that in hindsight we can frequently see that we “should have” seen the signs leading up to it. Developed by theorist Nassim Taleb, this framework is a model to assist in guiding analysis of current events to help to predict future calamities.
Block chain. A block chain is a digital “distributed ledger” record of transactions which are called “blocks,” and which link together through use of cryptography, are date stamped, and which are resistant to modification once stamped.
Calm Technology. Ever get the feeling that the noise of technology is becoming too dominant, that it interrupts our attention and actually makes us less productive and more anxious? Welcome to the idea (and true design principle) of calm technology. This is a growing movement.
“Calm technology or Calm design is a type of information technology where the interaction between the technology and its user is designed to occur in the user’s periphery rather than constantly at the center of attention.” Amber Case
Captology. ‘Computers as persuasive technologies’ (Fogg, 2003: 5). (captology.stanford.edu). Science of how technological products can be best designed to change users behavior.
Civic Hacking. This is a term that refers to the creative, dynamic and emergent practice of using data in unexpected ways to solve civic problems and/or challenges. Those involved come from a variety of formal and informal locations – but all are united in thier desire to use data for good and to harness the dual powers of data technology and democratic community activism to make the world a better. place. There is a great definition with some history here. There is actually a national “civic day of hacking” (it’s coming up September 21 this year.
Climate Gentrification. This terms refers to the gentrification that occurs when wealthy people are able to escape the effects of climate change by relocating from less desirable to more desirable land even if that means displacing others. It can also refer to the simple changes in value that occur as climate change predictably or unpredictably changes the value of real estate – more easily absorbed by people of means than people without resources. You can read more about it here and here.
Critical futures studies. Endeavors to reveal political and power relations embedded inside of futures studies. This type of futures inquiry involves deconstruction and unpacking of texts, meanings, and embedded or hidden control systems in terms of who “decides” what the future will be and who is silenced in that process.
Cyborg Anthropology. This is totally fascinating. Cyborg anthropology is the study of how technology is impacting and changing human behavior. This brief TED talk by Amber Case is really interesting and asks a simple question: “Are we already cyborgs?”
Here’s a great site that has collected and defined Cyborg Anthropology and does a good job of organizing topics by various areas of interest. Here’s an additional article and book on the subject (I just ordered it – very intrigued). I’m guessing this is an area of practice that is going to continue growing.
Data Exhaust. This is a common phrase referring to “the data generated as trails or information byproducts resulting from all digital or online activities,” Technopedia. This includes cookies, and other digital by products of online activity. More and more companies are looking to mine this information as it thought to have value that is going unappreciated.
Deep Fakes. This has really popped up quite a lot in recent media. A deep fake is moving image/film-like document that appears real, but is in fact, manufactured with great technical precision to fool the viewer. Because of our extraordinary talent-base in movies and the technical aspects of creating special effects – many people are somewhat familiar with the idea that we can make anything look (somehow) like anything else. But concern has grown recently because of use of these technologies outside of entertainment spaces, and of particular worry, emerging potential for them to be used in politically unstable situations to complicate and/or weaponize communications. This is part of a broader set of concerns about “disinformation campaigns and warfare” (see below). Here is a brief popular journalistic overview. Here are some more articles specific to political/national security concerns about the technology and it’s use.
Design Fiction. Emergent discipline related to use of narrative and story to provide structures, supports, challenges and provocative possibilities to guide human thinking towards a range of futures. Creative, disruptive and dynamic…this is a really interesting and helpful set of people, practices, and literature-based methods that have deep roots in the futures world. Of course it has deep connections to the world of science fiction…but is more likely to be explicitly engaged in futures practice than exclusively delivered as a work of “art.” Here’s a helpful overview and “how to” piece. It’s connected to and a variation of “speculative design” working in some of the same spaces. I’m imagining how these techniques could help us imagine futures of social welfare and/or social problems that might expand the range of creative possibilities we might discover/consider as a result of said explorations! MIT Media Lab has a whole project dedicated to this approach . Or as is evidenced by Afrofuturism (which I’ve written about previously on this blog…), these methods open deep possibilities for deepening our collective abilities to see, hear, and respect various identity-based expressions of possible futures.
Email Apnea. This is an actual “thing” where people actually hold their breath just before or intermittantly while reading their email. It would definitely be a modern problem…which makes you laugh until you realize you might be doing it too! You can read about it here.
Esports. Fast growing sector of gaming. Some think it will rival traditional athletics and absorb attention, revenue and global enthusiasm.
E-waste Villiages – Places in the world (generally places that are economically disadvantaged) where computers are discarded, dissassembled and mined for parts. Time magazine did a photo essay about one such community in China. The waste is often toxic, and children are often involved in the work associated with this process posing signifiant health risks to all involved. One artist has actually created an immersive art experience about this phenomenon. Other artists have taken to drawing attention to the problem of e-waste and how to recycle it more effectively and humanely.
FAT (Fairness, Accountability and Transparency) . This is the terminology utilized by a growing body of researchers, programmers and other concerned citizens, FAT encourages dialogue and practice regarding ethics in machine learning development. (Thanks to Lauri Goldkind for suggesting this term.)
Fourth Industrial Revolution. I have covered this in a previous entry in this series – but here’s a terrific new and very clear/well-written article defining this complex and important topic.
Gamification. Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play (Wickipedia).
Geo-engineering. This terms is related to ways to slow down the deadly and destructive impact of climate change. This once purely science fiction-level set of ideas, but increasingly plausible proposed practices involve sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to trap less heat – and – reflecting sunlight away from the planet. These ideas are also referred to as carbon renewal or negative emissions technologies. You can learn more about it here.
Global Brain – is a term referring to the “distributed intelligence emerging from the internet” (Heylighen & Lenartowicz, 2017). The idea that a global consciousness could guide humanity towards more interconnected and sustainable functioning is regarded as being impeded by power and politics (Rosenblum, 2017).
Green Energy. Most probably – you already “know” this term, but since it is turning up a lot in the media (a good thing) with increasing interest and use, it might be a good opportunity to refresh yourself on the basics. It really is more than solar – good overview here.
Haptics – a form of interaction involving touch. In futures/tech language, this refers to technological features that involve touch or creating the illusion of touch. Here’s a short video about haptics, and an interesting overview called:Haptics: The present and future of artificial touch.
Information Warfare/Disinformation Campaigns. Back in December of 2018, I shared a term called “computational propaganda” (scroll down) in this ongoing vocabulary list project that is related to the idea of the idea of a particular way of weaponizing false information internationally with significant geopolitical implications.
As early as 1996, people watching the playing field, were very much aware of the potential for “cybersecurity” and information warfare to become increasing challenges in the world of ahead. This is kind of an interesting historical document that summarizes these ideas of that day. Here’s a more recent historical document that provides a historical overview of the U.S. military’s efforts to develop and guide security in this area. The definition of information warfare is literally when two or more parties use (mis)information as a weapon to divide and take political advantage in a conflict.
A related but distinct topic is that of “disinformation” which is similar to but slightly different than propoganda. Disinformation is the catch all term that describes how variations of information (sometimes variations of accuracy) are systematically deployed in a conflictual situation with the intention of confusing or misguiding people. Here’s a nice overview (and toolkit for fighting disinformation) developed from the UK.
Given our commitment to democratic political engagement, and given the rise of concern and activity to understand these concepts and join many around the world who are actively resisting/fighting against disinformation (often led by journalism), this is an important issue for social workers to have foundational working knowledge about.
(Special note: I wish to underscore that I’m far from an expert on this topic, and the previous one on deepfakes…but seek to provide some beginning definitions as I’m learning about in this blog. Inclusion of information in these entries is not intended to imply endorsement of the content – rather to simply amplify a variety of ways of looking at and understand the issues so we can continue to learn and debate about these issues together. )
Neuro-technology. Perhaps you’ve been hearing about this via the Elon Musk story about his goal of linking a human brain to the internet? While experts agree it is not yet ready for prime time, the mere fact that it is getting this much press says much about our curiosity and eagerness to explore more of what is possible in this space. So too, does this possibility inspire neuroethicists to converge on the topic (appropriately and just in time) to help us all figure out how to wrap our minds around (pardon the expression) what an ethical application of this possibility might be. Here are a few piecesI found that bring this topic to life in some interesting ways.
Panopticon. Actually an older concept of a form of architecture generally associated with prisons, that means everything can be “seen” at all times. Gradually coming into contemporary use associated with a society that is increasingly enacting digital surveillance. Here are a couple of pieces that drill down into this set of ideas. This concept has far reaching implications for social work practice…and the degree to which it is frequently argued that vulnerable populations are already more heavily (and frequently unfairly) surveilled more rigorously, multiplying their vulnerability and powerlessness. Truly – these ideas will impact all of us in so many ways.
Post-capitalism – futurist frameworks on the evolution of the modern capitalist economy and what will result in its place. A few resources include: The beginning of post-capitalism: Some say yes (2017) ; Post-capitalism: A guide to our future (2017); Video of author Paul Mason discusses his book “Post Capitalism” (2015) and; After capitalism, what comes next? Ethics, for a start…(2015).
Proceleration. The acceleration of acceleration.
Protopian Futures– Compared to utopian futures, which many suggest are too unattainable, protopian futures are gradually and incrementally getting better on purpose. Think of the word “prototype” – we try things and if they work we grow them. But we understand that not everything we try will work…and we have to make space for experimenting (ethically) with new possibilities.
Quantum Communication. Ultra secure computer networks that could form the basis of a quantum internet.
Quantum Computing. What is the “next level” of computing and why does it matter? Folks at the deep end of the pool of technology are talking a lot about quantum computing and the almost beyond comprehensible things it can and might do. Get worried when the technology grows beyond our ability to understand it – and jump in with me and let’s try to learn more about it!! Here are a couple of pieces that attempt to make it accessible.
Ramp Education. This refers to the need to reskill massive numbers of workers who are most likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence. Deep questions persist about the fate and well being of potentially 32 million workers (according to some estimates) in the near future. This article (with embedded report) provides a road map.
Reference Rot. The thing that happens when digital links expire/change. Particularly troubling for the future of academic pursuits.
Resilience Hubs. This is my new favorite thing. I recently ran across this model and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it – found it most inspiring! What if everyday places that people just normally spend time in, became explicit “community resilience hubs” to assure readiness for significant challenges particular to that region and/or as the community themselves determined? In fact, my guess is that resilience hubs are already everywhere, sometimes just unrecognized. But in truth, so many of the answers to community challenges are best and likely found close to home. This is a fundamental social work value. What if every social worker were a “community resilience hub booster?” This link provides a wonderful guidebook to invite communities to consider and experiment with this framework. These authors were inspired by hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico – but they want to boost this signal to expand into all kinds of places where resilience is needed. Bottom line: I want to be in a future where this is happening more and more and more.
Soft Robotics – refers to a subset of robotics that are made out literally “soft” materials on the surface, which lends them to usability as prosthetic or medical devices – or devices which require flexible and more natural. These are most often inspired by nature, and involve multiple types and levels of computer and other design knowledges to create and apply to robotics challenges. You can read more about them here.
Solastalgia. Compared to “nostalgia,” or the longing for days gone by, solastalgia is a word that relates to the psychic pain associated with human realization (and to a certain extent feelings of helplessness) associated with climate change.
STEEPLED Analysis. Framework for environmental scanning. Includes Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological/Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethics, and Demographic dimensions.
Techlash. This article defines techlash as: (noun) The growing public animosity towards large Silicon Valley platform technology companies and their Chinese equivalents. It was a word of the year late last year…but I’ve only recently learned about it. It certainly fits a (continuing) trend internationally – and very real fears about the speed of change, the need for change, the motives for this acceleration and the well-being of all involved in the process. Certainly there has been growing critique of the need for more rapid expansion of explicit ethics in the tech world. I devoted a recent post to a “round up” of ethics articles and resources that provided a good foundation for social work (and beyond) to help to ground our thinking and work to help us navigate this complex matter. There is no way for us, as professionals, to simply “opt out” of this important conversation as if it doesn’t effect us. The truth is, tech influences and impacts everyone at this point in history. We have an ethical obligation to be both ethical innovators to advance the common good in our sphere of influence and interrogate/critique when harm is being done.
Terminology. Yes you know the word, but do you know what it means with regard to the future of technology (and in particular – the internet of things)? Terminology refers to multiple, interconnected digital languages that will provide the map, as well as the highway, of how things communicate digitally.
Techno-optimist. In spite of the many kinds of bad news about the state of the world and the risks of losing ourselves to technological troubles – there are those among us, who generally feel pretty positive about the likelihood of technology to do more good than harm. They do have some guidelines though! And guess what, some folks want you to know this isn’t really a good idea. Their perspectives are here.
Time Banking. How do we make the most of the TIME we have (our most precious resource) and find ways to point it in the direction of social good? Here are a couple of articles that describe what time banking is, and some information about Andrew Yang, founder of a company called Seva. In addition to being a time-banking enthusiast, Mr. Yang is also interested in running for president of the U.S. on a high tech progressive platform that includes guaranteed income. This post is not an endorsement – but I do find his ideas fascinating and promising.
Universal Basic Income/Asset models. The idea of assuring universal financial resources and security to all members of a society. Lots of good ideas – here’s a list for easier access.
VUCA. Frequently used term in futures work and study associated with present ecosystemic conditions in society and various systems (economic, technological and civic). Specifically a “VUCA” world is one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Again, many important ideas connected to this – here’s a list for ease of access.
Weak Signal – futurists often say that the future doesn’t arrive all at once fully formed…we have to shape it. Further they say (and most futures methods involve) efforts to identify, catch, combine and analyze “signals” in the digital and physical world that may indicate that things are changing in ways that may or may not seem clear all at once. They may indicate a pattern. Futurists look for signals. Strong signals may be stronger indications that things are changing in a pretty consistent and widespread way (everyone is getting personal cell phones!!!). Weak signals are particularly quirky and modest evidence that others might overlook. But a futurist might “collect” them and get a sense that something is changing by careful and creative analysis and tracking. Sometimes these feel little more than a hunch. Here are a couple of interesting pieces about what “weak signals” are all about.
Xenodesign. What is beyond “human centered design” and what are the limits to thinking that the best approaches keep humans at the center? Emerging ideas in this space.