Exploring Possible Alternative Futures
as developed at
the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies
exercise uses a foresight technique called incasting:thinking up the specific details of a possible future based
on a more general scenario description.
Incasting begins with an array of possible futures: several different scenarios, all based on observed trends
and emerging issues in society, the economy, technological innovation,
the environment, and political activity. Descriptions of five different POSSIBLE futures have been
distributed. You and your working group have been assigned
ONE of those scenarios.
SCENARIOS for this exercise, it is important that you suspend your
disbelief. Do not ask
HOW this scenario came to exist; do not question its fundamental
assumptions: you have
awakened to find yourself living in it. What is your life like?
group should designate one person to act as your group’s recorder
the characteristics of this scenario, and following the rule of
logical consistency, what would the following be like in this future?
- Commuting to work
- Health care
- Leisure activities
[what do people do for fun?]
- Education [what
skills or substantive knowledge do people need most, how is that
passed from one generation to the next?]
- Crimes [what would
be illegal given the values and perspectives of this future?]
your findings as a series of headlines in the news media appropriate
to this future [and tell us how news gets disseminated].
what political controversies, international events, critical issues,
awards, celebrations, sports events, and other newsworthy items
might occur in this future. Take details to their logical, if extreme, conclusions. Remember that some traditional activities,
offices, organizations, and lifestyles may disappear entirely in
your scenario. Some
lifestyles and activities may be transformed, existing in this future
in an entirely new form. And
this future may compel the creation of entirely new offices, services,
businesses, schools, and activities. Exceed the boundaries of the present wherever it seems logical
given the context of the scenario: your suggestions only need to be logically consistent with
the assumptions of the scenario.
to present your headlines and cartoons to the group as a whole.
Continued Growth Future
describes a future in which the global economic system becomes more
and more efficient and effective at mass production, distribution
and marketing: the extreme outgrowth of the global mass media/
The late ‘80’s
and ‘90s saw increasing privatization of government services,
in an attempt to cut back on government spending and the federal
deficit. “Education Alternatives, Inc.” was brought
to court in 2012 on charges of monopolizing the primary and secondary
educational sector. The Fortune 500 added so many employee
amenities to to their benefits packages that corporate citizenship
became more important than country of origin. The result was
the growth of the corporate-nation-states, and global market integration
and homogenization. Technological innovations in 2023 go swiftly
from lab to production line to market, and global market saturation
time for new consumer products has dropped to less than one year.
The rich and the poor have better access to more goods, and the
elite are now those who command the corporations’ executive
privileges. Environmental preservation occurs only insofar
as it maintains comparative economic advantage.
Decline and Collapse Future
Collapse” describes a future of global breakdown: economic,
political, and environmental.”
A worldwide depression
in 2001 generated by the instabilities of over-heated Asian and
American stock markets , and triggered by the havoc the “Year
2000 problem” wrought on the international financial communications
links, caused the collapse of the international economic system.
This collapse was made worse by terrorism, regional wars and border
skirmishes, and environmental problems. Technological systems
and communications links never fully recovered from the Y2K
glitch -- and the attendant “quick fix” patches that
many desperate systems administrators attempted; international production
and distribution of goods collapsed, as many of the automated resource,
inventory, and tracking systems had sufferered their own Y2K snafus;
and the internal distribution of needed goods and basic services
also collapsed in many countries. Countries became more isolated
from each other, and communities became isolated within countries.
By 2023, we have seen the return of city-states, urban tribal systems,
war clans, and roving bands of refugee nomads on both land and sea.
Sustainable Development Future
scenario, sometimes called the “Green Future,” or “Conserver
Society,” emerges from the growth of environmental values
and ecological concerns worldwide.
The undeniable environmental
changes witnessed around the globe in the late nineties and early
aughts shifted values everywhere away from materialism, and toward
an intense respect for the environment. This respect translated
into the use of appropriate technologies, the development of environmentally-friendly
high technologies, and the resurrection of traditional modes of
relating respectfully to nature. The cascade of application
breakthroughs in the 2010s in genetic engineering and biotechnology
allowed advanced bioremediation of polluted areas and the beginning
of re-establishment for endangered and extinct species, although
even by 2023 only a fraction of the needed ecological repairs had
been made. More and more human communities scaled down from
metropolises to towns. Socialization in the 2020s stresses
self-sufficiency, re-use of material goods, targetted, high-efficiency
use of resources, and nurturing the biosphere. As a result
of the shift away from materialism, a much higher value is now placed
on learning and the arts.
Disciplined Society Future
Society”emerges from worldwide trends in political extremism,
nationalism, ethnocentrism, and fundamentalism.
The turn of the millennium
seemed to excite political extremists, terrorists, nationalists,
and religious fundamentalists all over the world into a “now
or never” fever of activity: all over the world, conservative
nationalists seized power in provinces, states, countries.
Societies became more and more conservative in the face of rapid
change to which none of their populations, seemingly, could adjust
comfortably. In reaction to future shock, people became more
and more focussed on traditional mores and modes of life during
the aughts and teens of the new century. Only a very narrow
range of behaviors, beliefs, and political ideologies are considered
acceptable in places where the ethno-fundamentalists now hold power.
Art and expressive communication are cramped and censored
to support political and philosophical regimes. Control of
production became concentrated in the hands of a few charismatic
leaders who hobble economic action with political rules. Societies
in 2023 are not poor -- people’s basic needs are more often
met than in the past -- but the inefficiencies in production, though
they slow resource use, are not particularly kind to the environment.
High Technology Transformational Future
Technology Transformation” assumes that the innovations on
the horizon in the late 90s have flowered into a variety of applications,
both commercial and personal, that completely overturn our concepts
Human inventiveness has
triumphed! Advances in energy production, such as cheap fusion
power and zero-point energy, give the world clean, abundant supplies
of energy. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence,
and nanotechnologies, give humanity very precise, automated control
over all of our environments. Advances in genetic engineering
and the biological sciences give us very precise control over our
bodies, and our definitions of who and what we are: cosmetic
sculpting of one’s appearance and basic bodily structure are
possible with targetted DNA injections. Advances in telecommunications,
such as high-definition, multi-sense holography and virtual reality,
let us create versions of our inner visions and fantasies so real
many people have ceased to interact with “real” social
reality. International data and telecommunications networks
have expanded so that everyone now freely shares information and
opinions: regional and global direct democracies are the most
common form of governance. As for the environment, respect
for the environment is just part of rational environmental management
-- which is handled mostly by the artificial intelligences anyway.