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World Future Society Meeting Report

| On 12, Jul 2010

Jack Hipple

The annual meeting of the World Future Society was held in Boston this past week and I attended to teach a short TRIZ Futures Course and listen to a few speakers address future issues of concern. It was interesting that 1/2 of the TRIZ Futures class were from the military. Military atttendees and government contractors, charged with future strategy and planning, represented 6-7% of the 700+ attendees. Next to the US, major countries with attendees were Canada (50), Mexico (13), South Korea (11), UK (9), and Finland (8). Major segements of attendees were from academia, insurance industry, entertainment, and the food industry

Some highlights of presentations I attended:

“The City Sustainable”–a presentation by Jennifer Jarrat and John Mahaffey (Leading Futurists LLC) illustrating many examples from around the world of communiites integrating sustainability concepts into their strategic planning. One of the more interesting illustrations was from Greensburg, KS, a town almost totally destroyed by a tornado some years ago. The city, able to build from scratch, incorporated many “green” and information infrastructure aspects that would never have been doable while trying to maintain an existing infrastructure. This raises the question we should all think about and that is, “what would be do if we started all over again?”. Total water recycle, use of vertical and 3D geometry, and alternative fuels were all part of many of these examples. That’s an interesting think to think about, isn’t it? If everything around you went away tomorrow, what would you replace it with? The same thing?

“Keep It Simple Stupid: Energy and Environmental Strategies”–a stimulating presentation by Ysvi Bisk (Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking) about simple and obvious solutions to the energy crisis. He made the analogy to the monopoly enjoyed by salt traders for food preservation to the current stranglehold that oil has on the US economy. He made a passionate plea for the electric car (to be generated by the vast coal and natural gas reserves the US has) to replace the oil infrastrucure. He pointed out that Mexico and Indonesia were now importing oil, and serious shortages of welders, mining engineers, and civil engineers were being seen. He said that we now use the energy equivalent of 1 bbl. of oil to produce 3 bbls where it used to take only 1 bbl to produce 100 bbls. and that the average age of technical personnel in the oil industry is now 50, and the knowledge and skills required to replace this deep knowledge was simply not happening. He broke down the use of a bbl of oil to be 23% industrial (chemicals and materials resources), 68% transportation, and 3% electricity generation. Eliminating the use of oil as a transportation fuel, he argued, was the best way to free ourselves of the current day “salt” monopoly.

“Oceans and our Global Future”–lunch presentation by Susan Avery, President and Director of the Woods Hole Institute. Susan made an impassioned plea to pay attention to our ocean resources that provides 20% of the aninal protein and 5% of the total protein in the human diet. The challenges in possible global warming, drought management, and eco-systems. She had great concern about global warming stratetgies that did not directly take into account the impact on ocean systems which represent 71% of the earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planet’s total water.

“Navigating the Future: Moral Machines, Technosapiens, and the Singularity”–keynote by Wendell Wallach from Yale University’s Center for Bioethics. Wendell highlighted many of the future challenges that we have faced over and over again with increased knowledge–how will we use it? A skeletal bone can be used as a tool or a weapon, the Internet can provide information or invade privacy, etc. One interesting statistic he mentioned was that by 2050, 1/3 of all weapons in use would be unmanned (I.e. drone missiles as an example). He suggested that we have not begun to think seriouisly enough about the extension of the average life span (it was 46 in 1900 and is now 78 and rising). A population with significant perecentages of those over 100 and 110 years of age has significant consequences to society in terms of costs, medical care, indirect employment impacts, etc.

Other topical tracks were focused on the Future of Education, a look back at Brasilia after 50 years, the Future of Terror, Humans in 2020: The Next Ten Years of Biotechnoloogy, Future Military and Civilian Policing, the Changing Landscape of Nonprofit Organizations, and the Unemployment Conundrum

Website for additional information and purchase of particular presentations is at The 2011 conference will be in Vancouver, BC, Canada in July 2011.