What the heck is a futurist?

I’m watching some program on the sci-fi channel about end-of-the-world threats. Setting aside how amazingly stupid it is, they keep interviewing so-called futurists for insight about how, say, ATMs are going to go all Terminator on us and wipe out humanity.

I’ve read quotes & stuff from other so-called futurists, usually prosletyzing.

So, I ask: what the hell is a futurist?

It’s the arm equivalent of a futurankle.
Anyhoo, it’s generically anyone who has written, drawn or made films speculating on future trends in technology, design, architecture or law/society. And it’s all wild guesswork, stemming from the futurist’s own fears or what he/she expects will catch the public’s imagination. This was probably already obvious to you, but I don’t know what you’re expecting. As far as I know, there are no futurist universities that hand out futurist degrees.

Someone who manages to get paid for their ideas about what things will be like in the future.

A science fiction author without any storytelling abilities.

Wait, that’s unfair. Specifically, it’s unfair to all the good science fiction authors who made some extra scratch by being futurists on the side.

In other words, there’s really nothing to it. It isn’t a science or even a very interesting field of fiction.

Someone with the amazing ability to get people to print or broadcast ideas that have only the most remote chance of being slightly correct. I am not being flip. It is plain to see reading most futurist predictions even 5 - 10 years after they were made. Read futurist writing from the 60’s and 70’s for example and you will see grand ideas about man’s future in space and little or at least wrong predictions about the looming computer revolution. The tend to be about as accurate as police psychics. What we learn from the exercise is that even large-scale trends are remarkably difficult for anyone to predict.

Once upon a time there were not only futurists, but Futurists.

Very true. Predictions about technological change tend to be linear progressions of what we have now, but (of course) can’t predict innovative technology.

I found this great website about erroneous predictions. From that site:

And, my personal favorite:

I bought the book The Next Fifty Years a couple years ago. The “futurists” who wrote essays on various topics include many distinguised scientists and writers. Many of them kept their predictions rather vague, but it was still pretty interesting. An editorial review on Amazon said:

.I’m planning to hang onto the book until 2050 (I’ll be 71 then) and see how accurate they were.

I’ve heard Buckminster Fuller described as a futurist.
His motto was not to design things that would be useful today or tomorrow, but I think he aimed at least 50 years in the future.
I’m no expert, but I think futurism might be used to describe more than just guesswork or trendwatching, but an attempt to plan and prepare on a longer time span than many folk and institutions do.

That is probably the ideal futurists aspire towards. The problem, of course, is that people tend to be too radical in short-term predictions and too conservative in long-term predictions. Not to mention how badly we screw up predictions of how social forces will change over time.

In addition are all the things nobody can predict, the strange confluences of technology, society, and random chance that give us home computers instead of terminals and a public Internet instead of a closed academic-government network.

Discussed in this thread.

Yep, that’s part of asking the question. I thought there’d be something unrelated to Italian art. I love Italian art, but I’m not sure that makes one qualified to tell us how robots will stomp humanity under their metal feet.

Sorry, my bad. That’s “futurist,” not “futurewrist.”

I guess that’s closest to what I’m driving at. “Mathematician,” “physicistists,” “chemist,” “astronomer,” “historian,” “economist,” “psychologist,” “typist,” “pilonidal cyst” all imply some expertise that can be, hopefully (in a perfect world) verified. But to be a futurist basically means being a science-fantasy author? (As distinct from science-fiction.)

Basically, and keeping this in GQ, quoting a futurist as providing insight is basically an object lesson in what we should have learned from Milgrim’s experiment?

To a very large extent if they had some other qulifications they would be introduced by them.

There’s a World Future Society, which also publishes a magazine called The Futurist. Many libraries carry it.

Sorry, I missed this paragraph earlier.

Futurists are serious, serious, serious people. They hate, hate, hate being mistaken for science fiction writers. See: World Future Society.

They aren’t all dreamers or writers. There are consulting groups that try to do a similar thing for business and make money at it. They usually focus on shorter-range predictions however. The Gartner Group for example sells expertise and predictions on technology trends and people seem to buy it.

I swear on my grandmother’s grave that I read one of their reports in 1996 about the web just as I was getting seriously into it. It said that the web had a nice run as a fad but 50% of businesses that had web sites were going to abandon them within 18 months because it wasn’t profitable. I was honestly devastated about it and that is why I remembered it. It is true that businesses didn’t know how to make money on the web circa 1996 but that soon changed. They must have scoured the Internet removing that article because I have never been able to find it again.

From my observation (a little cynical) - a futurist is someone consulted for their opinion who doesn’t have a better, earned title to fall back on. Think of Isaac Asimov - chemist, author, teacher; calling him a futurist because he wrote about the future would be to skip over his more praiseworthy achievements.

Back in 70’s, a futurist told a radio talkshow host that he had a very very accurate prediction percentage…

25% :eek: :eek: :eek:

Most of the technology on display in the Spielberg movie Minority Report were concepts genrated by Futurists.

I’ll believe a Futurist when I seem him earning billions of dollars on the stock market. Because if you can predict the future that well, you can make a killing.

Unfortunately, the best investors in the world are happy to make ~15%. Because the future is unpredictable and almost a random walk.

Futurists in the 1970’s were predicting that by 2000 we would have massive overcrowding, starvation, flying cars, and 3-D television. Instead, we’re building cars that look like throwbacks to the 1950’s and 1960’s, and most people in 2000 had virtually the same kind of TV they had 30 years before - a 27" to 32" color tube TV. There’s a glut of world food production, and the ‘population bomb’ turns out to be non-existant or even a population collapse. None of them guessed that by now we would be farther away from being able to get to the moon than we were in 1960.

The best ‘futurists’ are the ones who write compellingly enough to basically give you some entertaining light reading that makes you think. None of them are worth a damn when it comes to actually predicting the future. Other than boldly predicting the obvious (“Medicine will get better”), they might as well throw darts at a board and use the result. Maybe that’s what they do.

A good metric is:

If you see a futurist’s predictions featured in Popular Science or TIME magazines, they are probably full of it.