Agnostic Futurism

Preferable futures to some can become harsh realities to others. So we pursue nuance and invite criticism.
20 Apr 2014

"Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous. Because new technologies permit new behaviors and values, challenging old beliefs and values which are based on prior technologies, much that will be characteristic of the futures is initially novel and challenging. It typically seems at first obscene, impossible, stupid, 'science fiction,' ridiculous. And then it becomes familiar and eventually 'normal.'"
— Jim Dator, 'What Futures Studies Is, and Is Not', 1995

Everyone has ideals.

But when it comes to explor­ing pos­si­ble futures, we should stay as far away as pos­si­ble from our own val­ues, beliefs and pref­er­ences. Eval­u­a­tion and judg­ment can come lat­er. We are inter­est­ed in dis­cov­er­ing "prefer­able futures," but we should keep in mind that what is prefer­able to some may become a harsh real­i­ty to others. 

Everyone has biases.

These must be chal­lenged when build­ing futures, as some­thing that strays from our pref­er­ences in life may bear unex­pect­ed yet use­ful per­spec­tives. In the spir­it of explo­ration, we encour­age peo­ple to change lens­es and use role-play to explore new ideas and build empathy.

Everyone has blind spots

These must be acknowl­edged to avoid miss­ing essen­tial parts of the pic­ture. Issues being ignored, con­scious­ly or not, shape the way our world func­tions. This is also an essen­tial part of any vision of the future. And we must ask: which issues might be ignored, by whom, and how does it affect society?

These statements lead us to militantly advocate for what we call ‘agnostic futurism’: open-ended futures that aren’t direct translations of our own belief systems. Only in this way can we propose and design useful futures with depth and nuance. When things seem too rosy, we try to expose flaws and imperfections in ideas that are too quickly seen as solutions. When things seem too bleak, we examine otherwise shunned proposals and seek compromises to turn them into desirable changes. In essence, opening up spaces for critical thinking is the most important aspect of any useful vision of the future.