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The state of the Future

By Dave Snowden  ·  July 19, 2013  ·  Conference blogs

I took that picture last night from the bedroom in the Fairmont Hotel here in Singapore.  Part of the ever changing cityscape of Singapore.  Today was the last day of the Foresight week and I didn't keep detailed notes as I was in part preparing for the final session of the day when our conference and that on complexity come together.  During the day I argued for sidecasting again rather than forecasting or backcasting when the situation is highly uncertain.  

There was a lot more discussion today on technology and it's role.  We talked about things like the growing loyalty to temporary communities which appears a characteristic of social computing ecologies, the expansion of the middle-class and consequent stress on sustainable development.  The theme of individualism was a thread through the conversation and I made the point that capitalism has worked with infinitely available resource, but will not with the level of constraints.  Neither of course will socialism, its time to move on from those opposing forces to something new and we talked about that.

Technology however was the dominant theme of the day.  Algorithms replacing people, the functionality of robots, quantum computing and other forthcoming changes all had an airing.  I ended up in a working group on trust and that discussion will be reflected in future blogs.

So to the final session and five us got a chance to say things and respond to questions.  Again this session was videoed so it may be available at some stage.  I boiled down a lot of points I wanted to make to three all on the general theme of complexity applied to governance.  I also made sure they were sufficiently controversial to be memorable:

  • We need to realise the limits of models.  Too many complexity studies seem solely focused on creating them and confuse simulation with prediction just as earlier studies confused correlation with causation.
  • The danger of putting old wine into new wineskins, simply tagging old methods and thinking with complexity language.  One of the main dangers at the moment and it could prevent the great hope that complexity provides for a more humane society.
  • The need to realise that human complex systems are radically different from other ones in nature.

I majored on this last point so its worth a second set of bullet points here:

  • The need to shift from thinking about categories or individuals to working with identities.  Implications here for marketing as well as government
  • Aesthetics is key to humanity, it is the way we make sense of the world and we can't descend to a purely functional engineering view of life, or the brain for that matter
  • Darwin argued for survival of the most collaborative in human systems, not the crude Darwinism of nonsense such as the Selfish Gene and Thatcherism
  • We need to look again at education for virtue (in the Aristotelian sense) as a way of managing uncertainty in government
  • Praxis is all about engagement and emergence, dealing with the present through heuristics
  • Conflict has value for sense-making, it needs to be used not hidden.  Alignment of interests, one of the mantras of the last few years is plain bloody dangerous.

So that was it, I had some of the normal arguments with the modellers but then back to my room to get ready for a final, smaller and more intimate meal.   Tomorrow I fly back to the UK.