Universe Coherence

In respect for summer, we will keep this newsletter succinct. We hope yours has been easy—ours has provided us time to catch up on long-neglected housekeeping, catch up on writing assignments, work on some enjoyable projects, and do some important planning for the coming year. You will hear more about the latter bit soon.

One great collaboration came in this guise of a recent project collaboration for the Emerging Technologies team at the Royal Society in London. For it, we partnered with what’s best described as a micro-consortium led by Smithery, and containing talented designer Thomas Forsyth,  Stanley James Press, and students and teachers from London’s School 21. The product of this collaboration was a conceit called the Time Capsule Retrieval Service, described in detail by Smithery’s John Willshire in this post

The purpose of the TCRS was to bring to life the texture, possible impacts and implications of a series of scenarios developed by the Royal Society to engage scientists and policymakers thinking about possible futures. To do that, the Royal Society team chose to populate situations within these scenarios with artefacts that could provide entry points for curiosity and exploration, providing the dispersed details of daily life in these futures—as they might be captured by students creating time capsules—for others to stitch together. 

Our role in this was to provide not only some of the artefact concepts—such as the government-backed asteroid mining lottery scratch card picture above*—but to oversee what we called “universe coherence,” a kind of in-scenario plausibility/continuity supervision that ensured we were sensibly tracking alongside technological, social, economic and environmental change at a plausible pace. Think of it as a kind of worldbuilding quality assurance.

As we deal with materialising or depicting more complex, interconnected futures, and hug the terrain as well as describe these worlds from cloud level, more carefully considered universe coherence is a priority. These narratives have a greater number of moving parts, and are meant to be traversed by experts and public alike, so careful attention is paid to the speed of various pace layers, and a critical eye is cast on the effects of narrative sinks such as hype cycles. Time spent making sure the bits hang together pays off in richness and engagement.

We’re also experimenting more often with simple tools to assess scenario coherence, normativity, etc. We’ll report more as we learn.

*In this scenario, one element is a UN oversight of private asteroid mining licensing, pressuring mining companies to share benefits of mining as a condition of licensing. We played with the idea of a lottery as a form of crowdfunding to build financial support and public opinion favorable to possibly dangerous and messy offworld mining ventures bringing minerals back to Earth markets. Also, with the possibility of fantastical financial payoffs for those holding asteroid mineral rights, lottery prizes/revenue sharing might be equally substantial. 

How to Future

We’ve had some great sessions this summer—with diverse groups for a financial institution, government bodies and a venture development team—building better futuring capacity. 

Two updates about the applied futures workshops we offer:

1. While we still do multi-day workshops, we’ve broken out individual, 1-day modules to allows teams and organisations to focus on building the future skill they most need at the moment.

  • If you’re interested in building better future sensing capabilities, from desk to field, and creating collaborative systems for capturing these signals, check out Module 1: Sensing and Scanning

  • To spend more time on ways to draw actionable patterns, themes and implications out of your sensing work, Module 2: Sensemaking and Mapping is a great way to do that.

  • To explore the different ways scenarios can be developed and used, from probing macrostrategy to envisioning new innovation platforms, Module 3: Scenario Development and Use gets into the “how-tos” and “when-tos"of these tools.

  • Turning narratives into material objects and experiences that engage audiences and stakeholders is the focus of Module 4: Prototyping and Storytelling.

Each of these modules can be taught on site, with teams from ~8-30, in an engaging, interactive experience. Our goal is to build capacity in a way that fits the culture and workflows of each organisation. Get in touch to discuss details, availability and costs. 

2. We’ve had numerous requests to run workshops for individuals and small groups, which we’re open to do. If you are interested in a workshop, but have a group smaller than 8-10, we’re happy to combine several groups to get to a viable course size—interactive exercises work best with a diversity of teams. 

Also, if you are in an organisation, like a charity or other third-sector group, that would like to sponsor or support a workshop for mixed groups, get in touch with Susan Cox-Smith to discuss how we can make it happen.

**Lastly, we’re likely to be in SE Asia, mainly Singapore, in mid-December. Anyone interested in setting up a workshop, let us know and we can discuss scheduling.

If you know of someone who may be interested in what we offer, please forward this, send them to howtofuture.com, or follow @howtofuture.


On The Agenda

Time Capsule Retrieval Service

Time Capsule Retrieval Service– A closer view of the artefacts described above. “A project for the Emerging Technologies team at The Royal Society. These time capsules were created in different parts of the UK in different futures, all around 2030. The TCRS brings time capsules back to today in order to analyse their contents, and establish what kinds of futures we may be stepping into.”

New Transport Horizons or Mobility Spam - Scott published an essay on the dockless bike bubble, and what it may mean for future mobility platforms in our cities. “Today’s mobility spam sets the stage for transport malware tomorrow if we don’t take a broader view of its various sub-genres, trajectories and impacts.”

Connecting Perspectives To Enrich Common Futures - This is the first of three reflections on the benefits of Future Design as we’ve taught it at Dubai Future Academy. This post focuses on the value unlocked by seeing future drivers and trends from another’s point of view. Look for Parts 2 & 3 coming very soon.

How Will We Work? - Vienna Biennale 2017: Roboter. Arbeit. Unsere Zukunft - This exhibition looks at how technology is changing the very idea of work. Curated by Anab Jain of Superflux and Gerald Bast, President, University of Applied Arts Vienna, the exhibition opens up again from summer break next week. Scott contributed a short text, and works from Sara Hendren, Laura Forlano, Strange Telemetry, Anne Galloway and Dani Clode, Tim Maughan, Addie Wagenknecht and more are on show.

Dutch National Algorithm by Sjef van Gaalen - Sjef’s recent project, The National Algorithm, was displayed at Mediamatic in Amsterdam as part of On-Off Grid, a series of R&D talks from Hackers & Designers. 

Speculative and Critical Design Summer School - Friends Tobias Revell and Georgina Voss were kind enough to invite Scott to speak to the SCD Summer Course at LCC in London for this second edition of the summer class. His talk looked out how speculative and experiential futures are being used to explore low/no-growth scenarios from a government perspective.Universe Coherence

On the Obsolescence of the Bourgeois Novel in the Anthropocene - This longread from McKenzie Wark came via Paul Graham Raven. A reflection about the way climate change shatters the fictional sense of time and stability in our storytelling, it calls for a return of cognitive estrangement as a tool to make sense of change on a catastrophic scale.

4C | Bight | Coast - Greg Lindsay was among an extended team that produced this interesting speculative depiction of a future where coastal New Jersey and New York are partially submerged due to sea level rise. Coverage of the project from Fast Company gives a little more info, and you can check out one of the video artefacts here. 

Turnton Docklands Opening | Time's Up - Laboratory for the Construction of Experimental Situations - Altered littoral landscapes are a feature this week. Colleagues at Time’s Up Linz, with whom we explored futures of citizenship and migration in Malta earlier this year, have materialized a new part of Turnton, a fictional city, for Ars Electronica in Linz. Check out the opening coming up in early September if you are near. 


While schedules are always subject to change, here’s a list of some of our upcoming travel in case you want to meet and have a chat.- Short notice, but Scott will be in London this coming week for various conversations. DM @changeist to connect.- Susan will be attending Episodic in London October 20. DM @hauspa to connect.- As mentioned above, both are likely to be in SE Asia in December. DM either to discuss a talk, workshop or event.