Don’t go to a fortune teller: what is the profession of a futurologist?


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The answers were prepared by Kirill Ignatiev, coordinator of the project “Technical Progress and the Economy of the Future”, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Russian Investments group of companies, lecturer at RANEPA, member of the ASI expert council

1.Who is a futurist?

A futurologist analyzes trends of the present and predicts the future. Often different people are called futurologists: popularizers of science, trend watchers (business consultants), and visionaries. Some believe that they are different, others believe that the concepts are synonymous.

Visionaries have a creative rather than a scientific view of the future. These are strategists who sense trends, determine development vectors, isolate the main thing from the flow of information and convey it to the masses.

Visionaries are often called Elon Musk, Jack Ma or Bill Gates. There are also science fiction writers, who once, one might say, began the increased interest in predicting the future. But this is still a separate creative area.

Futurology as a science was formed relatively recently, largely from philosophy and sociology. It now sets itself more precise goals than before and is based on technological, technical and engineering areas. This is a technique that has been developed over the years and focuses on studying the dynamics of key trends.

2.How to become a futurist?

Futurologists are now almost never taught anywhere, although some universities still introduce separate master’s and doctoral programs in predicting the future, as well as courses in analytics and strategic thinking as part of additional education.

So, you can study to become a futurologist, for example, at the Free University of Berlin, the University of Hawaii at Manoa or the University of Houston. However, you can become a futurologist by obtaining a more familiar specialty – business administration, marketing, sociology, philosophy, anthropology are suitable. The combination of these disciplines with systems analysis and engineering competencies is even closer to futurology.

3.What skills does a futurist need?

There are no established professional standards, but practicing futurologists agree that it is necessary to read a lot, understand technological, technical and social world processes, track scientific discoveries, identify trends in business and politics, know languages, and also develop analytical and strategic thinking and be able to sometimes extrapolate existing statistical trends into the future.

4.What trends do futurologists study?

The movement of technology from science to R&D (research and development) and business. In essence, this is the process of introducing into everyday practice inventions that have already been experimentally confirmed or close to it.

Studying technologies already used in business, which tend to become cheaper. Such technologies are most promising for distribution in the future. An example is smartphones. They’ve come down so much in price that today’s top phones are the same price as Motorola’s top models from the 1990s. But at the same time, modern smartphones are completely different devices.

The technology has become very complicated, devices have become thousands of times more accurate, but the price has remained the same.

Study of the younger generation. This is a kind of test: if today the technology is mastered by children, then, most likely, tomorrow adults will master a similar solution. Plus, children will be the main players in the future, those who will live in it. Therefore, we need to carefully study everything that the younger generation lives with in order to draw conclusions about the upcoming changes.

Studying trends in the field of communications and any creativity. These areas anticipate the future. Today, new horizons have been opened by social networks; tomorrow,

technologies for accessing the vision of another person or online presence will do so. You can also find a lot of ideas about the future in art, science fiction literature and films.

Studying everything that happens in the leading industries that can be called big-budget and that are shaping the future. For example, the automotive industry has long determined the development of industrial design, since a lot of money has been invested there. Space and the military industry shaped the future of information distribution and security, as well as the most sophisticated computer solutions and materials.

5.Is there a limit to predictions?

A forecast covering a period of no more than 9–10 years can be practically useful for business. The rest is closer to science. Forecasts beyond ten years are useful for science, as it storms distant horizons and potential opportunities that will be applied in practice.

Science must plunge about a century into the future, otherwise unexpected inventions will not appear, new continents will not be discovered in the broad sense of the word.

6.Where should a futurologist go to work?

The idea of ​​having a futurist on staff will soon be reconsidered. As a futurist, I believe that the very concept of company staff will soon become a thing of the past. Large corporations will increasingly rely on the free labor market and will attract more and more freelancers and self-employed people. Futurologists will primarily be among these workers. They will become consultants, hired for a certain period of time to develop recommendations.

People with a scientific and systematic approach will be in demand in the future in various professions. A vision of the future is needed for engineers, chemists, doctors, and designers. The model of today is as follows: to create a product of the future that will be interesting to the market, it is necessary to attract specialists from a variety of professions who have the competencies of a futurologist.

A futurologist can also engage in other activities and, as a scientist, philosopher or teacher, integrate his vision of the future into his work.


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