Monday, September 05, 2016

What if unions were software?

On this day, Canada and the United States commemorate the contributions and hard-won rights of workers, which began to be recognised in the late 19th century.

Noting the significance of the annual Labour Day holiday (or Labor Day, if you insist), the former President of the Canadian Labour Congress once observed, "Lots of people lost their lives in order to establish the right to refuse unsafe work and the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination."

Still, today discrimination in hiring persists and equal pay for women remains elusive.

But what if the role and goals of unions were to be embedded in the algorithms pervading the operations of 21st century organisations? If, as Lawrence Lessig declares, "Code is law", what if unions were software?

This full-page advertisement from the year 02035 appears in the current volume of MISC, "a journal of strategic insight and foresight". The issue's theme is Women.

The ad copy reads:

In just a decade, Mortal Labour’s blockchain-certified algorithms have quietly revolutionised working conditions in North America. 
Since 2025, our automated hiring, teambuilding and compensation tools have brought Fortune 500 companies and government agencies across the continent to unprecedented levels of workplace equity and parity. So today, whatever your gender, appearance, or background, you can be confident of getting placed in the right role, at the right time, and with the right pay rate. Bye bye, bias. 
This is not your grandmother's Union. We're the original blockchain "Younion" – admired and copied around the world. With automated dues and dividends, you may not even realise that you're already a member.

This is the work of Christine McGlade, founder and creative director at Analytical Engine Interactive, and Ryan Taylor, a practising impact designer. Both are MDes candidates in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, and they cooked this up while taking my class in Experiential Futures last semester.

The following page in the mag's print edition explains:

In light of the trends currently unfolding in the fields of artificial intelligence, workplace culture, and social values, we hypothesize a version of the year 2035 in which gender equality in compensation, distribution of power, and recognition are realized – finally – by taking flawed human decision-making out of the equation. On this basis, we generated an office artifact from the year 2035: an advertisement for the Union of the Future. 
In this version of 2035, education, placement, recruitment, hiring, and team formation are all controlled by an algorithm. The “Younion” perfectly matches tasks that need doing with individuals who have demonstrated the competencies suited to doing them. Blockchain-certified, the Younion guarantees team diversity, optimum innovation, and absolute wage parity based on value and not gender. The Younion takes the bias of the bottom line.

The ad does indeed start to look like a fragment of a possible, and in some ways quite upbeat, future, considering the rapid rise in workplace automation reducing availability of human jobs; the integration of algorithms into hiring processes to offset human bias; the emerging use of blockchain technology to enable independent verification of a candidate's qualifications (such as university degrees); and the potential of labour organisations to accept the challenge of developing new models for protecting workers in the face of technological disruptions.

By the same token, we would be wise not to overlook the potential for these variables to net out the opposite way –– with more elaborate, technologically black-boxed bias, at least as opaque as analogue decision-making has ever been. The notion of a blockchain-enabled, bias-busting "Younion", then, is perhaps a positive vision of what law professor Frank Pasquale calls for under the banner of algorithmic accountability.


The choice of "Women" as the theme for this issue followed a widely read article in The Atlantic last year claiming a dearth of women in futures, which prompted a valuable discussion among members of the profession, and the appearance of at least two lists of female futurists practising around the world.

MISC is out now on newsstands, and available to order here.

A pdf of the special feature "The Future According to Women" can be found here.


Special thanks to Franz Steiner of Steiner Creative for permission to use the image appearing in the ad.

Much appreciation to Ashley Perez Karp and Emily Empel of Idea Couture for sharing the published material back with us.

And well done to Christine and Ryan for a deft and timely piece of experiential futures work.

I find it pleasing to contemplate the in-world (diegetic) advertisement as a next-generation twist on Wired's long-running and creatively inspiring feature Found: Artifacts from the Future, which sadly was consigned to the past in 02013.

> The Future of Church
> Wired artifacts gallery
Found Futures
> Future jamming 101
> If women ruled the world

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A Question of Scale

Diagram by Daisy Ginsberg; original here.

How do you scale experiential futures?

If we're serious about infusing foresight into the culture at large, how can experiences of possible futures reach more people?

The Futures of Everyday Life concluded by connecting the promise of experiential futures to the prospect of social foresight, a distributed cultural capacity for thinking ahead.

This question of scale, then, has been a driver in much of my work over the past several years.

It is in the DNA of The Thing From The Future, a game we created to make concrete futures ideation (storytelling and design fiction) faster, easier and more widespread.

Itt's one of the main motivations behind the series of playful participatory design events that we -- Situation Lab and The Extrapolation Factory -- have run at OCAD [video], New York University [video] and the University of Southern California [post].

Scale via the classroom route has been at the heart of an experiential futures assignment I've developed over the past few years called The Time Machine, written up in 02013, then taught and iterated each semester since. (A Time Machine turns a room into an experiential scenario at 1:1 scale, immersing visitors in a possible future.)

And scale is also the central question I brought to the most recent Oxford Futures Forum, held at the University of Oxford a couple of years ago now. An abstract contributed for that event is reproduced below, by way of a prelude to sharing more here soon about experiential futures practice at scale.

In particular, we'll be taking a look at several dozen Time Machines created so far, as well as the Museum of the Future exhibition which I worked on for the World Government Summit held in Dubai earlier this year.


Scaling experiential scenarios 
In recent years a romance between foresight and design has blossomed, with much engaging and media-rich output emanating from the encounter (Antonelli 2008; Sterling 2009; Candy 2010; Haldenby 2013; Dunne and Raby 2013). Notably, hybrid practices such as "design fiction" and "experiential futures" have been entering common currency (Bleecker 2009; Raford 2012; Turney 2013).
I have collaboratively developed experiential futures (a broader term, encompassing design fiction) across wildly different contexts - public art installations, client workshops, massively multiplayer online games, and so on. Hybridising scenarios and design brings visceral engagement into a dry tradition that otherwise threatens to fall short of its culture- and history-catalyzing potential (Candy 2010). 
So what’s next? 
The task of putting design more impactfully in service of scenarios poses two complementary questions: 
* What kinds of scaled-up immersion are possible -- considering, for instance, a transmedia intervention during the Arab Spring whereby multiple Tunisian media - press, radio and TV - reported "from" 14 June 2014, three years into the future, for a whole day? (Candy 2011) 
* What structures of participation are most effective for scaffolding experiential futures design – e.g., what makes a successful brief for students translating textual scenario premises into tangible, immersive form? (Candy 2013, 2014; Candy and Dunagan forthcoming) 
Having been involved in the futures field since 1997 as (variously) a student, researcher, consultant, artist, and educator, my interest in these topics spans all these modes. The work has not always generated the expected results, but it has always been illuminating. 

• Antonelli, P. 2008. Design and the Elastic Mind. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
• Bleecker, Julian. 2009. Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design Fact and Fiction. Near-Future Laboratory, Los Angeles.
• Candy, Stuart. 2010. The Futures of Everyday Life: Politics and the Design of Experiential Scenarios. Dissertation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Political Science.
• Candy, Stuart. 2011. ‘An experiential scenario for post-revolution Tunisia.’ The Sceptical Futuryst. 1 April.
• Candy, Stuart. 2013. ‘Time Machine / Reverse Archaeology: Create an experience or artifact from the future.’ In 72 Assignments: The Foundation Course in Art and Design Today. Chloe Briggs (ed.). PCA Press, Paris.
• Candy, Stuart. 2014. “Dreaming Together: Public Imagination and the Future of Governance”. In Made Up: Design's Fictions. Tim Durfee and Mimi Zeiger (eds.) JRP Ringier / Art Center Graduate Press, Zurich. Forthcoming.
• Candy, Stuart and Jake Dunagan. 2014. ‘The People Who Vanished: Co-creating an Experiential Scenario’. Futures. Forthcoming.
• Dunne, Anthony and Fiona Raby. 2013. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
• Haldenby, Trevor. 2013. Bringing the Future to Life: Pervasive Transmedia Scenarios and the World of Worlding. MDes Thesis. Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program, OCAD University, Toronto, ON.
• Raford, Noah. 2012. ‘From Design Fiction to Experiential Futures.’ In The Future of Futures. Andrew Curry (ed.) Association of Professional Futurists, Houston, TX.
• Sterling, Bruce. 2009. ‘Design Fiction.’ In Interactions 16, 3.
• Turney, Jon. 2013. Imagining Technology. Nesta Working Paper 13/06, March.


This contribution can be found in the full collection of abstracts from the Oxford Futures Forum, on this occasion dealing with the theme Design and Scenarios.

A recent special issue of the journal Futures guest edited by Thomas Chermack, Cynthia Selin, Rafael Ramirez and Yasser Bhatti features several articles arising from the Forum.

The edited collection called Made Up referenced above is officially no longer happening, unfortunately, but the piece I wrote for it has been posted here: Dreaming Together.

And the article co-authored with Jake Dunagan, listed as Forthcoming, appeared in Futures a few months ago under the title Designing an Experiential Scenario.

> Experiential Futures in The Economist
Dreaming Together
> An experiential scenario for post-revolution Tunisia
> The People Who Vanished
> 1-888-FUTURES
> The Futures of Everyday Life

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ghosts of futures past

Experiential Futures turns ten.

It is exactly ten years and one day since an event that turns out to have been something of a milestone in the foresight work documented at this blog.

"Hawaii 2050" was an initiative of the state legislature to engage the public in addressing the islands' sustainability, over a commendably farsighted time horizon, nearly two generations out. At the time the project began, in late 02005, more than three decades had passed since the last comparable process. A big-picture re-examination of Hawaiian prospects was overdue.

At that time I was a graduate student in University of Hawaii's "Manoa School" of futures studies, founded and run by Professor Jim Dator, who had taught the first futures course in the United States in 01967, at Virginia Tech, and then became closely involved in "Hawaii 2000" in 01970-71. He was also founding director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies (HRCFS), an agency the state had established at the end of that process, and which it then engaged more than thirty years later for a 02050-oriented effort.

To help bring the fullest possible consideration of alternative futures to the "2050" Kickoff on Saturday 26 August 02006, staged at the charmingly shabby ballrooms in the former Dole pineapple cannery, my HRCFS colleague Jake Dunagan and I put 550 or so people into four rooms.

We had designed and staged these rooms, with the priceless involvement of two improv theatre troupes, as well as a gaggle of wonderful colleagues and friends orbiting the Futures Center, to embody alternative possible Hawaiis set in the year 02050; a quartet of radically different social, economic, and governance outcomes.

In one (code-named "Orange"), the islands had found a way to continue a growth trajectory, dramatised via an election in which candidates were not individuals but corporations.

In the second ("Silver"), global economic meltdown had led to a tentative, militarised reassertion of the islands' independence from a presumably beleaguered U.S., the so-called "Democratic Kingdom of Hawaii".

In future number three ("Maroon"), a concerted effort had been made to realign political and environmental priorities, though the adoption of Hawaii's pre-colonial, watershed-based ahupua'a governance structure, combined with "bright green" environmentally friendly technology.

The fourth experience ("Blue") was of a future where not only society but the very definition of humanity had transformed, with the World Council seeking to bring the Pacific Islands' underprivileged premods––regular, unaugmented people––up to par.

Our intention was to give people a chance not just to contemplate these potential realities as intellectual hypotheticals, but to visit physically and invest emotionally in them. Thus this set of brief yet provocative immersions, instantiating highly contrasting assumptions and theories of change, as a fast-track to higher quality, more richly imaginative mental models and civic conversations.

The original notion for this experiential approach to the Kickoff, which I'd proposed in hopes of avoiding the uninspiring albeit reliable standby workshop formats, was to expose people to the scenarios via a series of tangible artifacts physically set out on parallel (or rather, diverging) timelines. Following that approach would have meant creating a sort of popup museum of alternative future histories, or a real-life gallery counterpart to Wired magazine's back-page feature Found: Artifacts from the Future, as I thought of it at the time (this was before design fiction). But we soon realised that the interest of maximising narrative engagement and comprehension, as well as the sheer practicalities of moving hundreds of bodies through multiple rooms on a tight schedule, militated for scenarios unfolding over time, as performances, with built-in roleplaying opportunities for attendees.

A retrofitted shorthand for this difference in approaches:

(For more on this, see our recent article Designing an Experiential Scenario: The People Who Vanished.)

The "Hawaii 2050" scenario rooms were therefore immersive and experiential not only literally, with participants surrounded by performers and designed media (set dressing, props, soundscapes, etc), but also narratively, with each room devised as a coherent scene that would place attendees in medias res, and invite in them a sense of being transported in time. We aimed to ensure that people would not only witness these futures first hand, but interact with and within them: hence, four situations from alternative futures: a pre-election speech night; a naturalisation ceremony for climate change refugees; a government-mandated sustainability class; and an information session at a posthuman wellbeing facility.

None were supposed to feel like tendentious "best" or "worst" outcomes. Instead we wanted to offer qualitatively differentiated stories, in the classic Manoa School mould. To mirror some of the complexity of real history, we hoped people would find both good and bad things in each world they visited; genuinely "alternative futures" as opposed to mildly different flavours of the same idea, as scenario generation processes sometimes yield. Building on this divergent futuring tradition, we reasoned that more vivid and sensorily engaging food for thought could help support wiser decision making in the aggregate.

Below is a two-minute video of the fourth room described above, the high-tech transformation scenario. (Please forgive the low resolution, and note that on the day these ran for 20-30 minutes, so these edits convey only a fraction of the experience.)

(All four videos can be found here.)

Following a year of meetings with state legislators and public administration collaborators; after weeks of intensive work and long days that summer, of Jake and I making thousands of directorial decisions large and small, of generating dozens of artifact concepts and iterating their execution with our astoundingly resilient graphic design helpers, of writing and rewriting scripts and workshopping them with actors, of eking out our shoestring budget to make every room as fully realised and detailed as possible, of criss-crossing the island doing everything from taking venue measurements to sourcing fabrics for future military outfits: somehow, impossibly, the futures arrived at last.

And on that Saturday morning ten years ago, as the time for the first round of experiences approached, taking place in four rooms simultaneously, I have a memory of walking through the ballroom lobby in a daze, emotionally addled, exhilarated, exhausted, halfway between tears and laughter.

For us this was the mother of all proofs of concept. It was of course bound to be a big deal, in our minds, if for no other reason than the amount of work involved, and the responsibility of delivering all we had promised––without a clear precedent that we knew of––to state senators and other community leaders, not to mention our colleagues and collaborators.

The fruits of our collective labour soon began to emerge. One participant was so disturbed by the cynical appropriation of Hawaiian culture depicted in the post-collapse room that he started breaking the scene to argue about it. We could not have been more delighted: real feelings about our hypothetical narrative! The four experiences elicited various responses from laughter to discomfort, bemusement, and also genuine passion.

The post-immersion dialogue in all rooms was unusually energetic. The exchange of values, hopes, concerns, ideas, and intentions was meaningful and earnest. The verdict was in: our first trial of what we soon came to call experiential futures had worked.

The project didn't immediately generate a lot of media attention, and this was all a couple of years before social media took off –– although our guest Jamais Cascio from Institute for the Future did a great write-up. And, in years afterward, the event has cropped up here and there in design literature, for instance in Parsons/ex-RCA professors Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby's Speculative Everything, and more recently in Umeå University prof Håkan Gulliksson's Pervasive Design For Sustainability.

But what about the impact on the islands themselves? In case it had not been clear from reactions plainly visible on the day, some 94% of respondents to a Kickoff exit survey indicated that the experiences had impacted their thinking and desire to take action accordingly (see The Futures of Everyday Life p. 105 for details). But for reasons reaching well past the scope of our modest involvement –– Hawaii 2050 was a big undertaking, not confined to the futures-oriented kickoff events described here –– both the immediate political outcomes of the Kickoff and the "Sustainability Plan" published in 02008 were, in my view, underwhelming (see earlier account in TFOEL pp. 8-13).

I moved away a few years later, and others are better placed to gauge how the influences of "2050" and our part in it, if any, have played out since. Although I did take heart from the news, reported one year ago, nine years to the day after the event, that Hawaii's governor was committing to dump fossil fuels for 100% renewables by 02045.

In any case the significance of this project –– or rather, the story I am trying to tell here –– is personal.

Looking back after a decade, "Hawaii 2050" was a point of departure, breaking our futures work open to a much wider world of collaborations, creative possibilities, media and settings.

Jake and I had always meant for it to enjoy an active afterlife; many of the individual artifacts we had designed were soon repurposed for the first guerrilla futures interventions in our (ongoing, periodically) transmedia public art collaboration FoundFutures. We went on to explore and map experiential futures practice as fully as we could, systematically experimenting in as many contexts and media as possible: in the streets of Honolulu's Chinatown and at the University of Oxford, at South by Southwest, and California Academy of Sciences. We did projects in magazinesmailouts, games both online and offline, and short videos; projects for festivalsgalleries, universitiesnational governments and the United Nationscommercial clients and random members of the public. On the academic front, I wrote my dissertation on the topic, and we've also developed Experiential Futures methods in classrooms all over the place, which is a story for another time, although there's a glimpse of it in this recent piece for The Economist's World in 2016.

Today I find myself regularly thinking of, and occasionally borrowing from, ideas tucked into the details of the scenarios, or elements from among the dozens of costumes, badges, posters and other items produced for "2050". Situation Lab's first Futurematic design jam with The Extrapolation Factory, which filled a vending machine with future artifacts made in one day in 02014, was a benign conceptual cannibalisation of the vending machine full of future artifacts which had sat largely unnoticed in the corner of the Blue room ("InstaSleep" pills - eight hours in eight minutes; "Inhale" - health enhancing cigarettes featuring anti-cancer nanoclouds; "Ahoy" - enhanced chocolate bars for replenishing essential vitamins lost during space travel).

Having spent my undergraduate years training in mostly hyper-intellectual and unimaginative ways of thought, in class at least, I never really had a way to relate to art as something I could do. I spent a year trying (and failing) to make a documentary on my own dime, in the former Yugoslavia, and then another half year starting a business (also failing) in Canada. But it was in that first year in Hawaii, collaborating with my dear friend Jake Dunagan, that this project helped to unlock a door that has only continued to open wider.

I still have a box full of these future artifacts, and packing them up to move house last week stirred a lot of recollections.

See, when you make stories, images, artifacts, interactions and experiences from the future for a living, they are constantly circling back to play with you.

In this work, we are not just creating experiences, or even memories.

We are designing ghosts.

Experiential futures is about the design of ghosts of a special sort –– not the remainders of things dead, but the advance traces of things waiting to be born. Ghosts of what is yet to come. Ghosts of the possible.

I have come to suspect this is one of the primary purposes of art. We create it to haunt ourselves. When it stays with us, that is how we know it is working.


Above: Jim Dator speaking at the "Hawaii 2050" kickoff on August 26, 02006

Here are the original scenarios for 02050 written by Dator, Dunagan and me, on which the four futures rooms were based. 

For a fuller look at the development of experiential futures practice, see this peer-reviewed article that Dunagan and I recently published about our project The People Who Vanished.

All the photos in this post were taken by Cyrus Camp; most have not been seen until now.

Finally, I want to register my appreciation again to everyone involved in bringing futures to life at "Hawaii 2050". Ten years later your contributions continue to haunt me, for which I am most grateful.

> Immersive Futures for Hawaii 2050
> Experiential scenarios on video
> The Futures of Everyday Life
> A film from the future
Build your own Time Machine
> History of experiential futures

Friday, August 19, 2016

Introduction to Experiential Futures in The Economist

This is a short article I published in The Economist's annual look at the year ahead, The World in 2016.

Part of a section called "Minds on the Future" included for the thirtieth edition of The World In, my contribution appears right between a piece by the chief economists of Google and IBM, Hal Varian and Martin Fleming, and another by Canadian science fiction novelist Margaret Atwood. That's good company for an introduction to Experiential Futures––in this case, outlined with reference to Time Machines developed with learners around the world, from Singapore to Mexico.


'Experiential Futures: Show and Tell'

Within a generation, those unable to afford time outside Toronto’s dense urban environment will resort to Nature Deficit Disorder Clinics, where they will get essential dietary supplements along with a virtual rainforest immersion and brain scan.‡

In Singapore, a popular museum exhibition will chart the startling social transformations over the previous few decades in romance, sex and marriage, including the introduction of state-subsidised love robots to maintain well-being across the population.

Mexico City will be subject to severe flooding, and a peer-to-peer emergency service called Operación 
Axolotl will emerge as citizens step up to meet each ­other’s basic needs.

By 2044, young people in North Carolina will face a critical choice at the age of 18: whether to let life’s slings and arrows take their natural course, or to accept the wonders of modern medical technology and become, in effect, immortal.

How can anyone possibly claim to predict all this, you may ask? Actually I’m not predicting that these things will happen—even though I witnessed them all first-hand.

As an experiential futurist my job is to create, and to help others create, transmedia situations where such possibilities can be thought, felt and used to make better decisions. In this practice, all media are fair game for bringing futures to life, from interactive performances to physical artifacts, from video to food: whatever enlivens a future scenario as a potential reality-in-waiting.

If Andy Clark, a cognitive scientist at the University of Edinburgh, is right, thought isn’t confined to the boundaries of our skulls. We think with our environments. The map or smartphone in your pocket is a deliberate extension of your thought processes.

We can design situations that help us understand possible futures by visiting them. How much more powerful this is than the white papers and slideshows that are the typical focus of future-gazing in boardrooms and at UN summits.

Driven by the irrepressible human urge to bring our inner worlds to life, the culture of public imagination is set to make a leap: in coming years we can expect to see more and more companies, governments, advocacy organisations and communities creating and sharing experiential futures. The sooner we learn to use and democratise collective imagination to dramatise our alternatives, the more powerful will be our capacity to shape change towards just and worthwhile ends.


The World in 2016 appears in print in 90 countries and was translated into more than 30 languages, with circulation of the English-language edition exceeding two million copies.

While approaching the tenth birthday of Experiential Futures, and half a decade after writing a doctoral dissertation on that topic, for this little description to reach such an audience feels like a valuable step towards public visibility and normalisation of a practice that I suspect is essential to the development of a collective cultural capacity for foresight.

Full text pdf is here.

‡ This Time Machine, created in the Foresight Studio at OCAD last year, eventually led to the NaturePod project for Interface Inc.

> Foresight is a right
> Build your own Time Machine
> Dissertation: The Futures of Everyday Life
Dreaming together
> Journalism from the future