When we came up with the idea to restart the 3-1 series with a collection of posts on “the future of …[FILL IN THE BLANKS]”, my initial thought was to end this collection – much later this year – with a post on “the future of … futures”. I told Nicholas about that and his answer his reaction was as hilarious as fitting: While a last post on that would be the obvious and reflexive thing to do, opening up with it would be even better as it sets the stage for whatever will follow. So here I am, time is up, “2 minutes left and 10 slides to go”: The future of … futures!
The future is newer just what follows today. It always carries a time stamp, an indication of source and a lot of birthmarks linking it back to the practices, processes and the machinery of its production. A future is always someones future, in a specific time, at a specific location, created with words, imagination and, most importantly, with methods. These futures (present, past or future futures) are fabricated, made, maintained, they are backed-up, contested and used – for planning, dreams and fear. The means, tools and methods we use to make up these futures, let them circulate and turn them into effective devices change: we used to make up futures by prophecy and by myths, we asked gods and oracles as well as strangers that looked well traveled and wise, we created utopias and dystopias as guiding narratives and looked for their manifestations.
A very classic modern way of making up (and multiplying) futures are scenarios and the tools, workshops and projects in which they are created. I am pretty sure that scenarios will pop up in one of the next posts as I happen to know a few scholars that are very interested in them. A closer look into the laboratories of data science and the workshop of machine learning engineers reveals a very contemporary urge for new forms of prediction and of methods and algorithms that turn past patterns (in data) into more or less confident guesses of what will follow. Do you like these books? You might want to look at this messenger bag! How about more “Last Christmas?”? We noticed you seemed to like that a lot last month! Where should we send security and police officers to prevent crime? To areas that were previously high risk areas.
I do not want to open up questions of bias, transparency or fairness, as there is an ever growing STS and critical data/algorithm studies that does such a good job regarding these issues. I am, for the purpose of this 3-1 restart, more interested in this: With all those means, tools and methods in mind – how does the future of futures look like? These futures are unstable, but effective. They can change after the next recalculation, but they are also very performative by narrowing down the corridor of choice. They rely on the past, but do not necessarily reproduce it. They depend on the tools of future-making that we create today.