Speculative Design & Creating compelling Narratives of Future Worlds

You may wonder? Why should I employ speculative design in future foresight when anyone can just use AI to forecast near term future trends? Information is not transformation. To provide a transformative, creative and empathic vision of the future, we need to lean on speculative design.

Here are some thought starters and a few issues with the thinking that is becoming increasingly popular: AI for future foresight is everything. If everyone goes towards the same data and therefore reinforces the same trends, we are in trouble.

Nina Schick who is an author, entrepreneur and AI advisor to organisations such as NATO explained in her recent RSA article:

'The sheer volume of data we are dealing with and our inability to interpret it has a dangerous effect. This is a phenomenon known as ‘censorship through noise’: it occurs when there is so much ‘stuff’ that we cannot distinguish or determine which messages we should be listening to.'

Forecasters who have focused very much on being great at trend analysis will be replaced by AI.

So if you are focused on short term trends this is an issue. Already AI is good at predicting 6 months to a year ahead trends. Niloufar Esfandiari of Discover AI gave us a whole talk about this in Trend Atelier early 2022.

Foresight practitioners looking ahead need to focus on developing stronger creative foresight and long term visions, to extract out of the noise novel and emergent ideas.

This is where Speculative Design comes into the picture as a super power.

An intentional foresight practice that equips us in creating compelling visions and narratives of the future. It requires insights, creativity, intuition, playfulness, imagination, dialog, experimentation, empathy. All the things we are good at as humans.

You are time traveling. And you are co-creating futures. Just fyi you could co-create with an AI assistant too. But this is a human-centered and heart led approach to the future, and on top of it, highly creative. This is our super power as humans: creativity.

Forecasters and futurists must inform a future vision based on research. But that something in the future is not a natural extension of your findings, it is a surprising, often unseen development.

The practice of speculative design allows us to foresee these wild cards. Because far futures have less data to rely on, we have to lean more on the what if.

Imagining system wide change is very hard if we only use traditional foresight approaches. Einstein used ‘thought experiments’. The process of visualisation that physicists need isn't so different from a literary and creative process as Christopher Nolan shared recently here when discussing his passion for physics ahead of the release of his new movie Oppenheimer.

I could talk about this for hours but here's the thing, it's better if we practice together. Watch the replay of our Futuring Lab above.

The session shares 3 key foundations of speculative design:

  • time traveling
  • everyday things
  • participatory futures

We jump into activities so there is opportunity for you to learn and practice.

As a reminder, our Futuring Labs are open to all as part of our UN SDG commitments to Education and Futures literacy. So if you want to attend more check out our Free Resources page here where our next events are published.

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