Future studies

Future studies are a set of techniques that can be applied to systematically analyse possible future scenarios. It does not look at fads but rather at fundamental changes over the coming 10–20 years. The purpose is to verify possible scenarios in order, for instance, to take better decisions on policies, objectives and methods. One of the most influential statements of the twentieth century was when US President John F. Kennedy declared in 1962 that, before the close of the decade, a human being would be sent to the moon and return safely. This project presented a challenge to many people in various fields, and the modern world is still reaping the benefits to science and technology. Such benefits also manifest themselves in the form of the innovation which is a feature of our daily life, such as smart devices and technology in the field of telecommunications and medical science. Society cannot steer future development, but it can influence it.

Future studies as an academic discipline

Future studies are an academic discipline which aims to create and disseminate knowledge on possible long-term technical, social and environmental developments. Future studies emerged as an academic discipline in the post- World War II Cold War era, when rapid developments in military technology created great uncertainty concerning peace in the world. At that time, the leaders of the world’s major military forces wanted to be able to predict the potential risks of opposing factions acquiring weapons. Most of the main methods used in future studies came into being at that time – particularly in the ’50s and ’60s – and many are still used today, e.g. scenario analysis, technological forecasts, Delphi surveys, etc. Despite much criticism for inaccurate and subjective procedures, future studies and related methods have become quite widespread over the last 20–30 years. This is particularly due to two things. First, methods have been further developed and various criticised elements refined. Second, there is the great uncertainty that ever-more-rapid technological development creates and the pressure on policy-makers and leaders to consider the long-term impact of their decisions and deeds. This has created a need for the type of knowledge that future studies experts have and generate; this, in turn, has greatly raised the importance of future studies as an academic discipline.