"The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet."
Our team at Autodesk is called Strategic Foresight. We help identify and articulate long-term forces of change and their implications shaping the future for Autodesk and our customers. As Strategic Foresight, we do not attempt to offer definitive answers about what the future will hold. No one can do that. Our team helps reveal insights across the entire company by working with Autodesk leaders to shape a preferable future (out of the many possible futures) that delivers value for our customers and our business. We explore a broad range of areas (e.g., society, technology, economy, environment, politics) with a long-term focal length (~10 years). The 10-year period is necessary because some technologies (like generative design or application of artificial intelligence) have a long development runway before they are commercially available. The time to start thinking about potential new technologies is when they seem impossible or impractical.
As part of our foresight activities, we have a book club. We select a book by democratic vote, read it on nights and weekends, and then meet and discuss it as a group. The book I just finished that we're getting prepared to discuss is Normal by Warren Ellis. Warren Girard Ellis is a British author well known for sociocultural commentary, through his online presence and through his writing, which covers transhumanist (most notably nanotechnology, cryonics, mind transfer, and human enhancement) and folkloric themes, often in combination with each other. He is a humanist and former patron of Humanists UK, a charity focused on promoting humanism and advancing secularism. [Wikipedia]
The setting of Normal is a mental institute for strategic foresight practitioners. Oh, joy. It's a very interesting book that's presented as a sort of "who done it?" mystery. The nature of strategic foresight work unfolds based on the backstories of the characters. The underlying premise is that pondering the future ("gazing into the abyss") makes one realize all of the bad outcomes that are possible. Such constant pondering could make a person go insane. The book also depicts how technology can be misused to the detriment of mankind. Who wouldn't find that depressing? Despite the gloom, the book was an easy read with a compelling story.
The author does make a distinction between two types of strategic foresight:
Foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geoengineering and smart cities and ways for society to evade impending doom. These are funded by nonprofits and charities.
Strategic forecasters are spook futurists who think about geopolitical upheaval and warfare and ways to prepare society for eventual doom. These are funded by global security groups and think tanks. [back cover]
At Autodesk, we are upbeat about the future. Our vision is to help everyone imagine, design, and make a better world. For example, for years we noted that robots will not take our jobs. They will automate our jobs. We cire the example of the ATM (automated teller machine). When ATMs were invented, human tellers feared they'd lose their jobs. Today, there are more human tellers than when ATMs were invented. Human tellers now process more complicated transactions that making deposits, withdrawing cash, or transferring money. ATMs relieved human tellers of the drudgery of those menial tasks.
Autodesk has always been an automation company. Today, more than ever, that means helping our customers automate their design and make processes. We help them embrace the future of making, where they can do more (e.g., quantity, functionality, performance, quality), with less (e.g., energy, raw materials, timeframes, waste of human potential), and realize the opportunity for better (e.g., innovation, user experience, efficiency, sustainability, return on investment). Identifying possible futures and working towards preferable ones is part of proving the opportunity of better for the industries we serve: Architecture, Engineering, and Construction; Product Design and Manufacturing; and Media and Entertainment.
Gazing at the abyss with our eyes towards the heavens is alive in the lab.