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Futurists, or futurologists, are those who speculate about the future.



The term 'futurists' most commonly describes authors, consultants, organizational leaders and others who engage in interdisciplinary and systems thinking to advise private and public organizations on such matters as diverse global trends, plausible scenarios, emerging market opportunities, and risk management.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces earliest English usage of the term 'futurist' to 1842, referring to Christian scriptural futurists. The next usage occurs with the Italian and Russian Futurists of the early 20th century (1900s-1930s), an artistic, literary, and political movement that sought to reject the past and rather uncritically embraced speed, technology, and violent change. Curiously, early modern visionary authors like Jules Verne, Edward Bellamy, and even H.G. Wells were not characterized as futurists in their day, but rather as philosophers of foresight, a closely related term.

The use of futurist and its synonym futurologist in the modern context of thinking about and analyzing the future began in the mid-1940s, when German professor Ossip K. Flechtheim coined the term futurology and proposed it as a new science of probability. Flechtheim argued that even if systematic forecasting did no more than unveil the subset of statistically highly probable processes of change and charted their advance, it would still be of crucial social value.[1]

Also in the mid-1940s the first professional "futurist" consulting institutions like RAND and SRI began to engage in long-range planning, systematic trend watching, scenario development, and visioning, at first under WWII military and government contract and, beginning in the 1950s, for private institutions and corporations. The period from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s laid the conceptual and methodological foundations of the modern futures studies field. Bertrand de Jouvenel's The Art of Conjecture in 1963 and Dennis Gabor's Inventing the Future in 1964 are considered key early works, and the first U.S. university course devoted entirely to the future was taught by futurist Alvin Toffler at The New School in 1966.[2]

More generally, the label includes such disparate lay, professional, and academic groups as visionaries, foresight consultants, corporate strategists, policy analysts, cultural critics, planners, marketers, forecasters, prediction market developers, roadmappers, operations researchers, investment managers, actuaries and other risk analyzers, and future-oriented individuals educated in every academic discipline, including anthropology, complexity studies, computer science, economics, engineering, evolutionary biology, history, management, mathematics, philosophy, physical sciences, political science, psychology, sociology, systems theory, technology studies, and other disciplines.


Futurology or "futures studies" is often summarized as being concerned with "three Ps and a W," or possible, probable, and preferable futures, plus wildcards, which are low-probability but high-impact events, should they occur. Even with high-profile probable events, such as the fall of telecom costs, the growth of the internet, or the aging demographics of particular countries, there is often significant uncertainty in the rate or continuation of a trend. Thus a key part of futuring is the managing of uncertainty and risk.[3]

Futurists and futurology

Not all futurists engage in the practice of futurology as generally defined. Preconventional futurists (see below) would generally not. And while religious futurists, astrologers, occultists, New Age divinists, etc. use methodologies that include study, none of their personal revelation or belief-based work would fall within a consensus definition of futurology as used in academics or by futures studies professionals.

Notable futurists

See also


  1. ^ Flechtheim, O (1972). Futurology-The New Science of Probability? in Toffler, A (1972). The Futurists p. 264-276
  2. ^ Bell, W. (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies: Volume 1 New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers., p. 60. ISBN 1-56000-271-9.
  3. ^ The Future: An Owner's Manual, World Future Society

External links



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