What’s the difference between fiction and foresight?
The ability to imagine and prepare for a range of potential future scenarios is a key skill for adapting to our increasingly complex and uncertain world. Such scenario planning is a cornerstone practice in the toolkit of “strategic foresight” professionals, whom governments and the corporate world have relied upon for decades to enhance their planning processes.
In many ways, these foresight practitioners leverage the same skills as science fiction writers to envision plausible futures for technology and society, their scenarios working as a kind of Applied Sci-Fi. Indeed, many sci-fi writers also work as foresight professionals, and vice versa.
Join Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination on Thursday, December 8 at 10:00 am Arizona time (9:00 am Pacific, 12:00pm Eastern) for a virtual conversation that brings together science fiction authors and leading foresight practitioners, including futurist and author Jane McGonigal (Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything), sci-fi author and consulting futurist Madeline Ashby (Company Town, the Machine Dynasty series, How to Future: Leading and Sense-Making in an Age of Hyperchange), and foresight practitioners Ari Popper, Steven Weber, and Leah Zaidi. We’ll take a closer look at the past, present, and future of strategic foresight practice, map the similarities and differences between strategic foresight and science fiction, and consider how to leverage both fields to help us collaboratively design a better tomorrow.
This is the third in a series of online events for the Applied Sci-Fi Project, which seeks to understand the influence of science fiction on technology and the people who build it, and to study the specific ways that sci-fi storytelling can be applied as a tool for innovation and foresight. Video from our first two events, “The Sci-Fi Feedback Loop: Mapping Fiction’s Influence on Real World Tech” and “Designing the Future With Applied Sci-Fi,” are archived here. This project, led by ASU CSI fellow Kevin Bankston, is possible thanks to generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Jane McGonigal, @avantgame
Jane McGonigal is the New York Times bestselling author of Reality is Broken, SuperBetter, and Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything, Even Things That Seem Impossible Today. She directs social simulations, Future Scenario Club, Storytime for Futurists, monthly signals of hope scavenger hunts, and more futures fun at Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California.
Madeline Ashby, @madelineashby
Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, teacher, and immigrant living in Toronto. She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the Center for Science and the Imagination, Changeist, and others. She is the author of the Machine Dynasty series, and her novel Company Town was a Canada Reads finalist. She is also a contributor to How To Future: Leading and Sense-making in an Age of Hyperchange, with Scott Smith.
Ari Popper, @scifutures
Ari Popper is the Founder and CEO of SciFutures, an award winning foresight and innovation agency that uses sci-fi prototyping to help their clients create meaningful change. SciFutures has a network of over 300 sci-fi writers around the world, and works in a wide variety of industries with organizations like Visa, Hershey’s, Honda, NATO, JPMorgan Chase, and Coca-Cola. SciFutures work has been featured in the BBC, Fast Company, Boston Globe, Wired Japan, CNBC, The New Yorker, and CNET Magazine.
Steven Weber, @bw_strat
Steven Weber is a partner at Breakwater Strategy and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He focuses on the political economy of knowledge-intensive industries, with special attention to information technology, ﬁnance, health care, and global political economy issues relating to competitiveness. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly and public policy debates on international politics and U.S. foreign policy. One of the world’s most expert practitioners of scenario planning, Weber has worked with more than 50 companies and organizations to develop this discipline as a strategy planning tool in for-proﬁt, non-proﬁt, and government settings.
Leah Zaidi, @Leah_Zaidi
Leah Zaidi is a strategic worldbuilding and foresight expert, and executive director at Multiverse Design. She has worked with prestigious organizations such as the United Nations, Stanford University, and various Fortune 100 companies. Her research on strategic worldbuilding has won awards and is taught in universities around the world. As a strategist, she has tackled complex challenges such as the futures of democracy, refugee crises, and the metaverse. Leah is an advisor to the foresight divisions of Canada and Finland. She has also done developmental editing on five published novels.
Kevin Bankston, @kevinbankston
Kevin Bankston is a fellow at ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination, where he researches the relationship between science fiction and real-world innovation. Kevin is also an accomplished executive leader in the arena of technology law and policy, having spent nearly 20 years working in the public interest sector as an attorney and advocate at organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and New America’s Open Technology Institute. He is now AI Policy Director at Meta, developing policies and processes for ensuring responsible AI development.