Short trips into the future

Björn Theis is a foresight manager and researches the future. In his column he writes about disruptive technologies, visionaries, and places where the future is being “made”.

“How can you study the future? It’s not even here yet!”—a futurologist hears statements like this on a daily basis. And unfortunately (spoiler coming!), our guild does not have crystal balls for divination purposes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’d like to introduce myself: My name is Björn Theis and I am a foresight manager. My job is to identify future change and the resulting opportunities and challenges at an early stage, to interpret the consequences, and to formulate effective responses to ensure long-term success.
But how can we make the future visible today? William Gibson, one of my favorite science fiction writers who coined such terms as ‘cyberspace’, wrote, "The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” For example, while more than one-quarter of the world’s population already uses Facebook, around 45 percent still do not have access to the Internet.

Here’s a more personal example: A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer in 2017; the doctors gave him a year at most. But my friend lucked out and was able to participate in a clinical trial. He responded to the treatment. It saved his life; he has been back at work since December 2018 and it seems that cancer has been beaten.
While I was experiencing the future of medicine through such examples, elsewhere medieval epidemics were making a return. Around the same time as my friend’s illness, there were outbreaks of the plague in Madagascar, Congo, and Peru.
Both of these illustrate Gibson’s statement that the future is unevenly distributed. This fact enables it to be made manageable. I would therefore like to invite you to take regular “short trips into the future” with me. Accompany me in my column to places where the future is being “made,” to read about disruptive technologies as well as the utopias and dystopias of visionaries. And remember, the future is often closer than you think.

Illustration: Romina Birzer

PUBLICATION DATE

05 March 2019

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