Sunday, March 27, 2011

Four future news clips from MIT

The following four videos are fictional newscasts from different versions of 2 November, 02037.

"Global Market Place"


"Technology Savior"

"One World Order"

Here's background from the FFFatMIT Channel on YouTube, where they were posted this week:

They are all part of the Future Freight Flows project run at MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL) for the National Academies. Four separate future scenarios were developed over the course of a year through a series of focused expert panel sessions, practitioner acid testing, and industry wide surveys. The key driving forces and critical uncertainties were identified and formed the basis of the underlying scenarios. While originally designed to be used for freight transportation planning, they can be employed for a wide variety of different planning purposes.

Now, the fact that these are designed to support discussion about transportation made an impression on me because in the past fortnight, I've attended two vastly different events around this, heh, fast-moving industry. One was an upstart tech-geek unconferenceTransportationCamp West in San Francisco. The other was a staid, orderly gathering of transportation planning academics that has been running for over half a century, the Transportation Research Forum in Long Beach. The contrast between the cultures, rhythms and energies of the two events could hardly have been more striking. Yet one thing they had in common was that participants lacked a common background and framework for thinking both creatively and systematically about the broad futures or contexts in which the industry could play out. (That's no dig at folks involved with either event, just a comment on the fact that alternative futures thinking is still not yet widely known or understood in our culture, even in domains where it's most needed.)

So to me, it is heartening to see the Future Freight Flows project adopting scenario planning as a deliberate methodological response to the uncertainties inescapably attendant on the decades-long time horizons of infrastructure investments, and the wide variety of parties that they affect:

It is important to point out that this project will not develop the "official version" of the future for the US freight transportation system to be used by all decision makers.  As mentioned above, the system is too large and complex and faces too many uncertainties for this to be possible.  Also, the planning and assessment of policy and management strategies should be an on-going process involving as many stakeholders as possible -- not a one-time event.  Therefore, the project will not simply provide a static list of actions that a federal, state, or local Department of Transportation (DOT) planner should undertake to prepare for the future.  Instead, it will provide a set of customized tools and procedures that can be adopted and immediately implemented by the various decision makers across the stakeholders.

More about the underlying logic of these scenarios (which bear the hallmarks of a GBN-style two-by-two matrix as their generative protocol) can be found here.

The videos themselves, while clearly more Cambridge, Mass. than Hollywood, include a laudable attention to scenaric detail; "ticker" headlines, in-world advertisements and props, and not least, the choice from the outset of a specific, ordinary date in the future for which each of these clips manifests an alternative universe.

Future news (video, print) is of course a time-honoured and widely used way to economically convey a bunch of diegetic (in-scenario) exposition.

But scenario storytelling is indeed all about the detail that scaffolds an engagement with potential worlds to come. It's excellent to see signs of an increasingly experiential, media rich, and thoughtful approach to communicating such narratives making its way into the main stream.

Related posts:
Good news for people who love bad news
Guerrilla futurists combat war on terror
Future news-flash: your vote counts
> The value of hypothetical currency
> Humans have 23 years to go

(Thanks Loic and Teddy!)

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