Returning with an AI-based Scenario Generator
Welcome back. That’s right. You’re still subscribed to my newsletter. In case you have forgotten, my name is Johannes Kleske. I’m a critical futurist and partner at the Berlin-based studio Third Wave (freshly relaunched website). It’s been more than two years since we last spoke via this medium. As you might imagine, a couple of things have happened since.
From Substack to Buttondown
First off, I’ve moved this newsletter again, this time from Substack to Buttondown. It should come as no surprise if you’ve been following the shitshow that the Substack founders turned out to be. It was somewhat obvious when they took money from Andreessen Horowitz. But it’s also impressive when it turns out exactly as you would have expected. If you’ve missed it: they’ve given a lot of money to the worst of the worst (which even turned out to be to be a bad deal for most of them). With the housekeeping out of the way, here are some updates.
Finished my Master’s Degree
I’ve handed in the thesis for the master’s in futures research at the beginning of last year and defended it the following March. So I’ve been back to just the main job with Third Wave right when the pandemic hit.
I wrote my thesis about Future Imaginaries—a term that describes collective expectations of the future. As you might remember, I’ve been fascinated by the approach of critical futures studies to how images of the future influence our decision-making in the present. In my thesis, I looked at the theory of the ‘future’ from a critical futures studies perspective. I combined it with the concept of imaginaries from social theory to develop a theoretical approach to the term Future Imaginaries.
Two ideas are essential for this concept. The first one is Fred Polak’s idea from the fifties of how our images of the future shape our decisions in the present (pulling from the future instead of pushing from the past). The second one, ‘imaginaries’ as described by sociologists like Charles Taylor, refer to a shared set of imaginations that organize our daily lives as groups and societies.
I used the example of the public discourse around AI that is often disconnected from current technological capabilities and instead manifests the hopes and fears connected to future expectations around AI. And even if people vehemently disagree on those, most people seem to agree that AI will be the future somehow silently. Jens Beckert talks about how we tend to unconsciously agree on one possible future to make the future more manageable in times of uncertainty.
These theoretical musings have helped us at Third Wave in our client work, already. Instead of jumping right into a new futures project, we try to be more sensitive to the unconscious expectations that our clients bring along and make them visible from the start. It helps to broaden the horizon for possible futures and thus identify more alternative routes.
Anyway, it’s a super fascinating topic for me, and I will pick it up in future newsletter editions. In the meantime, if you understand German or have a good translation tool, you can download the thesis from ResearchGate (or reply to this email, and I will send it to you).
Futures Scenario Generator
Let me touch on one more topic for this issue of the newsletter. As Third Wave, we focused on Synthetic Media in our trend research work over the last year among various subjects. Media generated with AI-based technologies have been primarily on the public discourse in the incarnation of deep fakes. But in this case, the actual technological capabilities are much further along than exchanging faces in videos might suggest.
One of the aspects we’ve been looking at is the generation of text. You surely have heard of GPT-3, the largest AI language model currently available. At the end of last year, we got access to the beta program and started experimenting with it. The result is our Futures Scenario Generator. You give it a term, and it will create three one-paragraph-long scenario descriptions about the futures of this term. The results can be anything from expected to weird to funny and anything in between.
It is much rather a tool to inspire with unexpected angles than something that will automate aspects of the scenario process. We found with Synthetic Media that it’s usually not the results but the process that is exciting as interacting with the AI-based tools is fascinating and provides comprehensive insights for reflection.
A lot more has happened. But I’ll leave that for another time. Always feel invited to hit reply and let me know your thoughts.