has come to a close, but the ideas and inspirations it generated will carry on well into the future. Held last week in Boston, the annual futurist conference was often profound, consistently thought-provoking, and even occasionally unsettling. With nearly a hundred presentations, workshops, tours, seminars and keynote speeches, over 900 attendees from around the world had plenty to think and talk about. This year’s conference theme was “Sustainable Futures, Strategies and Technologies”, made all the more relevant given the economic and environmental challenges the world has recently had to face.
The sustainability theme ran through a broad range of fields and topics. A small sampling of these presentations included “Global Efforts to Develop Sustainable Public Health Initiatives”, “Achieving Low-Carbon Economic Growth”, and “Sustainability and Future Human Evolution.”
While sustainability was the official conference theme, accelerated growth could easily have been designated the unofficial one. Technology ethicist, Wendell Wallach addressed it in his opening speech, “Navigating the Future: Moral Machines, Techno Sapiens, and the Singularity”. Inventor and author, Ray Kurzweil revisited the concept repeatedly in his keynote presentation, “Building the Human Mind.” (Kurzweil mentioned exponential growth enough times that some attendees later joked about turning it into a drinking game.) Many of the other presenters also talked about how the nature of technological progress, especially the convergence of previously unrelated fields, is driving this acceleration. For me, it was truly exciting to be among so many people who readily accept and incorporate this important concept.
Given my own inclinations, my favorite sessions tended toward the more technical. Among these were “Technology Futures and Their Massive Potential Societal Impacts”, “Humans in 2020: The Next 10 Years of Personal Biotechnology”, “Challenges and Opportunities in Space Medicine” and “The Human-Computer Interface.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend every presentation I wanted to see. That’s the downside of a conference of this scale: there’s no way to do it all. But then on the plus side, there’s definitely something for everyone.
For me, the best thing about WorldFuture is that while the conference themes and presentations may change from year to year, there’s always a strong belief in the need to look ahead. The world faces many serious environmental, technical and social challenges in the coming decades. We’re going to need serious foresight and planning if we want to make it a positive, sustainable future that’s supportive of our citizens, our economies and our planet.