By Peggy Hollinger, Financial Times
In 1964 Sir Arthur C Clark stood in front of a BBC camera and predicted that by the year 2000 people would be able to communicate instantly with their friends, even when they had no idea where they were. The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey described a world where distance was no obstacle, and business could be conducted as easily from Haiti or Bali as from London. Yet the man who in effect foresaw Skype and the spread of the internet, also predicted that the “servant problem” afflicting households in the new millennium would be solved by biologically-engineered great apes, tamed and trained to do the chores we humans found distasteful. The only drawback, he suggested, was that eventually these “super chimps” would form trade unions and “we will be right back to where we started”.
Sir Arthur was not bothered about whether his predictions would turn out to be true and, in this respect, the science fiction writer was a true futurist. “No serious futurist deals in prediction,” wrote Alvin Toffler, futurist and author of the global best seller Future Shock. “These are left for television oracles and newspaper astrologers.” It is a rule still followed by a new wave of professional futurists who are being hired by companies to imagine the world we will inhabit in 20, 30, even 50 years’ time. “It is not about predicting things. It is more about thinking about the possibilities and raising the awareness and ability of the company to adapt,” says Josef Hargrave, global foresight manager at engineering consultancy Arup.