As our first approach to this idea of projection into the future, we interviewed André-Yves Portnoff, a graduate in physical sciences from the University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris and a specialist in the immaterial economy and foresight since the 1980s. Portnoff is also the author of Pathway to Innovation and Betting on Intelligence.

Here's his point of view:

Seneca once said, 2500 years ago: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.” This is the situation today. Most leaders, both economic and political, are just playing it by ear, only taking care of emergencies. We need variable focus glasses. We need to be able to look under our feet to avoid falling into a hole one meter in front of us. In other words, we need to keep an eye on current events while envisioning the consequences of the decisions we make now on the future 10, 20 or even sometimes 50 years ahead. We need to be able to see at a great distance. And, we’ll need the courage to resist short-term pressures, what we think is urgent now. In the words of Talleyrand: “There are no emergencies, only lack of foresight”.

The paradox of foresight is that it is a long-term exercise that serves to better decipher the faint signals we perceive today. We often hear that we’re overwhelmed with information from the internet. I don’t think this is true. What we most often lack is foresight. Moreover, we confuse the concepts of information and data. Data only becomes information if we are able to make sense of it. In order to be able to do this, we need to understand the consequences of data, which underscores the importance of thinking about the future. David Brin is someone who spends a lot of his time thinking about what the future might bring and applying it to real world scenarios.

The idea of the individual responsible for his/her actions, and not for what he/she is, appeared with the first legislators of Athens. Nevertheless, there still remained the need to predict the future. The good fortune of false prophets hadn’t ended yet. Even the highly educated upheld vague belief in the stars, in clairvoyance, etc. The main contribution of forecasting has been to confirm that the future is not written in stone. Each instant is full of an infinite number of possible futures, which we’ve contracted into “futuribles”.

With a detailed understanding of current events and by acting in this or that manner, I, a man of action, can direct the future in the direction that best suits me, in keeping with my values. There are of course factors over which we have no control. For example: earthquakes are unavoidable natural phenomena in certain regions of the globe. We can’t prevent them and it’s even difficult to predict them. However, the consequences of earthquakes depend largely on our actions. Corruption, failure to act by politicians or even cowardice, which are still widespread in our democracies, continue to cause tragedies that could’ve been avoided.

With the awareness of our responsibility and acting with all necessary reason, in the words of Portnoff: We don’t claim to predict the future, but to identify the possible paths before us today that would lead to this or that future.

Team of  Vision d'avenirs/Toekomstvisies

David Brin will be at TEDx Brussels on November 22

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