Professional futurists converge on Seattle to pick up hints about what lies ahead – GeekWire

Posted: July 29, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Glen Hiemstra, the Seattle-based founder of, basks in the red glow of a corridor at the Seattle Public Library during the Association of Professional Futurists gathering. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Professional futurists are gathering in Seattle, for the second time in 15 years. But dont expect to recognize them by their business cards.

Many modern-day futurists tend to call themselves something else for example, foresight specialist, which is Jonelle Simunichs title at Arup, an engineering and consulting firm based in San Francisco.

I tell people Im a futurist, and they say, So, what, youre like a psychic?' Simunich told GeekWire today during the 15th-anniversary gathering of the Association of Professional Futurists.

The annual gathering isstructured as a series of seminars for about 40 futurists, rather than your typical trade convention. The group that became APF had its first gathering in Seattle in 2002. It didnt even have a name yet, Cindy Frewen, who chairs the associations board.

This year marks the first time we have ever been in the same place twice, Frewen told attendees at the Seattle Central Library.

One of the Seattle-based organizers of the event, Glen Hiemstra, isnt shy about the futurist job description. In fact, he owns the internet domain name for Hiemstra acknowledges that APFs members use a wide variety of job titles, but he insists that being a futurist has a special cachet.

The simple way to describe it is, No. 1, help people anticipate the future, and second, help them design and envision the future. Hiemstra told GeekWire. People call futurists when they want to look further ahead than they usually do.

But when it comes to looking further ahead, even futurists need a little help sometimes. Thats the aim of this weeks gathering:

Tom Frey, founder of the Colorado-based DaVinci Institute, said being a futurist isnt just an exercise in navel-gazing. We spend a lot of time being thinkers and doers, and not just talking about it, he said.

For example, Frey has been working a concept for micro-colleges to train workers for high-tech jobs ranging from coding to drone maintenance in a matter of months. The first such micro-college, DaVinci Coders, has been in operation for five years.

So whats the future of futurism? One clear trend is the synergy of entangled trends for example, how pandemics could be made worse by climate change. That is one of the things that is actually going to make this harder, said Sarah Chesemore, the Gates Foundations senior portfolio officer for vaccine delivery.

Another example has to do with the rise of autonomous vehicles and its potential effect on the health care system. Frey said his calculations suggest that self-driving cars could reduce health care expenses by more than 15 percent. Thats half a trillion dollars that now gets spent repairing people after car accidents, he said.

The rise of big data is another biggie. Traditionally, futurists have not used a lot of algorithm-based forecasting, Hiemstra said. But todays bigger data sets have so much predictive power, for issues ranging from crime patterns to disease outbreaks, that theyll have to become part of the futurists toolkit.

And what about the future of Seattle? At GeekWires urging, Hiemstra took a swing at predicting the future of whats currently a tech boomtown.

Its hard to imagine this boom continuing beyond 10 years, but its very clear were going to be a denser and still an economically vibrant place, he said. Thats going to mean that we have to be not just environmentally sustainable, but environmentally productive as a city. What that means is, moving from sustainable buildings to buildings that produce more energy than they use.

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Professional futurists converge on Seattle to pick up hints about what lies ahead - GeekWire

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