Futurist Of The Year interview with prof. David Passig, Futurists, head of the Graduate Program in ICT and the Virtual Reality Lab

Futurist Of The Year interview with prof. David Passig, Futurists, head of the Graduate Program in ICT and the Virtual Reality Lab, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

FOTY: What is futurology, and why is it important to promote it?

Futures Studies

Future Studies is a field that began to develop as an academic discipline during the Second World War, when armies were required to make what were called at the time “five-year plans.” This endeavor was developed primarily to plan the war efforts, i.e. battles, logistics, and so on. Over the years, hundreds of methodologies were developed, with which futurists studied future trajectories in various areas and time frames.

Nevertheless, thinkers and leaders continued to make projections, and developed various estimates of future developments without availing themselves of proven research tools. As opposed to the latter, the futurists of the 20th century militated for the establishment and development of methods for evaluating trends whose validity could be monitored and whose reliability could be measured. When the field was, to a certain extent, expropriated from the thinkers and leaders, the state of mind, or skill, which had guided the thinkers in the fashioning of their evaluations of the future, was lost to the researchers of Future Studies. This brought me to study one of the characteristics of the state of mind which led the thinkers to evaluate future trends.

I maintain that Future-Time-Span is a state of mind that characterized thinkers in ancient times. With the help of FTS they succeeded in making future evaluations, and in assessing their significance and implications—grounding their thinking on the jumble of information that was available to them, on their value emphases, and on their personal styles. The goal of my research was to define the nature of this state of mind or skill, to illustrate it with examples, and to begin to develop tools, or to harness existing tools, so that it may be bequeathed to the leaders of the future.

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Time perception

Time is one of the central and most vital dimensions in our lives. It would be difficult to describe modern life in a western, industrialized society without referring to time. However, despite time’s centrality in our lives and in the lives of other organisms, science hasn’t recognized a sensory organ which is directly responsible for the perception of time in the long run. Moreover, we are unable to identify information which comes from the external environment and which brings about activity in a sensory organ in such a way that a sense of time is created. This is in contrast to other central perceptual dimensions such as the perception of color, or the intensity of a sound. I engaged therefore to study and develop that sense of future-time in long continuum. In order to better understand it, I will first present briefly what we know about the essence of time.

Different kinds of Time

We can distinguish between different kinds of time: physical, biological, and psychological. Physical time is time measured by the clock. We may look at it as a continuum, which moves from the past to the future in a direction defined as the arrow of time. Biological time represents the occurrence of biological processes that are defined and controlled by biological “clocks,” which determine the cyclical behaviors in living organisms. Like physical time, biological time is continuous. It moves in the direction of the arrow of time and is connected to physical time. In contrast to the first two kinds of time, psychological time is experienced by consciousness. It is not continuous, and appears to be composed of discrete modules. This means that it is built of units of time, each of which is called “a psychological moment.” There is no chronological order in this unit of time. On the contrary, all the stimuli, which are absorbed by our senses, are processed and translated into one perceptual experience.

There is another kind of time: socio-cultural time. It maintains that every person, group, organization, people, and culture understand the concept of time in a different way, and relate to it differently. To a great extent, every culture is characterized by the way its adherents relate to time. A culture may ascribe a high degree of importance to the past, present, or future, and may focus its adherents’ activities on one or two of those times. A focus of this sort has a decisive influence on peoples’ decisions at every juncture or crossroad of their lives. For example, different cultures have developed different attitudes toward the future: “Fate determines all,” “All is determined but free will exists,” and others. Apart from the general perception of time in a given culture, the individual also develops his own relation to time, based on his unique, personal experiences as an adherent of that culture.

Western technological culture’s attitude toward time reflects its worldview in which physical perception is dominant. This perception is indifferent to time. Except for the decomposition of radioactive material, all physical laws hold, even when one reverses the processes and observes them from finish to start.

This perception is called the perception of quantitative time. One of the things that characterize this kind of time is the existence of precise linguistic terms for the small units, which comprise time: second, minute, or hour. They have no parallel in defined natural phenomena. This is an abstract attitude to time.

In non-western cultures, as opposed to western cultures, a qualitative perception of time was developed whose units are not of standard length. Time is not divided into small units. The units of time, which appear in eastern cultures, generally speaking, are only those that have parallels in concrete natural phenomena. Quantitative and qualitative time express themselves in different approaches to time-determined behavior. For example, they express themselves differently in the perception of the vector of time. In western culture time is linear. Time makes a connection between the past and the future, and passes through the present. For that reason it is a continuous dimension and a continuum which flows in an orderly manner, in a set form and rhythm. This is a future which can be planned, because it is about to arrive, and has yet to happen. In non-western cultures there is cyclical time (“That which was is that which shall be” or, “There is nothing new under the sun”). This approach leads to a focusing on the present. There is no point in planning the future, according to this outlook on time, as the future is only a repetition of things that happened in the past.

However, beyond the linear and cyclical views of time, a third approach developed in modern, technological society, which maintains that time is a part of the task. This society ascribes great importance to achievement. An achievement is something that one wants to obtain in the future, thus the desire for achievement develops a future orientation. This kind of orientation requires the desire and the ability to set out goals, to initiate planned action, and the ability to postpone immediate gratification for the sake of the planned goal. One could say that this is a goal-oriented perception of time, as opposed to the first, linear perception of time, which one could call a fate-oriented perception. Seeing into the future, therefore, plays an important role. Without a view of the future we would exist in an environment devoid of time. In such an environment, control over our lives would be surrendered to blind chance; to probabilities vs. possibilities. By means of goals and initiative we open the door to the achievement of possibilities which we have created. The linear perception of time starts with the assumption that the future is formed primarily by the present and the past. The third perception, meanwhile, assumes that the present and the past are formed by the future. According to this perception of time, the past and the future are the raw materials for the molding of present behavior. From this point of view, we all are projecting a constantly dynamic picture of the future on our screen of consciousness. This invisible structure of assumptions fashions our personality, and provides consistency and coherence to our behavior in the present. The future enters the present in order to mold itself, long before it becomes real.

Leadership development

There is an ever-increasing need for good leaders in our complex and changing world. Today, there are innumerable institutes and programs, whose goal is the nurturing of leaders according to models of various kinds. A partial, highly trimmed-down list of the goals of these programs includes: the trick of nurturing cooperation, how one can be a model to be emulated, how to encourage emotional coping, how to create shared vision, the drilling in vital skills, how to motivate through inspiration, how better to relate to the individual, how to cope with risk-taking, developing multi-dimensional vision, the development of personal awareness, and many others.

An important and central goal in developing leadership, one which seems not to have been mentioned, is the development of the leader’s ability to think about the future itself (Future-Time-Span). Some programs do point out the importance of developing what they call “the leader’s span of control.” The higher he climbs up the chain of command, the more his span of control is broadened. Despite this, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t seem that the subject of increasing the leader’s span of time vision is raised in any of the programs of leadership preparation, even though a vast amount of literature has already emphasized this need. Thus I have suggested a newer definition to that future time awareness and a model with which we can teach and enhance that awareness.

FTS Definition

I have suggested a term different from many floating around. The characteristics of this term, in my estimation, are different from the terms, which describe any sort of future’s orientation. The term Future-Time-Span was proposed as early as 1966, when Kahn looked into the question of whether children’s time orientation is connected to a kind of organizational, cognitive, and perceptual level. Kahn used the concept Future-Time-Span in the sense of future-time-perspective. Later on, Lessing also used the term Future-Time-Span, but he was essentially involved in a study of the future personal and socio-political time perspectives of African-American high school students, compared with those of white students.

As opposed to Lessing’s, I suggested broadening the definition he gave to that term, and delving into its meanings. Following is a suggested definition of the term and of the awareness it is meant to describe:

  1. Future-Time-Span is a reflective awareness, which conceives the duration of time and events which take place in it, for increasingly greater ranges of time, and which is able to concretize the long-range implications of the things which might occur over that time.
  2. An awareness that can motivate the ability to change behavior in the present, in light of the conceptualization of the future.

Future-Time-Span is the name of the mental action that describes conscious movement and an inclination toward, and breakthrough into directions of events spread out over a wide range of phenomena. An action of this sort makes possible visionary thinking, a new perspective, flexibility, and maneuverability in the ability to act. This action liberates one from the chains of the present, and makes possible navigation to a more easily recognizable future.

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A model for developing Future-Time-Span

Can Future-Time-Span be developed through a training process? Is it possible to train people to be able to master this awareness? Ii have assumed that it is possible to learn from the history of the development of Futures Studies, and to draw from it a model with whose help it will be possible to develop Future-Time-Span. A short description is in order of the history of Futures Studies on which the model is based.

In the process of its development, the discipline passed through four basic stages, which developed, in turn, to four approaches dedicated to helping organizations to study the future in different ways. These approaches developed gradually in Europe and North America in the late 1980’s.

The first approach, also known as the classical approach, focuses on the prediction of trends, and is based on the assumption that there is logic to evolving systems. The futurists of this approach try to find patterns of logic, which express themselves in evolutionary processes, and to translate them to valid, reliable models. The validity of the models, according to a number of studies conducted during the last decade, runs on the average of 70%. Futurists, identified with this approach, use these models to draft forecasts in order to help organizations adapt themselves to newly developing trends. This approach was dominant among senior decision makers in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s of the twentieth century, primarily in the United States.

The second approach, the scenario approach, takes as its point of departure the assumption that even with the understanding of evolution available to us today, it is still beyond the realm of the possible to understand sufficiently how systems develop, and to make predictions. This approach, which began to develop in Europe toward the end of the ‘60s of the twentieth century, maintains that the more the pace of change is accelerating, the less valid are the models we have at our disposal. For this reason, the futurists of this approach suggest the preparation of a number of possible and reasonable scenarios. They suggest making a thorough analysis and formulation of those scenarios, together with the organizations, in order to plan the procedures of the organizations’ response in a way that will be the most fitting for each scenario.

The third approach, in contrast with the second one, assumes that if an organization focuses on scenarios which, logically speaking, are unlikely to develop, and then, on the basis of those scenarios, prepares response procedures in case they might really happen, it will be preparing itself better for any complex and extreme possibility that might occur. The goal of the third approach is what is called the dealing of wild cards, and the preparation of the organization for any extreme situation.

The fourth approach, the approach of inventing the future, as opposed to the first three approaches described above, assumes that it is not the task of the futurists to make predictions, but to help the members of any social, political, or business system to mold for themselves future images or a shared vision of the future stemming from their collective understanding. This approach began to make headway in university faculties in the mid-eighties, and today is considered the approach with the broadest acceptance.

We assume, in that case, that the putting together of a training program which walks the participant through all four of these approaches would help the future leader develop his/her own, personal awareness of Future-Time-Span.

The elements of the model

The model we propose is built on three parameters, resting on three dimensions, X, Y, and Z, so arranged as to enable the model to be used for the training of future leaders. The first dimension is that of future learning/research strategies. The second dimension is the level of awareness of the duration and continuity of time in the future. The third dimension is future ranges of time.

Strategies of study and research of the future

There are four strategies of conducting research on the future:

  1. Predictions. The person working on this level of awareness will use models in an attempt to make predictions about the future.
  2. Scenarios. This strategy is to prepare several possible and reasonable scenarios of the future, to analyze and formulate them thoroughly.
  3. Future Imagery. This strategy is geared toward inventing images of the future, or generating a collective vision of the future, which stems from and reflects collective understanding.
  4. Wild Cards. On this level of awareness there will be an attempt to think of the most illogical scenarios which could occur, and on the basis of such chains of events, to prepare response procedures in the event that they would actually happen.

Future time frames

Today, future research focuses on five ranges of future time. Just as there are institutions, organizations, institutes, and experts who are involved with research into different aspects of the future, it follows that they specialize in different ranges of time.  Following are the five ranges of future time awareness discussed in the literature (Joseph 1974):

  1. Immediate-range – up to five years.
  2. Short-range – five to ten years.
  3. Middle range – ten to thirty years.
  4. Long-range – thirty to fifty years.
  5. Very long-range – fifty to one hundred years.

According to this model, the student will learn and practice the application of the different approaches (in the illustration each approach appears in a color different from the others). As the student progresses in the training program, his awareness of Future-Time-Span develops according to the stages of development of time perception.

FOTY: Which companies did you advise in the scope of future and can you give examples of strategy recommended by you which turned out to be beneficial for those companies/institutions?

Consulting endeavors

In the course of the last couple decades I have been developing methodologies and computerized tools with which I have been consulting a variety of companies – from high tech companies to NGOs.

For example, I have been consulting Intel’ Israel in the way to figure out the next generation of computer chips. There various methodologies to do this and Intel have done quite a few in order to anticipate demand and scientific breakthrough.

It turned out that the results of these efforts was not reliable as they hoped to achieve. Therefore I have suggested turning to a new kind of methodologies in Futures Studies which is called Predictive Markets with Collective Wisdom.

In the last few years, I have developed an internet platform through which firms could conduct a collective wisdom procedure aimed at predicting trends with large numbers of participants. We involved for their dilemma a few hundred engineers and experts and conducted a structured deliberation among all the participants in order to extract the collective wisdom of the group regarding the trajectory of computer chips a decade ahead.

The outcome was surprising, since no one has imagined what the collective will point to.

Actually, what I bring to the table for companies looking at understanding the trends id a toolkit of computerized methodologies from which they can choose in order to better address their future interests. My expertise is to make sure they are using the right tool with the right procedure for their dilemmas.

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FOTY: Do you think, like Ray Kurzweil predicts, that connection between brain and Internet will take place before 2030, and does this concern you in any way?

Singularity

I have been playing with the idea of singularity that Kurtzweil is speaking about for some time now. Ray thinks that the fusion of the computer and the mind will bring about a singularity event which he believes will be categorized as the turning point to immortality. I think he did a leap of faith from the convergence of silicon based thinking and bio-molecular based thinking to conclude that this is the way to start the immortality journey. I think he went too far. There are many steps in between.

Although I believe that human as a species have already engaged into that journey from the beginning of time the convergence of computers and the mind will just bring us a little bit closer to that singularity event. However, the journey is still very very long. So if you ask whether I am afraid of that convergence point, then it is clear that not only I am not afraid but I am thrilled. And I am thrilled since I know it will pass without any significant fanfare in evolution.

FOTY: Can you give us a brief flash about 2048 and main topics that are intresting for you regarding to the future?

I have written a book titled: 2048. It was translated to several languages including English and Turkish. In that book I engaged to apply a methodology with which I was hopeful to clarify what drives humans to engage in battles. Since history was by large determined by the conflicts that developed over time between groups and nations, I was interested whether at the beginning of the 21st century I will be able to deduct with a reliable methodology the conflicts that brewing underground and will drive the human species to engage in wars, develop technologies and solve his problems with science.

Here is a synopsis of the book with a list of predictions derived from its chapters. This book was written in 2008 and published originally in Hebrew in 2010. At the time many of the following predictions sounded bizarre to many. Now they sound very logical and some were even realized just lately.

2048

Why do nations fight against one another? What drives leaders to decide whether to send troops to war or sign a peace accord? What goes into the mind of parents while sending their children into battle? What is the most important factor that brings triumph or collapse on the battlefield?

Entire libraries have been written on these historical enigmas in attempting to understand what happened post factum. However, only a few have attempted to analyze their vectors in the 21st century. Prof. Passig engages in these vectors with great courage and simple language. He delves into these issues in order to identify the major confrontations of the first half of the 21st century and zooms in to identify how these geopolitical trends would be reflected in the Middle East and in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

In his book, Passig presents a theory that runs counter to conventional wisdom arguing that it is not the economy of a state, nor its values, its ethnic fabric, or its religion that marks the future of its national security. It is, primarily, the alignment of its land that represents its geography and its borders that shape its future. These alignments mold its perception of power and drive its population toward confrontations that would shape their future. They are the primary factors that define their history for best and worst.

In the 21st century, according to the geographical theory at the heart of this book, humans and their leaders will be driven by a great paralyzing force of territorial, archaic fear. With this theory, Passig deduces that two global confrontations are developing in the background, which will be reflected in the Israeli-Arab front as well: One is a confrontation between the US and Russia circa 2020 and the second between the US and Turkey circa 2050. Passig assesses that proceeding with great caution in this global geopolitical tangle, Israel could turn the table in its favor and would be able to sign a peace treaty with most of its surrounding Arab neighbors by 2050.

List of trends

  1. Coverage of a new cold war will be filling newspapers in the second decade of the 21st century.
  2. Tension between Russia and the US will peak around 2020.
  3. Fertility rates in most of the world countries will decline to an average of 1.8, which is less than the replacement rate (2.1 per female).
  4. The world will enter an epoch in history, which will be called „the Demographic Winter”. World population will peak to 9-10 billion by the mid 21st century and then will drop to 5-6 billion circa 2100.
  5. Shortage in manpower will drive humanity to develop robots to fulfill its work force needs.
  6. Unmanned vehicles will dominate the future battlefields. Thus, future wars will cause fewer casualties in contrast to wars of the 20th century.
  7. Extensive investment in R&D will lead humanity to produce energy in space and beaming it through microwaves to earth’s surface.  
  8. The United States will invest tremendous resources to help Turkey regain a regional power status in order to play a balancing role in the Middle East.
  9. Most of the Arab countries surrounding Israel, with the exception of Jordan, would be considered failed states and would invite Turkey to rescue their regimes.
  10. The United States will be engaged in a campaign in the Caucasus against Russia to alleviate pressure from Eastern Europe. Turkish forces will take the central role in these efforts.
  11. Russia will regain control of former Eastern European states including the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine and more.
  12. Russia will stir tension between Syria and Israel circa 2020.
  13. Syria and Hezbollah will launch a blitz of rockets to Northern Israel.
  14. Israel would be forced to engage in a massive land maneuver into Syria and Lebanon and might bring its forces to Damascus.
  15. Israel would not agree to withdraw its forces without guarantees from the US and Turkey.
  16. It will take many years until Israel will agree to retreat its forces from Syria and Lebanon.
  17. Israel will sign a peace accord with most of its surrounding Arab countries circa 2050 under the brokerage of Turkey.

Interview conducted by Piotr Turek, Agnieszka Sokołowska, Jakub Więckowski.