Is the future a time or a time

What world do we want to live in?


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The future from the perspective of the futurologist

Karlheinz Steinmüller distrusts scenarios that are plausible at first glance

If you want to arrive in the land of plenty of plausible future scenarios, you first have to spoon your way through a mountain of millet porridge. This mountain of millet consists of databases on established trends, studies, surveys and scientific analyzes. Sifting through them all is a laborious job, in which we have to carefully separate data, conclusions and speculations from one another. Unfortunately, that's hard to formalize. As a scientific futurologist, however, you get a feel for which findings are relevant. The fact that there are already thousands of smartphone apps for health issues is certainly significant. On the other hand, I put reports about garage companies that want to operate cold nuclear fusion under "questionable".

Karlheinz Steinmüller

is co-founder and scientific director of the technology consultancy Z-Punkt in Cologne. The studied physicist has been working in futurology since the 1970s.

In contrast to the 1950s, future research has become more modest. It no longer says: We will know exactly what the world will look like in twenty or thirty years. Today the main question is rather: What world do we want to live in? That is a question that was not asked that way fifty years ago.

We have to put people first, stressed the French futurologist Gaston Berger again and again. We can only develop futures with those affected. This expresses a social change since the 1980s: from a strongly hierarchical to a more egalitarian society with actors who want to be involved. For me, the big challenge is not so much to estimate the future development of technologies, but to project human behavior in a complex society into the future.

The images of the future, the scenarios that we develop must be coherent, but they do not need to appear plausible to most people right away. Because the majority are often wrong, fall for clichés and contemporary groupthinking. I rely on "plausibility at second glance". Speculations are made as to how, for example, a technology, say miniature drones, could be used in the future. One even looks for arguments for something that at first glance seems crazy: Couldn't there be artificial insects to pollinate crops? If additional research and considerations support the picture of the future, then I must also take the daring possibility seriously.

Often the pace of developments is overestimated in the short term and the breadth and depth of changes underestimated in the long term. Progress is a snail, despite all the acceleration we feel. Let's take the example of the smart home: A lot would be possible, including networked washing machines. But who uses such a technique if it doesn't fit into daily routines? We will not be able to solve the sustainability problem through technology alone. We need more sustainable lifestyles.