“The future is for everyone. The more people have a voice, the better.” I met Dave Guston, Director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS), at the Planetary Conference: Climate 3.0 at Arizona State University (ASU). He explained why ASU has a focus on the future. “The vision comes from the top. Michael Crow, President of ASU, trained in public administration with a focus on science and technology policy. In the late 1990’s, at Columbia, he set up the Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes in Washington DC.” Since coming to ASU in 2002, Michael has created over a dozen trans-disciplinary schools and major research initiatives. He’s championed the effort to model ASU as the ‘New American University’, making ASU a national leader in online education and revising its charter: ‘Access, Excellence, Impact.’
Dave worked in D.C. on climate issues and emerging technologies during the time Michael Crow was there. He studied Technology and Society at Yale then Political Science at MIT. While there, he picked up one of his favorite phrases, attributed to Einstein: ‘Politics is a lot harder than physics.’
‘Anticipatory Governance’ is a term Dave uses often. It is not foresight. It is thinking about a variety of futures and what they might be. “There are a whole lot of options beyond laying on the tracks and giving up and saying ‘no’ to everything. We want a pluralism of visions.”
SFIS offers a PhD in Human and Social Dimensions of Society and Technology and several Master’s degrees. The school focuses on science’s implications on society. What is the impact of large-scale solar energy infusion in Northern Africa? What is ‘responsible development’? How does nanotechnology enhance the human condition? SFIS will begin an undergraduate major in Fall 2016. The intro course for the undergraduate degree is, ‘Welcome to the Future’. Students will explore theories of the future to promote skills that allow them to co-create their future.
What does Dave think about studying the future in Phoenix, a place often cited as one of the least sustainable places for humans? (Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City by Andrew Ross). “What does that mean? The Salt River Valley has supported human life for over 2,000 years. Now 4.5 million people live here. It is unsustainable by many measures, but here we are. We create more externalities than other places: it takes a lot of energy to get our water; we use a lot of fossil fuels. We have long-term water/energy nexus issues. But how sustainable we are depends on where you draw the boundaries of the sustainability circle.
“In some ways living in a place that is considered unsustainable sharpens our focus. One of our graduate students wrote an anticipatory governance scenario of a land use plan for this region. A Phoenix city planner picked up on it and asked us to develop a Phoenix 2050 studio. Twenty-five graduate students from six disciplines developed plans, which were shared and well received by the city.” That aligns well with President Crow’s vision of access, excellence, impact.
How will we live tomorrow?
“The simple answer is, some of us better, some of us worse. I am not in the business of predicting. I want to work toward articulating predictions that include what people want as we move forward. The more that people can participate in creating predictions and envisioning options, the better we are doing. If we can’t get pluralism right, it won’t matter whether we get the science right. Oops, I guess that’s a prediction.”