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Journal of Futures Studies
2020,Vol. 25(2) 95–102
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (L. Zaidi).
Received: 25 Aug. 2020 and Accepted: 4 Sept 2020
1027-6084 /© 2020 Tamkang University, All rights reserved. 95
The Only Three Trends That Matter: A Minimum Specification for Future-
1 Independent Scholar, Toronto, Canada
Trend mapping and analysis are common practice for organizations. However, the emphasis on trends, and the sheer volume of
predictions about the future, might be creating confusion about what society should prioritize. Introducing a minimum
specification for future-proofing may help cut through the noise and surface what is needed for us to ensure a sustainable, viable
future for humanity. This essay will introduce the proposed specification, the rationale behind it, and will illustrate the value of
taking this approach by using the discourse on the future of work as an example.
Minimum Specification, Future-Proofing, Experiential Futures, The Future of Work, Climate Change, Democracy, Equality,
Trend reports are a common outcome of foresight and forecasting initiatives. There are no shortages of predictions
and speculations about what the future may hold on a plethora of topics. Though trends may be useful in
understanding, analyzing, and extrapolating from the current state, they are also problematic. Despite their appeal,
Are a reflection of the past because all data is historical by nature;
Simplify and compartmentalize data, the analysis and interpretation of which is subject to human error;
Are simple, linear, and incidental, not systemic (we follow single threads and not how they weave together
or influence each other in the present and in the future);
Do not account for wildcards and unpredictable events;
Do not capture unintended consequences;
Become more difficult to predict the further we look into the future;
Encourage extrapolating the past into the future, rather than creating new visions and innovations;
Support an economic and technology-driven mindset (for example, what to invest in next) which often
overlooks other critical aspects of a system, including the impending climate catastrophe;
May emphasize noise rather than knowledge;
Can be vague, misleading, or wrong, especially when they capture short-lived fads;
Are not all equal.
Given the sheer number of trend predictions, it can be difficult to determine what is critical and warrants attention.
As a result, what matters may be lost in the noise. For instance, trend reports highlight technological trends as much,
if not more than, environmental ones, even though a global climate catastrophe will supersede all other concerns.
As a result, what trends we privilege and how we communicate those trends may be problematic, in and of itself.
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Not to mention that when you make a thousand and one predictions, you are bound to get some right, which further
distorts the value trends have.
To that point, I would argue there are only three trends that matter:
1. Climate change and the havoc it will wreak.
2. The battle for an equal, just, and democratic society.
3. The rise of artificial intelligence.
These three megatrends significantly impact what it means to be human, how we relate to each other, and whether
or not we survive the next century. While other trends may have short-term appeal and/or financial benefits, it is the
above three that will dominate and shape our reality in the years to come.
I propose that the above three trends should serve as a minimum specification for future-proofing, and innovating
in a way that is coherent with the emerging reality.
When we design for the future and from the future, we should ask:
1. How does it support long-term environmental sustainability?
2. How does it enable justice, equality, and democracy?
3. How is it helped or hindered by artificial intelligence; is it ethical technology?
Why This Approach?
We live in an increasingly complex world with intricate connections. Each of the three megatrends can create havoc
on its own but will exacerbate and antagonize each other in ways we have yet to imagine when combined. It is
critical to acknowledge that these three megatrends are occurring at once, and not in isolation. As we face increasing
levels of complexity and uncertainty, we must take a systemic view of our future.
We have reached a critical point in history. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
we have 10 years to mitigate (not prevent) the substantial consequences that climate change will have on the world
(Leahy, 2018). All the data suggests we are in trouble. Our circumstances become more precarious when we consider
that a single standard deviation in weather can trigger violence and conflict (Burke, Hsiang, & Miguel, 2015, p. 1).
What happens when global weather patterns become more erratic? Climate change will impact everything. There is
no Planet B.
An equal, just, and democratic society
Along with climate change, the tides of populism are rising around the world (Shuster, 2018). Tech companies like
Facebook are eroding the fabric of democracy and wield more power than entire countries (Osnos, 2018). Even
recent announcements and debates about Crispr challenge the very foundations of what it means to be equal (Court,
2018). Our socio-economic and political climate has significant and far-reaching consequences that impact every
aspect of life and the systems we live in. The growing consensus is that we “live in a time of fear” (Bremmer, 2018).
The rise of artificial intelligence
The issue with artificial intelligence is not just the advancement of technology but the ethics and morals that
underpin it. Who decides what is ethical and moral? At the moment, fundamental decisions about the future of ethics
and morality are driven by entrepreneurs. Policy has struggled to keep pace with technological progress and remains
reactionary in the face of mass disruption. Furthermore, artificial intelligence may undermine our perception and
experience of reality. Technology such as DeepFake can create realistic digital versions of us that say and do things
we have never said or done (Baker & Capestany, 2018). Ultimately, we need to question what artificial intelligence
means for our humanity.
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What is the implication? Innovations, policies, or strategic planning initiatives that do not equally consider
climate change, the battle for equality, justice, and democracy, and artificial intelligence are deficient. Our visions
of the future need to account for all three trends, and how they interact with each other, to help us prepare for the
We have now reached a point in history where continuation scenarios of unlimited economic growth are no
longer probable futures; they are a fantasy. As foresight researchers and practitioners, do we have a social
responsibility to stop creating, disseminating, and using these images? If so, we need to rethink the frameworks by
which we imagine, design, scrutinize, and act upon futures so that our work helps us achieve more sustainable
How we test ideas also matters. When we discuss the concept of future-proofing or future-fit, we often do so in
the context of organizational strategy. Though frameworks such as windtunneling help us assess whether or not a
particular strategy suits an organization, we need more systems-oriented methods and constructs to design for a
societal or civilizational scale.
A minimum specification for future-proofing that accounts for the most critical of our systemic issues is one such
framework. It allows individuals and organizations to vet their work against a simple baseline standard, with the
hope that they reject ideas and initiatives that are problematic from a systems perspective. If we equate future-
proofing with systems-oriented outcomes rather than organizationally beneficial ones, we may have an opportunity
to bridge the gap between social futures and organizational strategy.
The Future of Work: An Example
Discourse about the future work focuses on artificial intelligence and automation. The barrage of reports by
consultancies, think tanks, government organizations, etc. tend to zero-in on this one trend, with less
acknowledgment that climate change and our social climate will have a severe impact on the future of work too. I
have seen plenty of scenarios that feature robots and none that discuss severe weather. The lens of artificial
intelligence and automation fails to capture the true scope and complexity of the problem.
When we expand the future of work to include the first two trends, we have to acknowledge that the emerging
reality may be radically different than the visions we are preparing for. By adding climate change into the mix,
conversations and scenarios about the future of work resemble an unsustainable fantasy. Set artificial intelligence
and automation aside for a second; what happens to the future of work when our planet can no longer sustain us?
Do we even have a future, let alone one in which we need to worry about jobs? What jobs do we need to perform
now to ensure our planet remains viable? Our technophilic visions of the future of work suggest that such a future
will arrive in a protected bubble, unaffected by the Earth decaying around it. It might not be the robots we need to
worry about, rather the air, water, and soil we need to live.
Factoring in the decay or progression of an equal, just, and democratic society is also essential. Democracy is a
fragile narrative, not a given. Without democracy, the nature and purpose of work would change. The loss of jobs
is fueling social tension, but these very tensions and their political implications also impact jobs (Burrow, 2012).
The two reinforce each other. Gender equality has the potential to increase U.S. GDP by $4.3 trillion, yet it is treated
as a separate issue from artificial intelligence and automation (Ellingrud, et al., 2016, p. 7). Add these considerations
on top of climate change and artificial intelligence, and the future of work becomes even more precarious.
Why is it that we continue to look at these issues in isolation? And what work should we actively create or destroy
to prepare for these possibilities?
Job ads from the future
To further the conversation around the future of work, I created a set of ‘Job Ads From the Future’ to challenge the
current line of thinking. The future of work is about more than artificial intelligence and automation; it is also about
climate change and the battle for an equal, just, and democratic society.
It is important to note that these are speculative pieces exploring the intersection of the three trends. They are not
predictions or suggestions. These experiential futures are designed to provoke conversations. In this context, the
minimum specification is not only a lens to explore and critique the future of work, it is also a design brief - a
relevant boundary for possible futures.
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Job #1: Re-Creationists
As more species die-out or reach the point of extinction, we may turn to a combination of synthetic biology, genetic
sequencing, 4D printing, and artificial intelligence to recreate what we’ve lost. Not everyone will like the idea of
this role; some will want to biologically engineer new creatures. Others may want to apply what they’ve learned to
Job # 2: Reality Rehabilitator
Will fantasy and the virtual world become more appealing as the environment declines and democracy erodes? In
the future, we might want to escape into pristine worlds that give us a sense of agency and control. Who will and
won’t have access to these worlds may become a point of contention.
Job #3: Truth Triage
Are you sure you know what’s real? When fake news and DeepFakes become the norm, how will we separate fiction
from reality? What will we believe if the world around us collapses? Perhaps knowledge seekers (like journalists)
of the future will rely on truth triage teams. These teams will create and deploy filters to determine what is real and
what is not. Whoever decides what is true, may also decide what constitutes reality.
Fig. 1: Job ads (Job #1, Job #2 and Job #3)
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Job #4: Social Intelligence Engineer
Creating and maintaining sustainable systems is no easy feat. In the future, we may need people to work with
sophisticated algorithms to co-design a more socially and emotionally intelligent society. We may go as far as
designing for mass positive behaviour, all to ensure that the world is a sustainable, equitable, and just place. Keeping
the peace may be part of your job description.
Job #5: Actualized Life Programmer
But what about the individual, you ask? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone helped you self-actualize? Actualized Life
Programmers work with you, your smart home, your wearables, and the smart city grid to help you become the best
version of yourself through environmental and behavioural conditioning. We’ll all live happier, healthier, and more
sustainable pre-determined lives. Privacy not included.
Job #6: The Moral Coder
Maybe we need to go one step further still. Humanity is flawed and destructive. Some may try to decipher, hack,
and refine our genetic code so that we begin to reflect our better natures. Artificial intelligence will make it easier
for us to understand ourselves, but who decides what stays and what goes? In whose image do we redesign
Fig. 2: Job ads (Job #4, Job #5 and Job #6)
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Job #7: Forest Feeder
Climate change results in mass extinction and loss of biodiversity. In an attempt to salvage nature, forest feeders
make the ultimate sacrifice by serving as hosts to nano-bacteria that break down plastics and toxins in the
environment. Their nutrient-rich bodies may allow them to transport semi-synthetic bacteria to far-off locations and
perform bio-maintenance tasks along the way. Once they pass, the nano-bacteria continue to thrive in their bodies
and help replenish a deteriorating Earth. In exchange, their loved ones are compensated and honoured for their loss.
Job #8: Extinction Tour Guide
Maybe our efforts are not enough. With mass extinction looming, some may want to see it all before it’s gone.
Specialized tour guides will lead the last pilgrimage as we say goodbye to the planet as we know it. Perhaps some
will capture the images to recreate them in virtual worlds. Such a pilgrimage may only be available to the privileged,
even though we will all share the loss.
Fig. 3: Job ads (Job #7 and Job #8)
Whether we are discussing strategies, policies, products, services, etc., we need to acknowledge the complexity of
our collective emerging future. The future of any given domain is impacted by a multitude of trends colliding and
intersecting with each other. The most critical of these trends are those related to climate change, the battle for
democracy, equality, and justice, and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation. When we stop focusing on
trends and start focusing on systems, we will have a better, more complete understanding of what possibilities may
Baker, H., & Capestany, C. (2018, September 27). It’s Getting Harder to Spot a Deep Fake Video. [Video file].
Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLoI9hAX9dw
Bremmer, I. (2018, April 20). A world in turmoil: what we must do to survive the coming political crisis. The Globe
and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-a-world-in-turmoil-what-we-
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Burke, M., Hsiang, S., & Miguel, E. (2015, May 13). Climate and conflict. The Annual Review of Economics.
Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/~mburke/papers/Burke%20Hsiang%20Miguel%202015.pdf
Burrow, S. (2012, April 30). What if unemployment threatens our democratic way of life? World Economic Forum.
Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2012/04/what-if-unemployment-threatens-our-
Court, E. (2018, January 12). Bill Gates warns that nobody is paying attention to gene editing, a new technology
that could make inequality even worse. Business Insider. Retrieved from
Ellingrud, K., Madgavkar, A., Manyika, J., Woetzel, J., Riefberg, V., Krishnan, M., & Seoni, M. (2016). The
Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States. McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved
Hsiang, S. M., Burke, M., & Miguel, E. (2013). Quantifying the influence of climate on human
conflict. Science, 341(6151). Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6151/1235367
Leahy, S. (2018). Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns. National Geographic.
Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/ipcc-report-climate-change-
Osnos, E. (2018, October 7). Can Mark Zuckerberg fix facebook before it breaks democracy? The New Yorker.
Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/17/can-mark-zuckerberg-fix-facebook-
Shuster, S. (2018). The populists. Time. London. Retrieved from http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/
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