Chapter 12. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Foresight is Becoming Acceleration- and Evo Devo-Aware

Acceleration and evo devo are among the biggest of the perspectives in big foresight. What goes faster, for how long, and why? What is predictable, and what is presently, or forever, unpredictable? Seeing where the universe apparently wants to take us, understanding “what technology wants”, as Kevin Kelly discusses in his excellent book by the same name, seeing what the emerging Global Superorganism looks like, as Francis Heylighen discusses, are among the deepest ways we can currently understand progress. We learn to align ourselves with universal trends, such as we understand them today.

It’s one thing to note that all the world’s societies are trending toward certain commonalities as they digitize and industrialize, but it’s yet another to claim that there are universal values, aspirations, and destinies we must discover in all civilizations on all Earth-like planets.

Yet that universal perspective is exactly what we can expect big foresight to increasingly deliver as it grows up in coming decades. Humanity is now looking actively beyond our planet, to ask how it is situated in the universe at large. Thanks to emerging sciences including simulation, convergent evolution, and astrobiology, we may soon learn that life and Earth-like planets are ubiquitous, and prove that all universal complexity is subject to convergent evolution (a form of universal development) in similar environments, a convergence which guides it into certain far-future-determined forms and functions.

univeral hierarchiesOne of the most basic proposals of such predictable convergence is that all universal complexity development may have to proceed through hierarchical layers, each faster, more adaptive, intelligent, and resilient than the last, and express archetypal complex adaptive systems within each layer (one version of such a hierarchy is offered in the picture above).

Within this century, science may tell us all complex adaptive systems in the universe must proceed in an accelerating manner from physics to chemistry to biology to society (biological minds) to self-aware technology (technological minds) as they evolve and develop. In such an environment, science should have valuable things to say about human and machine progress, values, and purpose, where today it is often mute. We’ll learn that values come in two types: intelligence-created and universe-given. Efforts to find and verify “universal” biology, sociology, technology, and values will be greatly advanced, where today we have mainly intuitions, circumstantial evidence, systems theory, and argument regarding such deeply future-important topics.

In 2008, my colleague Clement Vidal and I started a community of systems theorists to investigate the interaction between predictable and unpredictable futures. This community, Evo Devo Universe, studies evolutionary development, (also known as evo devo), the interaction between unpredicable and creative (evolutionary) and predictable and constraining (developmental) processes in both living systems and in the universe as a system. Science is still early in uncovering predictable developmental processes in the universe and human social systems, but we are making steady progress. We believe appropriately blending these two universal perspectives is one of the foundations to good foresight.

Consider the following phrase: Sustainable innovation. It is a blend of the two most basic processes of change, development (processes that cycle predictably and protect the integrity of the system) and evolution (processes that branch unpredictably and create useful new novelty, difference, and information).

I would argue that anyone who talks about sustainability without recognizing we live in a world of accelerating innovation and continual creative destruction (destruction, renewal, and change that actually is good for the system, making it more resilient and adaptive over time) is missing a critical piece of how the world works. Likewise, anyone who talks about innovation and forgets that our world system must continually sustain itself, and continue to renew its definition of sustainability, is equally ignorant of how the world works. Both values must be balanced in organizational strategy, plans, and actions, or the organization will not be adaptive.

Think also of any foresight method. In practice, both evolutionary and developmental values must be addressed and balanced by foresight practitioners, or their methods won’t be very adaptive. There are methods that bias us to evolutionary foresight, methods that bias us toward developmental foresight, and others that are an adaptive blend of both. We need all three approaches, and Three Ps foresight, to help our clients.

Consider scenarios. It is not a coincidence that the dominant method of scenario generation, the GBN method, is to pick the most important and uncertain variables in a two by two matrix to generate alternatives. Figuring out what is most important often translates to a predictable developmental megatrend. Figuring out what is most uncertain often translates to an unpredictable evolutionary trend or event. Each of the two variables have both developmentally important and evolutionarily uncertain dimensions to them, depending on your perspective. This method is well balanced between both evo and devo perspectives.