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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Understanding Society

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A recent Tech Review article on artificial societies briefly explores the work of Joshua Epstein, a noted researcher in the use of agent-based modeling or artificial societies. The article notes how Epstein and fellow researchers such as Robert Axtell have been using new computer simulations based on agents (actors programmed with very simple rules) to set in motion systems of agents to observe the phenomena that result. In this way, complex social phenomena, like economic behavior, civilizational development, and genocide can be ‘grown’ from simple set-ups. According to an Epstein quote in the article, “Artificial society modeling allows us to ‘grow’ social structures in silico demonstrating that certain sets of microspecifications are sufficient to generate the macro­phenomena of interest.”

The article notes that while the researchers have been able to use this method to prompt the fairly accurate recreation of actual historical events (like the siting of virtual Anasazi dwellings in the same place as the historical ones), the researchers are clear that these new models provide fascinating new explanatory power and not necessarily predictive power.

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Filed under: Change, Technology

Creating Biofuels

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Biotechnology companies are turning to the field of synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms that produce and excrete hydrocarbons for fuels.  The hydrocarbon fuels are of course better aligned with existing technology and would require less energy to produce than current alternatives such as ethanol.  See the recent Technology Review article for more on these developments.

Related:

  •  A Better Biofuel: another Tech Review article that looks at some of the developments in synthetic biology to create biofuels.
  • Energy and Environment Best Practice Report: a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors that “illustrates what cities nationwide have done and continue to do to address the challenges associated with the interface of energy scarcity and environmental concerns.”
  • Annual Energy Outlook 2007: The annual report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with projections to 2030.

Filed under: Energy, Technology

Water desalination: harming the environment?

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A recent study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) concludes that the increasing employment of desalination around the world to supply more water to cities and populations damages coastal environments, emits green house gases, and could exacerbate climate change. The study contends that turning to desalination is not the most responsible strategy, and that people should increase their conservation of water.

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Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Technology

Identity, Culture, and Ethnocentrism

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A recent New Scientist article looked at the issue of ethnic prejudice and explored the thoughts and work of a variety researchers. The article explored a variety of opinions that there is some inherent psychology or evolutionary factor that has produced the human predilection for ‘grouping’ each other. Some of the thought, though, pointed out that such tendencies would seem to be a very crude adaptive tool. The article seems to conclude that humans may have inherent grouping biases from a very young age which are not simply the effect of socialization, but also that humans can be quickly made to empathize with those ‘outside the group’ and see them as individuals and real ‘persons.’

Related:

  • Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. A recent book by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, it explores the issue of singular vs. multiple identities and how the push for singular identity obscures paths to collectively beneficial futures.
  • Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. A book Paul R. Ehrlich that explores the research and conclusions in evolution and biology to see the interdependence of biological and cultural evolution and the multiple ‘natures’ of homo sapiens.
  • The Responsibility to Protect: a recently articulated principle advocated for global relations.

Filed under: Identity, Security

Tobacco Cessation

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A recent report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation presents six basic contemporary strategies for creating consumer demand for tobacco cessation products and services. The six strategies themselves are not surprising or mind-blowing, but the report expounds on each in turn and it becomes clear how many attempts to produce or introduce tobacco cessation products/services may overlook simple but important considerations about issues like the psychology and needs of the users, product communication, and capitalizing on other external policy shifts.

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Filed under: Health

Self-repairing Plastics

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Scientists at the University of Illinois have made a new breakthrough in polymers that can repair themselves when cracked. The University researchers created the first self-repairing materials six years ago, but the new development enables plastics that can repair themselves several times without any external stimuli. Obvious applications include implantable medical devices and high performance materials for airplanes and spacecraft.

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  • Not the same technology, but researchers at MIT and the University of Hong Kong have designed solution of protein molecules that is biodegradable and self-organizes at the nanometer level to essentially stop bleeding. Learn more.

Filed under: Technology

Gas Prices and Policy

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A recent BusinessWeek article takes a quick look the issue of high gas prices (the photo for the article shows a pump in San Francisco with 87 octane going for $4.339) and identifies the various prominent stakeholders and lobbyists for legislation and also lays out the most common policy proposal and what impacts they might have.

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Filed under: Climate Change, Energy

Four Scenarios of Hawai’i

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Vision Foresight Strategy has a new sample set of scenarios considering how different Hawai’i’s futures could be. They use different frames of reference to set very different situations: Social, Economic, Environmental, and Political. The scenarios presented in the paper, like all good scenario analysis work, are intended to help groups explore how and why Hawai’i changes, and to consider agency (your or your organization’s role) in shaping those changes.

Thoughts: Scenario analysis work is one of the most readily recognized ‘futures studies’ tools employed to increase both foresight and common understanding about the complexity of world in which we live. ‘Scenario planning’ (something of an inaccurate title) is a particular employment of scenario analysis and was popularized by the Global Business Network in the late 1980s and 1990s and has now taken its place in the business lexicon.

Good scenario analysis work takes time and requires the participation of not only the ‘writers’, be they outside advisers or in house staff, but also of the ‘client’ group. The point to scenario analysis is really to engage decision makers and planners in a more systematic and challenging exploration of how and why the world may change. The most important results of these processes are the outcomes (new thinking, new insights, shared foresight) rather than the output (a story about the future). The futures are inherently unpredictable (see The Black Swan, below), so any method, especially one that is so commonly employed in intuitive and qualitative rather than quantitative ways, should be focused on improving critical thinking rather than enhancing predictive powers.

Related:

  • “How to Build Scenarios”: an article from Wired written by a GBN manager with four short scenarios. Be careful of the advice to focus on developing ‘robust’ strategies; the number of possible futures before you is infinite, and the exercise normally just looks at four, and in typical projects, four closely related scenarios.
  • The Black Swan: a new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb which examines the role of change and randomness in life.
  • Limiting Urban Futures: an interesting critique of scenario analysis, with points that are valid, but also normally applicable to what we might call unsophisticated and uncritical use of scenarios in a planning process. It might also serve to caution public planners about process, transparency, and involvement.
  • Enabling the Information Society: a RAND study that employed scenarios for the future of European broadband networks.

Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.


The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


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Vision Foresight Strategy

We work with organizations to anticipate strategic change and to craft the strategies that will shape their desired futures.


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