Futures studies

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Futures studies (also referred to as Futurology) is the study of the future. The discipline was first developed by German professor Ossip K. Flechtheim in the mid-1940's, who proposed it as a new branch of knowledge that would include a new science of probability. The modern multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural discipline of futurology, emerged in the mid-1960's, according to first-generation futurists Olaf Helmer, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Dennis Gabor, Oliver Markley, Burt Nanus, and Wendell Bell.[1]

Prehoda's methodology

Additional sixties futurists included Robert Prehoda, who focused on specific technological forecasting,[2] and Herman Kahn, who dealt with avoiding undesirable military futures.[3] Both became quite visible public figures, Prehoda perhaps discredited by his interest in cryonics; Kahn publishing additional books and extensively consulting with government. Kahn's initial work was at the RAND Corporation, but he then founded the Hudson Institute.

Prehoda provided methodology and definitions for thinking about what was not known. Among his terms was "Hahn-Strasseman" point, honoring the first scientists that demonstrated nuclear fission. He postulated that many fields will get stuck until either a totally unexpected idea breaks loose, or, in this case, someone does the proof of concept that says a line of inquiry is possible. Defining such points, however, was an approach to defining priorities for funding basic research. In addition, according to Edward Cornish and the World Futures Society, the key method was the systematic examination of fields to detect when they had reached Hahn-Strassemann points; those were the fields where advanced development was most likely. [4]

In contrast, Vannevar Bush, the US science advisor during WWII, pontificated rather than forecasted, saying no one would ever put a nuclear warhead on a missile.[5] This may have been part of the basis for Arthur C. Clarke's "Clarke's First Law", "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Forecasting and missiles

Regardless of Bush's predictions, by the mid-fifties, the U.S. Killian Panel considered ballistic missiles to be a strategic necessity.[6] Priority was given to land-based, non-storable liquid propellants, because that technology, with its known limitations, was understood, and produced the Atlas series intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In 1947, the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) had funded research in chemistry, which led to a class of high-energy solid fuel components called nitropolymers. This work was not directed at a specific missile program, but the properties found in the initial research, as identified in an ONR technological forecasting study in 1968, were the Hahn-Strasseman point for believing a solid propellant submarine-launched ballistic missile was feasible. It took considerable applied research, however, to move from the nitropolymer knowledge to the actual UGM-27 Polaris missile. [7] The 1968 study was retrospective; formal technological forecasting was not used in the Polaris program, but became part of ONR planning in the 1970s.

Notes

  1. Bell, W. (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies: Volume 1 New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-271-9.
  2. Robert Prehoda (1967), Forecasting the Future, Chilton Books
  3. Herman Kahn (1965), On Thermonuclear War, Princeton University Press
  4. Edward Cornish, The Study of the Future: An Introduction to the Art and Science of Understanding and Shaping Tomorrow's World, World Futures Society
  5. Vannevar Bush (1949), Modern Arms and Free Men, Free Press, Macmillan Publishing
  6. Stuart W. Leslie (1994), The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford, Columbia University Press, pp. 92-93
  7. Roger D. Launius, Dennis R. Jenkins, To reach the high frontier: a history of U.S. launch vehicles, University of Kentucky Press,pp. 244-247