A Retrospective on "The Future of… Imagination"

Erica Barreiro, CNM's new Academic Fellow for the Future of Work + Learning, will be writing guest columns throughout the year to help spark discussion at CNM about how we prepare for the future of...
December 12, 2019

In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination, and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

 ~Brian Andreas

Erica BarreiroThis Friday the 13th, I’ll be watching the newest season of The Expanse, a TV series set 200 years in the future. (It’s based upon the books co-written by two authors living in New Mexico.) I admit to being a bit of a sci-fi geek, and one reason I geek out on sci-fi is because these stories help me imagine what the future of technology might look like.

As we know, humanity has made what was once considered other-worldly technological advancements over the past 100 years, many of which were remarkably predicted by science fiction. The communicator device on Star Trek, first shown in 1966, looked a lot like Motorola’s first flip phone, released almost 20 years later. Star Trek also featured “replicators” that could 3D print everyday objects, tablet computers, and devices that translate language as it is spoken.

Sci-fi also proposes possible futures of humanity that offer both hope and warning. In reality, humanity faces significant future threats, to include climate change, political violence, nuclear war, and rogue biotechnology, and we have to be able to imagine what our possible futures might look like, and what the impacts and implications of different types of change might be, in order to create better futures and guard against bad ones.

It surprised me to learn that only about 5% of us actually spend time imagining the future beyond our own personal goals. To encourage a larger number of us to engage in futures thinking, CNM brought futurist Parminder Jassal, with Institute for the Future, to share with us a framework and tools for thinking about CNM’s possible futures.  Just as science fiction writers imagine scenarios and different views of the future, so too do futurists. A replica of the communicator device on Star Trek.

To create futures scenarios, futurists “look back to see forward.” And, it seems an appropriate time as we approach a new year, a new decade, to look back on the changes of the last decade and imagine what changes we might experience in the next. As Parminder reminded us, “it is human choice that shapes the future” and our first choice is to actively imagine our preferred future.

Several of us at CNM have been reading the book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. This book presents one possible future scenario for institutions of higher education to create, and one theme is curriculum that centers, and further develops in our students, “human skills.” In discussing these skills, author Joseph E. Auon states:

“…We have evolved to imagine. We have evolved to be creative…only human beings are able to create imaginary stories, invent works of art, and construct carefully reasoned theories explaining perceived reality. Only human beings can look at the moon and see a goddess or step on it and say we are taking a leap for all mankind.” (p. 21)

As I continue to explore the leaps we might need to make in the next decade to help prepare our community and students for the future of work and learning, I find continued hope in our capacity as humans to imagine.

As we prepare to celebrate the New Year, my wish for all of you is to find space for hope, joy, and imagination.

If you’d like to learn more about futures thinking, I’d encourage you to visit Institute for the FutureInterested in designing learning experiences for the youth of the future? Check out the learner archetypes IFTF has developed. Or check out the peak performance skills they believe will be critical to making you “workforce fit” for the future.