It was the nature of the field itself that first appealed to my elemental nature. My fascination with volcanoes, islands, mountain building, plate tectonics, and climate. That was one personal context that led me to the Alternative Futures masters program in Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I began graduate school in 1980 and have been involved both with the department and futures studies ever since. My mentor for both my Masters and PhD dissertation was the distinguished futurist Jim Dator, a parent of the field, who established one of the few existing futures studies programs in the world. I was fortunate to be exposed to the academic side of futures studies: ten years in the Hawaii system, three years on the faculty of the Studies of the Future Masters of Science Program at the University of Houston Clear Lake, involvement with the World Futures Studies Federation, and exposure to the emerging literature, leaders, and scholars in the field. I was able to work or collaborate with many of the leaders in the field over the last four decades. Thus, I am an academically trained futurist, with one of the first doctorates in futures studies.
But what is futures studies? Quite simply, it is the systematic and scholarly exploration of alternative futures. It come under other rubrics as well: foresight, strategic foresight, futurology, prospective, and sometimes simply futures. There is dispute within futures studies regarding whether it is a discipline or not; but most futurist see it as a field of inquiry. Like most academic pursuits, futures studies has theories, methods, landmark texts and studies, and established figures – stretching all the way back to its inception in the aftermath of the Second World War.
There is a growing consensus within the field about some of the assumptions that we hold about the future and futurists. One key assumption is that the future cannot be predicted. Other than the movements of the sun and stars, human futures are seen as unpredictable due to the complexities of driving forces and behaviour of humans and the environment. While some aspects of human behaviour can be predicted, counterintuitive or unanticipated consequences from technological, social, economic, and environmental events and developments are legion. Borrowing from the language of climatology and weather, good futurists may make forecasts, but they should never make predictions.