Monday, May 5, 2014

Your Singularity Has Been Forecasted

FATE SF has been a bit quiet over the last week. I have been out of town for work. One of the really cool things about my job is that I am a licensed facilitator of a strategic exploration tool called the Implications Wheel. I get to help people scout out the future. No time machine is involved; just a time-tested method, some software, and interested people.

The I-Wheel has been around for 30+ years. It helped IBM identify the PC as a potential "division maker" product line. It helped another company identify a product which could have killed its customers. With a stunning degree of accuracy, the Implications Wheel identified the majority of features of e-readers more than 10 years before these products began to hit the market.

As the video above describes, Joel Barker's Implications Wheel helps people scout out the future with a structured process that taps into the wisdom of crowds. It can be used to explore almost any kind of change. It generates "trees" of possible implications (including conflicting ones) each of which is scored for its likelihood and desirability from a particular point of view selected for the exploration. The result is a color-coded map of implications, and the relationships between them.

One of the questions that has come up for me time and again with the I-Wheel is the question of the Singularity. Could one or more technological innovations occur in quick succession and create a future so radically unpredictable that people on the cis-side of the change cannot predict what life would be like on the trans-side of the change?

In transhumanist SF, and in related fandoms, gaming, and advocacy, the concept of the Singularity is often taken as a given. This is in spite of the fact that some of the movement's pioneers such as J.D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon, and Cordwainer Smith didn't work with this concept at all.

Which brings me back to the I-Wheel. Explorations using the Implications Wheel push in the opposite direction from the Singularity assumption. That is, they assume that any future state resulting from a change CAN be anticipated if you use the right method and have sufficient time* to explore the implications of a change carefully. If you cannot anticipate the results of a change, well, that's on you.

*A few days for set-up, and a couple days for facilitation.


  1. Very interesting--I've never heard of the I-Wheel before.

    On the subject of Singularity, I think while the concept is clear in theoretical terms, an operational definition is vague enough, I suspect in the end both sides of the debate will be able to claim a measure of victory. There will no doubt be some technological advances that are totally unanticipated; there already have been in a sense, but life being radically different from what it was before in a global sense....will, that depends on what you mean by "radical" and "different."

    1. I think the concept is theological at its core, but I suspect you are correct on a practical level!