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'Minority Report' visionaries gather for 'Inventing the Future All Over Again.'
2-day imagining of the future starts Thursday, includes movie screening.
November 15, 2016

Much technology from Spielberg sci-fi thriller is in use or under development, but what if education was new focus?

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of futurists and visionaries gathered in a Santa Monica beachside hotel to conjure the future 50 years hence for director Steven Spielberg’s feature “Minority Report.”

Spielberg had no plot and no script, but he did have a short story by Philip K. Dick. He wanted a future based in reality, not “Jetsons” fancy or “Fury Road” ruin.

His specialists — who included a researcher from MIT, a cultural anthropologist, a computer scientist and a program director from DARPA, the military’s future tech developers — imagined a future where advertising followed you everywhere, robot insect drones explored hazardous areas and people were convicted of crimes they would commit in the future.

Look at now. Shop online for cuckoo clocks, and you will find yourself haunted by cuckoo clock ads for weeks. An Arizona State University scientist has created mind control for drones. Another ASU scientist works on algorithms that predict which criminals are most likely to strike next.

That same group — plus a few new folks — is going to give it another shot in a two-day event Thursday and Friday dubbed “Inventing the Future All Over Again.” The event is sponsored by Hollywood Invades Tempe, a 6-year-old student organization that brings film professionals to ASU to speak about their work through special screenings and open forum events.

“We created this world on the fly in two days, and that’s what we’re going to do at ASU,” said professor Joel GarreauGarreau is a professor of law, culture and values in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; founding director, The Prevail Project: Wise Governance for Challenging Futures; founding co-director, Emerge: Artists + Scientists Redesign the Future; founding director, The Seven Horizons Project; affiliate faculty member, ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society., who was at the original event in Santa Monica.

“People barely remember the plot,” he said. “What they remember is the world. … The reason they were so uncannily accurate was that they weren’t predictions. These were the guys who were inventing these futures.”

To invent a future requires a story, said Ruth WylieWylie is also an assistant research professor for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College., assistant director of the Center for Science and the Imagination.

“In order to create the future, we need to have visions or stories about that future,” Wylie said. “That’s something futurists can do. We need to imagine something before we can build it.”

Imagining something in order to avoid it is equally important.

“If part of that visioning is about futures we don’t want, we can start thinking intentionally about avoiding that fate,” she said.

Making all this easier is the fact that telling stories and seeking patterns is part of the human condition. Sit down by a fire with a middle-age man who has had a few drinks and you’ll find that’s true.

“Human beings are pattern-seeking storytellers,” Garreau said. “Humans cannot just abide by the idea of randomness. We will look into the night sky and rather than deal with the fact that this a random distribution, we will make up stories about bears and dippers and warriors. Storytelling is at the heart of everything. It was at the heart of this election, it’s at the heart of what (President Michael) Crow is doing with the university. If you have a compelling story, it goes viral.”

In the scenario that will coalesce at Friday’s roundtable discussion (see schedule below), it’s the year 2066. Everyone has unlimited access to as much education as they want, for free, without restrictions of any kind. What will the world look like? How will people eat, socialize, shop and read?

“We’re going to be building a very particular world,” Garreau said. “We’re going to be building 2066, and 2016 will seem as antique to us then as 1911 does to us now.”

People tend to date and marry people who are at the same educational level, Wylie pointed out. “What are the impacts of education as a differentiator when that goes away?” she said.

The profession of futurism is formally called scenario planning. It’s a means of rehearsing the future, much like training in a flight simulator. That’s what will happen at the event, Garreau explained.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know anyone who does,” he said. “Predictions are always wrong. I’m still waiting for my hotel room on Mars and my flying car. What I do cop to is being a scenario planner: a systematic rational logical way of thinking about the future that might be coming at us in a way we can act on.

“There’s no ooga-booga involved in scenario planning. It’s widely accepted by the Fortune 500, the American military; it’s a regular tool. It’s the opposite of predictions. Predictions try to figure out with some kind of certainty what’s going to happen. Scenario planning is just the opposite; it collects uncertainties. The virtue of that is when you try to do predictions, you end up with one or two options.”

Adam Collis, a professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who teaches film directing, runs the industry relations program, ASU Film Spark, that brought seven campus organizationsIncluding the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. together for this event. He said he is excited about the overlap between art and science in the project.

“This is a true cross-disciplinary activity,” Collis said. “I think the movie represents that nexus, and I think our effort here is trying to embody that nexus and the opportunities that come out of those two different disciplines colliding.”

We can look to science fiction for inspiration, Wylie said.

“Science fiction has the liberty to take science but then go one step farther,” she said. “It’s not bounded in what we know, but instead in possibility. It provides that motivation to keep exploring and think about the 'what if' part, which I think is fun.”

Garreau promised fun for the audience, who will be engaged directly with the panel during the event.

“It’s going to be like a really smart talk show,” he said. “We have a game that lets everyone in the audience help create this world.” 


Event schedule

Hollywood Invades Tempe presents "Inventing the Future All Over Again," a special two-day event about imagining the world 50 years from now.

  • There will be a discussion with "Minority Report" producer Walter Parkes at noon Thursday, Nov. 17, at Old Main on the Tempe campus.
  • Later that evening, catch a special screening of the film at 6:30 p.m. at Harkins Valley Art movie theater on Mill Avenue, followed by a Q&A with the minds behind the magic.
  • Finally, on Friday, Nov. 18, participants are invited to collaborate with the futurists behind the world of "Minority Report," scholars and fellow students for a two-part "idea summit" and look 50 years into the future. Sessions go from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. at Old Main.



Top image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. Tom Cruise starred in 2002's "Minority Report," which ASU professor Joel Garreau says is remembered more for its world than its plot.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU professor to speak about "Place, Culture, and Geoscience."
Ethnogeology seeks to include indigenous beliefs in research.
November 16, 2016

ASU professor and leading expert on ethnogeology to talk about different cultures' interactions with homelands

When people look at a landmark like a peak, they may see a few things. A mountain, first of all. Maybe some history to go with it, like a Civil War battle once being fought at its foot. Perhaps a personal aspect, like usually stopping there for a cone.

Native people see another dimension entirely. They see all those things, and more: religion, myth and beliefs, physically manifested in stone and sand.

There are places on the Navajo nation — certain mountains, dune fields, canyons, high passes between cliffs — where ancient heroes fought monsters.

Studying how different cultures understand their physical homelands is a new specialty called ethnogeology, which combines geology, geography and anthropology.

Arizona State University’s Steve Semken, an associate professor of geoscience education and geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will lecture about ethnogeology Thursday night in a talk called “Place, Culture, and Geoscience.”

Semken is the country’s leading expert on the topic. He became intrigued with the subject when he taught geology for 15 years at the Navajo tribal Dine College's branch in Shiprock, New Mexico. When he took students on geologic field trips, he noticed they had different names for places than what was on maps.

He began participatory research with the help of Navajo partners. He now studies human interactions with and knowledge of the Earth.

Asked if he could give specific examples of landmarks that feature prominently in Navajo mythos, he declined.

“I can’t talk about those places because I don’t know if the snow has fallen yet or not,” he said. “Those stories are only told when the snow has fallen.”

Navajo believe when the snow has fallen, the landmarks are asleep and they can’t be offended.

Examples that can be illustrated include the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. Eyewitnesses described priestesses inhaling vapors from a fault in the floor of their chamber. In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers discovered the original fault in the chamber floor, and evidence that ethylene gas — a hallucinogenic hydrocarbon — was present in nearby springs.

In the Pacific, radiocarbon dating of scorched vegetation beneath lava sheets corresponds to historical dates of battles between the fire god Pele and other deities.

James Riding In is the interim director of American Indian Studies at ASU.

“In American Indian studies we have long reflected the views of Indian people that place is central to identity,” Riding In said. “I think what that shows is that in some instances Indian beliefs are impacting the way the research is being done.”

Semken said his field shows indigenous people that geology is part of them.

“I’m trying to help the students understand they’ve always had a place in this science,” said Semken, who holds a certificate in the Dine Philosophy of Education from Dine College. “Their culture has important knowledge, and they can bring that to the table and it will motivate them to study and learn.”

New Discoveries Lecture Series: 'Place, Culture and Geoscience'

When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

Where: Marston Exploration Theater in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, Tempe campus.

Admission: Free, but registration is kindly requested for planning purposes.

Details: More information, including parking, can be found at ASU Events.


Top photo of Monument Valley by Carol M. Highsmith

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now