What comes to mind when you hear the word futurist?

A futurist is not someone or an entity from the future, nor is it someone uniquely focused on predicting it. Actually, the true definition lies somewhere between these poles, which actually makes those who signal as futurists a fascinating and necessary individual in the advancement of our society.

With this mind, we’ll quickly dive into this brand of thinking before identifying some of the most influential figures of the past and present.

Futurists Defined

A futurist is defined quite simply as an individual who studies next-order outcomes using signals of present day. Now, that may not sound as simple as we made it out to be, so let’s consider a more dissected definition: a futurist is someone who works in a variety of interconnected disciplinary fields (science, mathematics, engineering, social science, art, economics, game theory, and more) to make projections about the future using what we know about today.

The goal of these projections is not to predict the future, or to make grand proclamations about what could lie ahead. Instead, these forecasts provide thought experiments for futurists to create potential strategies, if/then scenarios, and other decision-making exercises to establish a foundation of logic that may aid in future problem-solving.

Essentially, futurists are attempting to play a game whose rules haven’t been written yet.

Our Favorite Futurists

Societies need futurists. We need individuals who think in this unique way, who try to strategize solutions to problems or situations that the rest of us haven’t thought to contemplate, and it’s evident with the following list of our favorite futurists why that is.

Amy Webb is a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and the author of several futurist works, most recently The Signals Are Talking, which details what technological changes are ahead, what impact they’ll have on business and society, and how individuals can forecast the future for themselves.

Webb’s primary area of interest and expertise is Big Data and how the rapid collection, storing, retrieval, and use of granular, specific data and information impacts what we do, who we are, and where we’re headed as a civilization. Webb’s academic background includes game theory, economics, statistics, political science, computer science, sociology, music and journalism, as well as forays into policy and government.

Much like the rest of the futurists on our list, a common trait among all of these writers, thinkers, activists, and advocates is a broad, diverse, and multi-faceted academic and professional background.

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Nikola Tesla was an engineer and scientist who is most commonly known for his inventions regarding electricity such as AC (alternating current) electricity, which is still the most dominant electrical current used in the world today, and the Tesla coil, which originally helped revolutionize radio technology and is still used today more than 100 years after its initial inception.

Throughout his career, Tesla designed and developed a number of important inventions including dynamos (electrical generators similar to batteries) and the induction motor. He was also a pioneer in the discovery of radar technology, and X-ray technology, though his AC current technology remains his most impactful and influential project.

A one-time collaborator with Thomas Edison, Tesla’s obsession with the potential of electricity to essentially power the world created footprints in which many of today’s scientific pioneers are still following, perhaps most famously Elon Musk, who named his electric automotive company Tesla Motors.

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James Lovelock, born in 1919, was an English chemist medical doctor, scientific instrument developer, and author who is most widely known for his hypothesis that that all life on Earth is part of an entity that regulates Earth’s surficial and atmospheric processes. Lovelock’s love and study of science, medicine, and eventual work with NASA fueled his early theories about his connected entity, which led to the publication of his most famous work in 1979, Gaia: A New Look at Life On Earth.

Lovelock’s theories about connectivity have received more widespread acceptance in the years since the book’s publication. In the early 2000’s, Lovelock also garnered attention for theories and publications on the devastation of global warming and climate change, though the impacts of these have not been experienced per Lovelock’s models.

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Jacque Fresco is a slightly different brand of futurist from the others we’ve examined in that his area of expertise was not science or technology. Fresco’s focus was on social issues such as poverty, social justice and reform, and divorce.

Though he advocated for the use of science and technology to help solve complex social issues and to demonstrate how human beings could better themselves through technology, Fresco’s lectures, seminars, books, and presentations often took a more wistful approach using metaphor, imagery, and other more narrative elements in an attempt to reach an audience on a more emotional level.

A prolific lecturer and writer, Fresco’s academic background was steeped in industrial design and social engineering, and his work primarily as an inventor included a wide range of fields from biomedical innovations to integrated social systems.

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Where Does Coding and Technology Fit?

What do each of these futurists have in common, aside from varied academic backgrounds and the desire to make a lasting impact on our civilization? A lack of fear when it comes to learning and leveraging the technology of their time.

For the budding futurists out there today, that technology is coding and software development.

Just as these futurists had to essentially imagine a world that did not yet exist in order to create, invent, and develop, the technology luminaries of tomorrow must essentially do the same thing with the infrastructure on which our world is built: coding.

A recent article titled How Coding is Impacting Future Technology, explains the somewhat futurist approach to coding as such: “Technologies we never thought possible, and those we have yet to imagine, will be driven by code. Coding is impacting the future of technology and subsequently, our daily lives in ways we’re only beginning to understand.”

Past futurists centered their work around areas like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aviation, or atmospheric exploration because these were some of the most fertile grounds of the day. Today, fields such as energy, agriculture, architecture, flight and travel, and education are the frontlines on which coding and software developers can apply futurist thought and principles to help define the games and rules the world may have to play by 10, 20, or even 50 years down the road.

With this in mind, it’s now easy to understand what a futurist is, their value in our society, and how today’s coders and software developers can lend their voice to a futurist pursuit.

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