People at the center of strategy and innovation to create the future

Towards a citizen foresight committee

How can we all be co-creators of our future?

We are in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The new technology age:

We have diversity committees, historical preservation groups. Let’s talk about the future. Let’s create a department within every city, county, state and government where ordinary citizens come together to understand and to co-create the technologies, and the changes they are bringing that are shaping our world.

This would involve meetings with the players, such as Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Google, and more, asking them to show us the data they have on each of us, what they think it will be used for, and, allowing citizens to become co-creators in the future.

The much bigger problem I see, however, is that none of us who are ordinary citizens, who don’t work in technology or biotech or some of the industries shaping this world on a grand scale, are having a say in these technologies or their impact.

Without this citizen involvement, we don’t have a true democracy. This is because the disparity in knowledge, wealth, and power is shifting to the few who have access to the inner workings of technology, and much of this technology effects not only people on a micro level, but on a macro-level, shifting attitudes, policies and other aspects of our society for better or for worse.

We often hear of technology being innovative, able to solve our problems, for example, by using big data to analyze storm patterns, and thus to predict and prepare better for future happenings; or by using AI to take over routine tasks, so that humans could be free to focus on the bigger picture; or bioengineering food so that it is more nutritious.

Facebook is touted as connecting us so that we can build better communities, but it also has created huge problems in places like the Philippines. Google allows us to search for everything and anything, but it also reduces some of our ability to use critical thinking, and all the while, both Facebook and Google are gathering our data, storing it in the cloud, where we no longer have access to it. The much bigger problem I see, however, is that none of us who are ordinary citizens, who don’t work in technology or biotech or some of the industries shaping this world on a grand scale, are having a say in these technologies or their impact.

This is important because some of the technologies are already changing us in ways we hadn’t anticipated, by shifting the way we interact socially, by changing the work environment and more. AI and machine learning are predicted to eliminate millions of jobs; and while some believe other jobs will also be created to offset these losses, the problem lies in who will be able to do the new jobs. We need to involve our ever-day citizens in this future thinking, so we can make crucial decisions. Some are proposing a universal income.

While information technology, biotechnology, big data, AI, and machine learning will bring about good, anything that can help, can also be used for evil. Also, because of the rapid changes happening, many people will not be able to keep up with the changing landscape.

I’m thinking about the future, where technology seems to be taking us, with machine learning, AI, Big data, and other changes on the horizon. I think that due to the enormous reach that some of the companies have, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, etc., where what they are doing has a global reach, there needs to be a way for ordinary citizens to tap in, to understand and to help guide the thinking, to be co-creators in the future. As it stands now, the future seems to be being created by a few who possess the money, power, technology and data networks, so that they are creating our future world without us. This is not to say there is some conspiracy, but that in their excitement and need to remain competitive, and because they are silo’ed in their own work and communities, they often don’t think about the populace, the great numbers of people who are affected by their work. They do think about these people as customers and consumers, but this thinking does not expand to the sociological effects that these technologies are bringing alongside their so-called advancements. Our world is becoming so complex that ordinary citizens, even intelligent people, who do not have the technical skills, find it difficult to decipher and to understand the converging technologies, in order to make critical connections about what these technologies have the potential to do, both good and bad.

I’m a writer and novelist, specializing in speculative fiction. I think about things like “whereas economists tend to treat people as abstractions, novelists dig into the specifics. To illustrate the point, Morson and Schapiro ask, When has a scientist’s model or case study drawn a person as vividly as Tolstoy drew Anna Karenina?

Novels can also help us develop empathy. Stories, after all, steep us in characters’ lives, forcing us to see the world as other people do. (Morson and Schapiro add that although many fields of study tell their practitioners to empathize, only literature offers practice in doing it.)

What are your thoughts on the future?



In the world that is becoming, there are no trades. There are just problems to be solved, opportunities to be taken advantage of and to disrupt: to be critically evaluated, and then to be ignited by an idea that strikes the status quo like a bolt from the blue. A university education that equips graduates for this reality is crucial.  

Alex Broadbent

Executive Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Director, African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, University of Johannesburg