What is futurology? Definition and examples

Futurology is the study of future possibilities by analyzing both current and historical trends. We also call it futures studies, while practitioners commonly refer to it as futures. It is a systematic attempt to predict what will happen by studying present and historical trends. The futurist uses several different methodologies including the Delphi method (Delphi technique) and computer modelling.

The Delphi method is a predicting method in which a panel of experts answers several rounds of questionnaires. After each round, the group shares and discusses the results. They can subsequently adjust their answers.

Futurology is the study of technical, political, and social developments so that we can better understand what may occur in the future.

Put simply; it is the activity of attempting to predict what will happen on the basis of what is and has happened.

Collins Dictionary has the following definition of the term:

“Futurology is the activity of trying to predict what is going to happen, on the basis of facts about what is happening now.”

People may also refer to it as futuring, futures thinking, futuristics, and strategic foresight.

In his 1969 essay, ‘Discussion on Future Research,’ Flechtheim wrote: “[Futurology] was the attempt to discuss the evolution of man and his society in the hitherto forbidden future tense.”

Futurology – predicting

Future studies is a branch of the social sciences. People see it as a mirror parallel to the field of history.

Practitioners of futurology want to understand what is likely to continue. They also want to understand what might plausibly change in future.

To determine the probability of future trends and events, practitioners comprehensively study both the past and present.

It is similar to forecasting, i.e., a planning tool that business people and economists use to predict the future. However, futurology is much more comprehensive, i.e., the research is much deeper and more holistic.

Futurology – an interdisciplinary field

Futures is an interdisciplinary field of studying current and past changes. Practitioners aggregate and analyze professional and lay strategies and opinions regarding the future.

The study involves analyzing the patterns and causes of stability and change. It also studies the sources of stability and change The aim is to develop foresight and map potential future scenarios.

Professor Ossip K. Flechtheim (1909 – 1998), a German jurist, political scientist, and futurist, first coined the term ‘futurology.’

In the 1940s, Flechtheim proposed it as a branch of knowledge. He said the new branch would also include a new science of probability.

Regarding how frequently people use the term ‘futurology’ today, Wikipedia writes:

“This term may have fallen from favor in recent decades because modern practitioners stress the importance of alternative and plural futures, rather than one monolithic future, and the limitations of prediction and probability, versus the creation of possible and preferable futures.”

Futurology vs. other disciplines

Future studies differs from research in other disciplines in three main ways:

  1. Futurology examines not only possible but also preferable, probable, and ‘wild card’ futures.
  2. Futurists try to gain a systemic or holistic view. They base their view on several different disciplines, mainly focusing on the STEEP categories. STEEP stands for Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political.
  3. It challenges the assumptions behind most current views of the future.

Many people, for example, believe that our planet’s ecosystem will collapse in the near future. Others, on the other hand, believe that it will never collapse.

With a foresight approach, practitioners of futurology would try to analyze the assumptions behind both views.