Chapters and an Article

The book chapter from which I took the posting on the Futures Cone last February has now been published online by Springer International. It is available to those who have SpringerLink subscriptions (many universities do, so try logging-into your University library and looking for the SpringerLink database) via the doi: link given below. I’ll be checking whether the possibility of self-archiving exists, which means I would be able to deposit a pre-publication (note: not the final) version of the chapter at Swinburne ResearchBank for wider availability.

The full reference is:

Voros, J 2017, ‘Big History and anticipation: Using Big History as a framework for global foresight’, in R Poli (ed.) Handbook of Anticipation: Theoretical and Applied Aspects of the Use of Future in Decision Making, Springer International, Cham, Switzerland,  chap. 95, pp. 1-40. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-31737-3_95-1

I also have had published online recently a journal article in Technological Forecasting & Social Change, which combined three of my favourite topic areas:

  • scenario-based futures thinking;
  • morphological methods;
  • astrobiology & the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

The reference to that is (it is not yet formally published, so there is no volume/issue/page info, as yet):

Voros, J 2017, ‘On a morphology of contact scenario space’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Special Issue: ‘General Morphological Analysis: Modelling, Forecasting and Innovation’, T Ritchey & T Arciszewski (eds).  doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2017.05.007 arXiv:1706.08966.

This is also available, as you can see, as a pre-print at arXiv. I am especially happy with this article as it represents the sequel to an idea from a paper published 10 years ago about examining parameters that might usefully describe scenarios of ‘contact’. I hope it is not another 10 years before the next paper in this sequence… 😉

I am also awaiting the final formal publication of another book chapter, in the final volume of the Big History Anthology, which has been in production for six years now and has gone through a couple of different publishers before one kept their word to actually publish it.

The reference is (there is chapter/page info because the book is being printed now and and is due to be formally published in mid September):

Voros, J 2017, ‘Big Futures: Macrohistorical perspectives on the future of humankind’, in B Rodrigue, L Grinin & A Korotayev (eds), The way that Big History works: Cosmos, life, society and our future, From Big Bang to galactic civilizations: A Big History anthology, vol. III, Primus Books, Delhi, chap. 22, pp. 403-436. ISBN: 978-93-86552-24-2

I am particularly chuffed with this chapter as it is the last chapter in the last volume of the 3-volume Anthology series. As such, I get to, as it were, have the last word on Big History 😉  I am also exploring the possibility of self-archiving so that it might become available through an online repository at some point soon.

So, in all, a busy few months since the previous post, all while teaching out the last running of Foresight Knowledge and Methods 1, along with the second-last running of Powering 21st Century Innovation (the 2015 running of which gave rise to the name of this blog), as well as convening two other units on Purposeful Leadership (taught by my wonderful colleagues Nita Cherry, and Peter Hayward aka “Captain Foresight”). This semester, it is the second-last running of 21st Century Challenges, and another iteration of my undergrad Big History unit, which has finally hit some healthy numbers. It seems that, despite the fact that the MSF is being shut down, there might still be a future for me at Swinburne, teaching Big History, not Futures Studies. The irony… 😉

A complete listing of my publications is now being curated at ORCID – the Open Researcher and Contributor ID initiative. The URL is

See you next time there is a breath that can be drawn .. 😉


Quo vadis Humanity?

I mentioned last year that I had made a presentation at the Big History Anthropocene conference held in December 2015 at Macquarie University and organised by the Big History Institute. The presentations from that conference can be viewed on YouTube, with the full playlist available at this URL. They are almost universally terrific — it was one of the most engagingly informative conferences I’ve been to, so I encourage you to dip into the playlist.

Future_sessionThe final session — Session 6 — was themed Humanity’s Long-Term Prospects, and included talks from astrobiologist David Grinspoon, philosopher Clément Vidal, Big History Institute PhD candidate Elise Bohan, and, naturally, a futurist: me. The actual order was: David; myself; Elise; and Clément, and the organisers had a very clear and well thought-out reason for this sequence.

David’s talk — Cognitive Planetary Transitions: An Astrobiological Perspective on the Sapiezoic Eon — laid out some of his thinking, developed and refined over the last several years, on the nature of different types of planetary changes — a taxonomy that includes four kinds: 1: random (think asteroid or cometary impacts, such as the end-Cretaceous event ~65 Ma); 2: biological (think the Great Oxygenation Event ~2.3 Ga due to “those irresponsible cyanobacteria” polluting the atmosphere with oxygen and leading to a mass exinction of species); 3: inadvertent (think anthropogenic climate change as but one clear example of the many changes we have made to the Earth system); and 4: deliberate (an existence proof of which is the Montreal Protocol formulated to reduce the hole in the atmospheric ozone layer due to chloroflurocarbons). This last notion — that we could actually get our act together well enough to make positive changes to Earth with some wisdom, rather the negative changes we’ve made so far by being mostly clueless — led David to suggest that the Anthropocene, which is being proposed (hence the conference) as a possible new epoch in Earth history, might in fact be the first stage of a new (much larger time-scale) eon, the Sapiezoic Eon, wherein wise long-term sentience becomes a key factor in the history of the Earth. This is a quite wonderful idea, and one that I find great resonance with, probably because we both grew up reading science-fiction that imagined a “grown-up” humanity expanding into the Galaxy. In fact, we can then immediately wonder whether there has been the equivalent of a Sapiezoic on other planets elsewhere… More recently, David has wondered — in his terrific book Earth in Human Hands — what other sentient beings (“Exo sapiens“) might get up to, once they crack the nut of the existential risk posed by “technological adolescence”.

My talk sought to take a futurist perspective on the Anthropocene, viewing it as the place where Big History and the Big Future meet — where our increasing agency as a species has bumped up against the physical limits of the biosphere. In this view, also, sentience plays an important role — we are where information about the (very long cosmic) past meets anticipations of the (expanding and hopefully sentient) future. This observation is an homage to Erich Jantsch who noted, in his 1980 masterpiece The Self-Oganizing Universe, that with the emergence of consciousness as a part of cosmic evolution comes an ability for the universe to not only be aware of past information through the usual processes of causality, but also to imagine future information via imagination, hence: anticipation. I view Big History as our specific (idiographic) instance of the broader (nomothetic) process of cosmic evolution, as the latter has played out here on Earth. Therefore, astrobiology and its subset, SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) are supersets of Big History, and all are sub-sets of Cosmic Evolution. Consequently, the talk looked at two main futures – the “nearer” future of “Threshold 9” (i.e., extending the eight-threshold view of Big History to the “next” threshold, also based around energy and energy flows), and the “much further” future of astrobiology/SETI, imagining what we might do as part of our, or what “someone” else may have done as part of their, post-Anthropocene analogue future – in this case a post-biological species re-engineering its own galaxy.

The idea of post-biological intelligence linked nicely to Elise’s talk about trans-humanism and the transcension by humanity of biology, which has been occurring in stages with each new piece of technology that augments our physical being and cognitive capacity. In this case, the trend is clear – we are gradually becoming more augmented by technology, for which the logical endpoint is that we eventually become technologically-based intelligence. This is the idea of The Singularity.

Finally, Clément spoke about “The Big Future: The next 14 billion years” outlining numerous Thresholds that led to re-engineering, and even “eating” stars – his “starivore” hypothesis – ultimately to re-booting the Universe with a new Big Bang 2.0.

In all, it was a really great conference, and our session in particular was a total blast, if you like wide-open thinking at the very edge of possibility… 😉

Image credit: Group Photo – David Grinspoon’s Twitter stream (@DrFunkySpoon). LtoR: EB, CV, DG, JV.

Q&A with a (Big History) Futurist


Here is a Q&A I did with Kathryn Ford, Project Coordinator at the Big History Institute at Macquarie University, for Issue 6 of the BHI newsletter, Threshold 9.

Interestingly, ‘Threshold 9’ (i.e., the ‘next’ Threshold in the 8-so-far main Thresholds of Big History) has been on my research agenda for quite a few years now, so it is a great pleasure to be able to talk more widely about the broader long-term future (as well as Threshold 9) in an issue of BHI’s Threshold 9 😉

I hope you enjoy it. Once the videos from the conference are uploaded, I’ll be writing about and linking to some of them in later posts.

Until then, remember: “keep looking to the future”. (I wonder what that would be in Latin 😉

Big History Institute newsletter Threshold 9 Issue 6: Q&A with a Futurist.


Image credit: Carmen Lee, Big History Anthropocene conference 2015.