Course code:



IM - Introductory/Intermediate

Class size limit:


Meets the following requirements:

  • HS - Human Studies

Lab fee:


This course examines strengths and weaknesses of different ways of dealing with the future by looking in depth at two case studies: climate change and artificial intelligence.

When dealing with potential existential threats of these sorts, what are the powers and limits of specific methods for trying to know the future and/or act with regard to it? Of what use, for example, are tools such as trend spotting, extrapolation, quantitative modeling, prediction markets, SWOT analysis, imaging, narrative science fiction, scenario building, or Delphi processes of consensus? And what precisely are they useful for? Learning about the inevitability, probability or possibility of various futures? Or perhaps learning about ourselves our societies and the ways in which reality is currently constructed? And how can we frame meanings for our lives, our work, our communities and the social movements in which we may participate in order to act with integrity an d hope in the face of pressing problems that are “wicked” in character and may call for dramatic transformations?

Readings on the climate change case study will focus on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and critics of her work. Readings on artificial intelligence will include, for instance, James Barrat’s Our Final Invention and selections by Ray Kurzweil and Peter Bostrum. Readings on Futures Studies as a field of study and the specific methods within it will include, for example, selections from James Dator’s anthology, Advancing Futures: Future Studies in Higher Education, the Millenium Project’s State of the Future  and works by Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, Eliezer Yudkowsky and Elise Boulding, as well as articles from The Futurist. The course will include a weekend workshop in futures invention using methods developed by Warren Ziegler and Elise Boulding. This workshop will be open to public participation.

Members of the COA community interested in renewing the College curriculum are especially encouraged to participate. The course goals are to: 1.) increase students’ understanding of the possible uses and limitations of the broad range of methods in Futures Studies; 2.) develop student’s abilities to apply and critically assess others’ applications of these methods in substantive cases dealing with wicked problems; and 3.) develop students insight into the complexities and possible ways of addressing issues related to climate change and developments in artificial intelligence.

Assignments will include a critical analysis paper on each of the two case studies, an in-class report on a Futures Studies/Action method, a reflective essay on the futures invention workshop, and a problem set on methods and their applications to the two case studies.

Evaluation will be based on the extent to which class participation and performance in the assignments demonstrates significant advance in achieving the three core goals of the course.




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