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Ten-Year Forecast: 2012 Research Agenda

When we look back from 2100, we may recognize the present decade as the gateway to a world that seems impossible today. Certainly the transition to a vibrant, sustainable urban culture where people around the world live comfortably in settlements as dense as today’s poorest slums seems impossible. A transformation from the fossil fuel economy that has generated unprecedented wealth to one that achieves comparably rich lifestyles with renewable resources—do we truly imagine that is possible? What about a future where the material world unchains us from many of the limits that dictate our current economies? Is it possible that the emerging platforms for social production will fundamentally alter the rules of both social and economic engagement? And at the end of the century, will we recognize ourselves as high-resolution biomolecular humans, with distributed intelligence to process unfathomable volumes of information?

These are all great transitions that seem impossible from the perspective of today. And yet, they are precisely the transitions that we have already initiated. In the coming decade, they will gain speed and scale. They will disrupt our environments, our solutions space, and even our basic awareness.

The 2012 Ten-Year Forecast will map the near-term disruptions of these great transitions. At the same time, it will begin to develop a methodology for detecting, characterizing, and, when needed, mitigating impossible futures—futures that bend or break the rules of our cultural realities.

A Portfolio of Forecasts and Scenarios

We will explore a scenario space where the great transitions of the coming decades intersect with impossible futures to create a set of seemingly impossible scenarios. These are not wildcard scenarios. These are scenarios that seem impossible within the constraints of current assumptions, but when freed from those assumptions, define futures that are not only possible but even likely. Specifically, the deliverables will include:

1) Forecasts for six great transitions whose early stages will create large-scale disruptions in the next decade:

  • Hyper-Urbanization: The Creation of Sustainable Dense Cities
  • Deindustrialization: The End of Fossil Fuel
  • Dematerialization: The Growth of Atomically Precise Manufacturing
  • Social Production: The Reorganization of Wealth
  • Information Intensification: The Automation of Awareness
  • Biomolecularization: The Evolution of High-Resolution Humans

2) Scenarios that explore the impossible challenges and impossible solutions at the intersections of these great transitions and four types of impossible futures:

  • Futures that violate our understanding of realistic timeframes
  • Futures that require the convergence of many low-probability scenarios
  • Futures that violate our understanding of natural, cultural, or scientific possibility
  • Futures that demand concepts not yet available to a particular culture

TYF Map of the Decade

The 2012 Map of the Decade will present an at-a-glance view of the critical transitions, the disruptions they will create, the impossible scenarios associated with each of them, and a host of present-day signals that point to these impossible futures. The map will include explicitly local signals from around the world. This combination of out-of-the box futures and signals from the present provides a powerful platform for strategy and policy, both globally and locally.

TYF Annual Retreat

The TYF Annual Retreat will be held April 24-26, 2012 at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, California. It will bring together program members, experts in the great transitions, and future hackers to collectively prototype “impossible” innovations that will help us meet impossible futures with intelligence and insight.

A Special Opportunity: The Futures Impossible! Toolkit

This year, we would like to invite a select group of organizational leaders to join us on the ground floor of a project to develop a toolkit for integrating impossible futures into your strategic planning processes. This project will be organized around two workshops:

  • Methodological Workshop: This workshop will bring together a carefully selected group of experts to jump-start development a well-defined set of methodologies—including rigorous mathematical tools—for detecting, characterizing, and mitigating seemingly impossible futures.
  • Strategic Workshop: This workshop will bring the sponsors together in a two-day conclave to develop rigorous “what-if” strategies that work with the impossible scenarios from the 2012 Ten-Year Forecast.

If you would like to be one of these pioneering members, or if you would like more information on this unique opportunity, please contact Sean Ness ( for details.

Become a Member Today

The Ten-Year Forecast is about rewiring your mind, your organization, and your world for the long term, giving you the tools needed to make the future you want, today. For more information about the Institute for the Future please contact: Sean Ness at 650-233-9517 or