At the start of the twenty-first century, we live as never before under the shadow of the future, seeking to predict, manage, control, a global future that seems precarious on many fronts. Are we on the threshold of an epochal change? Are we entering a new technological, biological, ethical, ecological age?
Whatever the answer, how do individuals, institutions, governments, and the diverse peoples of the world deal with the fact of the future? What is there to know, say or do about the milliseconds and millennia to come? Anticipating, predicting, foretelling, managing, conquering the future is in many ways foundational for the human condition. From fortune tellers and visionaries to imaginary time travellers and real physical experiments, there is an obsession with the facts of life (or the shape of its Other) to come. Whether in the struggle to survive cancer, or arrest the spread of foot and mouth disease, through efforts to control climate change, to avert catastrophes, or by constructing a market for it, the effort expended to shape, manipulate, or materialise the future far outweighs the effort spent in excavating the past. Except, curiously, in the world of academic research and intellectual debate, where unlocking the secrets of the past tends to be more compelling than foretelling the future.
The IAS in supporting a theme on Futures seeks to stimulate thinking on the question of what happens next (epochal or otherwise). Artists summon the future (they sing it to life, paint it into existence, write it into being) doom tellers deny it, modellers predict it, business invents it, technology shapes it, individuals approach it, the dying fear it, religions hope for it, fortunes hang on it: what is the future all about?
The IAS annual theme on ‘Futures' is designed to attract researchers from across the disciplinary base to address a wide variety of topics spanning the sciences, social sciences, and the arts. A number of sub-themes have been identified and developed by inter-disciplinary teams of staff at Durham to ensure a wide-ranging programme of activities in 2010/11.