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Science: The Trouble with the Future

Looking back at the track record of those who've attempted to predict the future leaves little hope that it can ever be done accurately. Major oversights of past future gazers include nuclear power, civil aviation and the laser. But the Foundation for the Future in Bellevue, u.s. isn't about predictions. Instead, says Sesh Velamoor, the deputy director of programs, its mandate is to diffuse knowledge about the long-term future of humanity. 'To serve that mission we have a variety of programs. tv is one of those,' he says.
October 1, 2005

Looking back at the track record of those who’ve attempted to predict the future leaves little hope that it can ever be done accurately. Major oversights of past future gazers include nuclear power, civil aviation and the laser. But the Foundation for the Future in Bellevue, U.S. isn’t about predictions. Instead, says Sesh Velamoor, the deputy director of programs, its mandate is to diffuse knowledge about the long-term future of humanity. ‘To serve that mission we have a variety of programs. tv is one of those,’ he says.

Towards this goal, the foundation is busy on a four-part series titled The Next Thousand Years, for which Jon Palfreman, president of the Lexington, U.S.-based Palfreman Film Group, is serving as EP. As the title suggests, it’s an ambitious project, and a topic that’s difficult to wrestle into a tidy tv package. Unlike history, the future has no natural narrative arc, and current scientific expertise often has little bearing on the concepts that come into question. ‘At a certain stage you enter a fantasy world,’ says Palfreman.

To raise and then tackle the key issues for debate, the foundation has organized workshops for each of the program’s four episodes: ‘Future Humans,’ ‘This Tiny Planet,’ ‘Humans in Space,’ and ‘What Will We Know?’ Up to 20 scientists attend, each with a different area of expertise. Palfreman is then given the meeting’s transcript, from which he’ll craft each episode. At least, that’s the plan. ‘If you sit a lot of people down and say, ‘What’s going to be happening in 1,000 years?’ It’s pretty wild,’ says Palfreman. ‘It’s hard to keep them on track.’

Due in part to the series’ inherent vagaries, the project is in suspended animation. Development and production funds are wanting, and CEs are unlikely to invest in a concept still relatively undefined. ‘We’ve applied to some 20 or 30 foundations,’ says Velamoor of the search for funding.

Yet, for all its difficulties, Palfreman is convinced the future is worth pursuing for the small screen. ‘The philosophy of the foundation is to look at the fundamental human drives that sustained civilizations in the past, and see how they might be implemented in a future when you have different considerations and technological options. That’s interesting,’ he says. ‘If you can relate the notion of space travel back to the same psychological forces that propelled the Pacific Islanders to set off on the route to Easter Island, then that’s accessible to people – that grand search for humanity.’

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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