Foretell channels the wisdom of the crowd and big-data analytics toward the question: what will the technology-security landscape look like in 2025? Foretell is a pilot project of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
Now is an auspicious time for Foretell. COVID-19 renders the future increasingly uncertain. Trends in U.S.-China relations, globalization, and tech adoption could reverse or accelerate, reshaping our world in the next few years. In response, experts have offered a range of striking—and sometimes conflicting—forecasts:
"We're essentially in the beginnings of a Cold War...a downward slide into something increasingly adversarial with China." - Orville Schell in Business Insider
Pandemic-related tensions will "expose the brittleness and insecurity that lie beneath the surface of Xi's, and Beijing's, assertions of solidity and strength." - Minxin Pei in Foreign Affairs
"[A] future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces, but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor's offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails." Naomi Klein in The Guardian
Increasing use of "virtual communication options...could enhance international science ties over the long term" - David Cyranoski in Nature
"The coronavirus crisis will expand the scope of security even further by making public health and resiliency as or even more important than countering foreign adversaries." Steven Metz in Insider
These big-picture forecasts (scenarios) offer important, policy-relevant information but have limited usefulness on their own. If provided to policymakers in tandem with a collection of signposts (predictors) that we can turn into things we can measure (metrics), they become decidedly more actionable.
Breaking scenarios down into verifiable metrics improves our ability to track and analyze them, as well as to pinpoint disagreements with them.
Foretell aims to make big-picture forecasts actionable. To see how it works, let's first review some jargon:
- Scenario → A big-picture forecast about what some part of the world might look like in three to seven years. The excerpts quoted above are examples of scenarios—for example, the claim that the United States could end up in a new Cold War with China. Scenario can claim that a particular outcome is likely to happen or that, if an outcome were to happen, certain signposts will appear beforehand.
- Predictor → A signpost of movement toward a particular scenario. These are plain-language descriptions of trends, such as “increasing U.S.-China tensions,” “shift in public priorities from privacy to security,” or “a less globalized economy.” For example, increasing U.S.-China tensions may be a signpost of a new Cold War with China.
- Metric → A way to measure and track a predictor over the next three to 18 months. For example, the predictor of increasing U.S.-China tensions could be measured by total U.S.-China imports and exports by December 31, 2020, or the likelihood of military conflict in the South China Sea by September 30, 2020. Because no individual metric fully captures a predictor, multiple metrics should support each predictor. All forecast questions on Foretell are metrics.
Foretell allows registered forecasters to predict metrics for policy-relevant scenarios. Subject-matter experts—whether CSET analysts or external contributors—propose scenarios and a list of their predictors. The predictors are then turned into metrics to be analyzed and forecasted. Turning predictors into metrics is an ongoing process. In some cases, new scenarios can rely on metrics already available on Foretell, and in other cases, new metrics are needed. We hope to continually crowdsource the best metrics for every predictor of interest. For example scenarios, see "Three possible 2025 worlds that should inform policy today."
How to use Foretell. You can engage with Foretell in the following ways: