X2 Project: Now YOU can help forecast the future of science

The X2 Project, sponsored by the National Academies and the Department of Defense.  An opportunity to play with the big boys!

The creators of the X2 Project, a collaborative forecasting experiment, understand the future is shaped by all of us. The old model–small groups of rocket scientists, CEOs and politicians determining our future–is crumbling. That’s a good thing because that model eroded public trust and contributed to the current, incestuous state-of-affairs when it comes to science policy (and science education, one could argue).

Get to the good stuff, you say? Ok! 

I asked X2 Project’s founder, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, to give us the low-down on this wild experiment. Here are highlights of our chat. Note: You’ve got to log on and participate! I did. Such fun and I’ve earned three points so far. Log on, you’ll understand.

Science Cheerleader:  Kindly summarize the project in terms I can understand.

Alex:  This is an effort to forecast the future of science and innovation: what new ideas or research areas are going to impact our future; where is this most likely to occur in the world; what will future scientists–researchers, entrepreneurs, independent scientists or citizen scientists–think about their prospects and the future of science.

SC:  Why can’t you just call a professor at MIT and ask him for this information, like they did in the good old days?

Alex: Because we live in a different world which is increasingly changing from the bottom-up, so to speak. Today, so-called citizen scientists, people from all walks of life, can use scientific instruments to monitor everything from rainfall to rainforest destruction and high school students can manipulate DNA. Science is more accessible now than anytime in recent history.

SC: GO!!  How can the X2 Project benefit me, I mean, society?

Alex: At the broadest level, society benefits by better understanding the futures it has to choose from. Everything we do as individuals or as members of a community affects the future; but too often we either don’t think about what our actions could mean, or don’t have the information to fully explore the consequences of our choices.  More specifically, X2’s benefits could come in a few forms. For our sponsors (the National Academies and the Department of Defense), it’s a chance to get a handle on big trends and disruptions that could be important in the future, with an eye towards making smarter policy. For scientists, I hope it can turn into a resource they can turn to when making big career decisions. And for the general public, it’ll be a place to contribute to and think about the social and economic impacts of scientific trends.

SC: How can we participate? And, it’s free and easy, right?

Alex: Yes it is. And there are a couple of ways you and your audience can get involved. First, we are always looking for “signals” or things that are happening in the sciences that people think are the leading edge of important new trends or disruptions. Anyone can become a member of X2 and add signals.  We are also organizing a series of online games exploring different possible futures for science. These are open to anyone. In fact, the more varied perspectives we get, the better the game.  People who are really enthusiastic, or have a good eye for interesting trends, can become more deeply involved in the project by writing forecasts, participating in mapping workshops, etc

And, here’s my favorite reply from Alex: I think what we’re creating here is a platform that could have uses we haven’t yet imagined, by people we haven’t thought about–teachers, journalists, advocates–anyone who wants to participate and who could benefit from having access to tools that help them think more systematically about their future.

Now that’s teamwork in science! Cheers.