The first five minutes of the future

Institute For The Future
Sep 13 · 19 min read

What will you do when the next “unthinkable” change happens? Play this game to find out.

Image for post
Image for post
You can get better at thinking the “unthinkable” and imagining the “unimaginable”. This five-minute future forecasting game will teach you how.

The First Five Minutes of the Future is a new future forecasting game developed by Institute for the Future’s Director of Game Research and Development, Jane McGonigal. It’s taking place at IFTF’s 2020 Ten Year Forecast from September 14–18, 2020.

Each day a new game scenario will appear on this page, so come back daily!

Day One: The Shutdown

You’re at home. You realize that the Internet is out. You have no cell phone service. If you check, you notice nothing is broadcasting on TV or radio. Even though the electricity is working, it’s as if all telecommunications have suddenly stopped.

  • What actions do you take in the first five minutes after discovering this?

Take five minutes — and five minutes only — to free write your answers. Freewriting means put down whatever comes to mind, as quickly as you can. Don’t edit yourself. Just let the ideas flow.

And be as specific as you can! Include details about what you see, hear, and feel. Describe the weather, the light, the time of day, the room or space around you, who else is with you, what you say to each other. Make the scene as vivid and detailed as possible.

When five minutes is up, share some or all of your freewriting with anyone else who is playing. Take some time to read each others’ replies. (Check out the hashtag #first5minutesofthefuture!) Have a quick chat about any surprises or differences in your reactions. Then, challenge yourself to answer one more question:

  • What’s one real action you could take in the new few days or weeks to feel more prepared for the first five minutes of this scenario, if it were really to happen?

When you’ve identified one quick action that you can realistically imagine yourself taking soon, you’ve won this round of the game. Well played!

Image for post
Image for post
You can read player replies right now at the hashtag #first5minutesofthefuture. Add your own!

Ready yourself for this possible future. Learn what might lead to a scenario like THE SHUTDOWN — and what actions could be taken now to prepare for this future or prevent it. Here are some signals of change and driving forces to track:

Are you ready for a world where central and local governments increasingly shut down the Internet and mobile communications?

Image for post
Image for post
AccessNow.org is tracking government-ordered Internet and mobile service shutdowns worldwide.

“33 countries enforced 213 Internet shutdowns in 2019. 62% of the shutdowns in 2019 affected both broadband and mobile networks. The most common justifications for communications shutdowns were public safety, national security, and stopping fake news. Protests are the top known cause of network shutdowns. Shutdowns are increasing in number, lasting longer, affecting more people, and targeting vulnerable groups.” Learn more.

“While you might think authoritarian regimes are the ones turning off the internet, India — the world’s largest democracy — is the global leader in shutdowns.” Learn more.

“An obscure provision tucked at the back of the Communications Act (Sec.706, codified as 47 USC 606) empowers the U.S. president to ’cause the closing of any station for radio communications’ (such as broadcasting or mobile phone networks) as well as ’cause the closing of any facility or station for wire communications’ (such as telephone and internet networks). All that is necessary for the exercise of these huge powers is a ‘proclamation by the President’ of ‘national emergency’ in the case of broadcast stations and mobile phones, or the ‘interest of the national security’ for the internet or telephone networks.” Learn more.

Are you ready for a world where previously stable utilities like electricity are preemptively shut down to “protect” the public?

Image for post
Image for post
In Northern California in 2019 and 2020, electricity was pre-emptively cut off to millions of residents to prevent high winds downing active power lines and sparking new wildfires.

“Pre-emptive power shutdowns for wildfire prevention come under deep criticism.” Learn more.

“Public Safety Power Shutoff program from Pacific Gas & Electric Company is in effect in California — Here’s an FAQ.” Learn more.

Day Two: The Leak

You wake up one day and discover that a searchable database of all private messages sent in the past 5 years on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, Google Chat and many other social platforms has been leaked online. It is being shared, downloaded, re-uploaded and replicated faster than anyone can block or delete it.

  • What actions do you take in the first five minutes after hearing this news?
Image for post
Image for post
We’re sharing out some of our favorite stories from this scenario on Twitter. Check it out!

Read other players’ replies to the Leak scenario here. Share your own with the hashtag #first5minutesofthefuture.

Ready yourself for this possible future. Learn what might lead to a scenario like THE SHUTDOWN — and what actions could be taken now to prepare for this future or prevent it. Here are some signals of change and driving forces to track:

Image for post
Image for post
Quantum computing could make it easy for hackers to break today’s encryption methods.

Are you ready for a world in which any digital message you send could become public?

“Some of your text messages may have been left exposed on the internet for the world to see. A database housing millions of private SMS text messages was left open online for an extended period of time, a team of researchers at the online privacy company vpnMentor said Sunday. The Texas-based text messaging firm TrueDialog is thought to be responsible for the leak, the cybersecurity experts said. The database contained access information to online medical services along with passwords and usernames to websites such as Google and Facebook. The researchers warn that “millions of Americans are at risk.” The team was able to access the text messages because the logs were “completely unsecured and unencrypted,” the team said in a blog post.” Learn more.

“The contents of hacked private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook accounts were being sold online this fall, according to the BBC. The breach was first discovered in September after one of the hackers advertised the stolen data on a forum. The message details were obtained after users downloaded a malicious browser extension that then scraped the information from their accounts. The hackers then sold access to the information for 10 cents per account. The group told BBC that their “database includes 120 million accounts.” Learn more.

Are you ready for a world in which governments ban the end-to-end encryption that keeps our private messages secure today?

“Governments have stepped up their calls for an encryption back door. Last year, Australian lawmakers passed a bill requiring technology companies to provide law enforcement and security agencies with access to encrypted communications. The bill gave the government the ability to get a court order allowing it to secretly order technology companies and technologists to re-engineer software and hardware so that it can be used to spy on users. Other governments are also considering new encryption laws. In India, Facebook’s biggest market, officials told the country’s Supreme Court in October that Indian law requires Facebook to decrypt messages and supply them to law enforcement upon request.” Learn more.

“The problem with encryption backdoors is that they can’t be limited to just the ‘good guys.’ They’ll also be found and exploited by the ‘bad guys’: nation-states, hackers, cybercriminals, organized crime. Under new laws requiring backdoors, we wouldn’t know who might be exploiting those intentional vulnerabilities to snoop through our electronic data and listen in on our conversations. That has ramifications for free speech, not just privacy. Fear of surveillance chills how people express themselves online.” Learn more.

Or a world in which quantum computing makes it impossible to safely encrypt data?

“Last week, the industrial giant Honeywell announced that it has built the world’s fastest quantum computer, overtaking their main competitors IBM and Google in a technological arms race that has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars of value to the world’s economy. The most significant implications of this news are increasingly being felt by the global cybersecurity community. This is because quantum computing has the potential to break the encryption on which most enterprises, digital infrastructures and economies rely. The sheer calculating ability of a quantum computer means that public key cryptography is destined to fail. The encryption that protects financial transactions, secure communications, e-commerce, identity and electronic voting all rely on mechanisms which would be put at risk in such a scenario. Businesses and governments could be rendered unable to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the transactions and data on which they rely. Ultimately, this could put all our data at risk. “ Learn more.

Day Three: The Surveillance Shoe

Your workplace sends you a pair of smart shoes it would like you to wear as a condition of employment. Each shoe has sensors in it that track your location, activity, weight, and social proximity (who you are standing near or walking by). It also detects air quality and viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

If more relevant to you, imagine that your kid is given and asked to wear a similar smart shoe as a condition of attending their school. Or, that your local government is giving away the shoes for free as part of a public health strategy.

  • What actions do you take in the first 5 minutes after being informed of the new “Smart shoe” policy?
Image for post
Image for post
We’ve curated 20 of our favorite “first 5 minute” stories about the Surveillance Shoe! Check them out here.

Ready yourself for this possible future. Learn what might lead to a scenario like THE SURVEILLANCE SHOE — and what actions could be taken now to prepare for this future or prevent it. Here are some signals of change and driving forces to track:

Image for post
Image for post
Social proximity at work and school may be tracked by wearable devices in the very near future.

Are you ready for a world in which surveillance wearables are a necessary component of pandemic control or climate crisis adaptation?

“With increasing global concern about air pollution and wildfire smoke, the availability of, and interest in, wearable air quality monitors has accelerated in recent years. In addition to the AirBeam, there is now also the Tzoa, the Flow, the ATMOtube, the CleanSpace Tag. Many of these gadgets stream their measurements straight to your smartphone.” Learn more.

“Singapore officials on Monday began widely distributing electronic tokens that they hope will help bring participation in the country’s coronavirus contact tracing system to 70 percent. The tokens, which work in tandem with the TraceTogether contact tracing app but do not require a smartphone, are designed in part for people who do not carry a smartphone with them. It is small enough to be carried in a pocket or on a lanyard. It identifies social proximity for Bluetooth technology. So far, 2.4 million people have downloaded the TraceTogether app, accounting for about 40 percent of the city-state’s population. The first version of the app was rolled out in March, shortly after Singapore confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus. Since June, they have been distributing tokens to small numbers of elderly citizens, a group vulnerable to the virus who may not have smartphones.” Learn more.

Is social distancing effective? The U.S. Navy considers employee-tracking wearables to find out.The Naval COVID Rapid Response Team is exploring the potential of existing commercial or advanced prototype technologies that can be used to underpin a “proximity tracking program” as the pandemic presses on, according to a recently released request for information. Records produced by wearables through the effort would track any time those wearing them interacted within 10 feet of one another. Learn more.

“Companies globally are working to invent new technologies for SARS-CoV-2 air monitoring. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology have come up with a plasmonic photothermal biosensor that can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the local air. With some more work, the device could provide results within 15 minutes to an hour.” Learn more.

Are you ready for a world in which surveillance wearables are commonplace at work… and workplaces are expected to have a clear position on what constitutes ethical surveillance?

“Workplace injuries are a real and ever increasing thing, and companies are investing big money into minimizing those injuries and getting workers back to work. Often the cause of injuries such as back and muscle injuries are hard to pinpoint, but thanks to new smart footwear from ZhorTech, information is at our fingertips. The smart shoe allows distance covered, number of stairs climbed and motion/static ratio to be tracked and activities can be altered to optimise movements more efficiently throughout the work day. The smart shoe can detect fatigue through a biomechanical analysis of your strides and activity. It will tell when a dangerous level of fatigue is reached. This information is valuable to employers to get the most out of employees without sending them to fatigue breaking point.” Learn more.

“What are the best practices for ethical use of nanosensors for worker surveillance? The following 5 principals provide some best practices to avoid the ethical pitfalls typical of technology-based workplace surveillance programs.” Learn more.

Or a world in which surveillance wearables are commonplace at schools?

“Sensei is the first smart shoe system designed to understand social interaction and learning in an early-childhood classroom. Proximity sensing radio sensors are embedded in children’s shoes, learning materials, and selected landmarks in the classrooms. By logging proximity data, we can reconstruct the daily social network, teacher-student time distribution, and learning time. Based on this data, we provide unique insights to each teacher about their teaching style and the time they spend with each child. We can also understand the kind of lessons a child is interested in. A visualization dashboard lets teachers explore such data and compare with their own intuition about the classroom. Sensei is currently being used in three Montessori schools.” Learn more.” Learn more.

Day Four: The Simulation

BREAKING NEWS! The World Meteorological Organization has released a new forecast: The town or city you live in today will be uninhabitable due to extreme weather from the climate crisis within the next 3 years. This forecast is based on the results of its Climate Crisis Simulator, which has a 68% success rate over the past decade of accurately predicting inhabitability “tipping points”.

  • What actions do you take in the first 5 minutes after hearing this news?
Image for post
Image for post
We’ve curated 20 stories you shared from Day 4: The Simulation. Check them out!

Ready yourself for this possible future. Learn what might lead to a scenario like THE SIMULATION — and what actions could be taken now to prepare for this future or prevent it. Here are some signals of change and driving forces to track:

Image for post
Image for post
Migrants from Central America riding north on the Bestia freight rail line.

Are you ready for a world in which the largest mass migration in human history gets underway?

“A third of the global population — 3.5 billion people — could be living in temperatures inhospitable to human life in the next 50 years because of climate change, a 2020 study from the National Academy of Sciences found.” Learn more.

“People are already beginning to flee. In Southeast Asia, where increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought have made farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than eight million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the African Sahel, millions of rural people have been streaming toward the coasts and the cities amid drought and widespread crop failures. Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.” Learn more.

Climate migration will reshape America in the coming decades. As many as 93 million Americans will be displaced by extreme weather. Where will they go? Learn more.

“Sea level rise due to climate change threatens areas where millions of Americans live. In all but the lowest projections, retreat or relocation of communities from coastal areas will be unavoidable, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. One way to prepare is to preemptively move away from vulnerable areas. But few communities have considered such climate migration. We recommend Congress consider establishing a federally-led pilot program to help communities interested in relocation now, before a crisis happens.” Learn more.

Are you ready for a world in which compounding crises make it harder to follow through with long-term solutions?

“Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, sits precariously on the Pacific Ring of Fire (an area of high tectonic activity) and annually experiences severe flooding, monsoons, tsunamis, and earthquakes, the effects of which are getting more extreme as the climate crisis worsens. It is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. To escape the rising sea levels, the Indonesian government is moving its headquarters to Borneo, the island famous for its orangutans. What are the social and ecological consequences of such a move?” Learn more.

“Indonesia has put on the backburner President Joko Widodo’s ambitious $33-billion project to relocate the capital city to the island of Borneo as it grapples to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, the planning minister said.” Learn more.

Are you ready for a world in which supercomputer-backed simulations are increasingly accurate and widely used as inputs into decision-making in our everyday lives?

“Multi-agent artificial intelligence (MAAI) technology allows predictions to be made with extraordinary accuracy by testing them in highly detailed simulations that amount to entire artificial societies. Want to know what will happen if 20,000 Syrian refugees arrive in a city in western Europe? Build an artificial society and watch. Want to know how to make the integration of those immigrants peaceful? Build an artificial society, try things out and see what works. Want to stoke anti-immigrant hostility or design a disinformation campaign to win an election…? In simple terms, an artificial society is just a computer model similar to those that have been used for decades to understand complex dynamic systems, such as the weather. The first were built by physicists and chemists in the 1960s, but as the models increased in complexity, they were embraced by biologists and, in the past decade, social scientists. With AI, the models suddenly become more realistic. The increase in computing power also means that the number of agents in a model can be vastly increased, from a few thousand to tens of millions.” Learn more.

“The climate is a notoriously hard nut to crack — particularly when it comes to creating precision models. Global systems include the interplay of water, temperature, atmospheric gasses, and sunlight, among thousands of dynamic and variable factors. That makes it extraordinarily difficult to forecast the weather in a month, let alone to predict precise changes over decades. But exascale supercomputing has given researchers an edge. These machines, in effect, compute complex climate interactions through sheer brute force. Researchers input every factor of the planet’s climate — 25- to 100-kilometer sections of Earth’s ocean, atmosphere, and land — as single data points. Then, using sophisticated, high-resolution models, supercomputers can analyze billions upon billions of interactions between these data points simultaneously, across the entire planet.” Learn more.

Day Five: The Deepfake

You receive a text message from a friend. “Is this really you???” followed by a link to a Facebook livestream. Someone who looks exactly like you and sounds exactly like you is streaming from an account that has your name on it. The person is promoting a political candidate you would never support, and sharing political views that are the opposite of your own. You realize someone has created a deepfake of you — an almost identical, fake AI-powered digital version of you based on public videos, voice interface records, and other deep datasets.

  • What actions do you take in the first 5 minutes after discovering this?
Image for post
Image for post
We’ve collected some of your reactions to Day 5: The Deepfake on Twitter. Check them out here.

Ready yourself for this possible future. Learn what might lead to a scenario like THE DEEPFAKE — and what actions could be taken now to prepare for this future or prevent it. Here are some signals of change and driving forces to track:

Image for post
Image for post
New software that uses machine learning lets users edit the text transcript of a video to add, delete, or change the words coming right out of somebody’s mouth.

Are you ready for a world in which live audio and video deepfakes are commonplace?

“Since the inception of deepfakes, lawmakers and security analysts have warned the public about how these eerily realistic clips can lead to exploitation, misinformation, and manipulation across the web. But what if people are bored during quarantine and want to play make-believe with their very own faces? A programmer named Ali Aliev is using open source code for his own program Avatarify. The face-swap technology allows the user to impose anyone else’s face on their own during a live stream — with the bonus that it can be done in real-time on any Zoom or Skype video call.” Learn more.

“In the latest example of deepfake technology, researchers have shown off new software that uses machine learning to let users edit the text transcript of a video to add, delete, or change the words coming right out of somebody’s mouth. The work was done by scientists from Stanford University, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Princeton University, and Adobe Research, and shows that our ability to edit what people say in videos and create realistic fakes is becoming easier every day.” Learn more.

“Visual deepfakes, in which one person’s face is spliced onto another person’s body, are so 2019. Here in 2020, deepfake technology trends have shifted a bit, and now the cool kids are using the technology to create impressive “soundalike” audio tracks.” Learn more.

“Video deepfakes mean you can’t trust everything you see. Now, audio deepfakes might mean you can no longer trust your ears. Was that really the president declaring war on Canada? Is that really your dad on the phone asking for his email password?” Learn more.

*

A quick word about the scenarios in this game: They are a bit mysterious, by design. You’re asked what you would do in a situation you don’t completely understand yet. What, exactly, is going on? Why? And how can you take effective action, when there’s so much that you don’t know?

This lack of clarity mirrors our real-life experience of “unthinkable” events and hard-to-predict challenges. When a major crisis starts to unfold, we may not know exactly what’s happening, or why. It takes time to make sense of the changes and adjust our expectations of reality. This game gives you practice thinking creatively and strategically through the “fog” of crisis, when it’s still hard to know exactly what’s going on.

The Benefits of Spending Five Minutes in the Future

We need to practice thinking the “unthinkable” and imagining the “unimaginable” every single day.

This game is based on a clinical intervention called “specificity induction,” developed by neuroscientists and psychologists to help people imagine and plan for the future more effectively.

Specificity induction strengthens the neurological pathways that allow us to think about possibilities that have not yet happened. In studies, people taken through a series of specificity induction exercises similar to this game were able to describe future scenarios in more vivid and plausible detail. When asked to come up with strategies for solving difficult future problems, they came up with more detailed plans, and their strategies were rated by experts as more creative and more likely to be effective. Empathy scores went up when they were asked to imagine what other people might do in the future. And hope, self-motivation, willpower and urgency to act increased — because they were more inspired to prepare today for a future they could envision more vividly.

And this isn’t just a placebo effect. Brain scans of individuals who completed specificity training show increased brain activation and connectivity in the common core network that enables future planning, creative thinking, and empathy.

Can You Be More Specific?

Specificity of imagination is a skill we all urgently need to develop.

Compounding crises and upheavals are changing the world faster than we thought possible. From the pandemic to climate change, social protest to new technologies of disinformation, mass migration to automation of work… the increasing scale and scope of previously “unthinkable” events means one thing. We need to practice thinking the unthinkable and imagining the unimaginable every single day.

Image for post
Image for post
When you play this five-minute game, you complete a lightning fast foresight-insight-action cycle!

When our collective specificity of imagination improves, we will be able to vividly and effectively prepare for and problem-solve scenarios that we have never personally experienced — including scenarios humanity has never previously encountered. That’s foresight.

We will increase empathy for our future selves. And we will increase empathy for others, as we understand how future scenarios might affect other people differently and inequitably. That’s insight.

We will start to generate real momentum to take small, personal steps today that make us more ready for whatever hard-to-predict, hard-to-imagine realities we find ourselves living through next. That’s action.

Now that you know how to play, will you commit to spending five minutes in the future again? And who else can you invite to play with you?

About this game:

The First Five Minutes of the Future is a new future forecasting game developed by Institute for the Future’s Director of Game Research and Development, Jane McGonigal. It premiered at IFTF’s 2020 Ten Year Forecast. It is published here under a Creative Commons license that allows you to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

If you play this game with any groups, we would love to hear about it! Email us at jmcgonigal@iftf.org, and share your play with the hashtag #first5minutesofthefuture.

Special thanks to storyteller Robin Sloan, whose Twitter question: “What’s the first thing you would do if you woke up one day and discovered the Internet was out and your mobile phone didn’t work?” first sparked this project!

CC Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Urgent Futures

Dispatches from Institute for the Future, a nonprofit…

Institute For The Future

Written by

Institute for the Future | nonprofit with 50 years of foresight research #EquitableFutures #StrategicForesight #UniversalBasicAssets #FuturesThinking

Urgent Futures

Dispatches from Institute for the Future, a nonprofit thinktank in Silicon Valley that helps organizations and the public think about the future to make better decisions in the present.

Institute For The Future

Written by

Institute for the Future | nonprofit with 50 years of foresight research #EquitableFutures #StrategicForesight #UniversalBasicAssets #FuturesThinking

Urgent Futures

Dispatches from Institute for the Future, a nonprofit thinktank in Silicon Valley that helps organizations and the public think about the future to make better decisions in the present.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store