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Entry updated 20 December 2011. Tagged: Theme.

The word "futurology" is a neologism coined in 1943 by a refugee German professor of sociology, Ossip K Flechtheim (1909-1998), then teaching in a US college; during the course of his American stay, he met and may have directly influenced Isaac Asimov, who was then beginning to publish the Robot/Foundation Future History that dominated his career, and whose central character, Hari Seldon, creates a mathematically-precise psychohistorical set of models permitting accurate Prediction of the long-term future of civilization. Flechtheim argued for a concerted effort by sociologists, historians, psychologists, economists and political scientists to examine social and technological trends as a means of learning the true shape of coming things. He sent his proposals to Aldous Huxley, who took them up with enthusiasm, and thereby conveyed the word into the language. The term is seldom used today precisely because it is associated with Flechtheim's goal of creating a new science of probability capable of making reliable predictions, which has not proven possible. Serious practitioners today acknowledge that there are severe limitations on our ability to predict "the future" of anything of consequence, and focus instead on exploring "alternative futures" that could emerge from ongoing trends and emerging developments. The most widely used name for this field of work is now Future Studies, a plural term explicitly recognizing that there are many potential futures ahead shaped by a multitude of factors, including our own aspirations and efforts. Further discussion can be found in this encyclopedia under Futures Studies. [RO]

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