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The future isn’t an accident. The future doesn’t just happen. The future is built every day by the actions of people.

Organizations, governments, corporations and communities build the future. We cannot be passive. We cannot sit back and let the future happen to us. It’s of vital importance that everyone be an active participant in the future. This is especially true as we think about the future of the state of Michigan.

It’s my job to help organizations develop a vision for the future 10 years out. This might sound like science fiction but it’s actually quite pragmatic. The design, planning and development of communities and infrastructure can span a decade of more. Because of this it is of essential today for groups to have a deep understanding and vision for tomorrow.

The process I use to do this is called “futurecasting.” I don’t predict the future. Futurecasting is a framework to develop an actionable vision for tomorrow. Combining social science, technical research, economics, trends, cultural history, expert interviews, and even a little science fiction, futurecasting models what it will feel like to be a human and live a decade from today. Prediction is a fool’s game. But futurecasting allows us to develop an actionable vision for the future and also what needs to be done to design, develop and build that vision.

The next 10 years are going to be awesome. We will see advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, data science, synthetic biology and an interconnected world of sensors and computational intelligence. But all of these advances will mean nothing if we don’t use them to make the lives of people better.

That’s why when we think about the future of Michigan one of the most important questions must ask ourselves is: What kind of future do you want? and also What kind of future do you want to avoid? Because you see when people have an opinion about the future, it matters. These dreams for tomorrow and all the tomorrows of the next generation mean something. They are actually how we change the future.

Over the past two decades as a futurist I’ve learned that the way we change the future is to change the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in. It’s a simple thing but it can have massive effects. If you can change the story that people tell themselves about the future that they will live in—then they will make different decisions. They will take different actions. They will bring about a very different tomorrow.

Our science, technology, communications networks, collaborative tools and funding mechanisms have progressed to the point where today we are only constrained by the limits of our imaginations. Stories are mechanisms for change. Imaging a radically different tomorrow for Michigan is how we change the state’s future and then begin to bring that vision into being.

Brian David Johnson is futurist-in-residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination.

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