Global Expert Studies

Concept of the What If Database


The "What If" database is a large assembly of potential future developments, in the form of prospective newspaper headlines. The entries have been compiled from many different published or unpublished sources: professional studies of future (although professionalism or potential accuracy is not a requirement), speculations by various authors on various blogs, and "official conjectures" by recognized and unrecognized- that is "official" and "unofficial," agencies. In other words it is a broad collection of conjectures about the future. Entries can be retrieved at random (or by using filters to focus the retrieval) from the stored entries.

Each entry must be precise enough to be verifiable in retrospect, be stated as though it were a news article from the future, and non-trivial. Three domainscan be designated for each entry (e.g. economics, governance, communications, etc.), the expected time frame (in general terms: near term, far out, indeterminate), the plausibility level (although entries judged as implausible are also included), and three Internet references to articles that support, refute, or simply have relevance to the entry. Original entries have been made by staff who support the database; users are encouraged to suggest changes and, particularly, to add new items in "wiki" fashion.

Why establish such a database? Why might it be useful?

  • Testing resilience. Say you are the mayor of a small town. You have a plan for responding to various emergencies. To make sure your plan can withstand waves of unexpected change, you might use the system to produce a series of random events and ask "what if." This same kind of self-examination can be made of almost any plan or set of objectives
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  • Informing extrapolative models. Quantitative models are almost always extrapolative. Even the most complex econometric models rely on past correlations or historical trends in variables. Thus they assume implicitly that the future will look like the past. But this is not so. Modelers can draw random events from the database and ask, systematically and probabilistically, how events, were they to occur, would affect the correlations or trends and include them in their models.

  • Enriching qualitative models. Scenarios are a method for describing how the future might evolve from the present to some future state, either desired or undesired. Generally scenario is constructed using a cause-effect chain of descriptions. Random retrievals from the "what if" database could suggest elements for inclusion, or blocks and accelerators in the chain.

  • Informative mind games. Just draw five random events from the database and use them to construct a story about the future of you and your family, the country, or the world. This could easily be changed into a competitive game like Scrabble, but instead of letters as in Scrabble, the events would have points and building a cohesive story by linking one event to others, results in a competitive score.

  • Research into the dynamics of future events. Future events can be categorized as being already "in the works," scheduled and planned, poplar images (such as weather control, for example), or as "unanchored," (such as proof that we are indeed alone in the universe). If the entries in the database were analyzed and categorized, perhaps some theories of evolution of the future, from breakthrough to breakthrough could be formulated and thus reduced the chances for unwanted surprises.
  • If you have suggestions or questions, please email the administrator.