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News & Previews from the World Future Society
April 2004 (Vol. 5, No. 4)


In This Issue:

"Century City" Dramatizes Future Issues
The Future as Seen from the Past
Superfoods for High-Tech Foragers
Depopulating Russia
Stomach Cancer Declines in Europe
Click of the Month: Futuring


"CENTURY CITY" DRAMATIZES FUTURE ISSUES

Is your clone your child or your twin? Or is it your property? If so, what are your rights and responsibilities?

These and other ethical, social, and legal conflicts arising from new technologies--such as genetic enhancement and antiaging therapies--are tackled on CENTURY CITY, a drama set in 2030 that recently debuted in the United States on the CBS television network.

Media-technology futurist John Underkoffler, formerly with MIT's Tangible Media Group, served as an adviser for the program. While few special effects were created for the limited-run series (only nine episodes were ordered), highlights included the holographic-enhanced computer games and communications devices in the fictional law firm's conference room, reminiscent of Underkoffler's work with laser-based optical and holographic layouts and projection infrastructures, such as his "Illuminating Light" and "Luminous Room" optoelectronics projects.

Underkoffler also provided science and technology advice for the feature films MINORITY REPORT (2002) and HULK (2003), according to his biography on the Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com.

"The show does its futurist homework, but they've ended up with a well-constructed scenario, not a real drama," says futurist Josh Calder of Social Technologies. Calder occasionally reviews future-oriented films on his Web site, http://www.futuristmovies.com/.

DETAILS: CBS, http://www.cbs.com/primetime/century_city/.
Underkoffler's published optoelectronics research can be found at the Association for Computing Machinery's Portal, http://portal.acm.org

 THE FUTURE AS SEEN FROM THE PAST

French illustrator Albert Robida (1848-1926) delighted nineteenth-century readers with a vision of the future in much the same way that THE JETSONS cartoon show captivated America's future-minded youth in the 1960s.

Combining technological prognostication with pointed social commentary and a unique flair for whimsy, Robida illustrated his 1882 novel THE TWENTIETH CENTURY with fleets of fish-shaped balloon transports and remarkably prescient communications devices, including movie houses bringing war reports directly from battlefronts.

The first full English translation of Robida's fascinating futurist novel has now been published by Wesleyan University Press and includes more than 300 original drawings. Translated by Philippe Willems, assistant professor of French at Northern Illinois University, the book is a treat for fans of science fiction and visions of futures past.
ORDER THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0819566802/thefuturistbooks

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LATEST FUTURES THINKING SHOWCASED
IN CONFERENCE VOLUME

The World Future Society is now putting together a collection of thought-provoking papers in preparation for the annual meeting, "WorldFuture 2004: Creating the Future Now!" Historian and futures scholar Howard F. Didsbury Jr. is leading the selection process.

The volume, which will be given free to all attendees but will also be available for sale after the meeting, will lay the intellectual groundwork for discussion and debate at the conference. Rather than attempt to piece together disparate session presentations, as most proceedings do, the Society's conference volumes serve as a foundation on which to build ideas during the intellectually charged sessions.

"WorldFuture 2004: Creating the Future Now!" will be held July 31 through August 2 at the Grand Hyatt Washington in Washington, D.C.
DETAILS: http://www.wfs.org/2004main.htm
REGISTER (save $100 before April 30)

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SUPERFOODS FOR HIGH-TECH FORAGERS

More snackers are choosing "power" bars instead of candy bars when they need an energy short cut, according to Carolyn de la Peña, an American studies scholar at the University of California at Davis.

The result is the growth of a new superfood industry promoting technological superiority over taste and smell, speed over leisure. With ingredient labels prominently displayed on packages, consumers can now choose the snack that has the best formula of calories, caffeine, sodium, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, or other ingredients, de la Peña notes.

Marketing to the psychology of consumers is part of what's driving the trend, as super-caffeinated drinks like Red Bull are packaged to create the illusion of power and modernity. As a result, cultural attitudes toward food may be following attitudes toward technology.

"These superfoods tap into how excited people feel to be in the modern technological age. Eating these superfoods is seen as a productive, modern act," concludes de la Peña.
SOURCE: University of California at Davis, http://www-pubcomm.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=6801

DEPOPULATING RUSSIA

The decline of Russia's population is accelerating, warns American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt. Reason: a collapse in national birthrates, coupled with a surge in death rates.

Since the 1992 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia's population has dropped from 148.7 million to 144.5 million in mid-2003--a 2.8% decline despite an influx of more than 5.5 million migrants during that period. The United Nations projects a drop of more than 21 million people in the next 20 years.

"Russian social conditions, economic potential, military power, and international influence are all affected, and the situation stands only to worsen," Eberstadt wrote in the WASHINGTON POST (February 13, 2004).

A sharp falloff in Russia's youth population can be expected over the two decades, meaning fewer young people available for the military and national defense, fewer workers to replace retirees, and fewer young, entrepreneurial minds to generate the innovation necessary for stimulating economic and social progress, says Eberstadt.

Part of the problem is the "less-than-exemplary standards" of Russian medicine in the post-Soviet era, according to Eberstadt. For instance, some 10% to 20% of women become infertile after abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases that are potentially curable have been allowed to spread: The incidence of syphilis in 2001 was reportedly 100 times as high in Russia as in Germany.

Also to blame are poor health habits, including smoking, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diets. Rather than focusing on increasing birthrates, Russian policy makers should work toward reducing death rates by turning these unhealthy lifestyle trends around, Eberstadt advises.
SOURCE: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, http://www.aei.org/news/newsID.19951,filter.all/news_detail.asp

STOMACH CANCER DECLINES IN EUROPE

Deaths from stomach cancer are falling dramatically throughout Europe--even in Russia. The downward trend will likely continue for the near future since stomach cancer rates are dropping across all age groups.

A study reported in the ANNALS OF ONCOLOGY showed that stomach cancer rates fell by half in the European Union between 1980 and 1999, by 45% in eastern Europe, and by 40% in Russia. If the trend continues, there will be up to 15,000 fewer deaths from stomach cancer in the region during this decade.

Possible explanations for the decline include "a more varied and affluent diet and better food conservation, including refrigeration," according to researcher Carlo La Vecchia of the Istituto Mario Negri in Milan. Other factors may include improved diagnosis and treatment.

SOURCE: "Monitoring falls in gastric cancer mortality in Europe," ANNALS OF ONCOLOGY 15 (February 3, 2004), http://www.annonc.oupjournals.org

CLICK OF THE MONTH: FUTURING
http://www.wfs.org/futuring.htm

With the publication of World Future Society President Edward Cornish's new book, FUTURING: THE EXPLORATION OF THE FUTURE, the Society has created a Web page with links to the book's annotated bibliography and glossary, as well as other features.

Just as the future changes rapidly, so must the study of the future. The online bibliography will be amended continuously as important new reference works emerge. Likewise, the online version of the glossary includes a feedback form where readers can suggest other useful terms for the field; these suggestions may be included in a new futuring dictionary now being developed.

The site also invites comments from readers of the book, which is intended to serve as an introduction to the methods used by futurists to help people prepare for a changing world.

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FUTURIST UPDATE: News & Previews from the World Future Society is an e-mail newsletter published monthly as a supplement to THE FUTURIST magazine. Copyright © 2004, World Future Society, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. Telephone 1-301-656-8274; e-mail mailto:info@wfs.org; Web site http://www.wfs.org.

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