What's a futurist?

Some people may think it sounds nice to have a job where you get to think about what the future will bring.
Some people may think it sounds nice to have a job where you get to think about what the future will bring.
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People often think futurists are fortune-tellers who predict what's going to happen, but they're not. Far from it. A futurist is an educated individual who, after much research and analysis, makes projections about the future -- everything from shifting demographic patterns and new technologies to potential disease outbreaks and social conditions. Most projections made by futurists are about things that will occur in the next five to 50 years. It's easiest for futurists to make accurate projections involving demographics in the next half-century, while the hardest things to assess and project are health and social conditions a century out [source: Global Future Report].

Futurist thinking began around the years 1600 to 1800 -- the Age of Enlightenment. With publication of Isaac Newton's 1687 "Principia Mathematica," one of the most important works in both the science of physics and applied mathematics, people started to realize there was a lot of validity to reason, empiricism and science. But it wasn't until the 19th century that the term "futurist" was first documented in the English language in a work by George Stanley Faber, who was referring to Christian scriptural futurists [source: Oxford English Dictionary]. Futurists and futurism really got a kick-start in the early 20th century, with the advent of science fiction. In fact, many consider author H.G. Wells to be the first futurist of the modern era, with other sci-fi authors such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke deemed important early futurists [source: Acceleration Watch].

Today, futurism is a bona-fide career field. Colleges and universities are beginning to create courses and even degrees in futurism. But you don't need a specific degree to become one. Employers generally are satisfied if applicants have a bachelor's degree in any field; most talented, professional futurists come from multi-disciplinary backgrounds. But no matter the degree, it's imperative that anyone considering a career as a futurist is inquisitive, creative and a critical thinker who doesn't mind uncertainty. You also need to have the ability to imagine all sorts of unusual occurrences and situations, all within the context of solid research [source: Mullins].