Another term for Obama, 10 more years of recession… these are just a few of the predictions by Israeli futurist Prof. David Passig, whose clients range from Fortune 500 companies to unnamed government bodies.
Somewhere in a basement or a hidden wing of Apple, Sony, and IBM there’s a parallel universe. Instead of developing the iPads, games and chips of tomorrow, the engineers are busy forecasting and developing technologies that will keep their communication technology companies in business 10 and 20 years down the road.
You’ll find the biggest tech geeks on the planet at work there. They’re the ones who attended MIT or Stanford; and they develop code for fun in their spare time.
And who’s consulting the world’s super geeks? If you were invited to peek into their elite and private world, you would find an Israeli – Prof. David Passig, a technology futurist from Bar-Ilan University. However, when questioned, he will never divulge the identities of his secret clients.
In the US, there may be government agencies that he would never mention. But he will reveal that he’s consulting Fortune 500 companies and science fiction film producers. In Israel, Passig works for the Ministry of Education, Bank Hapoalim and the Israel Air Force.
Understanding the consumers of tomorrow
“There are things we are not supposed to speak about,” Passig tells ISRAEL21c. “Specifically, it’s these companies who don’t want the world to know there are people like me behind them. I am trying to figure out the needs and technologies and profile of the consumers of tomorrow. My role is to understand the trends of the technologies to see their impact.”
Making predictions about the future based on rigorous scientific analysis, Passig balks at the comparison of his work to the future-teller Nostradamus. Yes, he allows, his book The Future Code, which was written in Hebrew (and is slated for publication in English) summarized some of his studies and predicted the 2009 economic crash.
But for someone who knows where to look, he says that the writing was on the wall: “I predicted the financial crisis 15 years ago and the book was published in 2008 a couple of months before the meltdown started. The book was written in 2006.”
And no, according to Passig, futuristic thinking doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Nostradamus. “We are trying to figure out the logic of how systems are evolving; basically some kind of systemic study, how systems are developing and evolving.
“When we stumble upon logic and figure out its validity and what’s the logic behind it we are able to see the next stage – it could be ecological, financial, technological – we are trying to understand logic and are using a lot of methodologies including everything from mathematics methodologies to scenario building,” he explains.
Using logic to predict the future
“There are hundreds of possible methodologies, and that’s the difference between us and others like Nostradamus. We are figuring out logic and assessing its validity.”
Speaking like an economist or a scientist, Passig not only shapes future technologies, but also creates his own. In a VR lab that he developed he has created technologies like a virtual reality helmet to help children to learn better. “We are using academic tools. Statistical, reliable tools that everyone on earth can use and come to the same conclusions,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
Passig, an Israeli-French citizen born in Morocco in 1968, explains that there is a whole lexicon relating to predictions and the future.
In futuristic terms, he continues, there are four types of predictions: The probable future where the chance of the prediction coming true is 60 to 70 percent; then there’s the possible future, with a 40 to 50% chance; the wild card future with a 20 to 30% chance; and finally the preferable future, with an outcome that’s desirable. Passig says that most people mismatch these terms when they talk about the future.
A father of four who lives in Netanya in Israel, Passig spent five years in the US, during which he earned a Ph.D. in Future Studies from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The iPad is a gate
Since 1993 he has been at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, where he teaches at the Graduate School of Education and heads the Graduate Program in Information & Communication Technologies as well as the Virtual Reality Laboratory. In his spare time he’s an avid reader of science fiction.
“There is a difference between science fiction and futurism,” Passig points out. He says he’s fond of the iPad example: “The iPad is actually a gate. Until now gates were passive. We were watching the gate, which was linked to other gates. Nowadays we will be able to see and share what other people are looking at.”
He says that when we start sharing books in real time, we will walk through the gate.
So what comes next?
“We made a prediction about light velocity something like 15 years ago; that there would be the development of technologies to beam information and particles faster than the speed of light. NEC is one company developing this now,” says Passig.
Ten more years of recovery
Can he predict beyond the realm of technology? Please note that his replies are in the probability category (with a 60 to 70% certainty):
No, Iran will not drop the nuclear bomb on Israel.
The US economy will not recover by the end of next year. It will take until 2020. There will be ups and downs. First there will be a period of recovery and then another crash.
Obama will likely be voted in for another term.
While the answers to these questions seem obvious, he points out, “I am thinking about the not so obvious things and whether they are probable, possible or wildcards. There are people who don’t care about wild cards or possibilities, so it depends on whom I am working with. For example, the security industry is aware of the possibilities, but maybe not about the wild cards.”
If he were consulting in the space industry, Passig says, he might predict which technologies will be available 20 or 30 years down the road. And no, he adds, we won’t be colonizing the moon – at least not for the next 200 or 300 years.
But the real question we want the answer to right away is not whether or not we should buy an iPad, but whether Americans should invest in stocks or bars of gold? “I think gold,” is Passig’s prediction.