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How do the humanities help us imagine the future?

graphic of eye overlayed with computer circuits
July 02, 2013

With the landscape of technology and research changing at a rapid pace, it is hard to predict what society will look like in a year, let alone 10 or 20 years. However, Project Humanities at Arizona State University is challenging thought leaders to ponder this very question, using a humanities-focused lens.

Jonathan Hall, chief financial officer of Dreamspan, says that before we can look ahead, we must first unlock our “creative genius.” To do so, Hall has found that receiving a well-rounded education can help an individual form multi-disciplinary skills and talents needed to be successful.  

“Having a strong academic background in the humanities can balance our more empirical training derived from the natural sciences. I am grateful that my humanities classes first introduced me to the importance of original thinking and to discover the more counter-intuitive sides of life,” he said.

Once equipped with the knowledge to be successful, individuals can begin finding solutions to the most pressing challenges on a local and global level.

So, what exactly does this elusive “future” look like? Many conjure images of talking robots and cars that transform into crimefighters. The real answer, though, may be right in front of us.

“In the past, people imagined, then created technological advances, like the telegraph. Today, technology is helping us imagine the future. Technology is enabling us to analyze situations, and devise and test solutions we would not have been able to on our own. From nanotechnology to genomics to computer animation, technology is expanding our vision in all aspects of life,” said Denise Meridith, owner of Denise Meridith Consultants.

Both Hall and Meridith believe the humanities are key in navigating both the current world as well as a future society. They feel attributes related to humanity, such as compassion, the ability to reason and desire for overall balance, are essential in mitigating adverse impacts of our advances.

“Whether it is sexting or cloning, we have not kept up with defining the ethics of our use of new technology. Humanities are invaluable with understanding human nature and how to help us cope with our new superpowers,” said Meridith.

A negative aspect of the human race is that we sometimes allow our emotions to overrule instinct. As a result, laws are put in place to control negative side effects like war and crime. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Meridith says the humanistic ability to “look on the bright side” is what generates new tools and activities to increase happiness.

As for making direct predictions about the future, she prefers the element of surprise.

“Five years ago, few of us could imagine we needed an iPad," she says. "But someone else did. What is most exciting to me about the future is that we can no longer imagine what all will happen! I have always enjoyed a good mystery!"

To learn more about Project Humanities, visit