Futurecast Edition 2 | Spring 2022
A structure dedicated to tomorrow’s world The newly dedicated Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health, the new headquarters of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, is a demonstration of what is possible in well planned, sustainable and aesthetic design. While the energy- and water-saving technologies deployed in the building are meant to be a guide for future structures, the principal value, especially for those who occupy this facility, is situated deeper. The building is a place where discovery, learning, problem – solving, networking and engagement flow together to advance the goal of shaping tomorrow today — not just in concept, but in practice. Thus, the greatest value of this space is that it enables the kind of collaboration that breaks new ground. We begin with people as we look to imagine an Anthropocene for all life on our planet. We must draw from all expertise and knowledge systems to envision holistic pathways for near- and long-term futures in which life thrives on a healthy planet. That’s why this building is the home to transdisciplinary researchers and centers, as well as space for the public to convene. The building is occupied by a large number of initiatives, institutes, centers and programs, including the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, its College of Global Futures, the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service and the Institute of Human Origins, to name a few. All of these entities are positioned to come together with the public in the “theater in the round” auditorium that offers the best forum for exchange and engagement. The building’s atrium provides additional gathering and meeting space, where the design incorporates a rebuilt indigenous canal to honor and remember the Akimel O’Odham and Piipaash peoples who lived on this site. Also preserved adjacent to the canal are elements of a 130-year-old rail line that served local agriculturalists and a segment of the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway, an intersection of three major innovations as a gateway to this unprecedented facility dedicated to responsible innovation. 1
As scientists and scholars, we know that innovation rarely happens in a vacuum. Breakthroughs are often cumulative, building on previous observations and experiments to bring forth new theories, processes or technologies. For this reason, the Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health is designed to reinforce connectivity. The spaces were configured with purpose. As we planned the interiors, we asked: How will the space be used? What functions will the space facilitate? How will people come together? We needed a space equipped to support spontaneous creativity, where people can have “what if” conversations. The 280,000-square-foot building includes 140,000 square feet of programmable space. Each floor has formal and informal meeting spaces, where researchers, scholars and students can engage in brainstorming sessions and ad hoc collaborations. Each of those spaces includes technology to enhance co-working and virtual meeting capabilities. Many of the spaces are designed for informal interactions, where people of different perspectives can kindle co-created ideas. These accessible spaces are constructed to deemphasize hierarchy and perceived boundaries. The Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health also includes 70,000 square feet of laboratory space. Wet labs, where safety equipment allows for the use of chemical and other hazardous materials, are included on every floor. Dry lab spaces, which accommodate uses such as computing, cybersecurity, engineering design and fabrication, and robotics, are available throughout the building. On the ground level, passersby can watch innovation in action through windows into active laboratories. As we look to the future, we also recognize the past. On level two, the transdisciplinary Institute of Human Origins, one of the premier research centers on the science of our beginnings, provides context for humans’ development, as well as impacts of past global change on human
behavior. A replica of the hominid Lucy, discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia by the institute’s founding director, is on display — the skeleton provided consequential evidence regarding human evolution. We must never lose sight of this building’s ultimate purpose: the creation of ideas that enable a thriving future. We are not there yet; one must only look at the present challenges to see what we’ll face in the coming years. In February, when Russia invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine, the world witnessed what the future will hold if autocracy continues to rise. This spring, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the impacts of global warming are happening more rapidly than predicted and exhorted us to do more now. People continue to die from the COVID-19 pandemic globally. And right now, there are an estimated 870 million people who don’t have enough food. Our new building is more than an elaborate research and active learning facility; it is where we work together with students, with community members, with business leaders and with our global partners to produce scalable solutions to a complex and highly interlinked set of challenges that allow for positive futures. Let us do more for those suffering now and and prevent suffering for those generations who will follow us. The Global Futures Laboratory is an evolving enterprise, designed to morph and develop positive outcomes for tomorrow, today. We have a unique set of foundational elements in this space. Building upon these extraordinary capacities, we will contribute to a better future.
Peter Schlosser Vice President and Vice Provost, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University
Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health wayfinding map
5th Floor Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory leadership and administration Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation leadership LightWorks Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science
ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet Global KAITEKI Center Knowledge Exchange for Resilience
4th Floor College of Global Futures leadership and administration
School of Sustainability leadership Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems Humanities Lab Hydrosystems Engineering Lab CAP-LTER WEEL Lab Decision Theater conference room
3rd Floor Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service School of Sustainability administration The Sustainability Consortium Sustainable Cities Network/Project Cities Global Locust Initiative
Urban Resilience to Extremes
2nd Floor Institute of Human Origins
1st Floor Auditorium
Center for Negative Carbon Emissions
Keys: Laboratory, classroom or collaborative space Designated administrative space
Igniting empowerment through entrepreneurship Established in 2018 by a globally based group of women leaders, the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge has recognized 20 social entrepreneurs over four years who are scaling programs and innovations that are pushing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals forward and solving the world’s great challenges. And they are just getting started.
Each year, 25 finalists are selected from hundreds of entries submitted each spring. All entrants must be women entrepreneurs who have lead decision-making ability for their organization, have been in operation for at least three years, employ at least three full-time staff and generate at least $100,000 U.S. in annual revenue.
To ensure that women from every region of the world are represented, WE Empower has segmented the globe into the following five areas based on the level of opportunity and need: Sub-Saharan Africa, Greater Middle East and North Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean, and Europe/North America/Other.
The program has begun to announce the initial group of finalists for the 2022 challenge. They include Radwa Rostom, CEO and founder of Hand Over Projects in Egypt. Hand Over is working to revolutionize the construction industry across the Middle East through the integration and use of natural and renewable building materials to provide homes for underprivileged communities. Another finalist is Panmela Castro, founder and president of Rede NAMI in Brazil, arts and culture network designed to provide awareness and support for women’s rights and to fight domestic abuse.
The WE Empower program is guided by three primary objectives: to honor innovative women entrepreneurs supporting those who need assistance or empowerment; to invest in the most inspiring and transformational women through capital, training and networking to increase visibility and credibility for their organizations; and to ignite awareness of the invaluable contribution women entrepreneurs are making globally to address our world’s problems and help drive the UN SDG to success.
To learn more about the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge and see the other 2022 finalists, please visit sustainability-innovation.asu.edu/we-empower. Look for the 2022 awardees to be announced this summer.
WE Empower UN SDG Challenge 2021 awardees
Emerge 2022: Eating at the Edges Emerge: A Festival of Futures provides people of all ages and walks of life with tools for examining the role that science and technology play in society. It does so by inviting participants to use all of their senses through hands-on experiences to investigate “What kind of future do we want to make?” By bringing together artists, scientists, humanists, designers, and other performers and scholars, Emerge draws on ASU’s diverse array of world-renowned researchers and its culture of interdisciplinary exchange to create vibrant portraits of alternative futures. Emerge curates art, technology, performance and interactive narrative to invite everyone to participate in what’s to come by making it tangible and accessible, here and now. Like many large public events, Emerge was postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The next Emerge will take place on Nov. 19, 2022,
at the Mesa Arts Center and ASU’s Media and Immersive eXperience Center in Mesa, Arizona. Its theme, “Eating at the Edges,” asks what it means to eat in a world of increasing environmental extremes. Food is an important part of cultural, social and economic life. Access to healthy and good food impacts people all over the planet, while how we produce food plays a critical role in climate futures. Join artists, scientists and futurists in this one-day event to explore the future of food. Bring your hands, noses and mouths — they are critical tools! Together, we will think and taste our way through asking what alternative forms of food production, distribution and consumption we should consider to build a more inclusive, equitable and delicious culinary world. emerge.asu.edu
Humanities-led international hub comes to ASU Acknowledge struggles and inequities that started long ago. Develop solutions for global challenges facing the world today. Create a better tomorrow. Humanities, as a series of disciplines, uses lessons of the past and present to understand how humans can plan for the future. It dives into this metaphorical time travel by investigating the impact of human motivations, behaviors, desires and emotions. The humanities offer conceptual clarification, theoretical analyses, and critical explorations of who “humans” are, how they live, what motivates them, and how they imagine and work for change. The “way we feel about the world” alters the choices people make, said Joni Adamson, President’s Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of English and director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Adamson is the founding director of the UNESCO BRIDGES Sustainability Science Coalition Flagship Hub, which will launch in April 2022 during the grand opening celebration of the Global Futures Laboratory’s new building, ISTB7. The goal of UNESCO BRIDGES is to go beyond theoretical analysis and connect diverse communities of knowledge and action through project-based activities. It is the first humanities-led international sustainability science initiative within UNESCO. Adamson credits the work of the Humanities for the Environment (HFE) Observatories Network that she launched in 2013 with Sally Kitch, University and Regents Professor of women and gender studies, founding director of the Institute for Humanities Research and the Humanities Lab at ASU, as central to the creation of BRIDGES. The HFE network, alongside UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme and the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences, are the co-founding partners of BRIDGES.
“The really exciting thing about BRIDGES is that the humanities have not been central to sustainability sciences, and now they will be. The humanities disciplines have a 360-degree perspective. We look all around — we’re conscious that where we’ve been could be very instructive for where we’re going,” Adamson said. The BRIDGES Flagship Hub at ASU received a major strategic grant from President Michael M. Crow and administrative support from Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of the Global Futures Laboratory. One of the primary activities of the Flagship Hub at the Global Futures Laboratory will be the BRIDGES Labs, which will partner with ASU’s Humanities Labs led by Kitch. The labs will use transdisciplinary, socially embedded course projects to broaden sustainability science, drawing on the expertise of all academic fields, as well as local, traditional and indigenous knowledge systems. Students will develop solutions to global challenges through community-facing initiatives where they will learn to work with local stakeholders in respectful, culturally sensitive and effective ways so that the communities are leading the efforts.
The international secretariat of BRIDGES will be led by founding Executive Director Steven Hartman, visiting professor in history and philosophy at University of Iceland. Hartman will be based at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, as well as the Flagship Hub in ISTB7. Adamson will work closely with Hartman to anchor a cohesive network of global and regional hubs. The BRIDGES hub will bring global attention to ASU, she said. “When people look for expertise in the humanities — at the United Nations, Future Earth, International Science Council and other international organizations — they will look to BRIDGES and the Flagship Hub at ASU. In other words, they’ll be looking at ASU and this Flagship Hub that is networked all the way around the world,” Adamson said. “As host of UNESCO’s BRIDGES Sustainability Coalition, the Global Futures Laboratory becomes a powerful engine in building significant new capacities in the humanities, social sciences, arts and educational sciences at ASU and beyond.”
Seize the Moment awards seed grants to three projects The inaugural recipients of seed grants from Seize the Moment — a collaborative initiative between Leonardo, the Humanities Lab and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory — are:
Anthropocene Anthropocene is an original, physical theater piece that explores the current geological epoch in which human activity has drastically impacted our climate, environment and social conditions. This multi year performance and research project, which includes multimedia projection design and an original musical score, dance and performance, brings together the people and disciplines of ASU’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre; Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; School of Sustainability; and the Global Futures Laboratory. It will premiere at ASU in fall 2023.
Arizona Cares — Women’s Care Labor Testimonios Arizona Cares — Women’s Care Labor Testimonios project engages Black and Latina women in the Phoenix metro area in composing testimonios, or first-person narratives, to document their experiences of negotiating care labor and paid employment during the pandemic. The project will compile participant testimonios into a public digital archive hosted by ASU. The online archive will be available for scholars, community practitioners and policymakers to inform future policy decisions and resource provisions.
Turn It Around Turn It Around focuses on the role of education in turning around environmental catastrophe. Mobilizing the power of socially engaged art to move people into action, this project is designed to move politicians, policymakers and educators into a different state of thinking, doing and being. At the center of the initiative is one of the most basic learning tools — a deck of flashcards — designed by youth for decision-makers. The deck features youth-created artwork depicting the climate crisis on one side, and motives, actions and facts on the other side.
Project leads: Steven Beschloss
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, College of Global Futures
School of Music, Dance and Theatre
Karen Jean Martinson School of Music, Dance and Theatre
Project leads: Stephanie Lechuga-Peña School of Social Work
College of Integrative Sciences and Arts
Project leads: Andrew Freiband
Artists’ Literacies Institute
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Iveta Silova Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College 9
Global Futures must be rooted in ancient pasts and Indigenous futures thinking Melissa K. Nelson
In January 2022, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and most of its units, including the College of Global Futures, moved into a new home base — a modern, multi storied, LEED-certified laboratory, research and learning center on the corner of University Drive and Rural Road on the Tempe campus on the traditional lands of the Akimel O’odham and Piipaash peoples. There are many unique features and extraordinary details to our ultra modern, futuristic building, currently known as ISTB7, and to be officially named during the grand opening on April 19 during our Earth Week Celebration. But the most outstanding feature for me is that this building is located on a spirit path — the Global Futures Laboratory includes and features one of the historic and precolonial water canals that were built by Indigenous ancestors over 1,000 years ago. This canal still holds and moves water through the Salt River Valley of the Sonoran Desert, as it has done throughout many generations. For many thousand of years, Indigenous peoples have utilized the river systems that originate in the mountain ranges that emerge northeast of Phoenix. These mountains shed snowmelt and rainwater down the bajadas and valleys west toward the Gulf of California. In a place like modern Phoenix that receives 10-15 inches of rain a year, capturing, storing and spreading fresh water is an art and science of survival, once mastered by the Huhugam, the people who came centuries before this university was established. Over time, these carefully constructed water canals have brought fresh mountain water to the parched
desert valley. These elaborate water systems helped nourish native plants such as creosote, agave and cholla, and through the agricultural knowledge, lifeways and strong hands of the local people, cultivated farm crops such as maize, cotton and squash to feed the communities of the Huhugkam. Today this water is still contained in cemented canals that flow from east to west underneath our building. It is “daylighted,” or visible on the surface, not buried underground like it is most places in Tempe. Every day dozens of faculty, staff and students walk across a small 10-foot bridge to get to the various offices and meeting rooms of our five-story building. What do they think of this waterway? Do they notice it? Are they aware of its profound history and example of ancient engineering that grew a paradise in the desert? As a mixed-race Native American woman, I have learned to remember, recognize and respect the first peoples of the land and the many layers of contested history of a place. As Keith Basso reports in his book on the Western Apache languages, “Wisdom Sits in Places,” there are many layers to the wisdom of the land: geological, hydrological, biological, cultural and spiritual. Water, as one of the most important elements of life, has the fluid ability to contain memory and beauty, as well as pathogens and toxins. Many Indigenous leaders, including the Hopi leader Vernon Masayesva, have shared that water is our relative, both our ancestors and future generations. By having a flowing waterway, a spirit path, as the dynamic foundation of our living laboratory, we have a constant reminder of the flow of time, from deep, ancient pasts of Native ingenuity to living presence and unfolding futures, all at once. To truly embody sustainability, global futures must be rooted in ancient pasts and Indigenous futures thinking. As the Santee Sioux poet John Trudell said, “we are in the middle of forever.”
As sustainability scholars and practitioners dedicated to a regenerative and just future for all, it is important that we combat settler colonialism’s erasure of Indigenous peoples’ past and presence. It is critically important that our college and all the people who inhabit our building (and campus) remember and acknowledge the ancient roots of our shared place. The Huhugam didn’t “disappear,” they changed, adapted, survived and responded to changing conditions. They persist today in their descendants dispersed throughout many sovereign nations, including the Tohono O’odham, Onk Akimel O’odham, Akimel O’odham, and others at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and Gila
River and Ak-chin tribal nations. To create a sustainable and just future we must reckon with and reconcile the past. It is critically important to recognize that Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge systems still persist today. They are alive in the living descendants of the ancient ones, the tribal citizens, elders and leaders of the local Indigenous nations. These essential Native ways of knowing are also being revitalized by many Native scholars and students in university classrooms, watershed restoration field trips, seed-saving workshops and other contemporary learning environments.
As an Indigenous scholar in the Global Futures Laboratory, I am honored to lead the new Indigenous Knowledges Focal Area and am committed to creating safe and fertile places for the respectful study, inclusion and illumination of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems in sustainability research, education and engagement. We only have to look down to the Earth at the vital life force of water pulsing in the ancient canal systems to remember the people who came before, the people who are still here and the people we must all be once again to regenerate just and thriving futures.
ASU alum Gabriel Garcia (‘21 MS, global technology and development) celebrates commencement with a photo with advisor Wendi Taylor and Clinical Associate Professor Mary Jane Parmentier from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at the Spring 2021 College of Global Futures graduation. 13
What does Russia’s war against Ukraine mean for our global future(s)? On Feb. 24, Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine without provocation. The attack itself was not unexpected. We could observe a massive mobilization of troops on the borders between the two nations, and Russia forcibly annexed Crimea, part of Ukraine, in 2014. The brutality, however, is unimaginable. And it is escalating. Russia has by now shelled almost all of Ukraine’s major cities; it has destroyed infrastructure needed for electricity and heating. It is a tragedy of alarming and shocking proportions. On March 22, Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of Global Futures, led a conversation to discuss the war’s impact on interconnected global systems and what it might mean for the future. He was joined by Miki Kittilson, associate dean for faculty success for the College of Global Futures, professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies and principal investigator for ASU ADVANCE; Gary Dirks, senior director of the Global Futures Laboratory, director of LightWorks and professor of practice in the School of Sustainability; and Craig Calhoun, University Professor in social sciences, with appointments in six different schools at ASU. This is a transcript from the conversation. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Peter Schlosser is vice president and vice provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.
Miki Kittilson is associate dean for faculty success for the College of Global Futures, professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies and principal investigator for ASU ADVANCE. Kittilson’s research and teaching focus on democratic inclusion and comparative elections, representation, electoral systems, gender justice, political behavior, comparative courts, and party politics.
Gary Dirks is senior director of the Global Futures Laboratory, director of LightWorks and professor of practice in the School of Sustainability. Dirks directs LightWorks®, an initiative that capitalizes on ASU’s strengths in solar energy and other light-inspired research.
Craig Calhoun is University Professor in social sciences, with appointments in six different schools at ASU. Calhoun’s research addresses large-scale social transformations and their impact on politics and social organization. A current focus is on changing patterns of Eurasian integration and implications for the modern world-system.
Schlosser: In this conversation, we will
explore what Russia’s war against Ukraine actually means for our future — for the future of the globe as a whole. Why did we have an outbreak of a war that was not triggered by Ukraine? More specifically, how did Russia’s governance structure, which after the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1993 supposedly would move toward a democratic system, become a dictatorship, without checks and balances that are the foundation of democracies?
Kittilson: First, I want to acknowledge
the humanitarian tragedy. It is difficult over the past few weeks to think or talk about anything else. How we got to this point has been a long time coming. We have watched an increasingly emboldened Vladimir Putin in Russia. This is within a broader global context of democratic backsliding. We’ve seen an erosion of democracy in many places around the world, to where we are back at the same place we were in 1989 in terms of levels of democracy. Within Russia, in that context, yes, there were under Boris
Yeltsin some elections. We saw the beginnings of competitive political parties, and we saw civil society sort of starting to take shape. But by the year 2000, which is the year that Putin was first elected — he’s been in power for 22 years now — things started to unravel, and increasingly, power has been concentrated in the presidency. Overwhelmingly, power in Russia resides within the presidency. There are no checks and balances. The president’s powers are, for all intents and purposes, unlimited. We see this kind of decision-making and this ability to plan these kinds of surprise attacks as enabled by the lack of democratic structures and practices. On the other side, how do we see Ukraine arriving at this point? I think a little bit of background there is important as well, because this is the site of hope. In Ukraine, we see this history of strong civil society. For example, the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, where it was a really powerful collective action where people stood in the cold, to protest the Kremlin-backed presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who was trying to steal the election from Viktor Yuschenko. We
then saw division within domestic politics in Ukraine, and Yanukovych came back to power. But by 2014, we see the Euromaidan revolution and mobilization of powerful collective action. So this really strong civil society, the power of people, that’s the hopeful side in this discussion.
Was Russia ever set up to become a democracy in the way many people in the West were hoping that it would happen?
Craig Calhoun: First off,
I don’t think we should consider democracy like a light switch that is either on or off. Democracy is a project. Great phrases like government of the people, by the people, for the people are not just descriptions — they are projects of trying to have more and better and deeper democracy. When we think about what people want, as part of the underpinnings of democracy, what would they vote for? We need to recognize that self rule is only one of the goods that are in play. Stability, security, prosperity, a sense of being important in the world — these are all things
that leaders can offer, alongside or in competition with the goal of self governing. One of the distinctive features of Russia, but also of a range of authoritarian governments across Asia, is that they are explicitly offering an alternative to democracy. They’re not pretending to be democratic. From the point of view of China or Russia or other authoritarian regimes, there is a proposition of value: We can keep you safe, we can build prosperity and we can stand tall in the world if you stick with us, your authoritarian nationalist leaders. That story is not just a story about those authoritarians. It’s a story about us. It’s a story about 50 years of degeneration of democracy in the West. We have been backsliding in that long project of trying to have more, better and deeper democracy. And so to Putin, or for that matter, Xi Jinping and others, the West looked weak. The democratic countries look disunified, internally lacking in solidarity and lacking in
solidarity with each other. The failure to take action isn’t just that we didn’t see anything happening. It’s that we couldn’t organize the coalitions to do it. Unity among Western countries and others of the established democracies — India’s the world’s largest democracy — has been very hard to sustain in this period. And that’s partly because the global political economy is changing. Deindustrialization is just one piece of a large interdependent story of the transformations of the global political economy, which changes the terms of geopolitics.
Schlosser: As we look at weaknesses
of the West that actually helped enable what is playing out right now in Ukraine, we see there is a big role to play for China. How is China playing into the situation in Ukraine?
Dirks: My personal view is that Xi Jinping in
China must be absolutely livid about the situation. Absolutely livid. Xi is about to be anointed emperor of China in October. He will be the first party secretary since Mao Zedong to have an unlimited term, certainly since the period when Deng Xiaoping was controlling the Communist Party. He wants to be in a position where he can say this newly muscular China is on the right track. Xi has a lot of sympathy with the project of Russia, in the sense of it being more authoritarian and anti democratic, therefore he doesn’t want to see a weakened Russia come out of this. That’s his political orientation. At the same time, his economy depends on the United States and Europe, and so the very last thing he wants is to find himself in a position where he is explicitly making a choice between these two paths. Xi is probably going to step in to the extent that he can, in terms of supporting Russia with raw materials and purchases. China purchases about a million and a half barrels a day of oil from Russia; it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried to increase that. They purchase a fair bit of natural gas; it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried to increase
that as well. That, of course, provides revenue to Russia. But beyond that, and maybe simple things like meals to soldiers, I think that he’s going to do very little to support the Russian position. I’m sure that in the background, he’s pushing very hard to end this war. I don’t think Putin is getting much solace from the Chinese right now.
Schlosser: Can Russia become more dependent on China?
Well, I think that depends on how long the situation lasts, and it depends enormously on what the West does at the end of this. If the West decides that it must continue with these extreme sanctions, then Xi and China are going to have to ask, are we going to let a kindred spirit politically go down under pressure from the West? And I think the answer to that is going to be unlikely that they will let Russia go down, they’re going to do whatever they can, without directly antagonizing the West, to keep Putin and Russia going. A more interesting question in that regard is, if Putin’s position in Russia becomes untenable, what would China do at that point? Now, whether that’s likely or not is an entirely different matter.
Schlosser: Let’s go back to the situation in
Ukraine. We see terrible suffering. Approaching 4 million people of Ukraine have left the country. It’s about 10% of the population. At this point, they are welcome, more so than, for example, the refugees from Syria. We saw the perturbations that about 1 million Syrian refugees caused in Europe. Now we have close to 4 million Ukrainian refugees. What do we have to expect in terms of absorbing these refugees, giving them some kind of pathway out of despair?
Kittilson: I think it’s really important to
point out what we’ve seen so far in terms of welcoming. Take Poland, which welcomed roughly 2 million refugees. Look at the support that they have provided, in terms of shelter, food and
sanitation, as well as perhaps some education, protection from gender-based violence and lots of medications. We’ve seen inspiring images of Polish mothers leaving empty baby carriages for the refugees. We do see a contrast to refugees from Syria trying to enter Poland and not being allowed to enter, not receiving medication, not receiving shelter. It’s a stark contrast. I hope we can see some of the good that’s been done as an exemplar for what we need to be doing on a more systemic level for refugees from many different wars and conflicts, and also for natural disasters. We need to see a more robust response. We need to think about the role of international organizations in long-term strategies for refugees — we are going to see more challenges to peace and justice. And at the national level, democracy and inclusive, vibrant civil society are more important than ever when we’re facing these really complex challenges. At the very time we need more democracy, often what we’re seeing is institutions that are incapable of addressing these urgent and complex issues, and it’s a cycle leading to more democratic backsliding. We need to think about democratic design for more participation, for more inclusion, so that we can better address many of these challenges.
Calhoun: I’ll add that the failure of Europe
in 2015, when refugees were Syrian and African, is largely down to racism. It needs to be taken seriously as a failure. But it was also an institutional failure. Europe never managed to come up with a refugee policy that made any sense when it faced this huge onslaught of refugees. Now we have refugees who are more culturally similar and who look more similar being embraced. There is an economic reason for that — Europe has lots of vacant jobs to fill, so the refugees can be absorbed. But what we see is this other obstacle, racism, and so
one of the questions is, are we regrouping in the world around certain kinds of identities? Or, is there going to be a potential for Europe to live up to its own aspirations of diversity, a question we must also ask about in the U.S.?
Schlosser: Depending on how you look
at it, the refugees might be considered the lucky ones. If you’re looking at those who are left behind, either by choice or not by choice, they are increasingly suffering. How far will that suffering go? Can we imagine how that ends?
Dirks: I think that’s the fundamental question
with respect to how far this escalates. The United States and NATO have explicitly said they will not put troops into Ukraine. That, of course, then sets a frame within which Putin can imagine how he would prosecute the war going forward. The question for the West is, are we okay with that? Will we sit here for months and watch one city after the next be leveled and casualties reach into the hundreds of thousands of people? At this
point, based on the statements that Western leaders have made, we are going to tolerate that. What I am uncertain about is what will Western populations say? At what point do the populations of the United States or Germany or other EU nations say this is enough? That puts everybody in a very difficult spot. It’s unlikely that Putin wants a conventional war with NATO. NATO massively outnumbers Russia in all respects. Putin’s military has shown that they do not perform well in the field, and this is fighting a highly motivated military, but not one of the best in the world. Would Putin resort to nuclear weapons? If he does, where does that go? I think we’re headed for a really difficult moment, which probably crystallizes in the next two or three months. I don’t really think the Western people, not necessarily governments, but people, are going to tolerate this flattening of Ukraine. Putin can’t easily back out; this is probably existential for him. If he can’t go away with the prize, then why is he needed?
Schlosser: What you just said highlights the mismatch of timescales. We are just four weeks in — I don’t even want to imagine how Ukraine will look in a few months.
Calhoun: It’s not obvious to me that Russia
is actually making any progress in military terms. The Russian military has made varying degrees of progress, but it’s been blocked or reversed a lot of the time. It’s not clear that Russia has actually succeeded in taking things over. So Putin is stuck — there’s not any clear way for him to get out of this with anything that looks like a win, which makes the situation extremely volatile. Will he try small-scale nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are not all gigantic, some of them are small and tactical. It’s a highly volatile situation. The message, which has to be to Putin’s chagrin and a concern for Xi, is that Russia looks weak. It has been stopped by a population a fraction of its size. In terms of its project of exerting power, the impression left isn’t great.
Schlosser: What are the consequences
for environmental issues globally? That includes food security — Ukraine is the fourth largest exporter of grain in the world — and energy. What do we see as the major setbacks to the environmental agenda?
Kittilson: I think that has been threaded
through a lot of the discussion because both international cooperation and democracy are so bound up with having a multilayer strategy to address environmental challenges. With democracy, not only is there less likely to be war, but also international cooperation is more likely. Amidst just terrible tragedy, and a brutal war, the fact that the Ukrainian people have stood up, the fact that there are more people around the world standing for democracy and for international solidarity and shared values, might portend some positive consequences for coming together to collectively address problems that are so complex that there’s no other way that they can be resolved. We need to address them at the local level, the national level, the international level. So maybe part of what comes out of this is a renewed commitment to the democratic process. In that way, Ukraine is a harbinger of the future of democracy and the future of our commitment to addressing global challenges.
Dirks: From the standpoint of the energy
system I’ll make two points. First, I think a major lesson we have to take away is that it’s time to end the hydrocarbon era and end it absolutely as fast as we can. And not simply because of climate. But also because of the interrelationship with the financial system — there’s just too much money going to places where we really don’t want money going. And the second point we must take away from this. And this is really, really, really important. As we disengage with
hydrocarbons, we’ve got to keep security right at the top of the list of how we do it. It’s going to be easy to identify pathways to disengage with hydrocarbons that will exacerbate the security situation, not make it easier. Wars start over hydrocarbons and energy, not this particular one, but many do. So those are the two things we have to do: disengage with hydrocarbons as quickly as possible, and watch our backs.
Schlosser: Well said. What do you see
as the “ideal” end to this conflict? How does the world repair relations with Russia and support rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure?
Calhoun: We have to talk about more than
Russia and Ukraine, but let’s start there. The regime that is doing this in Russia is not the Russian people, we need to be careful about that. There are lots of Russians fleeing into exile, there are Russians protesting and there are many Russians being put in prison. We need to be careful to distinguish the people from the power structure. And that’s going to matter in the long run. Second, there will be a big question about what is left of Ukraine. How much remains as a sovereign country to which refugees might return, and how much support is there for rebuilding? Beyond that, a good exit to this is not a new Cold War. If we fall back into that, it is risky and dangerous. It’s risky and dangerous if it’s a march to nuclear war. It’s risky and dangerous if it is economically disruptive on a huge scale. We need to find a frame that looks forward to a world with much greater economic integration that is not completely under Western domination, including the integration of Asia, and figuring out paths of coexistence.
Shaping a better tomorrow with the metaverse
Andrew Maynard, associate dean in the College of Global Futures and professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, is a scientist, an author, a communicator and a widely recognized thoughtleader in emerging technologies and their socially responsible and ethical development and use. He is also the director of the ASU Risk Innovation Lab. Maynard is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Understanding the metaverse — or as one of our experts puts it, the “multiverse of metaverses” — is fundamental to how we use this emerging environment to think through and develop scenarios for more positive and equitable futures. In this conversation, Andrew Maynard, associate dean of curricula and student success in the College of Global Futures, is joined by subject matter experts Diana Ayton-Shenker and Riz Virk to explore the metaverse and what it means now and in the next decade for identity, commerce, art and innovation.
Diana Ayton-Shenker is the CEO of Leonardo/ISAST (International Society of Arts, Sciences, and Technology), an award-winning social entrepreneur and author of four books, including “A New Global Agenda.” She serves as the executive director of Leonardo’s partnership with ASU, where she is a professor of practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School for Arts, Media and Engineering.
Rizwan “Riz” Virk is the author of the bestseller, “The Simulation Hypothesis,” as well as an entrepreneur, investor, video game pioneer and indie film producer. Virk is the founder of Play Labs @ MIT and a venture partner at Griffin Gaming Partners, a Silicon Valley investment fund. He is currently working toward a PhD at Arizona State University, conducting research on the impact of virtual environments, metaverse, simulation theory, blockchain and artificial intelligence on society.
Maynard: Let’s start off by asking, what is Virk: The metaverse, depending on who
you ask, is many different things. I like to define it as an interconnected set of virtual worlds. The term metaverse was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash.” You can think of the metaverse as a science fiction concept that is slowly becoming reality. It usually involves exploring these virtual worlds with an avatar in some embodied form.
Maynard: So this is a completely virtual world that we’re building outside of the physical world, or does it encroach on the physical world?
Virk: The edges of the metaverse encroach
pretty much everywhere on the internet today. The metaverse touches the real world in a few different ways. With augmented reality, you can put objects from the metaverse into the physical world. Additionally, your avatar is a hybrid identity between you in the physical world and you in the virtual world. Then there are digital twins, which are metaverse versions of objects and systems that have been built to simulate the physics of the real world exactly.
Ayton-Shenker: The idea of approaching the edges that Riz spoke of is where I find the most intrigue and the most relevance for what the metaverse is, what it is becoming and
how we understand it. I see the metaverse as an interconnected virtual reality (VR), or augmented reality, that is moving toward hybrid experience. The metaverse is a hybrid experience where we're not just seeing the edges, we’re bridging them — we’re starting to experience virtual and augmented dimensions integrated into our real life.
Maynard: What are people doing in the
metaverse now? In some ways, this seems like a new concept that came about after Facebook named their parent company Meta, and so now everybody’s talking about Meta and the metaverse. Yet, as you mentioned, Riz, the idea has been around for a while. As the metaverse grows, what are people doing in it?
Virk: I view this wave as Metaverse 2.0.
Metaverse 1.0 was in the mid 2000s, where you had proto metaverses like Second Life, and they were called virtual worlds. The term “metaverse” wasn’t used, but if you listen to the founders of those companies, their inspiration was from the same science fiction novel that
the metaverse term came from. Today, we’ve got a lot of different things happening in the metaverse. For example, meetings are starting to be conducted with avatars rather than video conferencing. There’s also a lot of digital fashion going on in the metaverse. At the end of March there was a digital Fashion Week in a metaverse called Decentraland, where they were showing off virtual outfits on virtual avatars. The possibilities are pretty endless, both in terms of the design of these outfits and also economics. Monetization within the metaverse comes from selling virtual goods. Fashion items, it turns out, are among the most popular types of virtual goods.
Maynard: So there is commerce in the metaverse already?
Virk: There is starting to be. But we don’t have
a metaverse so much as we have a multiverse of metaverses. We’ve got Fortnite and Roblox, which are gaming metaverses. We have Meta with its VR headsets and VRChat. But then you’ve also got decentralized metaverses like Sandbox and Decentraland, which are less about
putting on a VR headset — you just explore in your browser — and more about virtual goods and the property. You already have virtual land sales going on in the metaverse. I think the most someone has ever paid for a parcel of land was $1.7 million. There is serious money going into the metaverse and being invested into the metaverse because it’s projected to be a very big business opportunity. And we have the whole area of non-fungible tokens or NFTs, which is the ownership ledger that tells you who owns what digital item in the metaverse.
Ayton-Shenker: What I see happening is
this continuum from what we are thinking of as what’s “new” — that isn’t really new but has been evolving — to what’s now to what’s next. And how I see that continuum from new-ish to now and to next is as an arena for creative experimentation. We’re seeing artists and hybrid creatives at the forefront of the edges between what is virtual and physical reality. NFTs and the imagining of new ways to create value, digital currency and virtual structures got a lot of attention with extremely large valuations for digital, net-first, net-forward art. Artists are experimenting in this arena with how one can, in theory, not only receive remuneration for creative work, but preserve and protect the value share over time with ownership transfers and future sales that return a percentage of payment to artists through smart contracts. In the “matter verse” — actual matter that actually matters — when you sell a painting or work of art, then it’s done. With NFTs you can build into the agreement that money keeps coming back to the artist, so in theory, it’s protecting the creatives in this space. However, in practice, there’s a real question about gatekeeping and who gets to decide how work is moved through the metaverse and NFTs. Whatever the experimentation is in what’s new and next in the metaverse, it’s the creatives and hybrid artists who are on the frontier as pioneers.
Maynard: This idea that we’ve created
a whole new domain to work in seems really important. This is something different from the physical and biological world that we've evolved within; we’ve actually created something brand new. We’re learning how to work, play and do other things within this area. It’s a unique opportunity for creatives and technologists and scientists and business people and others to begin to co-create something that has never existed before, which seems to be both exciting and challenging. Can you cast your speculative eyes 10 years into the future, and think about what the metaverse might look like in 2032? What might people be doing there? What might be the really exciting things we’ll be seeing, and what might be the challenging things we’re grappling with?
Ayton-Shenker: In my mind, what’s brand new about the metaverse is simply context. We had marketplaces for centuries, millennia, and then we created malls as this brand-new space. But really, it was just another version of how we exchange goods and services. Similarly, the metaverse is a reflection of the actual or matter verse, in the sense of the physical material and the significance, i.e., what matters. The metaverse forecast, 10 years from now, I imagine will directly correspond to what happens in the matter verse and how we’re going to evolve as a species and as a society. Over these 10 years, in terms of the technical experience and novel innovation that continues to increase exponentially in sophistication, I think we can expect differences in time, space and interface. In terms of time, the speed will be increasingly like actual time or close to it. In terms of space, it will feel like there’s less of a barrier. For example, maybe we won’t need clunky accessories to wear in order to experience the metaverse. Also, there’s greater potential for intimacy and influence, which is the interface. Right now our experience of the
metaverse is primarily visual and auditory, and perhaps social and neural in ways that we may not have fully understood. But in the future, I can imagine even in 10 years, we’ll bring in more chemical and sensual and emotional and spiritual exchange. We can’t even imagine that yet, but if we could bring in smell and taste and touch, that’s a whole different level of interface.
Virk: My roadmap of where the metaverse
goes looks a lot like my roadmap to what I call the simulation point, which is the point at which we can create fully immersive virtual realities that are indistinguishable from physical reality. That involves brain-computer interfaces, à la “The Matrix,” although that was a dystopian vision of the future. I can envision a less dystopian, more utopian version where you can use the metaverse for education or travel, especially for disabled people who are unable to travel. Social applications will also be a key part of the future of the metaverse. Imagine if we went back to the 1990s, and said, “Where will the internet be? What will we be doing in cyberspace?” Cyberspace is another term that was defined in a cyberpunk novel, but cyberspace evolved differently from how author William Gibson originally envisioned it. We use it as a catch — all term for things that exist only on the internet. Similarly, the metaverse will become this general catch-all term for things that we do inside these virtual worlds using what I like to call identimorphic avatars. An anthropomorphic avatar is an avatar that looks human. Of course, you can have an avatar that looks like a kitten or a robot. But identimorphic means an avatar that looks like you. And so this gets back to that issue of what is your identity in the metaverse? Should it look like you do outside the metaverse? Are there rules or social standards or taboos that say, you know, you are not allowed to co-opt appearances of a Chinese person or an African American? We’ll start to see these social standards emerge in virtual spaces.
Ayton-Shenker: That’s such an important
point to consider the social and ethical standardization, and how we can conceive and harness this expression of our humanity in a way that’s humanizing. If we look at this as an expression of the species, and how we organize ourselves in relation to each other, then there’s a real question of purpose and functionality. It’s not just what we could do that’s so cool and fancy and sophisticated, but also getting into the why we should do any of it. We might explore how this can accelerate healing, accelerate the spread of generosity, altruism, collaboration, creativity and a sense of hope. Those are the things that we need humans for and that humanize us. This could be a great accelerator.
Maynard: How do we bring that about,
specifically in the context of global futures? At the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, we’re spearheading how we think about, how we act on and how we build vibrant, just and equitable global futures. What is the role of the metaverse in that mission? How should we be thinking about both understanding and steering the development of the metaverse so it gets us to a better place?
Ayton-Shenker: We should be
experimenting, exploring and investigating what works that uplifts us in the metaverse, identifying what experiences or interfaces are actually healing and hopeful.
Maynard: How do we get there? This is
a really intriguing idea that we’re creating a brand-new environment that could transform, in positive ways, how we live our lives and how we find meaning. At the same time, there are massive commercial forces here. How do we make sure that we see a future that is really beneficial to humanity, rather than just dictated by market forces?
Ayton-Shenker: You know, there’s
an assumption in that question that the corporate market forces are opposite of the good stuff we want to do. If we draw from and apply lessons from impact investment, or social entrepreneurship, or beneficial corporations, I think there’s a convergence
of capital as a potentially positive force. It’s simply a fuel and a resource. We can harness these for good outcomes, but there does need to be a harnessing.
academics’ roles be in helping societies steer toward a metaverse future that is a better future than the one we’re in at the moment?
Virk: With all of these technologies, there’s
studying the effects of the metaverse sooner rather than later. Additionally, advocating a more open, standards-based metaverse is something that we can play a role in establishing, rather than having companies like Facebook/Meta define those standards. So, academics have a role to play in imagining visions of what the metaverse future could be — or positive imaginaries — and helping to advance those within industry.
always the fear of unintended consequences. That’s an area that we study in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. If you look at Facebook, there has been a lot said about the negative consequences of social networks, but there were also a lot of positive initial benefits. There are people that I haven’t communicated with in years that I’m able to connect with on Facebook and keep up with. I think you have to look at balancing the two. The trick, though, is in designing a metaverse that is more flexible and is less coupled together. One of the obstacles to getting there is the lack of standards for what can be in the metaverse, so what we have ended up with is a particular corporate entity that controls a specific metaverse. One of the competing visions of the metaverse right now is cryptocurrency — a decentralized version of the metaverse vs. a more centralized version. In the decentralized version, you have no one group controlling everything, and ownership of virtual land and virtual goods rests with individuals, not with the corporation itself. This has been prototyped in certain games and online environments where you actually own the thing that you created, for example, in Second Life. But I think having standards and interoperability across metaverses will be something that allows people to move and provides more flexibility and innovation so that if there are negative consequences within one area, people can easily move their avatar and their belongings into a different metaverse.
Maynard: From listening to both of you, it
sounds like there are opportunities to completely disrupt established economic and social systems in positive ways, if we get it right. What should
Virk: As academics, we can spend time
Ayton-Shenker: What I love about
Riz’s response is that it calls for two directions as an academic institution, to think up and down. We’re called on to imagine and think up — as faculty, as staff, as students, as thinkers — what the metaverse future could be and how we should be applying standards and learnings from other arenas to design the metaverse. Then, to analyze — drill down — what’s working, what’s not working, where there are effects or could be effects that have positive outcomes.
Maynard: What is both exciting and very
disturbing is we are creating something that we have never previously experienced as a species. That opens up incredible possibilities to do things differently. But it also creates substantial possibilities of doing things badly. I think it is important to consider our role as an academic institution, which has a mission to serve society, to help craft the narrative around the metaverse and support the development around it in ways that are truly going to lead to a better future.
What’s next? Empowering communities to co-create the future What are the chances of driving the systemic change that is needed to fight climate change, inequality, racism and other global problems without engaging millions of people from across every community on this planet? Zero. It cannot happen. This is why the Center for Innovation in Informal STEM Learning (CIISL) and its lifelong learning programs are not only essential, but are also being recognized for an unprecedented level of impact. Through a deep global network of partnerships with science museums and other informal learning organizations known as the National Informal STEM Education Network, the team at CIISL has created interactive activities, exhibits and media that engage more than 15 million people a year in learning about STEM and its relationship with society. But the center and its partners recognize that existing efforts are not inclusive and far-reaching enough. They have committed to co-creating new projects with community members, with the goal of bringing people together to envision and work toward equitable futures. This work begins with Spanish-speaking groups here in North America, leveraging ASU’s designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution and fulfilling the university’s commitment to access for all learners. Global impact requires global engagement and participation.
Hey. Are you up? Maybe we should talk? — Earth
Our world is trying to tell us something. To thrive in the future, we must rediscover our planet and our relationship with it. We need a vision for better that brings all the voices to the table and focuses on long-term opportunity. The conversation starts here. 33
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