Emerging technologies spur collective imagination about futures that are yet to come. Visions of these futures highlight promises and perils of emerging technologies poised to change society radically. In addition to emerging technologies, precarity as the 21st-century condition informs future-making practices. Recognizing precarity helps us extend our responsibility beyond the human and the present. This presentation seeks to respond to the broader call for a care movement to respond to precarity. While there is a growing body of work around care ethics in the field of design, the application of such concepts for future-making has been limited.
I draw on data from an ethnographic field study of emerging design practices in the Silicon Valley R&D division of a multi-national technology company for understanding the future-oriented emerging design practices that are primarily concerned with new and emerging technologies. The case studies highlight the increasing prominence of futures thinking and systems thinking, which reflect the increasing complexity of challenges the company aims to address. Large-scale and complex challenges such as decarbonization, urban mobility and manufacturing automation require building long-term visions to align diverse stakeholders.
These shifts implicate existing design practices in several ways. While R&D strategy is usually concerned with “the future”, challenging the linear view of technological progress and the shifting focus to social innovation requires a re-orientation towards “a better future”. Furthermore, this shift calls for new modes of organizing. Data reveals that when the primary offering of R&D changes from discrete products or technologies to solutions, design practices extend to span multiple organizational levels. Cultivating partnership for systems-level transformation calls for a longer-term view to orient efforts in the present and align internal and external stakeholders. Then, futures thinking, as a core competence in solution economy, influences the emergence of future-oriented design practices. In such practices, future-making is rendered explicit. I argue that cultivating care in technology organizations as a core component of future-oriented design practices can increase accountability and responsibility.
I propose that R&D divisions embrace what I term “vital futures” by building on feminist care ethics: futures that are preoccupied with repairing, maintaining and continuing our world so we can live in it as well as possible. Making care-ful, vital futures requires cultivating emerging future-oriented design practices and restraining the urge to standardize the complex and interrelated aspects of practices.
Keywords: futures thinking, care ethics, more-than-human, posthumanism and design, ethnography