The term was coined in the 1940s, when it was associated with a call for social scientists to develop more sophisticated methods of trend analysis in order to issue more accurate predictions. Its early popularisers included Aldous *Huxley, who tried to practice what he preached in Brave New World Revisited (1958). The idea was, however, much older; the origins of futurological ambition can be retrospectively traced to Robert Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), which argued that the tendency for population to grow exponentially while food supplies could only increase arithmetically would ensure the future preservation of the ‘‘Malthusian checks’’—war, famine, and disease—in the absence of a degree of ‘‘moral restraint’’.
The term was subsequently co-opted as a general description of futuristic exercises in *speculative nonfiction. Academic courses generally preferred the label Future Studies, although many self-marketing ‘‘economic gurus’’ working in the area towards the end of the twentieth century preferred to term themselves futurists; they established an Association of Professional Futurists in the early twenty-first century. The methodology of futurology had made little progress in the meantime, although the Rand Corporation developed a ‘‘Delphic Technique’’ in the late 1960s based on the thesis—advocated by psychologist Christopher Evans—that a broad pool of opinions is likely to produce a consensus reflecting the eventual actuality. Nicholas Rescher’s Predicting the Future: Introduction to the Theory of Forecasting (1997), Thomas Lombardo’s Doorways to the Future: Methods, Theories and Themes (2001), and Wendell Bell’s Foundations of Futures Studies (2003) survey current methods.
Nonfictional attempts to analyse the probable consequences of existing social trends continued throughout the nineteenth century as social statisticians gathered more data. All such projections involved a speculative element similar to that implicit in futuristic fiction, but the essence of futurological philosophy was the attempted minimisation of that uncertainty. Reportage of futurological findings sometimes employed fictional formats, but usually took care to emphasise that they were different from the general run of futuristic fictions, as in Robert Grimshaw’s Fifty Years Hence, or What May Be in 1943: A Prophecy Supposed to Be Based on Scientific Deductions by an Improved Graphical Method (1892). At the end of the nineteenth century, writers of speculative nonfiction, such as Henry Adams and H. G. Wells, became markedly more ambitious in their futuristic extrapolations and often more confident of their methods of anticipation. After publishing the series of newspaper articles collected as Anticipations (1901), Wells delivered a lecture published as The Discovery of the Future (1902), in which he claimed that certain aspects of the future were predictable with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and that reliable futurological calculations (although he did not use the term) were therefore possible. From then on, speculative nonfiction made much more use of ambitious projections of future history, often failing to specify whether the images they offered were supposed to be contingent or prophetic.
When the futurological ambitions of J. B. S. *Haldane’s Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1923) invited strident contradiction in Bertrand Russell’s Icarus; or, the Future of Science (1923), its publisher launched a series of similar pamphlets that eventually ran to more than a hundred volumes before petering out in 1930. Many of them were written by eminent natural and social scientists, some of whom certainly had prophetic ambitions, although others were content to regard what they were doing as an exercise in satire. Most of the anticipations put forward in the series were scrupulously modest, but a few—especially J. D. *Bernal’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1929)—were spectacularly far ranging. Exercises on a larger scale were similarly varied in their scope, the great majority confining themselves to the next fifty or a hundred years; such exceptions as Charles Galton Darwin’s The Next Million Years (1952) and Kenneth Heuer’s The Next Fifty Billion Years (1957) rarely lived up to their promises. Futurology in the narrow sense of trend projection is most evident in the field of economics, where shortrange projections are vital to economic planning. The use of such techniques in the anticipation of population growth and the analysis of its likely consequences became highly controversial in the 1960s, and their use in anticipating global climate change became similarly controversial in the 1990s. All three of these areas of application illustrate the difficulties that arise when the summary effect of a whole series of trends has to be combined, especially if their reliability varies considerably. All trends eventually break down, especially those whose dynamic is accelerative rather than linear; either they lose impetus—sometimes abruptly—or they enter a transfigurative phase akin to that envisaged by futurological projections of a technological singularity. Attempts to analyse the methodology of this kind of futurology include Theodore Modis’ Predictions (1992).
In the broader meaning of the term, futurological speculations appeared in increasing profusion as the century progressed. Those narrowly focused on technological projections—such as A. M. Low’s The Future (1925) and It’s Bound to Happen (1950; aka What’s the World Coming To?), the Earl of Birkenhead’s The World in 2030 (1930), and C. C. Furnas’ The Next Hundred Years: The Unfinished Business of Science (1936)—generally maintained a conspicuously more optimistic tone than futuristic fiction by virtue of concentrating on the opportunities afforded by new gadgets. The calculatedly awestruck tone of such exercises became typical of such popular periodicals as Modern Wonder (1937–1941) and such TV shows as Tomorrow’s World (1965–2003). While futuristic fiction grew steadily darker in tone in the latter part of the century, many futurologists remained defiantly optimistic, and that defiance was conserved to the end of the century and beyond in such texts as Michio Kaku’s Visions (1997) and Bruce Sterling’s Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2003). In the meantime, futurological Works inspired by different kinds of technological advance were conspicuously different in tone, those prompted by advances in computer technology being mostly enthusiastic while biological exercises in futurology tended to be alarmist. Christopher Evans’ The Mighty Micro (1979) contrasts sharply with Gordon Rattray- Taylor’s The Biological Time-Bomb (1968) and Vance Packard’s The People Shapers (1978).
This attitudinal division was complicated when anticipations of the future of computers began to grapple with the possibility that *artificial intelligence might soon outstrip human intelligence, so such texts as Hans Moravec’s Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (1988), Kevin Warwick’s The March of the Machines (1997), and Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) exhibit a noticeable trend towards greater ambivalence. The future of alarmism became a topic in itself in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), although the author took an optimistic view of our ability to cope with the phenomenon in question and progressed to more conventional defiant optimism in The Third Wave (1980).
Other significant exercises in near-futuristic futurology include Victor Cohn’s 1999: Our Hopeful Future (1956), Harrison Scott Brown, James Bonner, and John Weir’s The Next Hundred Years (1957), George Soule’s The Shape of Tomorrow (1958), Desmond King-Hele’s The End of the Twentieth Century (1970), Herman Kahn’s Things to Come (1972; with B. Bruce-Briggs) and The Next Two Hundred Years (1976), John Naisbitt’s Megatrends (1982) and its sequels, Marvin Cetron’s Encounters with the Future (1983), Norman Macrae’s The 2020 Report (1984), Brian Stableford and David Langford’s The Third Millennium (1985), Warren Wagar’s A Short History of the Future (1989), Jonathan Weiner’s The Next One Hundred Years (1990), Richard Carlson and Bruce Goldman’s 2020 Visions (1990), Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead (1995), Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason (1995), Jim Taylor, Watts Wacker, and Howard B. Means’ The Five-Hundred-Year Delta (1997), Michael R. Dertouzos’ What Will Be (1997), Ervin Laszlo’s Macroshift (2001), and Martin Rees’ Our Final Century? (2003). General surveys of futurology include The Futurists (1972), edited by Alvin Toffler, and Henry Winthrop’s Foreseeing the Future (1978). Exercises in far-futuristic futurology may seem hopelessly doomed by the chaotic factors involved in multiple-trend extrapolation, but Wells claimed in The Discovery of the Future that certain kinds of farfuturistic prediction were possessed of far greater inevitability than short-term ones. The example of the Sun’s demise proved slightly treacherous when Lord Kelvin’s timetable for its extinction proved to be based on mistaken premises—and the kind of farfuturistic futurology that underlies Omega Point fantasies always remains vulnerable to theoretical shifts in *cosmology—but the range of long-term futurological possibilities does indeed grow narrower as it grows vaguer.