In this post, we’ll be looking at how we can use ChatGPT to develop compelling scenarios — another useful tool in the futurist’s kit.
We’ll also use it to create some artefacts from the future in the form of newspaper headlines and articles (with accompanying images supplied by MidJourney).
Visualising one possible scenario: A London housing estate transformed by lush vegetation. Image by MidJourney
What are scenarios?
Scenarios are stories about the future. They aren’t meant to predict the future, but rather help us consider a range of possible futures in our planning. They encourage strategic thinking by
- Helping organizations and individuals prepare for and adapt to potential future challenges.
- Providing a framework for exploring and understanding a range of possible futures, rather than relying on a single prediction.
- Assisting in identifying opportunities and risks, making strategic decisions, and creating contingency plans.
Consciously, or not, we all use scenarios — even when crossing a road our minds are running through multiple outcomes, “What happens if I walk across now rather than stay and wait for the traffic lights to change?”
Creating a scenario development prompt in ChatGPT
We’ll be basing our scenario development prompt on the Institute for the Future’s scenario development toolkit which has the following components:
- Drivers. These are the main reasons behind why change happens — and crucial to how our scenarios will play out. Responding to the challenge of climate change is a common one, and so is our desire for convenience.
- What would happen in 10 years time? This gives us a timeline which is far away enough to give us give us some scope for creativity, but still tangible enough to imagine.
- Archetypes. From a futures perspective, these represent a range of common situations like collapse, transformation, growth, and constraint — and so provide contrast enabling us to plan for and anticipate a range of possible futures.
Pulling all of that together here’s our prompt for ChatGPT:
Acting as an expert futurist, write four scenarios covering: - Growth: An extrapolation of trends continue into the future with minimal disruption - Constraint: A core guiding value or purpose organizes society and governs behaviour - Collapse: A rapid, catastrophic systems and infrastructure break down - Transformation: Society or systems fundamentally change or reorganize around a new paradigm for ten years time based on a topic I give you. Your first action will be to ask for a topic.
Inputting this, should give you something like the following response from ChatGPT:
Please provide a topic for me to base the four scenarios on.
We know from past experience that ChatGPT likes plenty of context to chew on so let’s give it a sizeable extract from this BBC news article on a recent breakthrough on fusion (simply copy and paste it into ChatGPT’s input field).
and here’s the output from ChatGPT:
Growth Scenario: In this scenario, the successful nuclear fusion breakthrough at JET laboratory leads to rapid advancements in nuclear fusion technology. Over the next decade, collaboration among international governments and private sector partners accelerates the development and commercialization of fusion reactors. By 2033, several pilot fusion power plants are operating across the globe, providing clean and abundant energy. The energy landscape shifts towards fusion power, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change concerns effectively.
Constraint Scenario: In this scenario, the development of nuclear fusion technology is guided by strict ethical and environmental principles. International cooperation ensures the safe and responsible development of fusion power plants, prioritizing security and non-proliferation concerns. Regulatory agencies closely monitor the technology’s progress, ensuring that its benefits are distributed fairly across the globe. By 2033, nuclear fusion has begun to supplement existing renewable energy sources but is not yet the dominant energy source.
Collapse Scenario: In this scenario, geopolitical tensions and disagreements over intellectual property rights hinder the development and global adoption of nuclear fusion technology. Countries engage in an energy arms race, leading to increased tensions and potential conflicts. Cyberattacks target fusion research facilities, causing setbacks and mistrust among international partners. The lack of cooperation and global focus on nuclear fusion results in delayed progress, and by 2033, fusion remains a promising but unrealized energy source.
Transformation Scenario: In this scenario, the breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology triggers a fundamental shift in the global energy landscape. Recognizing the potential of nuclear fusion, governments and private industries invest heavily in research and development, leading to rapid advancements and innovations. By 2033, fusion power plants have become a viable and cost-effective energy source, driving a transition away from fossil fuels and conventional nuclear power. The global economy restructures around clean energy, and societies adopt sustainable lifestyles, mitigating the effects of climate change.
Making scenarios feel real
We can go further by trying to ground each of these scenarios in everyday reality with a follow up ChatGPT prompt:
Pick a random person living in the UK in 2033, and describe how their life will have changed for each of the scenarios.
and ChatGPT returns a description of Emma, a 35 year-old teacher living in Birmingham’s life under each fusion scenario:
Growth Scenario: By 2033, Emma’s life has significantly improved due to the widespread adoption of nuclear fusion technology. Her electricity is sourced from fusion power plants, resulting in lower energy bills and a more stable power grid. Electric vehicles have become more affordable and efficient, allowing her to commute in a clean and environmentally friendly manner. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions has led to cleaner air and improved public health, positively impacting Emma’s quality of life.
Emma, 35 year old school teacher, taken during visit to fusion reactor, March 2033. Image by MidJourney.
Constraint Scenario: In this scenario, Emma has experienced moderate changes in her life due to the gradual introduction of nuclear fusion technology. She still relies on a mix of renewable energy sources and fusion power for her electricity needs. While fusion technology has not yet significantly impacted her daily life, she is aware of the ongoing efforts to develop safe and sustainable fusion power plants. Emma remains optimistic about the potential benefits of fusion energy in the future.
Collapse Scenario: In 2033, Emma’s life has not changed much due to the setbacks in nuclear fusion technology development. She continues to rely on a mix of renewable energy sources and conventional nuclear power for her electricity. Tensions between countries have resulted in a heightened sense of insecurity, leading her to be more concerned about global stability. The lack of progress in fusion technology has left her disillusioned with the promise of a clean and abundant energy future.
Transformation Scenario: Emma’s life has been significantly transformed by the rapid development and widespread adoption of nuclear fusion technology. The fusion power plants have replaced most fossil fuel and conventional nuclear power plants, providing clean and affordable energy. This has led to improved air quality, decreased healthcare costs, and a generally healthier population. With a stable job in education, Emma feels optimistic about her future and the positive impact that nuclear fusion technology has on the global climate and environment.
As we’ve seen previously, we could potentially turn Emma into a user persona and interview her about her life in the future.
Other examples of scenarios
Other scenarios are, of course, possible to quickly develop in ChatGPT using the same prompt on entirely different topics. For example, here’s an extract from ChatGPT’s constraint scenario output based on this post discussing the possible impact of AI on software development:
In this scenario, concerns about the potential ethical, privacy, and security issues related to AI-driven software development lead to the establishment of global AI governance and regulations. This guiding framework helps ensure responsible AI development and usage, with companies and developers adhering to strict guidelines.
and also from a Transformation scenario for solar in the UK:
In this scenario, the UK has undergone a major transformation in the way energy is generated, distributed, and consumed. By 2033, a decentralized energy model has emerged, driven by technological advancements in energy storage, smart grids, and renewable energy generation. Solar panels are a common feature not just on new homes, but also retrofitted onto existing buildings.
Artefacts from the Future
Another tool from the Institute for the Future are artefacts from the future. These can help spark creativity and innovation, better communicate complex ideas and bring our futures insights to life.
Artefacts can take many forms, including:
- Newspaper headlines: Useful for highlighting key trends and events
- Physical props: Enable the creation of an immersive experience.
- Video: Provide a dynamic and visual representation of the future.
Headlines from the Future
Let’s use ChatGPT to create some newspaper headlines from the future for each of these scenarios with the following prompt:
Now imagine you are writing newspaper headlines in ten years time for each of the scenarios — write one for the Guardian, and one for the Daily Mail — include a sub headline. Use their house style, voice and tone.
Resulting in the following output:
The Guardian: “Fusion Revolution: A New Era of Clean Energy Dawns” Subheadline: UK unveils first commercial nuclear fusion plant, paving the way for a sustainable and carbon-free future.
The Daily Mail: “Power Up, Britain! Our First Fusion Plant Goes Live” Subheadline: UK takes the lead in clean energy race as fusion technology promises lower bills and a greener future.
The Guardian: “Ethical Fusion: Progressing with Purpose”
Subheadline: Strict regulations and international cooperation guide the cautious development of nuclear fusion technology.
The Daily Mail: “Playing It Safe: Fusion’s Cautious Approach”
Subheadline: UK experts ensure nuclear fusion progress is responsible, secure and environmentally friendly.
The Guardian: “Fusion Frustration: Global Tensions Stall Energy Breakthrough” Subheadline: UK’s nuclear fusion dreams on hold as geopolitical disputes hinder crucial international collaboration.
The Daily Mail: “Fusion Fiasco: Energy Arms Race Leaves UK in the Dark” Subheadline: Tensions and mistrust stifle progress as world squabbles over breakthrough nuclear fusion technology.
The Guardian: “Fusion Transforms the World: A New Energy Paradigm Emerges”
Subheadline: The widespread adoption of nuclear fusion technology reshapes the global economy and mitigates climate change.
The Daily Mail: “Welcome to the Fusion Age: Britain’s Bright New Future” Subheadline: Nuclear fusion revolutionises UK energy landscape, slashing emissions and boosting economic growth.
Considering how plausible each of these headlines are given their prior knowledge of the newspapers’ output is left as an exercise for the reader.
Turning headlines from the future into articles
We can go further still, and ask ChatGPT to create a fictional article to flesh out the headline:
Write the collapse scenario article for the Daily Mail include the date. Use their house style, voice and tone.
An appropriately somber Daily Mail…
Images of the future
Now let’s see if we can create visuals to accompany these some of these headlines and articles using MidJourney. First up, The Guardian’s growth scenario headline: Fusion Revolution: A New Era of Clean Energy Dawns
UK unveils first commercial nuclear fusion plant, paving the way for a sustainable and carbon-free future. Photo by MidJourney
and the Daily Mail under a collapse scenario: Fusion Fiasco: Energy Arms Race Leaves UK in the Dark
Tensions and mistrust stifle progress as world squabbles over breakthrough nuclear fusion technology. Graphic by MidJourney
But let’s leave things on a more optimistic note with both papers celebrating the transformation scenario. First, the Guardian:
Fusion Transforms the World: A New Energy Paradigm Emerges
The widespread adoption of nuclear fusion technology reshapes the global economy and mitigates climate change. Photo by MidJourney
and then the Daily Mail:
Welcome to the Fusion Age: Britain’s Bright New Future
Nuclear fusion revolutionises UK energy landscape, slashing emissions and boosting economic growth. Image by MidJourney
While using AI for foresight can offer many benefits, we need to ensure that there is human oversight and accountability throughout the process to ensure its ethical and effective use.
See my other posts on using ChatGPT for foresight covering:
Christian Graham is a member of the Experiments team at Friends of the Earth.