An interview with Alexandra Whittington

Alexandra Whittington is a futurist, writer, foresight director of Fast Future, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston. She is a contributor to many books on the Future and is a co-editor and contributor to A Very Human Future

I spoke to Alexandra in the summer, and we talked about the importance of the female perspective; how women's experiences can open up new ways of understanding the future of the human experience.

Alex talks a lot about perspectives, and relationships and communication. No surprise really as she is a trained anthropologist. And it is the anthropological approach which is so inspiring, yet so grounding, about much of her work.

She came to Futures through anthropology. A previous University lecturer of hers had been away to a Futures conference and came back to the University of Houston saying that she wanted to teach a course in the subject. Alex signed up, took the course, and many years later found herself teaching it. The female professor has since moved on to other things.

But clearly the female, societal, relational perspective has stayed with Alex as she explains that it has always been part of her agenda to bring more feminine topics into the futures field:

"...The topics that most futurists, normally male, haven't always touched on. Women tend to deal with different things day to day, like 'how will we feed children in the future?' How will babies be fed? "

Its an interesting question as one ponders the technological advancements of baby formula and our future attitudes towards it. Alex has just co-edited and contributed to a book in which she collaborates with two other female futurists to ponder such questions as this that might crop up at different times of life. What is the future of women and AI in business, at home and in society? Viewed against the framework of women’s universal life stages, from girlhood to golden years, she and her co-authors investigate the potential opportunities for AI to enhance the lives of women in the close to mid-term future.

Take motherhood for example. Alex has written about how AI might help women have more control over contraception - reclaiming their reproductive patterns - potentially putting AI back in the service of women.

"Further along, if a women does decide to get pregnant there could be pre-natal care using AI, where there is monitoring of the woman in the home, not as surveillance but as a companion. This is more about a relationship with the woman to support her during pregnancy, it is so important to feel supported, especially in places where there aren’t enough doctors and midwives around"

We talk about her own inspirations and she enthuses about Margaret Mead. So much so that immediately afterwards, I went to Amazon to order the book that so inspired her many years ago: The World Ahead, An Anthropologist Anticipates the Future' which is a collection of papers and speeches of Mead's. I can certainly vouch for it. And as Alex points out, it contains amazingly prescient ideas:

"Mead talks about artificial womb technology, and what we need to do to fix the problems between men and women - the need for an outside force to do the reproduction bit. It's not just the technological insights though, it is the way she foresaw society - her anticipatory thinking. In 1943 she wrote an article about the family and the future…in 1943!"

Could she be a similar inspiration for her own students? I think so.

She has already noticed that her students are brilliant at environmental scanning. Due to their familiarity with social media they are quick not only to spot trends but to share them too. They are much more aware of change as it's happening and want to discuss or pass it on to others at speed. The area that needs more work though is critical thinking and evaluating sources. As one can imagine, given the current media contamination, they don't automatically know what to believe.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for us all, here. To not stick too closely to technology and to pay more attention to what is societal, what is relational - to other people, especially those you trust, in real life - as they are a good pointer towards the truth. Alex is in amongst the messy societal, anthropological, relational stuff of futures, she is thinking and writing about very human matters and where this will all take us, not just as individuals, or communities or even businesses.... but more importantly, as a species.

Follow more of Alex's future thoughts at @alexandra4casts