Secrets have long been the governing paradigm in national security and government intelligence. But the scientific challenges we face today demand a new ethic of openness.
In the first years of the 21st century, our capacities for imagining new realities have proved inadequate.
Now, as the first decade of the century has drawn to a close, its many shocks make plain that we are living in a world with greater potential for surprise, uncertainty, and threats to resilience. In a time of poorly understood interacting causes and consequences, we require new habits of thinking, new approaches to assessment, and new ways of engaging with the world. Emerging is a world filled with just as much opportunity as risk, but seeing both of those forces and appreciating their interrelatedness requires new lenses and an unflagging awareness of diverse perspectives. It means investing all of our energies to profoundly challenge the status quo.
Non-linear systems highly sensitive to small changes are the hallmark of strategic security challenges facing all nations in the 21st century. They are categorically different from the predominantly military strategic threats of the latter half of the 20th century, which played out in a bipolar world. Instead of discrete enemies, we now face systemic challenges involving food, water, energy, and infrastructure that imperil the whole planet.
In situations in which so much is unfamiliar, understanding our circumstances in time to translate foresight into readiness, imagination into opportunity, and reality into truth, all requires what Leonardo da Vinci called saper vedere, or knowing how to see.
The global foresight commons will build on the examples of Wikipedia, eBay, and other such distributed and collective sense-making systems that rely on a globally diverse community of users. It will serve as a clearinghouse for rapidly aggregating and evaluating information more accurately than individual organizations can possibly do on their own. The commons would expose discoveries, assessment processes, and foresight methodologies to the evaluation of a larger and more diverse community of people than currently possible. A single agency, government, or nation could not achieve the requisite diversity, involving millions of participants worldwide, that such a global foresight commons would entail. It would need to evolve organically, initially in a bottom-up fashion, with an international mix of early contributors, and would eventually need to attract the support of organizations that encourage their members to contribute their ideas to the commons. This system can be thought of as a robust and strategic form of Wikipedia, but with capacities for globally distributed synthesis, and for evaluation of non-proprietary, non-classified, forward-looking assessments: a “StrategicPedia,” as it were.