Futurology is the science, art and practice of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. It seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends.
While future studies remains a relatively new academic tradition, numerous institutions around the world teach it. These vary from small programs, or universities with just one or two classes, to programs that incorporate futurology into other degrees such as planning, business, environmental studies, economics, development studies, science and technology studies. Various formal Masters level programs exist on six continents. Doctoral dissertations around the world have incorporated futurology. A recent survey documented approximately 50 cases of futures studies at the tertiary level.
Several authors have become recognized as futurists. They research trends and write accounts of their observations, conclusions, and predictions. In earlier eras, many of the futurists were attached to academic institutions. For example John McHale, the futurist who wrote the book The Future of the Future, and published a Futures Directory, directed his own Centre For Integrative Studies which was a Think Tank within the university setting. Other early era futurists followed a cycle of publishing their conclusions and then beginning research on the next book. More recently they have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers. Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt and Patrick Dixon exemplify this class.
Some futurists share features in common with the writers of science fiction, and indeed some science fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, have acquired a certain reputation as futurists. Some writers, though, show less interest in technological or social developments and use the future only as a backdrop to their stories. For example, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of prediction as the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists, not of writers.
Fashion is one area of trend forecasting. The industry typically works 18 months ahead of the current selling season. Large retailers look at the obvious impact of everything from the weather forecast to runway fashion for consumer tastes. Consumer behavior and statistics from companies such as Datamonitor for a long range forecast are also important.
Artists and conceptual designers, by contrast, may feel that consumer trends are a barrier to creativity. Many of these artists start micro trends but do not follow trends themselves.