Foresight Through Art

Burows screenshot LA dinner 3-24-16

The Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project is widening its aperture to issues beyond armed conflict. As the project evolves, so should its name. Therefore, to reflect both its success and broadened scope, including its outreach to the Los Angeles entertainment community, it will become The Art of the Future Project.

When the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security launched the Art of Future Warfare Project in late 2014, it set out to answer a simple but crucial question: what might artists have to offer the international security community’s understanding of the future of armed and social conflict?

A lot, it turned out.

The project brought forth new crowd-sourced creative visions exploring the human dimensions of the future of war through contests tracing the arc of a conflict: how wars might start, may be fought, and what happens when they end. Winning stories included a heart-rending depiction of a drone operator trying to plan a child’s birthday party while thinking mostly of her linked canine-machine combat partner. Another winner offered a glimpse into space operations in the 2090s involving new international superpowers in Africa and unimaginable weapons technologies that target the very systems Earth needed to survive environmental disaster.

“To me … the interesting challenge is to tell fascinating stories yet have people walk away from them smarter and more aware of the world they live in,” said Max Brooks, author of World War Z and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

It also focused on how artists work by showcasing new books, and visual media such as video games and graphic novels. Their patterns of productivity, creative influences, and collaborative process have immense value for policymakers. As our work helping Marines develop narratives for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Futures Directorate showcased, this insight was directly relevant.

The project fills an urgent void for government leaders: understanding the future of war. After more than 100 blog entries, over half a dozen creative contests and events, a highly popular and successful short-story anthology, and critical buy-in from senior government leaders, the project formed a community. This community of artists, writers, policymakers, and defense experts revolves around innovative and creative approaches to understanding some of the most difficult questions of the coming decades.

Using these same approaches, the project is going to tackle broader international security issues as The Art of the Future Project: biotechnology, energy, foresight, strategy, space and more.

There are no better allies to envision the future than those in the Los Angeles entertainment industry.

Burrows 1-23-2016 Atlantic Council-83
Dr. Mat Burrows


The Art of the Future Project recently held its first event in Los Angeles to build a coalition of creative professionals ready to work with Washington’s policy community on global peace, stability, and prosperity with the tools they wield best: film, video, visual art, and books. More than 60 leaders from the entertainment industry gathered for a featured conversation with Steven Hadley, former National Security Advisor, and James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the importance of creative and disruptive approaches to national security challenges.

The Art of the Future Project will host regular public and private events in Washington and Los Angeles. One of the project’s key aims is to forge relationships across the coasts to better understand, and prepare for, an increasingly complex and dynamic future.

“The LA community can be a valuable source of disruptive thinkers in Washington,” said Dave Anthony, director of Call of Duty: Back Ops and Black Ops II and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

One of the first partnerships focuses on the Scowcroft Center Strategic Foresight Initiative’s Global Trends 2035 report this year. Through an Artist’s Red Team (ART – pun intended) developing multimedia and narrative components, the project will add a rich narrative dimension to this capstone futures document led by Dr. Mat Burrows, Director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative and former Director at the National Intelligence Council.

Additionally, the Council’s Global Strategy Forum on May 2 to 3 will feature project fellow Max Brooks and a keynote conversation between Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and project director August Cole on how fiction and art can inform how America’s military understands the technologies that will shape the future of war.

Through the Art of the Future Project, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security is working toward a more peaceful and prosperous world in which artists and creativity enjoy a valued place in the international security establishment’s planning and preparation for challenges posed by technology, economics, demography, conflict and more.