John Smart (futurist)

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John M. Smart (born 10 September 1960) is a futurist and scholar of accelerating change. He is founder and president of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, an organization that does "outreach, education, research, and advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change".[1] Smart has an MS in futures studies from the University of Houston, an MS equivalency (two years of med school and USMLE-I) in medicine from UCSD School of Medicine, and a BS in business administration from U.C. Berkeley. He also did graduate studies at UCSD under systems theorist James Grier Miller.


Smart is the principal advocate of the concept of “STEM compression,” (formerly "MEST compression") the idea that the most (ostensibly) complex of the universe’s extant systems at any time (galaxies, stars, habitable planets, living systems, and now technological systems) use progressively less space, time, energy and matter (“STEM”) resources, and more dense arrangements of these resources, to create the next level of complexity in their evolutionary development.[2] A similar perspective on the increasing efficiency of resource use, but not discussing increasing resource density, is found in Buckminster Fuller’s writings on ephemeralization.

In the "developmental singularity hypothesis",[3] also called the transcension hypothesis, Smart proposes that STEM compression, as a driver of accelerating change, must lead cosmic intelligence to a future of highly miniaturized, accelerated, and local "transcension" to extra-universal domains, rather than to space-faring expansion within our existing universe. The hypothesis proposes that once civilizations saturate their local region of space with their intelligence, they need to leave our visible, macroscopic universe in order to continue exponential growth of complexity and intelligence, and disappear from this universe, thus explaining the Fermi paradox.[4] Developments in astrobiology make this a testable hypothesis.[5] A related proposal may be found in the selfish biocosm hypothesis of complexity theorist James N. Gardner.

Smart has been criticized by some in the futures community as reductionist[6] and a techno-optimist.[7] His writings do discuss risks, abuses, and social regulation of technology, but usually as a secondary theme, subject to “inevitable” acceleration. In his defense, he claims universal and human-historical accelerating change (see Carl Sagan's Cosmic Calendar) do not appear to be simply a product of evolution but of some universal developmental process, one apparently protected, in a general statistical sense, by poorly understood immune systems in complex systems. In his public presentations[8] he calls for better characterization and use of existing processes of intelligence, immunity, and interdependence development in biological, cultural, and technological systems. He has critiqued systems scholars such as Jonathan Huebner, who claim that the rate of global innovation appears to be slowing down. His counterthesis is that innovation is increasingly conducted by and within technological systems, and is thereby becoming more abstract and difficult to measure by human social standards.[9]

An advocate of foresight and “acceleration-awareness” in education, Smart has proposed a developmental categorization of futurist thinking,[10] maintains a list of global futures studies programs,[11] and has authored an open source required undergraduate course in foresight development,[12] modeled after required foresight courses at Tamkang University in Taiwan. He has argued that just as history (hindsight) and current events (insight) are core general education requirements, the methods and knowledge base of futures studies (foresight), deserve inclusion in the modern undergraduate curriculum.

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