The International Futures (IFs) project began in 1980 with Barry Hughes’ creation of the first generation of the IFs model. Over the last three decades, Barry has led a growing IFs team in a now thriving center and overseen the evolution of the IFs model through many generations.
The first generation of IFs was written in FORTRAN and available for use on mainframe computers through CONDUIT, an educational software distribution center at the University of Iowa. Although the primary use of that and subsequent early generations was by students, IFs has always had some policy analysis capability that has appealed to specialists. For example, the U.S. Foreign Service Institute used the first generation of IFs in a mid-career training program.
The second generation of International Futures moved to early microcomputers in 1985, using the DOS platform. It was a very simplified version of the original IFs without regional or country differentiation.
The third generation, first available in 1993, became a full-scale microcomputer model and improved on earlier representations of demographic, energy, and food systems, along with new environmental and socio-political content. The third generation produced three major editions of IFs, each accompanied by a book also called International Futures (Hughes 1993, 1996, 1999). The second of these editions moved to a Visual Basic platform that allowed a much-improved menu-driven interface running under Windows. The third edition incorporated an early global mapping capability and an initial ability to do cross-sectional and longitudinal data analysis.
The fourth generation took shape during the early 2000s. It was heavily influenced by the usage of the model in an increasingly policy-analysis mode, including its important roles in the TERRA project and work on the Global Trends reports. It had a heavy emphasis on enhanced usability, including the creation of a new tree-structure and guided use mode for scenario creation and management.
The fifth generation of IFs (from 2004-2009) had three major thrusts: first was the continued enhancement of the model itself, including clearer and more extensive representation of the agent classes and their points of leverage, stemming from the desire to make the model a more valuable scenario-testing and policy-analysis tool. The further elaboration of the social accounting matrix, structure, the development of education and health sub-models, and the substantial redesign of an economic production function with endogenous multifactor productivity were among several outcomes of this thrust.
Second, the project continued to enhance the model’s interface and usability. Efforts included the addition of a number of specialized displays, such as those for seeing the social accounting matrices, to display progress towards Millennium Development Goals, to explore poverty at different income levels, and to represent the educational attainment of population cohorts. Mapping and data analysis tools were also strengthened. The ability to drill down into select countries to explore futures at the state or province level was also added.
The third thrust was the further institutionalization of the IFs system via (1) increased accessibility, transparency, and openness and (b) broader and deeper connections with other modelers and model users. The first step in greatly increasing accessibility to IFs was the sponsorship of the web-based version of the model by the National Intelligence Council in its Project 2020 (NIC 2004). Enhanced transparency came from adding the ability for users to access the flow charts, equations, and code underlying the model.
The sixth generation of IFs revolved around the development of the Patterns of Potential Human Progress series. The Patterns of Potential Human Progress volumes, with their focus on major human development systems spurred the further enhancement of the model’s major subsystems, especially population, economic (especially poverty representation), education, health, infrastructure, and governance. The supporting documentation required for the PPHP series also gave rise to efforts to create the most detailed documentation of the model to date.
The seventh generation: The seventh generation is the current one, officially beginning with 2014. Today, with the PPHP series entering final publication stages, new projects are spurring the addition of even more capabilities to the IFs model, including wider support for provincial and state breakdowns, new means of forecasting diplomatic and power interactions, and enhanced representations in many of the IFs modules. Central to our efforts, however, is always continuous improvement in the existing elements of the model and their usability. The last generation greatly strengthened the web-based version and it will increasingly become central to our work in this generation.
IFs is a living tool that is constantly evolving. Already, the groundwork is being laid for the next generation. The ideal for a project such as IFs, intended to serve such diverse forecasting needs, would be that (1) the model's data updates and extensions become as automatic and simple as possible by drawing directly on freely and consistently available sources; (2) its modules become interchangeable components, open to the work by others wherever they are; and (3) its development and support communities become large and organized, yet dynamic. In the early stages of the seventh generation we already see paths forward in each of these areas.
The Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures is the home of International Futures model and a hub of long-term forecasting and global trend analysis at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies on the University of Denver campus.
In 2007, Frederick S. Pardee supplied the support that allowed the University of Denver and its Korbel School to create the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. Thanks to Mr. Pardee’s generosity, in 2009 the International Futures project found a new home with the building of the Pardee facility as an annex to Ben Cherrington Hall, home of the Korbel School.
Today, the Pardee Center facility provides the growing IFs team of core researchers and graduate assistants with basic workspace, offices, video conferencing resources, and sophisticated presentation capability.