Imagine a future in which terrorists seize an embassy and police can send in a remote-controlled insect outfitted with a microscopic video camera that reveals where the gunmen are hiding and what kind of weapons they hold.

Or a time when adventure travelers fly to the moon to spend a week at a space colony under the glittering lunar skies–in the way they now visit Antarctica or the North Slope of Alaska.

Or a U.S. constitutional convention where delegates draft a new governing document that allows the rest of the world a say in American decision-making.

Sound far-fetched? Over 1,000 futurists arriving in Chicago this week have been considering such scenarios and a host of other possibilities that some people might dismiss as wild dreams and unlikely schemes. The World Future Society–an organization of academics, consultants and planners–is gearing up for its annual conference Friday to Sunday, drawing forward thinkers from as far away as South Korea and Venezuela.

Mainstream futurists are not crystal ball gazers or mere science fiction aficionados (though a session is scheduled on “Science Fiction as the Mythology of the Future”). The future may seem unknowable to most mortals, but humans continually plan for what lies beyond the chronological horizon, futurists say. Everything from an environmental impact study to Pentagon war games are forms of future study.

Futurists tend to be consultants and academics who analyze data based on current trends, said Patrick Tucker, assistant editor of The Futurist magazine and a society spokesman. Many offer advice to and facilitate discussions within businesses seeking to anticipate events, rather than merely react to crises.

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