Keynote by Michael Batty

The Intrinsic Unpredictability of the Future City (Virtual Lecture)

Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London

In the last 50 years, the certainty that we once had with respect to our abilities to predict the future have all but disappeared. Yet much of our arsenal of theories and methods still pays lip service to the idea that we should and can predict. In this talk I will  set about exploring this myth of prediction, arguing that social and physical systems are intrinsically unpredictable. However if we cannot predict then, how do we approach a future that we need to design and manage. In fact our limits to prediction are partly dependent on our abilities to invent but we never know quite what we are able to invent and certainly we cannot predict what we might invent. These notions are deeply embedded in the limits to the scientific method and we will sketch some of these ideas before suggesting ways in which we might handle the future. I will then briefly review some of the key ideas in planning cities that imply an ability to predict and sketch the ways in which we might moderate this kind of naïve prediction that has dominated the history of city planning over the last 50 years or more. I will show some examples of the kinds of models that we build and suggest that we are moving to a world dominated by multiple models of the same phenomenon where much of our decision-making will be influenced by a plethora of such models. 


Michael Batty is Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London where he is Chair of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and a Turing Fellow in the Alan Turing Institute. He has worked on computer models of cities and their visualisation since the 1970s and his recent publications Cities and Complexity (2005), The New Science of Cities (2013), and Inventing Future Cities (2018), are all published by The MIT Press. The edited book Urban Informatics (Springer 2021) reflects his focus on the applications of digital technologies to urban planning. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) and the Royal Society (FRS) and was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2004. With Wei Yang, he recently published A Digital Future for Planning: Spatial Planning Reimagined, The Report of the Digital Task Force for Planning in 2022.

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