Future Tense

Future Tense

The world can feel as though it is in turmoil, from global conflict and environmental disasters to stalled politics and social unrest. From the domestic to the global, challenges can feel relentless and intractable. Short election cycles and a hyper focus on the next sound bite or Insta Reel, telescope and narrow our perspective.

But what happens if we zoom out, and think more expansively? How does our perspective change and our ideas become bolder and further reaching when we think on a much longer time scale altogether?

Future Tense is the foremost of our programme themes this year, bringing together a range of events and topics which offer the option of a truly different way of looking at things. As we relaunch our Festival at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI), we’re joined by some of the brightest minds currently exploring how looking to the future might save us from the present. Are there tensions in the future? Of course: but there’s hope and opportunity too.

Across six elements, we explore how future-oriented thinking, learning across generations and disciplines, and approaching change with curiosity, compassion and imagination, could help us untangle the huge systematic challenges we currently face, both as individuals and as a society. We’ll be looking at some of the most game-changing ideas emerging from technology, economics, philosophy, literature and creativity, and the new thinking which brings these fields together in surprising and impactful ways. From AI to sustainability, new takes on capitalism, history and the green economy, together we’ll have nuanced and progressive discussions that both illuminate the biggest challenges of our time, and suggest ways forward.

1. A Toast to the Future

For the first time, we’ll open with a special Gala event of readings, bringing you a kaleidoscope of perspectives and provocations, from the hopeful to the momentous, as we ask a diverse line-up of stellar writers to explore the idea of The Future (in 7 minutes each). Be inspired, challenged, and delighted by experimental author Martin MacInnes (In Ascension); EFI’s Chair in the Ethics of Data and AI, Shannon Vallor; form-bending writer Irenosen Okojie; speculative novelist Naomi Alderman; national treasure Richard Holloway; and award-winning poet and performer Joelle Taylor. This event will ignite your curiosity and plant the seeds of enquiry which we hope will germinate for you across your time at the Festival as you explore our ideas and themes. Supported by Claire and Mark Urquhart.

2. Future Library

The Future Library project is a meditation on time, and the imagination. A writer creates a work every year for 100 years from 2014, which is placed inside the Future Library in Oslo, remaining unread until 2114. Literary superstar Margaret Atwood contributed the first book to this visionary project, designed by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Recently, Atwood has been developing the concept of the ‘Practical Utopia’, asking simple questions to push us to completely redesign how we live. She joins us by livestream to explore how we can engender a better future. There will also be hands-on workshops, and the announcement of the 2025 Future Library contributor, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the project.

3. Generations

We can only plan effectively for the future by understanding what came before, and examining the impact of current decision making beyond the visible horizon. Generations will offer perspectives on how we can become ‘good ancestors’, from Roman Krznaric and Ella Saltmarshe, and on how our political systems can be adapted to consider more deeply our impact on the generations after us (led by Wales’ first Commissioner for Future Generations, Sophie Howe). We’ve crafted a fascinating series of intergenerational conversations between writers who share common ground too – don’t miss, for instance, poets Roger McGough and Hollie McNish together.

4. AI, Data and Complex Systems

We’re at the precipice of a huge change in our relationship with, and trust in, technology. There’s no resisting the shifting tide, but there are vast differences in perceptions about its benefits and dangers. We’ll bring together experts on data to consider how tech can help us build a better world, and where we need to be most wary. We have embarked on some groundbreaking research of our own into how writers and publishers might wrestle some agency back from AI, led by researcher and University of Edinburgh Chancellor’s Fellow Pip Thornton; come and hear the fruits of our fascinating workshops, and try out our Writer vs AI installations.

5. Future Economics and Politics

How is capitalism changing? How are we going to finance the green tech revolution we need? With a more unequal world than ever before, how much wealth is too much? As capital changes hands between generations, and tech looks set to revolutionise the economy, a range of fascinating economic thinkers and journalists grapple with what comes next. Including Nobel Prize winner Joseph E Stiglitz, BBC’s chief economics editor Dharshini David on the green economy, Ken Costa, Grace Blakeley, Ingrid Robeyns, and more.

6. The Imaginative Realm

If some of us have only just begun to think ahead creatively, sci-fi writers and authors of speculative fiction have been imagining the future – or rather, futures – for decades. What alternative universes have they been creating? What can great storytelling reveal to us about ourselves? First class writers from across these genres, including R F Kuang, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Irenosen Okojie discuss their imagined worlds, a group of writers and scientists get together to explore truly living within our means (like astronauts!)

  • Attend in person
Tied together perfectly in this year’s theme of Future Tense, pioneers in the subject come together to share bold ideas. Policy expert Sophie Howe was the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales; while writer, podcaster, and anthropologist...

Grace Blakeley: We Need a Different System

Saturday 10 August 12:15 - 13:15

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Are we really free to choose what we buy and how we live? Not according to Grace Blakeley, acclaimed journalist and regular commentator on the Today programme and Question Time. In her new book, Vulture Capitalism, Blakeley challenges the notion that...

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson: Sci-Fi's New Heroes

Saturday 10 August 14:00 - 15:00

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Travelling through time, dismantling space empires, and saving the world: just a few of the things Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson’s characters get up to in her epic space opera, The Principle of Moments. Today, she speaks about her debut novel with Jess Brough.

Think Tank: Sophie Howe

Saturday 10 August 14:30 - 16:00

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Sophie Howe was Wales' First Commissioner for Future Generations, the lead for groundbreaking legislation, the 'Well-being of Future Generations Act'. Today Sophie discusses the impact of that work, and how it is influencing Scotland's own approach to...

Festival Gala: A Toast to the Future

Saturday 10 August 17:00 - 18:30

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  • Captioned
Our Future Tense theme asks us all to consider the kind of future we want to share. In tonight’s gala event, we bring you a kaleidoscope of perspectives and provocations, from the hopeful to the portentous. Be inspired, challenged, and delighted by...

Writing the Wrongs of AI

Saturday 10 August 17:30 - 18:30

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Writers vs AI? Heather Parry, Sam Riviere, and Pip Thornton discuss the findings from Writing the Wrongs of AI: a pioneering series of workshops led by Thornton (University of Edinburgh Chancellor’s Fellow in GeoSciences), in partnership with the Book...

Ruth Allen & Wendy Pratt: Reimagining Our Nature

Sunday 11 August 13:45 - 14:45

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We bring together two writers who are reimagining our understanding of the natural world. In Weathering, Ruth Allen draws on her knowledge of geology and psychotherapy to explain how our constantly evolving planet can help us to endure life’s storms....

Ken Costa & Yuan Yang: Capital Ideas

Sunday 11 August 16:00 - 17:00

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  • Captioned
We continue our Future Tense series exploring two very different perspectives on how the future might play out. In The 100 Trillion Dollar Wealth Transfer, banker and philanthropist Ken Costa imagines how generational transfer of economic control might...

Practical Utopias: Workshop

Sunday 11 August 17:00 - 18:30

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By asking us to reconsider the most basic questions of our existence, Margaret Atwood's 'Practical Utopias' concept provides a blueprint for rethinking how we live sustainably and optimistically. What should we eat in utopia? What are the optimal ways...