Designing San Diego’s future

4 Mins read
UC San Diego The year-long San Diego 2049 program

Students engage in science fictional thought experiments and futuristic forecasting to pave the way for San Diego in the year 2049

By Rachel Hommel | GPS News

The largest challenges facing life on earth—climate change, the possible emergence of new autonomous intelligences and the decentralized ability to edit genetic material—are multi-generational, contingent and uncertain.

Kim Stanley RobinsonThe year-long San Diego 2049 program was a student competition and event series fostering diverse visions for the region in 2049 from UC San Diego graduate students and drew upon research by faculty across divisions. Sponsored by UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) and the Arthur C. Clark Center for Imagination, the program offered participants a glimpse into the future, harnessing imagination and the narrative tools of science fiction to stimulate complex thinking.

“The future of the San Diego region is inextricably linked to the future of the rest of the planet,” said award-winning science fiction writer and program speaker Kim Stanley Robinson.

Named “Hero of the Environment” by TIME magazine, Robinson is a UC San Diego alumnus and a climate change expert. On May 22, Robinson shared his insights into the future of our border region to a sold-out crowd, helping us imagine impact issues of vital importance to individuals, our communities, our species and to life on planet Earth.

“Say things go right in 2049. The stakes are high, but the opportunities are here,” said Robinson. “I see such an amazing number of creative people at UC San Diego. It’s one of the greatest intellectual centers on this planet.”

The evening featured the final presentations of three UC San Diego graduate student teams who have been imagining their own future alternate realities. For each team project, students were encouraged to develop robust scenarios, clarify problems and develop policy solutions in an emergent near-future. Below, we glimpse the future of our city from our top finalists.


The interactions between technology, race, class, institutional authority, climate impacts and personal agency are as complex as they are critical. In this project, the team, comprised of graduate students from Ethnic Studies, Literature, Computer Science and Engineering, Visual Arts, and Communication imagine the future of the border region in a Twine-based interactive story game.

Team Fronteras, SD 2049“We define worldbuilding as a practice of creativity, imagination and activism to explore the possibilities of our future based on our extrapolations of the past and present,” said team leader Jeanelle Horcasitas, Ph.D. candidate in literature. “We believe imagining activist groups such as the one in our game, called ContraVR, is important to show that there are enclaves of resistance when it comes to finding solutions to injustice and inequality in our futures.”

The game encourages participants to step into the lives of six individuals trying to navigate the challenges of this new virtual reality (VR). While we can look forward to advanced VR and its limitless possibilities, there is also fear that technology will only be available to the elite, while marginalized communities may provide the cheap labor.

“Futurist forecasting is not simply a ‘warning’ about the future, but a way to imagine something different, often something better and be proactive about implementing plans or changes right now,” said Horcasitas.

Play it here:

Goose and Gander

We could have clean air if we wanted. We could have medical care without life crippling debt. In general, technology is supposed to create a wonderful and sustainable paradise for mankind. Goose and Gander is a story about a future with all the common sense solutions you can think of already implemented.

Team Goose and Gander, SD 2049“So many dystopian and utopian stories focus on global problems, but we thought the future is most interesting when we can see what our very own lives could be like,” said team leader Joaquin Reyna, Ph.D. candidate in bioinformatics.

Telling the satirical story of the goose, the team’s San Diego 2049 project represents a modern utopia, not because justice, mercy, or the notion of the greater good has prevailed, but rather so people can care for their goose. They fight pollution so their goose doesn’t get sick. They invest in clean water and public parks so their goose has places to roam. The goose becomes the reason to live responsibly and sustainably.

“We human beings really enjoy the ‘what if’ and futurist forecasting allows us to embrace our imagination in ways that extrapolate what’s already in front of us,” said Reyna. “Rather than waiting for the future to reach us, I think it’s super exciting to reach for it and to see what’s on the other side!”

The Intelligent Governance Network

Start with the intersection of democracy, artificial intelligence development and labor. Now imagine an AI-powered political party assuming the presidency of the United States in 2049, known as the Intelligent Governance Network. For this project, students grappled with the idea of privacy in the information economy when building a decentralized automated world.

Team Intelligent Governance Network, SD 2049“At the crux, worldbuilding offers a deep dive into speculation, not just science fiction,” said team leader Courtney Geigle, MAS-IA ’20. “This whole process was about the journey, collectively trying to figure out ideas about the future across society and business while exploring those intersections.”

Filming its own 2049 presidential debate, the team won the competition for its deep dive into speculation, examining how technology will address every aspect of daily life from the economic to the political to the social.

“San Diego 2049 was a fantastic addition to my GPS degree, and a way to apply more logic, speculation and analytical skills in a creative way,” said Geigle. “You utilize a lot of foundational elements of worldbuilding in consulting. I hope to incorporate more future forecasting in business post-graduation.”

Imagining the future helps us react to unanticipated situations—futures that we did not imagine. For more on the group projects, visit here. For a photo gallery, visit here.

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