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The Future Timeline


Participants collaboratively collect information about a topic with respect to its past (historical) and current (contemporary) developments and try to predict its future potential. With the visual compilation of background information, speculations and group discussions about preconceptions, the participants get to know different perspectives on the topic and to know each other better. This also makes The Future Timeline suitable as an icebreaker for a larger workshop.

This method aims to introduce the participants to a new or familiar topic with respect to its past, current and prospective future challenges enabling their own short research, collection and group discussion. It can be used as an initial workshop task, facilitating participants getting to know each other and to share their knowledge about the topic and their motivation for participating in the workshop.

We recommend dividing the participants into groups of no more than 8 and taking at least 40 minutes for completing the task. During our workshop the task was set as follows: “For the first 15 minutes individual research, followed by collaborative group collecting and completion of a table in response to the question: What are the main aspects of AI’s historical, present and (fictional) future evolution?” The participants worked online with a MIRO board that included the task and a kind of table or visual structure ready to be filled with their knowledge and research findings. The table includes three areas titled “past”, “present” and “future”, with a timeline. It could be filled in multiple ways live on the MIRO board – via adding notes, photos, shapes and arrows, links to websites, pictures, textboxes, screenshots, audio material, and drawings. We also encouraged participants to “hack” the table format and change it to a shape that best fits the outcomes of the discussions and the groups.

It is recommended to allow time for analysis and interpretation of the task outcomes. In the further course of our workshop a short task of 25 minutes was given to newly formed groups: “Exchange in the new groups on the Future Timeline I: Which aspects do you as a group want to keep? On which aspects would you like to deepen your knowledge?” Of course, there are many other opportunities and timeframes that could be used to analyse and interpret the method outcomes, while additional aspects from the original groups can also be added to the new timeline. Overall, the result was that the most important points of interest for further work on the topic were identified.


Name: The Future Timeline

Partner organization: Technische Universität Dresden

Authors: Robert Fischer, Henriette Greulich, Daniel Lordick, Lisa Nickolaus (The method extends UAL’s Timeline method – Heather Barnett, Adrian Holme)

Aims: This method aims to introduce the participants to a new or familiar topic with respect to its past, current and possible future challenges/developments, enhancing their sense of perspective and awareness of preconceptions.

Time: The interaction lasts approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on group size. It can be appropriate to give some extra research time before the actual method starts – depending on the present knowledge of the participants.

Original Context:

The method was developed as one of the first tasks in a two-day online workshop Artificial Intelligence Exchange (AIX), at the Technische Universität Dresden. The participants worked on a showcase of artificial intelligence in groups of up to eight for this event. In advance of this, lectures on art and AI, on machine learning and on linguistics and AI were given. Additionally, participants were requested to research certain aspects.


The method was tested with a group of students and postdocs from different backgrounds (mathematics, social sciences, computer science, art, physics). Before the task started, lectures were given by two scientists (a Professor of Linguistics and a Research Associate for Software Development) and two artists (who are currently working at the intersection of art, artificial intelligence and society). In addition, participants had to research content regarding the past development of AI.

Resources needed: A collaborative digital platform that enables creative multimedia group work and group communication via video. During our workshop we used a combination of MIRO and Zoom.

Potential application/ adaptation: The method can be adapted to working with other topics than artificial intelligence.

Case Study:

These screenshots show outcomes of the use of the Future Timeline method, in the first part of the workshop AIX 2021 facing the topic of artificial intelligence art. 

Test Process:

The success of the method was determined by two factors:

  • The group could interact for the first time in a mutually supportive environment to address a key theme.
  • The group had to identify points of convergence with which to continue the work on AI.


Participants were asked to provide feedback on the methods including The Future Timeline.

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