San Diego 2049


Overview / Schedule of Events / The Competition / The Certificate / Team Application / FAQ / Contact

The School of Global Policy and Strategy is celebrating its 30th anniversary by partnering with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination to produce San Diego 2049, a series of programs through 2018–19 that will use the imagination and narrative tools of science fiction to stimulate complex thinking about the future and the ways we could shape it through policy, technology, innovation, culture, and social change.

The largest challenges facing life on earth—climate change; the possible emergence of new autonomous, intelligences; the decentralized ability to edit genetic material—are multi-generational, contingent, and uncertain. Choices taken today will have hard-to-foresee consequences; the pace of technological change means that policy choices may struggle to keep up.

If we are to leave the earth in better shape than we found it, successful social choices will require us to imagine distant alternate futures that reflect our best knowledge about how humans behave and evolve socially, politically, and cognitively. Science fiction gives us the needed space for long-range speculation and the complex interactions of technological, political, and social change.

Imagining the future helps us react to unanticipated situations—futures that we did not imagine. This competition and event series foster diverse visions for San Diego in 2049 from UC San Diego graduate students and draws on research by faculty across divisions. By bringing together students, science fiction writers, faculty, policy makers, and industry experts, we aim to foster the kind of multi-modal, boundary-crossing thinking that we need today to anticipate the potential shape of the world thirty years from now.

The San Diego 2049 student competition, open to graduate students from all disciplines at UC San Diego, provides hands-on experience in sophisticated futurist forecasting and science fictional thought experiments to develop robust scenarios, clarify problems, and develop policy solutions in an emergent near-future. Student teams will have the opportunity to learn from science fiction writers and futurists, and be paired with a GPS faculty member for guidance on policy implications. Through workshops and panels, teams will develop their worldbuilding skills. Mini-grants will be available to assist in the creation of their own interventions in these futures, empowering students to take ownership over the complex ways in which our actions in the present influence the shape of the world a generation from now.


Schedule of Events:


Fall Quarter:


Winter Quarter:

  • February 1: Team applications due (see below) and submission deadline for project proposals and micro-grants

Spring Quarter:

Student Projects:

Three teams of graduate students completed the yearlong San Diego 2049 program, earning a Certificate in Speculative Design for Policy Making through the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego. The three teams were:

Fronteras: Imagining the future of the border region in a scenario that involves ubiquitous virtual reality, the regional tourism, caregiving, and transportation industries, and changing immigration policy driven in part by climate change, the Fronteras team—bringing together grad students from Ethnic Studies, Literature, Computer Science and Engineering, Visual Arts, and Communication—tells the stories of multiple people living on both sides of the border through a Twine-based interactive story-based game in which critical questions about the complex interactions of technology, race, class, institutional authority, climate impacts, and personal agency are explored: 


The Intelligent Governance Network: 

Working from the premise of a massively crowdsourced, AI-powered political party assuming the presidency in 2049, the team behind the Intelligent Governance Network charts a series of possible events between today and the election of 2049 that, in a critical-utopian way, imagines the intersections of democracy, artificial intelligence development, and labor in an information economy that could lead to such an outcome. By exploring their website, which includes an interaction timeline, interviews, and an excerpt from a televised debate between the human and AI presidential candidates in 2049, they ask questions such as: Will current governance structures be able to adapt to transformations brought by the intelligence revolution? How will systems authenticate identity and distribute resources in the intelligence age? Can decentralized technologies restore trust and optimize participation in critical policy design?

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Goose and Gander:

Taking inspiration from satirical and absurdist strategies of speculative design, the team behind Goose and Gander probe the question of motivation in addressing pressing social concerns by taking seriously the premise that in 2049 this motivation comes from owning a goose. Why protect waterways? If we didn't, our beloved geese would have no place to live. Why improve public transportation, after the self-driving car bubble has burst? It's better for the environment and thus better for our dear geese—plus it gives the geese important social time with each other during the commute. Why would the US government triple its investment in K-12 education? As they write, "who else would ensure the children were well educated and able to face the challenges of caring for their goose?" Link to the story here.

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The winner of the San Diego 2049 competition was the Intelligent Governance Network, but we want to congratulate all of the students who participated through the year for bringing their diverse expertise and experience to bear in these exciting, generative conversations about we imagine the future.


The Competition


UCSD graduate students (professional, Masters’ and PhD) are invited to form teams to design a vision for the San Diego border region in 2049 and create an intervention into that future. The intervention can take any number of forms: a story, a policy paper, a film, a game, a prototype, a product, a media broadcast or podcast, a performance, etc. Events throughout the year will help student teams develop and refine their future thinking with expert guidance. At the end of Fall 2018, teams will have an opportunity to apply for $500 micro-grants to cover expenses associated with developing their intervention. At the end of Spring 2019, a pitch-fest style competition will be held in which students present their final projects. 


  • Teams can be 2-6 people.
  • All team members must be currently enrolled graduate students in good standing at UC San Diego.
  • Students can be a member of only one team.
  • For the final project, if submitting a written piece, the submission should be no more than 6,000 words. Submissions that must be viewed or interacted with, projects should require no more than 15 minutes to appreciate.
  • Team application is due February 1.


The evaluation of the final projects will be based on the following criteria:

Sophistication of the worldbuilding.

  • Demonstration of complex consideration of the interactions of technology development, social and political change, and plausibility within the timeframe of 30 years.
  • Emphasis of not only the action-forcing event that precipitates your intervention, but also the political realities of the response. Which agent/agency is leading your intervention? How was the necessary buy-in achieved? What stakeholders were engaged to ensure implementation? Must account for our political and human limitations to address issues that are long-term, slow-moving, and difficult to conceptualize due to the scale or level of complexity and number of interdependencies involved.
  • Demonstrated understanding of how proposed solutions exist in complex relation to a world in which there are no quick fixes and side effects are often unpredictable.

Rhetorical strength of the intervention.

  • Provocation of new insights and lines of thought.
  • Successful use a future scenario to persuade about present opportunities or dangers.
  • Proactiveness and potential realizability as a tool for shaping the future.

Successful realization of the project within its given medium.

  • Whether the submission is a paper, story, film, performance, etc., the quality of its technical realization will be evaluated as defined by the medium’s standards.
  • Adherence to the length/duration requirements (6,000 words or 15 minutes)

Prospective team members and individuals are encouraged to join the discussion on the San Diego 2049 Facebook group to share ideas and resources.

Certificate in Speculative Design for Policy Making


All currently enrolled UC San Diego graduate students are eligible to earn a certificate in Speculative Design for Policy Making through the School of Global Policy and Strategy. To receive the certificate, students must:

  • Personally attend 75% of events;
  • Ensure one member of each team is present at all events;
  • Maintain membership in team throughout the year;
  • Ensure team identifies and works with a faculty advisor from GPS;
  • Submit a final team project for evaluation. 

Eligible students will receive the Certificate in Speculative Design for Policy Making at the conclusion of the yearlong program.


Team Application


The opening events are design to foster the organization of interdisciplinary graduate student teams. Once you have formed your team, you must submit a team application through the below form by February 1:



What is San Diego 2049?

San Diego 2049 is a series of programs through 2018–19 that will use the imagination and narrative tools of science fiction to stimulate complex thinking about the future and the ways we could shape it through policy, technology, innovation, culture, and social change. Several events are open to the public, and there is a competition open to UC San Diego graduate students only to create interventions into a future scenario of your devising in interdisciplinary teams.

How can I find out more about the program?

The easiest way is to attend the info session with GPS professor John Alquist on October 8, 5:00–6:00pm at Robinson Complex room 3201 (refreshments provided). If you cannot attend, information will be available at the opening talk with Vernor Vinge on October 12, or you can contact us at

Is this a course, or can I get course credit for participating?

No, this is an extracurricular program running throughout 2018–19. Participants who meet the eligibility and participation requirements, however, can earn a Certificate in Speculative Design for Policy Making through the School of Global Policy and Strategy. Project teams will also be able to apply for $500 micro-grants to cover project expenses, get valuable hands-on experience in futurist worldbuilding techniques, and, through interdisciplinary collaborations, be a part of challenging subject-area norms in exciting and generative ways.

How can I join a team?

If you are a UC San Diego graduate student (professional, Master's, or PhD), attend the info session with GPS professor John Alquist on October 8, 5:00–6:00pm at Robinson Complex room 3201 (refreshments provided). If you miss this, you can still attend the opening talk on October 12 and join us for the worldbuilding workshop on October 13. Both will feature opportunities to get to know other graduate students, discuss possible scenarios and interventions, and form teams. Similarly, connect with other graduate students through the San Diego 2049 Facebook group to share resources and ideas.

Once you have a team and a GPS advisor, you will submit a brief application to list your team officially with us.

How do I find a GPS advisor for our team?

If you aren't sure who from GPS would be best able to advise your team, please contact us at with any relevant information about your project. We will help identify a member of the faculty.

I have a question about X topic—who can I get advice from?

If you're looking for subject area expertise or mentorship on a topic but do not know who could help, the quarterly thematic panels can be a great opportunity to hear from researchers and interact with them. If these don't speak to your group's concerns, reach out to us at and we will help you identify the most appropriate resources.

Our project has grown. Are there other sources of funding at UC San Diego to work on these kinds of projects?

We encourage teams to investigate the Chancellor's Research Excellence Scholarships, administered by the Office of Research Affairs, which can be a vital source of support for innovative, interdisciplinary graduate student research projects, of the kind that San Diego 2049 may incubate.

I'm a faculty member/private researcher/member of the public, and I would like to participate in San Diego 2049. Who do I contact?

We are very open to opportunities for collaboration and for the benefit of our students. Please contact us at with more information.



If you have questions about the program, how to participate, or how to support this exciting initiative, please contact us at