The future may be fundamentally uncertain, but people's appetite for predictions of what will be happening in days, weeks, months, years or even decades to come is one thing, at least, that is certain to be part of it.

To satisfy that curiosity, while some people may turn to science fiction and others may choose fortunetelling of some sort, there are professionals in Japan and worldwide who are taking that curiosity to a new and higher plane -- and putting the results of their detailed studies to concrete commercial or practical use.

Known as futurologists, or sometimes simply futurists, these specialists are in the business of prediction based not on hunches or feelings -- let alone the stars, tea leaves or whatever -- but on the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data, which they sift and interpret to advise companies where and how to allocate resources -- whether R&D budgets, for example, or new products to meet foreseen new demands.