IFTF was founded by Paul Baran, an early Internet pioneer and co-developer of packet switching, futurist Theodore Jay Gordon, and Delphi method co-inventor Olaf Helmer. After a year in Middletown, Connecticut, the Institute relocated to Silicon Valley, where it has been ever since. During the presidency of Roy Amara (1969-91), the Institute conducted some of the earliest studies of the impact of the ARPANET on scientific research, and was notable for its research on groupware. The Institute attracted several notable researchers in this period, including astrophysicist and computer scientist Jacques Vallee, sociologist Bob Johansen, and its most consistently mediagenic figure, technology forecaster Paul Saffo.
Today, the Institute maintains research programs on the futures of technology, health, and organizations. It publishes a variety of reports and maps, as well as a blog on emerging technologies.