Making Futurism Visible

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be live-streaming one of the Bromford Group‘s Future Fifty events in which the housing group is celebrating its fiftieth birthday by organising a series of events which look to the future. This one was a collection of “vignettes” delivered by Digital Futurist Mike Ryan on what the coming decades will mean for Digital Communites, The Digital Home, and Digital Health and Care. I recommend having a look at the talks via my archive of the live stream here, there is tons of thought-provoking stuff in there.

I was prompted to make a point in one of the Question and Answer sessions, based on my observations of the audience. During some of what I thought to be totally reasonable predictions by Mike, I noticed one or two people gasping and others giggling. This brought home to me the real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest. The point I made to Mike is that the widespread ignorance of the potential offered by technological developments leads to very bad decision-making by people who have no idea about the directions new technologies are heading in. I would categorise two really major decisions in this area; UK Broadband strategy and HS2.

Thus, the Government is convinced that 24Mbps is sufficient for anyone’s needs and has based its rural broadband roll out strategy on this assumption. On the other hand, any of us who works with these things on a daily basis knows that our requirements for bandwidth is escalating all the time, and that, within only a few years, most people’s needs will greatly exceed 24Mbps. This means that the current infrastructure being installed with government subsidy will need to be replaced before too long. This is why many of us argue that we should be installing Fibre to the Home, which is capable of being upgraded to very high speeds, rather than the interim technology of Fibre to the Cabinet.

The second bad decision is HS2, with billions of tax payers money being thrown at a solution which is little moved on from how the Victorians wanted to move people around. Not only is HS2 an idea which is out-dated now, it won’t be implemented in full for getting on for 30 years by which time, such technologies as holographic video conferencing and 3D printing will be mainstream. People say that video conferencing has failed to catch on, but holographic video conferencing, in which a 3D image of the person is projected and can move around as if in the room, will create a tipping point as a much richer and more satisfying experience than seeing them on a flat screen.

And people think that 3D printing in a frivolous bit of fun. But, already furniture, buildings, and even body parts, are being produced by 3D printing processes. Once the cost of the machinery comes down to affordable levels, 3D printing will greatly reduce the needs for goods to be transported. They will be printed, or more accurately, manufactured, in the homes or the workplace.

These are just 2 technological advancements which will transform lives and, greatly reduce the need for travel, meaning that long term investments like HS2 make very little sense. But, of course, they will also require us all to have broadband speeds significantly greater than those which the government thinks we will need.

Most people think you are a fantasist if you make predictions like this about technological advancements. But this is because they don’t see the trends which lead to them. They are not public enough. What can be do to make “Futurism” more visible? I think it’s vital that we do.

7 thoughts on “Making Futurism Visible

  1. Excellent points John – and I would add an associated gap. Innovation programmes like NESTA and Nominet Trust fund excellent projects that take us another steps into the future, and promote them extensively. However, ask a roomful of people outside the London launch circuit and few will know of them … even though they may be aiming to develop something similar,

    • Really pleased you posted this John as I’m speaking on a similar topic tomorrow – thanks for the material 😉

      Seriously this is a very important topic and one I think we need to keep promoting. Not only does the lack of visibility lead to bad decision making it also means that promising innovations never scale ( the point made by @davidwilcox is spot on).

      There is also a bit here about how organisations initiate projects and procure new services. Often the people who are doing the commissioning are completely unaware of the possibilities of technology – so projects start with very narrow remits.

      A great post

  2. John,
    A great post and thank you for the great videos you made of my talk. I often work with organisations open to change but with a mindset in the past. I call it the Kodak Moment (timely I know) and often it takes some strong provocations and creative discussion to move the thoughts to the future.

    Most editorial on new technology concentrates on the immediate impact but often its the long tail of a supply chain which is mostly affected. Take the automobile industry. Driverless cars impact more than the driver. Who needs insurance if the car drives itself? Will taxi drivers be needed (unlikely). However the biggest disruption could be to the car industry as people cease to need the 20th century’s biggest seller as they can call a car by mobile phone (certainly by 2030).
    Car ownership becoming rare transforms the whole economic model and may extinguish the car leasing industry and put most manufacturers out of business.

    On the HS2 discussion I couldn’t agree more. The lease cost of Pendelinos on the West Coast lines creates massive rail fares that a billion pound purchase could drop prices by 50% overnight. Having recently been in Japan and travelled on the nozomi shinkansen which is faster in 2013 than the HS2 line will be in 2032, I can say we need to give up now and stick with what we have. Either that or commission the Japanese to do it for us.


  3. Earlier this year I saw this presentation by Gerd Leonhard, a Futurist, at the Learning and Technology Conference: The speed of technological change is frightening and the predictions are that many of the jobs we do now will be automated. But the good news is, the things that makes us human will provide new work, although it will require transformation rather than change for both organisations and individuals. The big question is, how do we communicate this to the sceptics who are still avoiding most forms of technology?

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