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.