Monthly Archives: August 2012

The future of women in work

Women v men: the glass ceiling is full of holes

Most people I think would agree that at least in the West. the glass ceiling stopping women getting to the top maybe hasn’t vanished but has at least huge gaping holes in it. Most big companies and organisations have anti-discrimination policies, and many go as far as having have quotas and other forms of positive discrimination. There are still some where women get a second class deal, but not many now. So assuming that the war is almost won on that front, what does the future hold for women in work? Well, mixed news I think, some good and some bad.

Winner and loser industries

Technology tends not to have all its impact in one lump, rather working over decades to accomplish its full impacts. Such it is with Artificial intelligence and robotics. Lots of manufacturing shop floor jobs have already been gradually replaced by robotics, with more impact to come, and many analytical and professional tasks will gradually be displaced by AI, with many others outsourced. Traditionally male-dominated jobs are being hardest hit and will continue to be, while gender neutral or female-dominated jobs such as policing, social work, sales and marketing, teaching, nursing etc will hardly be affected. Many of the men made redundant will be able to readjust and re-skill, but many will find it hard to do so, with consequent social strains.

Just as power tools have reduced the economic advantage of being physically strong, so future AI will reduce the economic advantage of being smart. What is left is dominated by essentially emotional skills, and although the polarisation certainly isn’t complete here by any means, this is traditionally an area where women dominate.

Looking at this over the whole spectrum, this pic shows some example areas likely to suffer v those that will flourish. Obviously I can’t list every bit of the entire economy.The consequences of AI are mainly influenced by the fact that few jobs are 100% information processing or intellect. Some is usually interpersonal interaction. Administrators will find that the pen-pushing and decision parts of their jobs will decline, and they will spend more of their time on the human side, the emotional side. Professionals will find that they spend more time with clients dealing with the relationship. Managers will spend more time on motivation, leadership and nurturing. Interpersonal skills, emotional skills, empathy, sympathy, caring, leadership, motivation – these are the primary skills human will provide in the AI world. The information economy will decline and gradually be replaced by the ‘care economy’. Although men can and do offer some of the skills in this list, it is clear that many are more associated with women, so the clear conclusion is that women will acquire an increasing dominance in the workplace.

Global v local

However, another consequence of the same forces is that globalisation of work will start to reverse in some fields, because if high quality human contact is essential part of the job, it is harder to do it from a distance. Some jobs require actual physical contact and can’t be done except by someone next to the customer. Looking at a diverse basket of forces, this is how it works out:Another trend in favour of women is that with increasing restructuring or businesses around small cooperatives of complementarily skilled people, networking is an increasingly important skill.

Low pay will still be an issue

Although women will generally have an easier time than men if emotional skills dominate, the evidence today is that most such work is not highly paid, so even though women will have less difficulty in finding work, it will not be high paid work. High end interpersonal skills such as senior management will fare better, but with extensive industry restructuring, there may be less need for senior managers.

Polarisation of pay

In spite of these trend that affect the vast majority of people, star performers aren’t affected in the same way. Although the markets are already depressing wage levels for groups where there is a lot of supply available, the elite are being rewarded more and more highly, and this trend will continue. The hard facts of life are that a very few individuals make a real difference to the success or failure of a company. The superstar designer, scientist, market analyst, manager or negotiator can make a company win. Letting them go to the competition is business suicide, so they justify and demand high remuneration. Sadly, 99%of us are outside the top 1%. Think about it. There are 70 million people in the global top 1%. Even spread across every sector, and ignoring those too young or old to work, that is stiff competition.

Market gender neutrality

Especially on a large scale, the marketplace is essentially gender neutral in the sense that customers generally don’t care whether a business is run by men or women (it certainly isn’t neutral in the mix of male and female customers for particular products and services of course). The market cares about marketing, price, quality, availability and location and a few other things. Gender has little impact. Companies can’t survive on the gender make-up of their staff, only results really count in the market.

Turbulence in the market caused by rapidly changing technology, especially IT, accelerates levelling of the playing field by favouring new business models and adaptable companies and wiping out those that can’t or won’t adapt. By contributing to accelerating change, IT thus acts in accelerating the downfall of a patriarchal business environment in favour of one based purely on merit. It expedites the end of the war of women v men but when it runs to completion, women will play against men and against each other on a truly level playing field.

Women v women: attractive v plain, young v old

Now that the glass ceiling is less of an issue, the battleground is moving on to appearance discrimination, which obviously links to age too. We now often hear older or plainer women complaining that the best jobs are going to pretty young things instead of the more experienced women who sadly have left their prettier days behind, especially in high profile media and customer facing jobs.

A real world example illustrates the problem well. A while back, the BBC’s treatment of older women was ruled discriminatory by the courts because they had favoured attractive younger women to put in front of cameras over older, less attractive ones. However fair it might be, such a ruling puts the customer in conflict with the regulator. Although such a ruling may appear fair, actually all the female presenters lose, as viewers will simply swap channels to programmes hosted by presenters they want to watch. The trouble is that regulators can rule how companies must behave internally, but they can’t prevent customers from using their free choice what to buy. If some viewers prefer to watch attractive young news readers, they can and will. Those programmes hosted by less attractive ones will see a reduction in viewer numbers, and consequential drop in revenue from advertising on those programmes, or in the BBC’s case, just a drop in viewers. Unless the customer has no choice in what they watch, the courts can’t level the playing field.

It isn’t just on TV that such discrimination occurs, but throughout industry. In male dominated areas, with mostly men at the top, attractive women will be favoured at interview time, and will then tend to dominate senior posts, so that quotas can be filled but men get to choose which women fill them. In airlines, it is hard not to notice if you fly frequently, that the most attractive stewardesses end up in first and business class, with the less attractive and older ones serving the economy cabin. And on a front reception desk, bar, sales jobs, and PR, attractive women have an obvious advantage too.

It looks as if this issue is likely to dominate as we move into an economy where women as a whole have the advantage over men. And it will be much harder to legislate equality in this case.

Experience v looks & IQ

With the pension crisis growing daily, it is inevitable that people will have to work longer than today. Social skills tend to grow with age and experience in contrast with intellectual speed and agility and physical beauty, which tend to decline with age. This is a fortunate trend as it enables work to be done by older people at just the time that retirement age will have to increase.

Flat lenses – oozing potential

Lenses used to be curved. Not in the future thanks to Harvard scientists: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/flat-lens-offers-perfect-image and http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl302516v.

Ht http://nextbigfuture.com/ for making me aware.

Flat antennas aren’t new per se, phased array radio antennas have been around decades, but this is the first optical flat lens I am aware of. Theirs is pretty damned clever!

They are already looking at applications such as flat microscope objectives, and have probably covered most of the biggest opportunities. But just in case, and researchers do occasionally miss some opportunities, here are a few for free:

Kite telescopes

NASA are currently flying a 747-based telescope, chucking out huge quantities of water vapour into the high atmosphere, contributing to global warming to take over from their space shuttles. Ironic that such a warmist organisation should do that, but there we go. A large flat surface telescope could presumably be made into a high altitude kite, albeit one that needs a little engineering. And it wouldn’t add to stratospheric water vapour, or even add CO2.

High altitude telescopes could be used for ground imaging as well as space of course, and there would be many commercially viable businesses from this root, as well as military surveillance of course.

Smart glasses and contact lenses

I would like a pair of glasses that record everything I look at. Flat surface cameras would allow this. Glasses are much bigger than my pupil, so they could allow much higher resolution, so I’d be able to see at very high magnification without having to use binoculars. I’d also be able to see infrared, microwaves, see where the strongest cellphone signal is, enable a whole new kind of fashion using different spectra, add to augmented reality hugely by using the infrared channel to show real as well as digital auras. Wow, can’t wait for these! I am playing Assassin’s Creed again, and this is Eagle Sense and then some.

Of course, active contact lenses could also use this tech and offer intuitive optional zoom. I would see the world as normal, but by trying to focus on something in the distance, it would zoom in automatically. There have only been a few updates to my original active contact lens idea from 1991, http://www.futurizon.com/inventions/activecontactlensmay91.pdf but this will be another generation for its 21st anniversary.

Credit card cameras

The smartphone is causing the decline of standalone digital cameras. Digital jewellery will cause the decline of smartphones, but one of the things we still needed them for is the camera. Not any more. A simple credit card camera would work fine. Or maybe even a wristband could be used. Flat cameras will hasten the decline of smartphones.

Smart posters

If they can be printed cheaply, cameras could be built into much of the urban environment. Any poster could have video capture and storage built in, powered by solar, with some comms added too. What and who it sees could direct what it displays. Sure, you can do all that and then some with augmented reality, but augmented reality is a whole load of additional functionality that lives happily alongside other stuff, and doesn’t necessarily replace everything. Posters could be the next wave of Big Brother or the next wave of advertising. Or both.

Teletubby T-shirts revisited

When the Teletubbies were still new, I suggested that we’d be able to make clothes with video panels in using polymer screens. Teletubby t-shirts. Flat panel cameras would allow these to be two way. They could display images but also act as a cameras. They could link to cameras in other people’s t-shirts. You could have a camera on your back that links to the video image on your front, making you appear to have a big hole through you.

Thought recognition and smart microwaves

Wired carries another interesting article on brain wave recognition of PINs via the headsets used to play computer games. Old stuff in idea terms perhaps but it’s always nice to see practice catching up. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/08/brainwave-hacking/

It seems obvious that this could work nicely with the flat lens idea. A flat surface could image the electrical activity in the brain from a greater distance instead of having to use a helmet.

It would also be possible to put flat cameras on the inside surfaces of microwave ovens, looking at the food to see where the hot spots and cold spots are, so that the microwave beams could be directed better to the areas needing heated.

I think that’s enough for now.

200km tall base for the lunar elevator

I was 8 when Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the moon. It was exciting. My daughter is 18 and has never witnessed anything of the same order of excitement. The human genome project was comparable in some ways but lacked the buzz. Ha ha!

There is excitement about going back now. We will, and on to Mars. We can do space so much more safely now than back in the 60s.  Commercial companies are pioneering space tourism and later on will pioneer the mining bits. But the excitement recently is over the space elevator. The idea is that a cable can stretch all the way from the surface out into space, balanced by gravity, and used as a means to cart stuff back and forth instead of having to use rockets, making it easier, less expensive and less dangerous.

It will happen eventually on Earth. We need to make new materials that are strong enough. Carbon nanotube cables and other fancy materials will be needed that we can’t make long and strong enough yet. But the moon has lower gravity so it is much easier there and will likely happen earlier.

Nextbigfuture has a nice summary: http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/08/unlike-earth-space-elevators-lunar.html and the NASA document is at http://www.spaceelevator.com/docs/iac-2004/iac-04-iaa.3.8.3.07.pearson.pdf

So I don’t need to repeat everything here. Instead, I am wondering about applying a derivative of my idea for a 30km tall building: http://nvireuk.com/2012/02/12/super-tall-30km-carbon-structures/

A 30km tall building on Earth could make use of atmospheric buoyancy for the lower end, which of course we wouldn’t get on the moon. But we also wouldn’t get wind on the moon to add stresses. And on the moon gravity is less so the structure could be much taller. On the moon a graphene structure could form as much as the bottom 150-200km of the climb. It might offer a nice synergy. Or perhaps it is just easier to add 200km to the elevator cable. I don’t know, and no longer have the maths ability to calculate it. Maybe worth a look though.

Spotify definitely isn’t the future for music. So what is?

Rant ahead, move along if you aren’t interested.

My final update on Spotify. I gave up. I cancelled and there will be no more chances now. They have lost me permanently. Content-wise, it was far better, with a lot of stuff I wanted now available, albeit they have the same probs scanning in albums as me, with some tracks mixed up. I don’t mind paying £5 per month to ditch the ads and stream, which is what I thought I’d bought. It implied very strongly when I subscribed that I could stream it, but it turned out that wasn’t true. My squeezebox insisted I couldn’t use it because I need a premium subscription. Apparently the £5 per month one isn’t sufficient. I wasted a little cash but I will survive. I played 10 songs during the trial period, and had it 3  months, and that is the same price as buying them, which is easier to do and I can play them anywhere. If I can’t play stuff via my squeezebox, I don’t want it.

There is one other fault that is worthy of mention. When I wanted to cancel, I couldn’t find Spotify on my PC any more. It had totally vanished. That has happened a few times before. I didn’t remove it, it just left. Why they should remove an application I am actively paying for is totally beyond me. That really is the final straw. I’m done with them. I recommend you find an alternative if you’re shopping around too.

I know many of you have a good experience with it. I didn’t, and I’ve now given them several chances. It isn’t user error. I’m not thick. Spotify works for some people on some devices. It doesn’t work for me on mine. Bye bye Spotify. I’ll try an alternative.

The following is my original piece, what I wrote above is just an  update. Just bear in mind that some is now out of date.

 

Old blog follows:

So, I just cancelled my Spotify premium account. I gave it a good try – just over a year, so that’s over a hundred quid, and I reckon because of the problems using it I have listened to about 100 tracks over that time. Pretty poor value for me. It can be used, but is so difficult to use with my setup, I hardly ever did. And when I tried, usually the licenses had expired so it would spend ages downloading them again before it would let letting me listen. And usually several of the tracks on each playlist were no longer available. And worse still, on three occasions over that time, the whole application has gone missing off my PC spontaneously and I have had to download it afresh.

When I just want to listen to a music track, I don’t want to have to find the Spotify page, download the app again, wait ages while it installs, resyncs a few hundred tracks across all my playlists, clogging up my internet access for ages, log in again, figure out why it won’t talk my Squeezebox any more, fix the complaints by the software that my Squeezebox is logged in so I cant log in via my PC, put up with the inexplicably bad interface to the Squeezebox, wondering why the hell I can’t just use my PC version and then click a button to stream it, then take a trip to the lounge to change channel on my media system, then come back, switch off the one on playing on my PC speakers at the same time, and then figure out which of the two playlists I now have up is the right one, and then work out that the reason it isn’t playing the one I want to listen to is no longer available from Spotify, then figure out how to go back to the Squeezebox interface and find it on my hard drive from my CD collection, then play that, then wonder how I get back onto Spotify without losing the track playing, then try to find which playlist I had going…. etc etc.

Spotify does not work for me. It is better than Napster, but only on a 3/10 score is better than a 1/10 score basis. Both are total rubbish when used with a Squeezebox in another room. Part of that is the Squeezebox’s (Logitech’s) fault, part Spotify’s but if they have an agreement to work together, and claim to do so in their sales pitches, then it is both their faults. My Squeezebox is wonderful when it works. When!

So that’s why I cancelled. I clicked the ‘don’t use enough’ button on their form, but couldn’t click all the others that applied because they only permit one option. I didn’t use it enough because it is total crap. The only reason I didn’t cancel earlier is because I kept forgetting to.

Spotify is fine on just my PC, but then I don’t need the streaming, so the free one is fine, I just turn down my speakers when the adds come on.

OK, let’s move on from Spotify and my darned Squeezebox. I like listening to music, when it’s easy. When I used CDs I listened frequently. Then I got my first MP3 player, and much later various iphones. I have never used any of them more than a few minutes at a time. Having all your music on an easy button click means that with my hamster-like attention span, I hit a new track every few seconds and my enthusiasm quickly burns out. A kid in a sweet shop soon gets sick. And anyway, my iPhone battery seems to be empty every time I pick it up. Another piece of crap but that’s Apple for you.

I use my PC to store all my CD music, and rarely use them now. One problem I have and I am sure must share with others is that on iTunes some tracks get misnamed or worse still, just come over as unknown. I made the huge mistake once of letting iTunes reorganise my library and everything got so screwed up I had to scan in all my CDs again. I own about 20 tracks I bought from Amazon or Napster. They are on my PC, but are always hard to find when I use the media server or Squeezebox because the interfaces are bad. So even there, with music I own, on my own PC, listening is OK to a point, but still has loads of problems. I am listening to a playlist right now and picked ‘play all’, but I still have to go into the Logitech screen every track to make it play the next one instead of  letting it repeat the same track endlessly. It doesn’t work! It isn’t my fault. I am reasonably smart and have 30 years IT experience. If I can’t use it, it is designed badly. Simple as that.

I have a new Freesat system with a hard drive, and am told I can use that to store and play my music. I’ll reserve judgement on that till I try it. I haven’t plugged it in yet.

The future

So how do I get music? I don’t want to use a personal MP3 player all the time. What I really want is to be able to just see a big swathe of album covers, preferably virtual ones hanging in space in front of me, and touch one, then pick the track, or do all that with a playlist. Or speak a voice command, or use a simple search tool by .

When I play it, I want to watch the music video, and I want music made for full 7.1 surround, not bloody stereo. I want to feel I am there in the studio or concert. I want full sensory, full immersion music, with every sense stimulated in synch.

I don’t mind paying. I have never listened to a track I don’t have the legal right to listen to. That never has been an issue. I have bought a lot of what turned out to be rubbish and I’d like a refund please. Same with all the many dupes I own. Can I sell them please? Also, can I give in all my vinyl LPs and get lifetime licenses to digital version please? But I won’t hold my breath on that.

I want to pay a subscription to something a bit like Spotify, but a more professional one that sort of works. I want access to all the other music. And when I spend time making  a playlist, I don’t want to find 20% of the tracks won’t play next time I access it. I want it to integrate seamlessly with my owned tracks, in the correct sense of the word, not exaggerated sales hype. And I want to be able to point at any set of speakers in my house, or anywhere else for that matter and stream it from there, now. I don’t want to fight battles with software or have to log in to anything, or to update software, or re-establish internet connections, or be told I cant use it in the lounge because I am logged on in the office.

The music industry insists on being paid. But by doing so in such clumsy and badly implemented ways, they have destroyed any pleasure from listening to music and alienated countless customers. I tried to buy CDs, but Apple can’t copy them properly onto my PC. My PC can’t stream them reliably through my Squeezebox because of Microsoft and Logitech. No music subscription service I can access on the Squeezebox is any good at all. So I’ll keep the money in my bank account. I listen to music so much less now because it’s such a pain, so the novelty doesn’t wear off any more, so I have enough. A small loss to the global music industry perhaps, but many others aren’t willing to pay at all so I am part of the group they needed to keep on board. For 20 years they have been trying to get a working business model. This isn’t it.

Spotify aimed at the future, and missed.

The future of the Olympics, in 2076

Now that it is all over, it is time to think about the future. The last time the Olympics was held in London was 1948, 64 years ago. Going 64 years in the future, what will it be like then?

Watching the Olympics on 3D web TV is about as advanced as it gets today. By the 2024 Olympics, it will be fairly common to use active contact lenses with lasers writing images straight onto your retinas. It will be fully immersive, and almost feel like you’re there. In fact, many of the people in the crowd at the games will also use them, to zoom in or watch replays and extra content. The 2028 Olympics will have the first viewers using primitive-but-fun active skin technology to connect their nervous systems so that they can even feel some of the sensations involved. In gyms up and down the land, runners will be able to pretend they are in the race, running on their treadmills virtually against actual Olympians. They’ll receive their final placing against the others doing the same. This will improve and by 2040 even domestic active skin sensation recording and replay will feel very convincing. By 2076, we’ll have full links between IT and our brains, living the events as if we were athletes ourselves, Total Recall style.

Interfacing to the nervous system will help potential Olympic athletes improve their performance quickly, injecting sensations into the body to make perfect movements just feel better, so their body learns the optimal movement quickly. This will show the first improvements in results in 2032, with heptathletes and decathletes performing almost perfectly in every one of their events.

The 2050 Olympics will see the first competitors who are children of genetically enhanced parents, and some genetically enhanced themselves. They won’t need drugs to out-perform even those regular humans who have overdosed on steroids all their careers. Their careers will last longer too, as biological decline will be less of an issue thanks to their genes. In the same timeframe, drugs will advance enormously too, squeezing extra levels of performance, learning speed, sensory awareness and muscle development. With negative side effects under control, some drugs and implants may be accepted in sports. But fierce arguments over fairness will eventually force a split between the various streams.

The 2076 Olympics will be made up of five events. There will be one ‘original Olympics’ for ordinary unmodified humans, tested thoroughly for any genetic or chemical enhancements, forced to use the same equipment to eliminate technological advantage, possibly given handicaps for any innate genetic advantage they have over the competition. There will be another for the disabled, many of whom will resist being made ‘normal’, even if technology permits. There will be another for robots, with advanced AI and a range of ‘body types’, used as a show-off event for technology companies. Another stream will take place one for un-enhanced athletes using advanced drugs, implant technology, superior equipment, and even externally linked  IT to gain technological advantage and make more exciting sport. It will be far from ‘natural’, but viewers won’t care. And finally, another event for biologically and neurally enhanced super-humans, without any other technology advantage. These streams couldn’t compete fairly head on, but will make distinct events with distinct flavours and advantages.

The spirit of The Games will live on even with this split, and still only the very best will be able to compete, but they will be bigger, better and more exciting for everyone.

See also my previous blog on future sports.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/future-sports/

The limits and future decline of globalisation

Globalisation is a fact of modern life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will continue for ever. It certainly hasn’t peaked yet. As the BRICS continue to rise, trade will increase and opportunities for optimisation, economy of scale and influence, and pursuit of new markets will force more globalisation. But that isn’t the whole story. There are a few trends that work against it, and will eventually force some areas of re-localisation, even in the midst of a globalised world..

Manufacturing is changing

The development of 3D printing especially means that people will often be able to download a template off the net and print something locally. Even if they can’t do it at home, there will often be a local company offering a high quality 3D print service. Failing that, national or regional centres may have major facilities coupled to same day or next day delivery. Also, mass customisation and personalisation of things like clothes and household goods will often dictate local manufacturing or assembly. Thirdly, cheap labour will be harder to come by at some point. It is already moving gradually around the world, as developing countries become developed and more expensive, but we will one day run out of countries. Robots will cost pretty much the same everywhere. So the globalisation of manufacturing driven by cheap labour will find fewer places offering it, and richer people everywhere more willing to pay for fast access and personalisation that dictates local manufacturing. The market forces in manufacturing will thus stop pushing globalisation.

Move to care economy

Artificial intelligence will continue to automate more and more of our everyday admin. It is such a gentle process, we rarely even notice it, but even a simple google search replaces what used to be a tedious form sent off to a corporate library service. Voice queries on Siri may prove today that there is still some way to go before we have a true AI executive assistant, but we will get there. More and more of our information work will be done by machine, leaving those parts of our jobs that are based on human skills – leadership, motivation, understanding, caring, empathising, those that need some form of emotional connectivity generally. And although you can connect on the web, it isn’t as good as meeting face to face, nor will it be. The web will be fine for in between physical meetings, but isn’t a full substitute. Much of our future work will require being there, the opposite of globalisation.

Tribalism

Tribalism is built deeply into human nature. We may have thousands of web contacts, but none are emotionally as close or important as those people we meet physically. With them, we have a closer tribal bond. Of course friends and family rule here, but this doesn’t just apply to our friends and family. We also have a closer affinity with others who share the same town or even the same country than we do to people further away. The further and more culturally distant a country is, the less we feel bound to them. We may want to pretend otherwise, but it is true of almost everyone. A donation during an emergency appeal doesn’t take away from that. This means that globalisation will never be complete socially. There will always be local culture, local values, local bonds. We will connect to many around the world, but much of our real connection will remain local.

The future of space exploration

Another step closer to Star Trek this week then. Great!

It is hard to do proper timeline futurology in space sector because costs are so high that things can easily slip by a decade, but it is pretty obvious even to non-futurists what sorts of things will come some time. Another robot landing on Mars this week brings the days of human landing another step closer. And as we all know, once we land on Mars, sci-fi tells us that first contact, warp drive and interstellar travel can’t be far away. Sometimes sci-fi is spot on, but it doesn’t get it all right. There are better ways of exploring the galaxy than building the Enterprise.

For me, one of the most interesting things is that NASA are losing dominance to private enterprise. It is private companies racing towards space tourism and asteroid mining. They often seem to be able to do stuff at a fraction of the price of NASA, which seems to suffer the bloated sluggishness and waste of most big organisations, although its achievements and importance to date shouldn’t be understated. Still, private companies still don’t yet have the budgets for missions like Mars exploration. But give it time, costs will fall and more capital will be available as commercial viability improves.

Space is really going to start developing in the second half of this century. The first half will be pretty minor by comparison. NASA says we might get the first human landing on Mars in a decade or so. Add to that a few bigger and better space stations and ‘space hotel’ in low orbit in the 2020s, maybe even a decent moon base by 2040. We won’t start asteroid mining till the late 2040s. The first space elevator should arrive late in the century, and space exploration will accelerate quickly after that. Mining trips and some distant exploration trips will be enabled by hibernation technology, along with long trips to get water from comets or moons. With water, materials and loads of advanced robotic technology, some asteroids could be developed into outposts and space colonies will start to form in earnest. We’ll start missions to some of the more worthwhile moons.

By the end of the century, there should be quite a few small groups of people dotted around the solar system. Although they will be there for a variety of reasons, their very existence creates a sort of insurance policy for mankind. If there is a global war, or a major asteroid strike or any of dozens of accidents occur that could wipe out pretty much all life on the Earth, having a few outposts will be useful. It means that humans might still survive even if everyone down here dies. But it won’t be just humans there. By the end of the century, many of the population will be AIs. They will be interwoven with human society but will have their own cultures too, plural, because there will be many variants of AI. These AIs will serve as both friends and colleagues, and as well as their own culture, will also act as excellent interfaces and repositories for human culture.

AI science will be the main springboard for space travel, yielding very rapid acceleration of technology development.  Physics won’t allow everything from sci-fi to be built,  and the timescales in sci-fi are often ridiculously overoptimistic, but real science and technology has a habit of making a lot of sci-fi look conservative. As just one example, the voice synthesis on the original Star Trek series is far worse than what we already have 300 years early.

Real science will enable a direct interface between the human brain and machines, and that enables the extension of human capability in every area. It also allows brain replicas to be made, and when realised by superior IT, they replicas will effectively be turbo-charged. In fact it is not impossible to get a factor of 100 million improvement before we push physics barriers. From another angle, we could get the equivalent of one human mind in a volume of 1/10,000th of  a pinhead. A lot of people could be copied and encoded in such a way, and stored for very easy transport. That miniaturisation could be the real basis of space exploration, not huge spacecraft. Sending your mind with a few nanobots to build a body for you and terraform a suitable environment could be cheap and easy compared to the alternative.

Scientists are already considering the possibility of making wormholes, and small ones would be easier and cheaper. Given huge acceleration of technology in the late century via these vastly super-human capabilities, perhaps we will be able to start projects to make real wormholes, through which could be sent some encoded minds and nanobots. A tiny capsule just a few microns across could be a tiny seed for an entire colony. Myriads of these could be sent off like spores, landing on suitable places and assembling a colony. I think that is how we will actually proceed. The spaceships we will soon send off to Mars with people in will be followed by several more decades of them, and that may remain the basis for local civilisation and enterprise, but for the long distance stuff, large physical craft may not be suited at all and using spores will be the next phase.

Spore-based space travel is 100 years away, perhaps a little more. That still makes it 200 years early.

Physicists like toying with ideas for propulsion too. Sci-fi uses a wide variety and many of these are possible and even potentially cost-effective. My own contribution is the space anchor. This locks on to the foundations of space itself and pulls the craft along as space expands. By locking and unlocking and using differences in curvature, craft could reach very high speed. There are a few details to work out still, but plenty of time. Space anchors can also enable easy turning and braking, one of the things that always seems difficult in space, given that parachutes and wings don’t have much effect in a vacuum. OK, needs work.

Why the blog title change? The more accurate guide to the future?

Well, it is part blowing my own trumpet, and part realisation that my futurology skills have improved over 21 years and the new title is a fair claim, since I can now claim 90% accuracy. There is a lot of rubbish going round out there, but I like to believe I see through most of it and rarely get taken in, and my results are the evidence.

Until recently, I frivolously claimed to be accurate about 85% of the time, but that was based on a simple right/wrong count in the technology timelines I used to do.  I don’t do them any more because they take so long. They were not really serious predictions, more a list of what will be technologically feasible by the stated date, as much media tools as serious contributions to the futures field, and they were always produced in time in between projects so never got much real effort, so the 85% was pretty good, all things considered. Each entry probably only got a minute or two of analysis. On the other hand, technology is pretty easy to predict, so 85% isn’t all that good. The 15% I got wrong should maybe have been lower.

My more serious work, such as papers in professional journals and commissioned articles receive much more effort and consequently have better scope, depth and insight than the timelines. Now that sufficient time has passed, most of the stuff I wrote about in those has either come to pass or is at least much more mainstream and well on its way.

After 10 years working in far future engineering projects, I have now been doing futurology 21 years full time, and have developed a good sense of what is realistic and what is just marketing hype, what is catastrophist nonsense and what is a real problem. I use systems engineering skills honed over 30 years in front line engineering and can usually spot garbage a mile away, and what is important. And I now cover a much broader scope than IT, extending into most sectors.

Futurology should be far more than just pointing at new gadgets or recent discoveries or developments, though that is a valuable activity in its own right. So, I use those same systems thinking and engineering skills to add insight, and often propose solutions, many of which have since become real or at entered mainstream discussion. I am no entrepreneur, but that does at least mean I get to say “I told you so” more often than I used to, and that is all the more fun in those areas where so many people were so emphatic that I was wrong. It is very satisfying watching others having to fall in line and trying to hide or dismiss their errors. That may be a personality defect but so what? Just occasionally, everyone else IS wrong.

Anyway, I had a good check of how the word is now, and where people are going, even where the futurist community is now making lots of noise and checked against what I have been saying over the years. As a result, I have revised my estimate of my track record to 90% accuracy at the 10 years horizon. More accurate. So, 90% of the time I will be pretty close to the mark, 10% I will still be talking rubbish. I think that’s pretty darned good. I hope you agree.

Thanks for reading ‘The more accurate guide to the future’. Seeing through the fog just a little more clearly. I will put my trumpet away now.