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Want to be a futurologist? Key roles in the futures industry

joint blog with Tracey Follows

I spent most of my career as a futurologist and thoroughly enjoyed it. I simply can’t imagine not being interested in what lies ahead, or ever stop thinking about it, so I guess I’ll be a futurologist until the day I die. I’d strongly recommend it as a career, and it is becoming much more fashionable now, so I get lots of emails asking me how to get into it.

Thousands of people call themselves futurists or futurologists. One of the commonest questions I am asked is what is the difference? They are the same thing. I used the term ‘futurologist’, because I study the future, so futurology is simply the obvious and most appropriate term. ‘Futurist’ is unfortunately much more commonly used. Before it came into use for people who study the future, the term ‘futurist’ already referred to an artist who practices futurism, an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century, emphasizing speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane, and the industrial city. At a stretch today, it could also be interpreted as someone with a futuristic lifestyle, such as a gadget freak. I can think of no sensible derivation for it as a term for someone who studies or talks about the future, but we are where we are. A futurist is therefore just a futurologist with lower regard for English. However, since 90% or more of them use that term, I pragmatically concede defeat and use ‘futurist’ to avoid endless argument. Futurologist is correct, but futurist is used more frequently. I now use them interchangeably.

Everyone thinks about the future sometimes. Even animals do so. Sheep may gather under trees if they see rain coming; almost all animals take evasive actions if they see predators. Doing that often involves modelling – figuring out what the predator might do, the path it might follow, where you’ll land if you make that jump with a particular force and direction. Nature has equipped us already with many inbuilt modelling skills. You think what the weather might do when you decide what to wear. You plan your food shopping according to what you have and what you think you will need. You think further ahead when you consider your investments, your retirement or what to encourage your kids to study at university. Some people become sufficiently skilled at thinking about what the future might bring that they can make a career from doing so, or perhaps do so part time as one role among many. If you find that possibility attractive, you already have the main attribute needed to be a futurologist: an interest in the future. There are several different roles that you can aim to fill, depending on your various talents. In this blog, I’ll briefly outline the field, the many different types and roles and the talents, knowledge and skills needed for them.

I’ll avoid jargon, and that’s also my first futures lesson. Jargon can be a useful shortcut when referring to commonly held concepts among colleagues, but if you’re explaining anything to anyone outside a field, you should be able to do so in ordinary everyday language. Jargon is field-specific (and can even be team-specific) so it gets in the way of communication if people don’t interpret that same jargon in exactly the same way as you. Worse, jargon acts to compartmentalize ideas and knowledge in your own mind, creating translation barriers between the compartments, and so impedes futures thinking, even if it slightly speeds up thinking in its specific field. If you can easily and seamlessly make links in your mind without having to step over those barriers, your thinking will be more fluid and you’ll quickly see things that most other people won’t. You’ll also find it far easier to do the sort of system-wide thinking essential to any useful futurology. I have nothing but contempt for those who use jargon or ‘big words’ as a way to feign expertise. Paraphrasing Einstein, “if you can’t explain it to the man in the street, you don’t understand it well enough yourself”. I’d add that it’s always better to convey big ideas with small words than small ideas with big words.

There are several main roles in the futures space:

Amateur futurologists are abundant, visible in very pub chat discussing who might win a football game, or what the budget might hold. We all engage in that amateur futurology frequently. A large number of people read interesting articles about the latest tech or science developments and tweet or blog about them, and that is all part of amateur futurology too. This is a great way to test the water – if you get bored after a while, it isn’t the right career for you; if it is a great source of enjoyment, perhaps you could take it further. Many progress directly from this start-point to professional futurologists and beyond (see the section below on futurologist speakers, writers, film-makers, bloggers, journalists).

Professional futurologists should go beyond this amateur level enthusiasm for the future, adding some real expertise and credibility. To be professional rather than amateur, by definition it needs to account for a significant source of their income. Many roles in business have some futurology in them. Pretty much everyone in strategy or planning, R&D, or even on the board needs to think about the future and what it may bring as a significant part of their job – forewarned is forearmed. Larger companies can often afford to have a few people who do that all the time. As a full time role, they develop a well-stocked mindset of what the future holds and can identify the many forces at play and how they may play out, and thus draw key insights (valuable enough to justify the cost of their role) that they can offer others in their company. They can help other departments to be prepared for what is coming.

Others such as designers, politicians, artists or writers may have large elements of futurology embedded in their jobs, even if it isn’t their title discipline.

Futurologists do not necessarily need expertise across a very broad area. Many futurologists are focused on deriving valuable insights within a relatively small field, such as the future of energy, or food, or fashion, or construction or some other field, and they don’t need to have any great activity outside that field. They are nevertheless valuable employees who can help ensure their companies make good strategic and planning decisions. Over time, futurologists will generally broaden their expertise to account for forces and events further afield, and become skilled in thinking further ahead may eventually become expert futurologists.

I think the main core skills needed for professional futurology are clear thinking and analytical skills, systems thinking, imagination, and also the ability to explain results to others who may not share you in depth industry knowledge. If you have those, you can produce insights about the future that are sufficiently useful to others to justify them paying you for it. But I’d also add discernment as a skill that makes a huge difference in the quality of build of the futures mindset, and the insights produced. Many people, sadly even some futurologists, can be taken in by things that others with better discernment skills might dismiss. The difference in outcome is between a reliable prediction of what the future will hold versus a more popular one that might push the right social media buttons but will not stand the test of time. Poor discernment skill doesn’t stop you from becoming a futurologist – you might still be able to produce material that grabs media exposure, but it is likely to be of low predictive value. Discernment skill makes the difference between getting it right occasionally and getting it right most of the time, between being limited to offering scenario planning and futures facilitation workshops, or being able to offer reliable predictions.

Many corporate futurologists start off in a fairly narrow field and broaden their scope gradually over time. I started futurology after a decade in systems engineering, so I had a lot of relevant expertise and experience, but it was confined to technology, mostly IT. Over a decade, I expanded that to cover the whole of IT, and then most other technology fields, including biotech, construction, materials, space, defense, transport, energy, and environment and then in the next decade on to food, beauty, cosmetics, sports and leisure, entertainment, medicine and even pharmaceuticals. Over those two decades, I also monitored a broad range of externals such as society, government, human nature, psychology, marketing, economics, incorporating them into my futures world view as appropriate. It really does take many years to incorporate all of those fields into a futures mindset that extends to 2050, but you can start small and grow.

Others take different routes. In fact, every field has a future to be analysed, and futurologists may come from any of them. My co-author Tracey came to futures through marketing and advertising communications, trying to analyse and model the changing values of the consumer, the changing lifestyles and match any emergent needs with emergent solutions. As with science fiction, media and communications offers a way to understand a changing society and that can often lead into a deeper interest in the specific area of futures. Each corporate futurologist has their own unique background and skills, and each will consequently look at the future with a different angle, drawing out different insights.

Expert Futurologists should have a broad, well-stocked mind view of what the future is likely to look like across a broad field over a broad timeframe. They will have a great deal of knowledge about that field, and a lot of insight into the key forces acting in it. They should be able to map the futures landscape in their field, highlighting the main features in it, the main threats and opportunities, and thus determining some plausible futures scenarios that might be worth investigating or preparing for. They should, on demand and relying entirely on their mindset, i.e. without having to google anything new, be able to outline and explain those key trends, forces and interactions, what is likely to happen and how that will affect the many stakeholders (government, people, business, society, the environment). They should know not just about current trends, but have enough insight in their field to predict likely new developments even where there are yet no trends, by pulling together insights from across the field to essentially invent things that do not yet exist but which are likely to arrive in due course. An expert futurologist should be able to make inventions within their field. To be worthy of the term expert, they should be able to factor in influences across their broad field and process those against other external forces built up of their own life experience, such as human nature, likely political or social reaction, market responses, and by doing so, an expert futurologist should most certainly be able to make not just plausible scenarios, but reliable predictions, determining not just the map of the future terrain, but the most likely path to be taken (or paths where there really are some genuinely unpredictable events or decisions, though that should be the exception, not the norm).

Skill-wise, the same skills mostly apply as for professional futurologist, but obviously significantly better developed, with a broader remit and longer time-frame. However, the best futurists are plugged into many different fields of interest and are good at spotting weak as well as strong signals. Especially if they start to notice a weak signal among people across different communities, they will gain a good sense of that trend as well as where it might be going. They don’t need to be expert across all those areas to notice signals in them, but it is certainly useful to at least have antennae facing numerous interesting and cross-disciplinary areas. 

The list of areas I cover is still growing but there are still enormous gaps in my knowledge, and that’s fine. I only have one brain, and it can only do so much, like anyone else’s. I know relatively little about global politics, the future of China or India or South America, or Indonesia, or Brazil…, I still don’t cover individual companies or brands, or law, or most regulation, and I could go on. There is a future for everything, but thankfully there are also many futurologists, and someone somewhere knows lots about those fields where I know nothing. That’s how it should be, but that does mean you also need to have futures contacts you respect who know about the other stuff.

Futures facilitators

Many companies engage in strategy or planning workshops, where they think about the future and its various threats and opportunities. There are many ways of doing so, but one of the most common is a scenario planning workshop, where a group identifies some potential ways the future might unfold, and how these might impact on them. Some go further and work out how they might influence the future to their own advantage. There are a variety of ways of running these workshops and various charts and tools that help guide participants through the processes – many readers will be familiar with two-axis charts dividing the future into four nice neat scenarios. The people who run such workshops are futures facilitators. Sometimes a senior manager or strategy consultant might take that role (not least because it can be a valuable team building event and can be excellent at getting personal commitment to a strategy) but really it is a straightforward administrative task that can easily be done by a junior manager or admin staff. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Futures facilitators can become skilled at running such workshops, developing interpersonal, motivational and leadership skills that help get the most out of the valuable time of the attendees, making sure everyone gets a chance to talk, that loudmouths don’t monopolize the whole time, that ideas aren’t immediately dismissed and creativity squashed before they can be explored further. Some offer very valuable personal skills, but facilitators don’t need (although they might have all the same) any particular futures knowledge themselves, and they don’t even need (though again, might have) any interest in the futures discussion. The key expertise at the workshop lies in the attendees, who should be chosen carefully. They provide the knowledge, the analytical skills, the insights and often the managerial clout to implement what needs done as a result. The role of the facilitator is to guide them through the process of extracting and harnessing their expertise.

Some facilitators may also be professional futurologists in their own right; indeed many are, and as well as helping attendees to think about their future, they might add their own futures knowledge and insights to help them do their analysis. As with many jobs, being a futurologist is often one part time role the employee fills among several. But facilitating discussion, helping or guiding others to think about the future is facilitation, not futurology per se. A skilled individual can and sometimes does fill both roles, but there is no value in conflating them.

This is an important distinction that needs to be stressed because it aligns well with the chasm between academia and industry. I often see it written by academics in the futures field that “one of the myths about futurologists is that they predict the future”, often going on to explain that “nobody can predict the future”, that “the future isn’t predictable”. That’s simply nonsense. Many people, in industry at least, can and do predict the future reliably. Their company may depend on them doing so. Their job may depend on them doing so. I made thousands of predictions of the future for my employer and its customers over 17 years, scoring over 85% accuracy ten years ahead (yes, I counted, and that is an honest figure, not some exaggerated sales claim). 85% isn’t perfect by any means but it is still very valuable. So, why do people make these comments that futurists don’t predict the future? Is it just ‘Those that can do. Those that can’t, teach. Those that can’t teach administrate?’ Perhaps.

When you look at what they do, the services they offer are mostly teaching and futures facilitation. As I explained, a facilitator runs a workshop, and tells attendees what they’re doing next and guides the general process of thinking about the future, e.g. making scenarios and thinking them through. The primary knowledge, thinking, predicting and insight lies with the workshop attendees. Futurologists worthy of the title offer either prediction skills or insights about what is driving the future, i.e. what will drive the various options you might have to deal with. They should really be able to do both. If you are neither offering the attendees key insights nor making useful predictions, you are not acting as a futurologist but as a facilitator, typically a junior manager of administrator role. If you can’t make grounded predictions or at least offer genuine useful insight about what, where, who, when, or why the future will do x, y or z, you are not a ‘futurologist’ or futurist, whatever other roles you can reasonably claim. Please don’t say futurologists can’t predict the future. I’ve been a professional futurologist for 30 years, making thousands of reliable predictions. Maybe you can’t, but I certainly can, and so can many others. It really is nonsense to say otherwise.

Futures Teachers

A growing number of institutions offer courses that teach about the future, the skills and tools that are useful in studying it or using the outcomes, and even some of the basic knowledge about the various factors that will influence the future. Many other futures courses have come and gone. It is certainly useful to teach students what the future is likely to hold in broad terms, an assortment of useful futures skills, and also to teach them discernment and research skills so that they can build and maintain their own mindsets, as well as thinking skills, especially those that help them to think in whole systems terms, and teaching some basic work-shopping techniques etc. Futures teachers who teach such things may also be established futurologists in their own right.

Many futurologists take such courses, but many others develop their futures knowledge, thinking and analytical skills via on-the-job learning. I’d argue that both are valuable. If the desired role is to be a futures facilitator, or futures teacher, a futures course might suffice in itself (though basic facilitation skills can be learned in an hour or two). Being a professional futurologist requires serious in-depth knowledge of a field so a futures course can be a good springboard, but is really only valuable if accompanied by real experience in a field. By contrast, in-depth real-life experience is a good teacher in itself, since most futurology comes down to clear thinking, system-wide and sector-specific knowledge, and mature experience of everyday life, while many futures techniques are also widely embedded in many fields (modelling, trend analysis, data and stats know-how, basic planning and strategy techniques for example). Industry knowledge and skills can take many years to master, and futures techniques applied without that skill-set might be low value, so ideally, futurologists would have several years of real-life experience working in their chosen field as well as experience of using assorted futures techniques, which may be learned either from courses or on-job. Many corporate futurologists (like the authors) came that route. Teaching works both ways too. I’ve been involved in futures courses both in course development and teaching, and I’ve had enough exposure to various content and tools to know what works in practice and what doesn’t. As with any area, there is good and bad teaching, and good and bad techniques, so discernment is an important skill here too.

Futures speakers, writers, film makers, bloggers, journalists

Many futurologists give talks at conferences or workshops, or appear on TV and radio. It’s to be expected. The products of futurology are both interesting and useful, a rich source of food for thought, strategic input or even entertainment. Some excellent futurology has come from science fiction writers. H G Wells, Aldous Huxley, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell and even Terry Pratchett and many others too many to list have given us rich visions about what the future might hold, and often their visions have been well thought through, so are self-consistent and plausible within their own frames, even if some of the sci-fi technology would never work for real. Futurology requires some of the same skills needed to write good sci-fi, so it’s not surprising. Sci-fi also has a rich two-way interaction with technology fact, and writers may be good scientists or engineers as well as writers. Futures writing often becomes film-making too (or TV series such as Black Mirror), so this part of the futures industry is one of its most glamorous lucrative sectors. In more mundane use, futures writing also costs in in PR and marketing, where it can grab abundant media coverage and clicks for a campaign by adding interesting materials about the future, however tangentially related to that campaign it might be.

Many futurists have blogs or video channels. Some interview researchers or receive press releases about future products and write about them. If they add insight on the likely impacts of these things, or predict what future versions might bring, then they are properly fulfilling the requirements of being a professional or expert futurologist in their own right. I have come across some excellent futurologists in this space, who make great interviewers because they have thought the issues through themselves so know the most interesting areas to focus on and ask about, where to challenge and where to let flow. I guess the key difference here is between an amateur futurologist who just reports things, and the professional journalist futurologist who thinks about the implications and adds insight.

Futurologists may often be asked to speak at conferences, with a wide mix of briefs that range from entertainment, opening people’s minds with stimulating ideas, outlining threats and opportunities, providing thought leadership, and sometimes are there to give complacent employees a much-needed kick in the pants.

Trend watchers

Many futurologists specialize in spotting existing trends and extrapolating them for a few years. Some call themselves trend spotters, trend trackers, trend analysts; some call themselves data scientists and some of them might even laugh at titles like futurist or futurologist, and that’s fine – a rose by any other name smells as sweet – they are still part of the futures family. Data science is a broad field in itself, often with a highly specific insight as the goal. Extrapolation is only useful for existing trends and usually only works for short term, but it is still highly valuable within those constraints. Data analysis tools, especially latest AI tools, can also produce insights on trends that are not easily noticed. Many other techniques are important here too, such as watching M&A activity, interviewing key people in industry or regulation, watching what people are talking about on social media. So trend spotting or analysis is a very different field from longer term futurology in terms of skillset, but every bit as valuable. This trend spotting and tracking often results in very pricey reports that are eagerly bought by companies wanting to develop particular markets or products. It saves those companies doing the work themselves and can help reduce risk enormously. Other companies do their own analysis internally, often at great expense, to extract the valuable insights that feed into their short-term planning. So although this is a very different field, looking at the short-term future with very different skills from the longer term futurology that I do, it is still certainly futurology and very important part of the field.

Futures Activists

Some groups even call themselves futures activists, but that term grates harshly against the core futurology skill of clear thinking. Obviously, people who are professional futurologists or even expert futurologists can also be activists in any field they choose. In fact, most of us are also engaged in various hobbies, special interest or political activities, but futurology is to do with mapping the future landscape, highlighting the important features and predicting the paths most likely to be followed. Activism seeks to force society down paths favored by the activist, quite separate and quite different. Lobbying, campaigning, distributing propaganda, demonstrating, or using social media to pressurize or attack or silence people are all the stuff of everyday 2021 politics, but activism is nothing to do with futurology per se. To be clear, futurologists may also simultaneously be parents, environmentalists, democrats or conservatives, gardeners, and activists in any number of areas, but those other things are not futurology and there is no value in conflating roles. As for activist groups who differentiate by race, futurologists should be judged by the quality of their insight or the accuracy of their predictions, not by the color of their skin.

Also into this activism role should be placed the frequent conflation of aspiration and prediction. Mapping out the field of potential futures is futurology; aspiration may be interpreted as looking at the futures landscape and picking and planning the path you wish to take, which may or may not involve also applying some futurology, but aspiration itself is neither a skill nor a useful qualifier, since everyone has aspirations. Again, the two activities are really quite distinct and there is no value in conflation. There is nothing wrong with working with organisations or clients to identify and steer towards a preferred future, but one has to more objectively investigate what the possible or probable default futures might be first.

So, there are numerous distinct roles in the futures industry, and it’s commonplace to blend them with other roles or with each other. The field is very rich in enjoyable, challenging and rewarding activity, and we would recommend it as a career.

Tracey is a futurist and author of The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st-Century Technology? She is the founder CEO of Futuremade, a futures consultancy advising global brands and specialising in the application of foresight to boost business. She helps clients spot trends, develop foresight and fully prepare for what comes next. A regular keynote speaker all around the world she has covered topics as diverse as the future of luxury, retail, media, cities, gender, work, defense, justice, entertainment, and AI ethics, decoding the future for businesses, brands and organisations. She is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and World Futures Studies Federation, and a Fellow of the RSA. 

Dr Pearson has been a futurologist for 30 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Graduated in Maths and Physics and a Doctor of Science. Worked in numerous branches of engineering from aeronautics to cybernetics, sustainable transport to electronic cosmetics. 1900+ inventions including text messaging and the active contact lens, more recently a number of inventions in transport technology, including driverless transport and space travel. BT’s full-time futurologist from 1991 to 2007 and now runs Futurizon, a small futures institute. Writes, lectures and consults globally on all aspects of the technology-driven future. Eight books and over 850 TV and radio appearances. Chartered Member of the British Computer Society and a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science.

Brain refresh mechanism

I just read the transcript of an excellent podcast by Brian Roemmele and Jim O’Shaughnessy covering the intelligence amplifier and other ideas.

https://www.infiniteloopspodcast.com/brian-roemmele-the-intelligence-amplifier-ep29/#transcript

Engineering is rather like walking along a pebble beach with a friend. You’ll both experience broadly the same beach and will generally agree on the big picture stuff, but you’ll notice different pebbles. So it is with the field of connecting IT with our bodies and minds. Many engineers have worked in the field and in spite of a lot of overlap, there are enough differences in background, skillset, perception and approach that we’ll often come up with alternative ideas and insights, and even different solutions to the same problems.

In this case, it was clear we’ve both explored the issue of our brain forgetting information and experiences, and although forgetting can be highly useful tool in creativity, it can also severely limit our ability to think. If you could recall every book, every lecture, every idea, how much better might you be able to think through a new idea? I found a short article I wrote 30 years ago on this very problem. Most of it would still be valid now, and it doesn’t even contravene Roemele’s consciousness bandwidth limit. Here it is:

Brain refresh mechanism, April 1991

The Macintosh has a desktop rebuild facility, which restores links between applications and documents. Norton utilities on the Mac have a further facility for repairing directories so that lost information can be found.

Adding these facilities, and working out the brain equivalent, this would perhaps be the same as restoring all one’s memories and skills, since all previous links in the brain would be restored. This sounds very sci-fi but there may be a way of doing this. It requires some modest advances in technology and maybe biology and psychology too but doesn’t everything?

It is well known that electrical stimulation on certain parts of the brain will stimulate memory recall, and this can be so accurate as to be the equivalent of re-living an experience. When this happens, the brain then restores those links in memory which had been lost and the person will remember this experience afresh (and probably eventually forget it in the same way). It is conceivable (but not certain) that if many points could be stimulated that large areas of memory could be rebuilt.

Obviously, it would not be desirable to carry out an operation to do this so it would need to be done remotely. Suppose that a safe (but electromagnetically responsive) fluid could be injected into the blood-stream. Suppose then that an electromagnetic field could be created at any desired point so that a localised high intensity was to result (this technique is already well established in radio-therapy). With the right choice of fluid, this could possibly result in sufficient stimulation to achieve the same effect as direct electrical stimulation. Since the electromagnetic field could be steered, presumably a complete brain refresh could eventually be achieved, with great enhancement in knowledge and skill.

Given the appropriate advances in CAT techniques and the discovery of suitable fluids, the rest is down to experimentation.

It is possible, although more unlikely and certainly further future, that information could be directly stored in the brain using this technique, accelerating learning and directly conveying information. By then, other more direct brain interfaces may have been developed, for transactions in either direction.

Possibly a silly idea.

Ancestor Zero

I’ve been reading Tracey Follows’ excellent new book ‘The Future of You’, about identity. (https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-future-of-you/tracey-follows/9781783965458)

I haven’t finished it yet, but it made me re-visit my thinking about future brain links and electronic immortality. My previous thinking has mostly revolved around having tiny inserts in the brain that signal to and from external IT hardware that effectively acts as a brain extension. My work on machine consciousness looked biokleptically at brain architecture for inspiration on how we might achieve it, and in doing so, made me realise that the timing of signals is very important, and for consciousness to have evolved, early conscious organism brains would likely have architectures that allow neural feedback loops with sensing and processing time of the same order as the time for signals to travel around the loop. This remains likely in modern brains in sensory and conscious areas at least (some parts of the brain would not need such architecture. Without such feedback in sensory systems, the internal sensing of sensing that I assume to be the basis of consciousness wouldn’t work. It’s worth noting that such neural network architecture has no need at all for the feed-forward/back propagation used in training digital neural nets and I think it would make a much better solution. Here’s the link if you want to read it:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/biomimetic-insights-for-machine-consciousness/

More recently, when I was updating my thinking on gel computing, I realised that potential processing speed of the suspended processing particles would be high enough to run many parallel machines in the same gel, and that would solve this machine consciousness problem while also allowing many minds (or instances of the same mind) to share the same gel if it is used to build brain extension/electronic immortality IT. I called it Turing Multiplexing. Again for quick reference, here is a link:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2018/12/27/future-ai-turing-multiplexing-air-gels-hyper-neural-nets/

These are just a few of the many trees currently not being barked up in the vast forest that is potential AI/brain link/immortality technology. I am increasingly frustrated that the rapidly growing army of AI researchers seems so determined to all focus on the same corner with the same old trees carrying the same bland fruit, ignoring the much richer, much more diverse parts of the forest with the far tastier, more exciting fruit, over-ripe, falling and wasting on the forest floor because nobody can be bothered to pick it.

However, I missed two tricks myself, unforgivably since I’ve walked right past it many times. In order to make a brain link, tiny IT devices need to be inserted into the brain to connect with each neuron and synapse. Musk’s team call their threads of connections neural lace, but really, we need tinier devices that are wireless. Few people would want to suffer an operation to have wires inserted that can only possibly connect to a tiny proportion of the brain. Devices that are sufficiently small could be injected and float through the brain, anchoring to places they are needed. Simple self-organisation tech is all that is needed to map the architecture and create an external brain extension. The first trick I missed is that instead of merely signalling activity between internal and external kit, these devices could be diverse, with some doing sensing, some storage, some signalling, some processing, some chemical activator roles (such as reacting to or fabricating hormones or neurotransmitters). In my blog on ground-up intelligence, I show how these can automatically link together to create local intelligence that can be broadcast where appropriate, or used locally where it isn’t. Link:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/ground-up-data-is-the-next-big-data/

This solution could work inside the brain just as effectively as a city centre.

The second trick is more fun. Applying the idea of Turing Multiplexing to these diverse IT particles, and leaving them in situ in the brain among the neurons and synapses, they can add multi-parallel intelligence, memory and sensory capability without any need at all for external links. They don’t need the server farm, the cloud. In fact, it would be more like an inverse cloud, with cloud-like functionality running in local space, with local ground-up intelligence creating a fractal cloud architecture. You could upgrade your brain by large factors without any external IT at all. Some nice functionality falls out right away:

You could speed up the links between different parts of your brain

Local processing can be done in the synthetic IT at highly accelerated speed and then signaled to local brain wetware, giving higher thinking and reaction speed without compromising natural capability or sensation

Turing Multiplexing of the synthetic IT allows many minds to share the same brain.

Instead of the high latency inevitable in using a cloud architecture, a hive mind could share exactly the same physical space, and since each mind would use neurons in the same region, this would give almost zero latency, greatly speeding up hive thinking, thought sharing, and telepathy.

Body-sharing is easily implemented, allowing much closer relationships. See:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/future-sex-gender-and-relationships-how-close-can-you-get/

Having the IT resident rather than in the cloud means that privacy, security and ownership issues can be sidestepped. Full control and ownership by the host can be assured (subject to terms of purchase of course)

Electronic immortality is built in. At any point, even after death, the full-spectrum information contents of the entire brain can be read, copied, backed up, duplicated or transferred. Some, such as electrical activity or chemical information, e.g. the state of hormones or neurotransmitters would degrade quickly, while other information such as memory would remain until the biological brain material degrades. But since brain death could be detected, all relevant information can be captured at that moment before it degrades, allowing much longer period for transfer. Nothing needs to be done during life, so it wouldn’t interfere with normal living.

Copying this information to another person’s brain would be easy if they too are equipped with compatible IT. Their Turing Multiplexing would support the deceased person as just another entity running on the same synthetic IT.

A mind could therefore be inherited much as easily as a photo album, and just like a photo album, copied to as many people as desired. Or it could just be left as an electronic copy on a server somewhere in case some future person wanted it. Or transferred to an android body so that the deceased can carry on electronically living. So the same tech that conveys the electronic immortality also allows minds to be shared (though that is also feasible with other electronic immortality tech).

What is really interesting though is that this allows people to have a high quality link to their ancestors. Many traditions have a special place for ancestors. They form a strong part of tribal identity. This technology would allow a full implementation of an ancestor’s mind in another brain, passed down between generations. They would not be some tribal story passed down by words or videos, but would be actual minds carrying on in a living biological body, most likely of one of their descendants. Tribal ancestry would become real in ways never possible before. This obviously needs the technology to have been present when those ancestors were alive.

So there needs to be a first generation. Ancestor Zero! If this technology becomes feasible later this century, as it should, then some alive today will be among the Ancestor Zero generation.

This idea is not new, only this particular technology implementation is new. For millennia, people have had shamans or mystics presumed to have a special connection to their ancestors, to have inherited special knowledge or talents, sometimes via elaborate rituals of inheritance. More recently, computer games such as Mass Effect Andromeda have built on the idea of some sort of IT that monitors the body and mind and can pass on parts of a mind via an AI assistant (SAM in this case).

However, even in the case of computer games, such inheritance is associated with special powers, unique to special individuals . It could become much more commonplace than that. Almost everyone could have such technology. What will we do with it? Will people inherit their parents’ minds, and those of their earlier ancestors? Will government want to control it? Will people need licenses to have their minds carry on in someone else’s body after their death? Will there be requirements for government monitors or supervisors to run in that Turing Multiplex? How would tribal traditions be implemented? Would only certain people have privileges to run certain ancestors or would anyone be able to download anybody?

As always with any interesting development, far more questions are raised than are answered. But it’s fun.

The future in 2004

I was searching for a slide (didn’t find it) and stumbled across my 2004 presentation to the World Future Society conference, about AI, machine consciousness and human-machine convergence. It’s quite depressing how much the IT world has underachieved compared to our expectations back then, based on the current state of thinking and rate of progress back then. You can speculate yourself on the reasons for that, but we are where we are, and we should be much further on. Anyway, you may find some of the slides interesting because some of the concepts are still waiting.

Should the IT Industry now be formally represented as the 4th branch of US Government?

Joint blog with Bronwyn Williams

We’ve known for many years about the importance of the IT industry, and in particular its social media arm, in facilitating political campaigning. A few years ago, big data and AI also became prominent political forces. Now, server farms, cloud services and everyday app provision have also entered politics. There is nothing wrong with providing powerful platforms to facilitate politics; the point here is that they are powerful but remain under the control of big IT, not government. These technologies are developing rapidly, and will become more and more important forces in politics, governance, as well as in every field of control and provision of essential services and information. Cash is well on the way to being exclusively digital, phones track us and every aspect of our lives and even smart watches now play roles in medical insurance and services.

The last two elections have shown that IT vulnerabilities are often perceived as almost as important, potentially allowing malign overseas agents to influence opinions via social media or even to directly control or attack electoral software or machines. It makes no difference whether particular instances of corruption or fraud did or didn’t happen – that’s for historians to debate – what matters is that they could have and could in the future.

In this election, we have learned the enormous potential for such malign influences and even more so the enormous power exercised by big IT. We’re well used to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram censoring opinions they don’t like, now censoring all the way through the social media influencer ranks right up to the President, but we have this week seen Google, Apple, Amazon and Stripe acting in synch, as an oligarchy, flexing their muscles to remove entire business – including web hosting and payment processing – from their platforms, effectively denying those businesses the ability to operate. Censoring or removing individuals from posting on social media platforms is one thing (and could reasonably be understood within the frame of general freedom of association). A coordinated attack to deny a third party business the ability to trade is quite another. Such an ability goes beyond a businesses risk towards being a matter of national security – imagine, for example, the digital oligarchy described above joined forces to hold a government service or department (perhaps a national health service) reliant on consumer-facing cloud based third party platforms and services hostage?  

With IT hardware, comms, AI, cloud services, software, apps, social media, audio and video media, gaming, advertising, and extensive control over the retail and distribution industries, big IT now wields so much power over US life and politics that it could be considered a fourth branch of governance, alongside POTUS, Congress and SCOTUS. 

This has happened gradually over many years, and although most aspects of it were predicted well in advance, it is abundantly clear that politics was not and is not ready for it.

We have a conundrum. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to refuse service are all key components of a free and fair society. But what happens when those freedoms come into conflict? Complex messy problems require clever solutions to ensure the cure is not worse than the disease. Simply handing power over digital communication networks and access from powerful private entities to government regulators only further centralises the risk of censorship and propaganda. As recent years have shown, politicians are not infallible, or altruistic. As with all systems, agents will act according to the incentives presented to them to maximise their own power and further their own agenda’s – be that profits, votes or popularity

One suggestion that might offer a middle way out of our Catch22, is to implement a new formal independent agency, representing big IT, let’s call it ITOTUS. It should be a body that includes key members of the main facets of the broad IT industry. It should, like SCOTUS, be staffed by people very expert in their field, and like SCOTUS, theoretically impartial (easier said than done, yes, but theoretically possible) . Its primary purpose should be to ensure a democratic level playing field that provides sound IT hardware and services to the US population without fear or favor, that is protected against political bias, corruption or malign foreign interests. As well as ensuring and guarding security and privacy and access to digital utilities (such as the ability to host a functional website or app and receive digital payments), it might also be the natural body to implement such upcoming fields as AI ethics, robot rights, human-machine convergence.

“one ought to design systems under the assumption that the enemy will immediately gain full familiarity with them” ~ Shannon’s maxim


ITOTUS is already needed, it is just late. The incoming administration will find an IT industry much aligned with its own politics, for now, but they will also soon realise that such alignment will not last for long, and this new body will very soon not only be desirable, but unavoidable.

Whatever path we choose, as citizens or states, we have to do so on the understanding that if not tomorrow (or on the 21st of January) then eventually, the system we design, the rules we choose, and the institutions we establish – be they public or private – will find themselves controlled by our ideological opponents. This is why it makes sense to advocate for an institution with a degree of autonomy from state, church (popular ideology) and business, to guard and tame the leviathan we have unleashed upon ourselves. 
A further question, perhaps, should be whether this oversight capacity should be national or international? After all, the same issues of domestic freedom of speech and trade are only magnified at an inter-state level. A fractured, nationalised global internet is no better for humanity than a fractured bi-parisan domestic internet.

Guest Author bio:

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst.  

Her day job as a partner at Flux Trends involves helping business leaders to use foresight to  design the future they want to live and work in.  

You may have seen her talking about Transhumanism or Tikok on Carte Blanche,; or heard her  talking about trends on 702 or CNBC Africa where she is a regular expert commentator. When  she’s not talking to brands and businesses about the future, you will probably find her curled up  somewhere with a (preferably paperback) book.  

whatthefuturenow.com 

fluxtrends.com 

@bronwynwilliams  

A new voyage of discovery

Well, it’s 30 years since I became a full-time futurologist. I am now pretty much retired, just doing occasional minor consultancy, but I am rediscovering my artistic leanings and experimenting. I have little talent or skill so my expectations are low but that means my personal threshold for amusement and delight is also low. With no need to sell anything, I will just do what I like and enjoy it.

As for futures, well, my brain isn’t dead. It is deeply frustrating watching society and government right across the West squander the enormous techno-social opportunities they have been given, so often choosing the paths into disease-riddled bogs and snake-infest deserts instead of the ones to the beautiful peaceful gardens. My blogs and books have called the fantastic opportunities and warned of the risks ahead but I take less joy doing so as our leaders insist in taking our countries down the wrong paths, so although I will continue to analyse and predict, I will document far fewer of my future insights.

I fear for our children. They will not inherit the world they should have.

Multidimensional government incompetence needs to end

I haven’t written a COVID blog for several months. Some of what government is attempting now half-heartedly and badly echoes some of the advice of my blogs back in March and April, so my disapproval of some of their policies is not on the what but the when and how. Wiser government offering good leadership, backed up by a moderately competent public sector, would have got through with a tiny fraction of the deaths and economic destruction. It may well be the case now that public trust and cooperation have been squandered, leaving fear and coercion as the only still-working tools. The vaccines will help of course, but slow delivery and ongoing public sector incompetence will mean more unnecessary deaths for at least another year. Tens of thousands are dead from COVID who shouldn’t be, as well as perhaps well over 100,000 more who will die from other illnesses due to lack of timely diagnosis and treatment. We, our children and our grandchildren will pay heavily in lingering economic, social, political and cultural damage. It shouldn’t have been like this, it really shouldn’t. That a few other countries have performed almost as badly is little consolation.

Tempting though it is, I won’t present a forensic analysis of past errors. They can’t be undone so there is little point. However, government can still improve on vaccine roll-out.

Firstly, while it was essential to make sure that vaccines were developed quickly, I do not believe it a good idea to guarantee the developers freedom from litigation in the case of bad reactions, not to try to block any debate on the potential downsides of vaccination. Vaccination is one of the most valuable scientific contributions of all time, but trust in its safety and efficacy and hence support for rolling it out depend strongly on the freedom to discuss both sides and weigh them against each other.

Secondly, many retired health care workers who have offered to assist in a speedy vaccination programme are currently being blocked by irrelevant administrative requirements. While there may be debatable value in having some health workers undertaking diversity training or training in guarding against radicalization, it is hard to see why not having undertaken such training should prevent someone from safely vaccinating someone. Barriers such as these need to be removed immediately, since every day lost means lives lost needlessly. Worse, the existence of such barriers is strong evidence of the unsuitability of key administrators to the vaccination programme They should be replaced, quickly. With an estimated quarter of infections happening in hospitals, (as well as the many infected in care homes due to administrators forcing out elderly patients into homes without proper checking) there should be more focus on training staff how not to spread infections. It is surely more important that your nurse doesn’t give you COVID than whether they use an incorrect pronoun or may not be fully aware of some discrimination you may once have been exposed to.

Thirdly, government shows an ongoing fondness for authoritarianism that will leave socio-political damage that will last many years. Social relationships have suffered as people overly fond of rules have become informers. Many important freedoms we used to take for granted will in future depend on the whim of ministers in charge, greatly undermining the consent foundations of democracy. Good leadership would rely instead on strong use of education and skillful soliciting of cooperation. If people were made well aware of the very basics of relevant science – how viruses spread, and how that is likely to be affected by different types of behaviours, or different types of masks – and persuaded to follow well-designed protocols, that would have, and could still, reduce infection rates enormously. Instead, government scientists have fully reversed their position on masks and tried to enforce quite arbitrary and often illogical restrictions, making some areas watertight while opening or ignoring gaping holes. That guarantees maximum inconvenience, social distress and economic damage, while reaping minimal benefit, as evidenced by the remarkable lack of correlation between lockdowns and infection rates.

Fourthly, the NHS has been subjected to worship where admonishment was due. It was clearly not fit for purpose, hopelessly unprepared to deal with a pandemic that everyone knew would one day arrive. Almost a year on, it has almost become a single disease service. Having commissioned the Nightingale Hospitals, and given that most existing hospitals have numerous separate buildings, would it be so difficult to arrange for COVID patients to be treated and still treat other ailments in separate buildings, with separate staff? With so many highly paid administration staff, you might reasonably expect they’d have solved that by now. Many people will die from heart disease, cancer, diabetes or some other disease because they were not seen or treated until too late. Many of us have already lost loved ones due to this problem. It must be fixed.

Fifthly, and I’ll make this the last one for now because I’m reaching my boredom threshold, government needs to stop the enormous economic damage it is causing. Forcing lots of businesses to close forever while allowing infections to spread rapidly by other means is not good management. Killing so many small businesses by refusing them financial support while supporting others will not incentivise those business risk-takers to take future risks. Many business people have had to live on their life savings, while watching others being totally or partially insulated from adverse financial effects. Gratuitously harming entrepreneurial activity over such large swathes of the economy will slow both economic and cultural recovery.

I wrote recently about ongoing harmful effects of poor environmental policy, following green dogma instead of proper system-wide, full life-cycle thinking, so it is not only in COVID that government falls short. Defence of freedom of speech instead of political correctness, pursuit of true equality instead of surrendering to tribal demands and perhaps most of all firming up the foundations of freedom and democracy instead of dismantling them are other dimensions where government needs to perform better. In short, it is too late to undo the damage of the many errors of the past, but not yet too late to stop serious ongoing damage.

Green government is still harming the environment

I wrote an entire book on this topic (Total Sustainability) in 2013 but it’s always a good idea to refresh thinking and things have moved on since then anyway. Like almost everyone, I want to protect and help the environment. However, there has always been a wide chasm between good environmental stewardship and what people call ‘green’, which although claiming to want the same thing, actually has halo polishing, feeling good and virtue signalling at its top priorities. I have no time for greens or their policies at all. Most are thinly veiled socialism, but since the poor are most often the main victims, they don’t even accomplish that well. Green is actually just another word for stupid.

When ‘green’ policies are implemented, the environment is usually harmed. Even if the intention is to help the environment, poor depth, scope and quality of thinking mean that many effects of the policies are missed (or blatantly ignored because of other political objectives). These are then labelled ‘unforeseen consequences’ even though almost everyone else saw them right away.

My book was full of examples, but current UK government is providing many fresh ones. The biggest is the set of policies supposedly intended to reduce CO2 emissions. I’m not a believer in catastrophic human-induced climate change but CO2 is a greenhouse gas so it’s sensible to make sure emission levels don’t become problematic. So the issue here isn’t whether government should or shouldn’t be concerned about CO2 but whether their policies are sensible. They aren’t, and are actually worse than not doing anything at all.

Let’s look at the likely default future if government had never even heard of CO2 and just stayed completely out of the way of normal market forces:

With only existing market forces incentivising R&D, by around 2030, solar power in the Sahara or Mediterranean coast would cost around $30 for the energy equivalent of a barrel of oil (approx 6GJ). Some time in the 2030s or 2040s, fusion power will come on stream at relatively low commercial cost. By 2050, the vast bulk of our energy, driven only by default market forces, would come from nuclear fusion or photovolatic solar. Hardly anybody would still be using oil or gas (even shale gas) by then, because it would simply cost too much. In some areas, hydro or hydro-thermal sources would play a significant role too. There would be a little wind energy production, but not much, since it would find it hard to compete on cost without the market being distorted by government. There would be even less from tidal energy.

At some point, home heating would switch over to electricity, which started off perhaps 50% more expensive than gas per unit. Over time, electricity would fall in cost relative to gas until gas boilers fell out of favour and cheap electricity would be both abundant and convenient. Energy poverty would disappear into history, as very cheap electricity would be available to all.

As heat pump technology developed in parallel, they may well become very economically competitive during much of the period between 2020 and 2050, so that some homes would use heat pumps for heating, powered by cheap electricity.

Meanwhile, electric cars would be slowly developing. Self-driving technology too, and all the associated IT and infrastructure. Eventually, in the 2030s, highly responsive driverless pod systems would start replacing public transport, socially inclusive and cheap to run. It is possible to power driverless pod systems using induction circuits in the road surface, or even to use linear induction moors to propel and navigate them, dispensing with the need for expensive AI, sensors, batteries and motors.

In such a situation, most people wouldn’t bother buying their own cars, choosing to rely instead on cheap public pods, pocketing the huge outlay previously spent on cars. There would be less need for car parks, private driveways and garages, less congestion, fewer accidents, and a far lower environmental footprint. Each pod would effectively be shared by many people, replacing the private cars typically shared by one or two people. Many people would convert their garages into extra living space, and new build homes wouldn’t need driveways, so that could mean larger gardens, bigger homes, or less countryside taken by housing.

This near-utopian market-driven future, that requires no government intervention whatsoever, is barely conceivable compared to the future we’re being brainwashed to expect. It would be extremely cheap, highly socially inclusive, with extremely low environmental impact – low resource use per capita and barely any CO2 emissions. The environment would be in far better shape, and our personal wealth would be similarly improved.

Now let’s look at what green government is doing instead, starting from the same 1990s point where electricity was around 50% more expensive per unit than gas. Government policy giving in to pressure from green groups has resulted in gradual phasing out of new-build nuclear power stations, shutting oil and coal power stations, converting others to wood pellets and putting some gas power stations on part time use, installing some bio-fuel generators and regulating that 3% of car fuel had to be replaced by bio-fuel, while large numbers of wind turbines and solar panels have been installed, greatly subsidised at enormous expense to energy consumers. Instead of being 50% more expensive, electricity is now around six times more expensive than gas.

Other green schemes have offered high levels of subsidy to encourage installation of insulation, smart meters and more recently, heat pumps. Ultimately the cost of these is all passed on to taxpayers and consumers. However, much as car repairs generally cost far more when paid for indirectly via insurance than when paid privately, availability of generous subsidies has resulted in very high prices and profits for the suppliers, rather than encouraging a positive R&D spiral towards low cost, high efficiency solutions. With government handing out many of the big contracts, corruption and well-connected but inefficient companies thrive, while other companies with excellent products but poor contacts may not. A highly distorted market where government picks winners instead of market forces guarantees slower development, higher prices and lower environmental benefits. Some people with the right friends have grown very rich at the expense of increased energy poverty for the rest. In the haste to approve anything that might improve the government’s green credentials, many a grand scheme has proceeded in spite of poor economics or environmental benefit.

Heat pumps can provide around 6 times more heat than the electricity put in, but if that electricity costs 6 times more than the gas alternative, there is no overall even on running costs, yet the extraordinarily (and artificially) high installation costs remain. The green incentives that collectively drove the higher costs of both the heat pumps and the electricity have thus resulted in no net financial incentive to switch from gas to electricity, and government is now being forced to regulate against future gas boiler installations.

Meanwhile, the EU requirement to have 3% of vehicle fuel as biofuel provided irresistible incentives for companies to burn down rain forests and forceably displace people who lived in them in order to plant palm oil plantations. Great environmental devastation across much of Borneo, Indonesia and many other countries has resulted, with many poor people suffering enormously.

The very generous subsidising of wind turbines has resulted, as well as huge stress for people and animals living near them, and the deaths of very many birds and bats, in enormous areas of peat bogs being drained, either directly, or as an ‘unforeseen consequence’ of installing roads for their installation and maintenance. Much of the dried out peat has biodegraded, resulting in enormous CO2 emissions. Similarly, subsidising solar panels on rooftops has resulted in wealthy homeowners getting a little richer at the expense of poorer households who have to pay higher energy prices to pay for them. Not only that, it has meant that those panels have been installed on homes in a country which isn’t actually very sunny. The same panel, had it been installed in Africa, would have produced far more much needed energy, saved far more CO2 emissions, and avoided a great deal of the wood-burning that otherwise creates particulates that present a known and serious direct health threat, as well as another direct source of global warming.

I won’t go on, though there are many other impacts that could be listed.

The result of government interfering (very incompetently) has been an enormous rise in the cost of electricity, increased energy poverty, and still increased environmental impact. Heat pumps are nowhere near as cheap or efficient a solution as they should be, and electric heating is now ridiculously expensive. The intermittent nature of wind energy means highly uneconomic use of remaining gas power stations, and lingering demand to reduce CO2 is now encouraging a move back towards expensive nuclear fission stations to fill the gap until fusion comes along.

Even the transport migration to all-electric is jeopardised by the still increasing price of electricity. On latest figures, recharging an electric car battery on a journey can be as expensive as petrol or diesel alternative, but future green subsidies will substantially increase the electricity price.

The only solution to government-induced energy poverty that government offers is enforced installation of smart meters, so that people can see just how much they are having to spend, so may switch off a light now and then. Even here, incompetence reigns. Smart meters are actually a great idea if used wisely. But recent announcements on future smart meters say that energy companies will be able to switch off supply to balance load when the wind doesn’t blow strongly enough. Well, that will certainly encourage people to get them.

With green government declaring itself as a friend, the Earth certainly doesn’t need any enemies.

The New Dark Age, update

with Bronwyn Williams

The New Dark Age is a topic I’ve lectured on often since the late 90s, when I first realized the pseudo-religious nature of many of the ‘isms’ people many subscribe to. I found it rather amusing that they often bragged how they had outgrown religion, but were actually just substituting a new one for old and lacked the personal insight to recognise it. Since 2000, many others have noticed the same and it is now common to note the religious equivalence of many areas of political correctness. My early work in the field isn’t available online, but my first wordpress blog on it in 2011 bemoaned the return of stone age cultures:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

My most recent blog on the topic, including a slide set to make it easier to read is at:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/utopia-scorned-the-21st-century-dark-age/

Even that was written a few years ago, before people started using that ridiculous term ‘woke’, so it is due an update given all that has happened recently. To that end, I have solicited the assistance of Bronwyn Williams, an insightful up-and-coming futurist from South Africa.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change since 2017 is that science has become even more politicised, to such an extent that it has lost a great deal of the trust it had. Without good science, we can’t progress reliably. If scientific results are only accepted and published when they align with the favoured political narrative, we might as well not bother doing the research, we could just jump straight to the conclusion without doing any – it will still be treated the same by the various branches of media, still get the same grants and political influence.

Even worse, perhaps, is the other, more ironic, side of this slide from science to sciencism, where populations are encouraged to blindly “believe the science” without question. Of course, science that cannot be questioned or tested or falsified is no science at all.

The present breakdown in trust in the intellectual integrity of science can be traced back to the environmental research field in the latter part of the 20th century, became highly conspicuous in the 2000s in the field of global warming, spread rapidly throughout energy production and has now spread to other areas such as biology, psychology and other areas of medicine – and even pure maths. More recently we have seen huge polarisation of the presentation and acceptance of science surrounding COVID treatments and medications, masks, vaccines, even lockdowns. New research in every field is parsed for political correctness before it is presented and will then be rejected, hidden, blocked by social media filters, or spun as fake news if it doesn’t align, announced as a major scientific breakthrough, amplified with any issues carefully concealed if it does. Regardless of any good intentions, that is a very anti-science position – on most social media we are not allowed to say so if we see that the emperor is naked (not if we would allow our accounts to remain open anyway). Sadly, some of those same companies are responsibly for much of the development of AI and automation, and we know from history that problems embedded in computer code can often remain a problem several decades after. Driven by activist positions today, instead of rigorous pursuit of scientific objective truth, they are very likely embedding flaws that will remain for the long term. After all, who fact-checks the “fact checkers” or bias-checks the “bias bounty hunters“?

Politicisation of science has reached the point where you can reliably determine someone’s views on the effectiveness against COVID of face masks or lockdowns by asking what they think of wind farms. Such is the nature of pre-packaged party-pack politics were the values of the faithful come defined as a menu fixe. Science that is just another branch of politics makes no contribution to development. This trend has been remarkably pervasive, with populist capture of once-trusted journals such as Nature, Scientific American, New Scientist and even bodies such as the Royal Society. Most news channels will only report research that supports their political leanings. Science is one of the most important pillars of progress, and its capture and distortion by politics is perhaps the strongest force pushing us further into a new dark age.

It isn’t only in science that large tracts of thinking are blocked. The last few years have seen severe stifling of free speech across large parts of the West, accompanies by equally severe distortion and redefining of language. The perceived truth of a statement now often depends more on the age, gender, background, ethnicity or political affiliation of the speaker than the meaning of their words. Again, this greatly undermines the structural integrity of knowledge and wisdom, lubricating our slippery descent back into the dark ages.

The prominent feature of this caustic cultural environment is the new religion of virtue, a collection of often nonsensical assertions with no supporting evidence apart than other nonsensical assertions, arising from the ever-shifting boundaries of political correctness as its advocates realised people were becoming more resistant to that term. Based primarily on emotion rather than reason, a whole new language has sprung up, the meaning of its words evolving quickly as its endless logical flaws are highlighted, searching for new niches where it can flourish. Like the Spanish Inquisition of old, its weapons are not logical reasoning and gentle persuasion, but oppression and aggression disguised as superior virtue. The law may not yet allow burning heretics at the stake, but destruction of careers and reputations and social exclusion are quite sufficient threats to force most people into line. Denying heretics platforms to speak, or simply shouting them out and intimidating potential attendees of the platform can’t be denied are hardly behaviours we’d associate with civilisation, but they are effective nonetheless. Accusing anyone who still won’t conform of being a racist, Marxist, or fascist can be an equally effective deterrent. Aggressive activism in an environment that doesn’t protect freedom of speech has created a semi-permeable cultural membrane, permitting flow in only one direction. As areas are captured, such as academia, any re-capture is prevented by ostracizing unbelievers and using consequent power to change syllabuses and ban teaching of anything that might resist the march of the new (ironically culturally homogenous, if optically diverse) virtuocracy.

This weaponising of virtue has resulted in many people, companies and other organisations falling in line with the ethical hegemony, sometimes even at the expense of losing many customers. As if making a sacrifice to the secular gods might just make someone else the target of their wrath instead.

This all coincides dangerously with the spread of surveillance technology, AI, and increasing tribalism. As one tribe gains control, and since that control can be more effective, the other feels more threatened, so emotions are reinforced, tribal lines strengthened, divisions deepened. Now, thanks to ubiquitous technology, the virtuocracy has the means, motive and opportunity to track and trace the virtue-compliance of other individuals and organisations. It’s no secret your passenger Uber and AirBnB score can penalise you (financially) for bad (moral) behaviour.

Now, we are seeing “citizenship grades” (reminiscent of Chinese-stye social credit scores) appearing in Californian schools – and potentially business-destroying guilty-until-proven-innocent Yelp ratings for businesses deemed (by legitimate customers… or malicious competitors) for moral, cultural or political transgressions.

In such an environment, where neighbours are incentivised to report neighbours; employees, turned whistleblower against fellow employees, employers and customers; trust – the very fabric of society – breaks down and social cooling, where everyone is incentivised to wear a social mask, perform a social ritual or publicly confess to a set of social beliefs they do not really believe in, sets in.

Cooperation suffers, and with it speed of progress. Progress slows and even reverses. Darkness takes hold.

If the dogma of the virtuocracy were different, it might not matter so much. But the “virtue” we are being pushed to adopt is divisive, tribalist, intolerant, racist, anti-capitalist, anti-equality, anti-science, anti-liberty, anti-thought. It replaces objective reality with a fantasy constructed from nonsensical assertions. We cannot possibly have a flourishing society based on such ethereal foundations, where something is true simply because it is asserted by a member of the self-appointed “right” side of history. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

Where something is true simply because it is asserted. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

Generation Bee – joint piece with Tracey Follows and Bronwyn Williams

Generation Z have only recently started getting media headlines as their first members reach adulthood, and a few journos are starting to talk about generation Alpha, still young kids now. But this a futures blog. What about the generation after alpha? Generation Beta? No of course not. Nobody wants to be beta. The alphas got lucky, but betas won’t want to be labelled second class to their predecessors.  So they won’t be called Beta. We think that Generation Bee is appropriate and we’ll explain why. It has a nice ring to it, and still fits the alphabetic naming sequence that began with Gen X.

Nobody ever remembers the exact dates of the various generations, and they aren’t written in titanium anyway; different sources differ. But here is a nice helpful chart from CMglee on Wikipedia showing the vague boundaries:

Generation Alpha

The Alphas are already here, some 6 or 7 years old now. COVID might define much of their lives, interfering so much with their education and their teens, suffering the consequences of social distancing damaging their emotional development, huge debts and high unemployment, holding back many of their parents, dampening leisure opportunities. By the time they reach adulthood, we’ll have had over a decade of recovery so although much debt will remain, the worst will be history.

Generation See

The Bees will start around 2028, give or take a year, and will run through to around 2044 if we take the typical 16 year generation duration, so Generation See should start in 2045. That’s a very convenient late marker because 2045 is when a lot of futurists such as me think we’ll start getting early direct brain links that increase our IQ, sensory capability, memory, and give us the first experiences of sharing minds and thoughts with other people telepathically. We might think of that next generation as the first transhumanists, with a higher ability to understand things hidden to their entire human ancestry. We’ll preemptively call that 2045-2061 generation Generation See, appropriate to their superhuman senses and capabilities offered by their bio-enhanced & hybrid AI brains, staying with the C alphabetic successor.

Generation Bee

So, back to generation Bee then. What will characterize them? Not quite superhuman yet, though with a few minor IT-enabled brain enhancements and smart drugs improving capabilities during their development. Some will have limited genetic modification, mainly having disease-related genes edited away, but possibly some positive enhancements that have been shown safe, and some that were picked from a multiple choice of embryos with different genes.

It’s possible that the Bees will be the first to make Mars their home, or at least visit in a meaningful way. They will be nomads by nature, like Gen X. Feeling somewhat alien in their home environment, never settling and pretty ambivalent about where home IS, they will be happy to wander anywhere in the hope of making their fortune, including space. Unlike their Zoomer parents who were conspicuously equality activists, Bees will be out to make the best of themselves, and to do their best for themselves. We might think of the exploration of space as a new gold rush.

In political and economics terms, they will have spent their childhood suffering the self-inflicted austerity of their Zoomer parents, their sanctimonious puritanism, their socialism, their defeatist degrowth and seeming determination to carry on living in unnecessary poverty long after the economy could have recovered so as not to make too much environmental impact. The Bees won’t experience any global warming and will wonder why, they won’t see any need for economy in a thriving world full of resources and high technology that allows things to be made with barely any environmental impact. Their Gen X and Millennial Grandparents will remember how they were as kids, spoiled rotten with loads of toys and computer games and they will be spoiling their grand-kids just as every generation of grandparent does. This will contrast heavily with the attitudes and behaviors of their Zoomer parents and will make the Bees determined to shed the austerity and grab back a life of plenty. The Bees will be rebels, they will want to return to prosperity. They will reject green dogma, reject the idea that they need to lead lives of austerity when the world can easily offer all they want and more. They will have a renewed work ethic, rebelling against a socialist world, demanding profits for their efforts, and will make a highly enthusiastic return to capitalism. They will have renewed enthusiasm for acquiring both things and experiences. They will become as busy as bees.

Having grown up in a thoroughly networked world accustomed to mature social networks, they will work together across distances instinctively, unlike the Alphas whose social networking went through generations of failed experimental legislation in futile attempts to curb political interference. By the time the Bees enter their teen years, augmented reality will be mature, and so will AI, operating at human-like levels across broad fields. Their friends and AI friends and partners will be there with them all the time. They will share realities, navigate city overlays, have their own secret signage and symbology, use multiple role avatars to denote functions. They will work cooperatively like bees, address new markets as intuitively and effectively as bees discovering a field of just-opened flowers. They will have their own information system, build new ideas and construct cellular organisations that other generations can’t even see. They will think together as effectively as a hive mind, because they’ll be so closely interwoven and connected they will essentially be a hive mind. Bees is a very appropriate name indeed. But it goes still further. When they face opposition or resistance, they will be more able to join in attacking their target than any previous generation. Their cyber-armory will be instant and a strong deterrent, as painful as a bee sting.

Having been brought up in this multiverse, where there is no single reality, no one real world, with many alternative real and virtual worlds competing for attention and immersion, their explorative mindset will spur them on to treat space as just another virtual frontier.

They will have been born after the crisis that we are going through now -the health, economic, political and societal crisis – so they will hear stories of ‘lockdown’ and ‘killing granny’ as if they are folklore and will perceive it historically as a collective madness and cult-like behaviour. Seeing this obvious widespread human liability to such failings, they will want to draw new boundaries between themselves and others – just for their own protection.

Technology development may well make it safe to take psycho-active drugs that today are dangerous. Bees will develop new legal frameworks for drug taking and hallucinogenics, which will be seen as just another type of experience that can lead to greater individual expression and personal and functional improvement. They might do their very best work under the influence.

Some of these drugs will work with trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or even be carried in micro-capsules that allow their release to be controlled electronically via networks, enabling synchronization of drug release in a large group. Some capsules may also have capability to electronically stimulate nerves or brain regions, creating pleasure both chemically and electronically.

One thing’s for sure, the Bees will throw the best parties the world has ever seen.

About Tracey Follows

company: https://futuremade.consulting

twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

side hustle: https://www.femalefuturesbureau.com

Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide