Tag Archives: futures

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.

Fairy stories as a guide to the future?

OK, clutching at straws for a topic this morning, but here goes. Arthur C. Clarke said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and I agree. Engineers often derive inspiration from science fiction (and vice versa), but the magic in fairy stories might be a rich source of ideas too. If we look to fairy stories to see the sorts of things people do with magic, then we should see some markets for real advanced technology. Not all of them will be feasible, but some will. It may not be a very standard futures technique, but it should work. We won’t know if we don’t try. There is a pretty standard formula now for producing ideas and techniques in science fiction and computer games. Just mix together some nice potions such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology, genetic modification, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, virtual, quantum and so on, and you can’t go far wrong, you will end up with all the magic you can imagine. Fairy stories are a bit pre-technology, but maybe we’ll see some ideas.

Let’s start with love potions, evil kisses, poisoned needles and the like. These are included in many stories as tricks that conceal means to control others, spy on them, make them do things or think things. Could that be done? Yes, probably. I wrote about hacking into people’s brains and remote controlling them in my ‘Zombies are coming’ piece, and about some related concepts in my pieces on immortality via direct links to the brain. It essentially uses bacteria to infiltrate the other person’s body via hand contact, a simple kiss, or eating something, and once introduced, the bacteria reproduce and synthesise the components that then connect to nerves in the brain and form a remote control channel. So you could create anything in their mind – sensations, memories, ideas, anything. You could make them believe anything, love anyone, or just hack into their mind to see what they are thinking, any of those sorts of things. Sure, it would be difficult, but it will be feasible one day.

Mind reading is already with us to some degree. Some computer games can be controlled by thought, wheelchairs for the disabled. Scientists can even work out what videos someone is thinking about by comparing the electrical signal they emit to those gathered when they were actually viewing  a selection of videos earlier.

How about preserving someone? Like sleeping beauty. Well, hibernation research has been going on for ages already, and one day that will come up with the goods too. It probably won’t involve spinning wheels, but an injection of some sort is quite likely.

Invisibility is a common occurrence in fairy stories too, and in real life, scientists can make small objects almost invisible too, using special fabrics that bend light or cameras coupled to light emitting fabrics. So far they only work from one direction, and some only work in small colour ranges, but we’re getting there.

Levitation can be done with magnets and superconductivity. Being in two places at once, well I guess that is called Skype.

I am struggling to think of stuff in fairy stories that can’t already be done in the lab or that we at least have a good idea how to do it. Ah yes, frogs that turn into princes. Well, outside of computer games or virtual worlds, it would be difficult, but as augmented reality becomes everyday stuff, we”’ see lots of people using weird avatars, and who knows, some princes with a sense of fun might well choose to be frogs.

The magic wand would also feature well in augmented reality but in the real world would have little real application except as a simple interface to start other processes.

Actually though, I am going to stop here. Fairy stories are a rich source of ideas for technologies we already have or already know about. A part record of the scope of imagination in days gone by. They maybe aren’t so good as a future tool after all. Maybe we need more science fiction writers to do fairy stories before that will be fixed.

Priorities for futurists

Like most people, I like to think and write about things that are interesting more than those that are important. Of course, we shouldn’t neglect important things just because they are dull. Futurists have their own views as to what is important, and are in a good position to know. Public surveys are useful to tell us what other people think, and we should also give them an appropriate weighting, biased as they are to the present and immediate future. This new one from Pewpoll is a nice easy one to understand, asking simply what are the top priorities for the US government to deal with.

Some of these are very specific to the USA, some are fairly universal. Thankfully, many futurists write loads about economies so I only occasionally cover economic issues. I write far too much about global warming though, because it is fun, but I should cut down on that, and devote more time to other environmental issues, education, medicine, crime, jobs, terrorism and so on. I am always wary of doing issues such as moral breakdown, religion and so on since such things are polarised and many people take offence too easily. I don’t mind offending people per se, but it does affect income to do so, so I do it sparingly. The others I think I do in more or less the right proportions.

So, kick in the pants taken. Next blog: terrorism