Tag Archives: technology

Technology Convergence – What’s your Plan? Guest post by Rohit Talwar

Rohit is CEO of Fastfuture and a long-standing friend as well as an excellent futurist. He and I used to do a joint newsletter, and we have started again. Rohit sends it out to his mailing list as a proper newletter and because I don’t use mailing lists, I guest post it here. I’ll post my bit immediately after this one. I’m especially impressed since his bit ticks almost as many filing category boxes as it uses words.

Here is Rohit’s piece:

Technology Convergence – What’s your Plan?

I have just returned from South Korea where I was delivering a keynote speech to a cross-industry forum on how to prepare for and benefit from the opportunities arising from industry convergence. South Korea has made a major strategic commitment starting with government and running through the economy to be a leader in exploiting the potential opportunities arising from the convergence of industries made possible by advances in a range of disciplines. These include information and communications technology, biological and genetic sciences, energy and environmental sciences, cognitive science, materials science and nanotechnology.  From environmental monitoring, smart cars, and intelligent grids through to adaptive bioengineered materials and clothing-embedded wearable sensor device that monitor our health on a continuous basis – the potential is vast.

What struck me about the situation in Korea was how the opportunity is being viewed as a central component of the long-term future of Korea’s economy and how this is manifested in practice. Alongside a national plan, a government sponsored association has been established to drive and facilitate cross-industry collaboration to achieve convergence. In addition to various government-led support initiatives, a range of conferences are being created to help every major sector of the economy understand, explore, act on and realise the potential arising out of convergence.

I am fortunate to get the opportunity to visit 20-25 countries a year across all six continents and get to study and see a lot of what is happening to create tomorrow’s economy. Whilst my perspective is by no means complete, I am not aware of any country where such a systematic and rigorous approach is being taken to driving industry convergence. Those who study Korea know that this approach is nothing new for them – long term research and strategic planning are acknowledged to have played a major role in the evolution of its knowledge economy and rise of Korea and its technology brands on the global stage. Coming from the UK, where it seems that long term thinking and national policy are now long lost relatives, I wonder why it is that so few countries are willing to or capable of taking such a strategic approach.

Rohit on the Road

In the next few months Rohit will delivering speeches in Oslo, Paris, Vilnius, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Denver, Las Vegas, Oman, Leeds and London. Topics to be covered include human enhancement, the future of professional services, the future of HR, transformational forces in business, global drivers of change, how smart businesses create the future, the future technology timeline, the future of travel and tourism, the future of airlines and airports and the future of education. If you would like to arrange a meeting with Rohit in one of these cities or are interested in arranging a presentation or workshop for your organisation, please contact rohit@fastfuture.com

Towards the singularity

This entry now forms a chapter in my book Total Sustainability, available from Amazon in paper or ebook form.

Things that don’t work but could

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The future of the Olympics, in 2076

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also my previous blog on future sports.

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

Next generation small computers

One of my posts two years ago suggested it would be a great time to bring back the Spectrum computer or something like it:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/bring-back-the-spectrum/

The new Raspberry Pi is pretty much exactly what I asked for (though I don’t think it came from my request) . For about £22, you get a computer. You plug in a keyboard and a TV and comms, then start programming. I am amazed it has been so long for someone to do it, but better late then never. Now a new generation of kids can learn how to program by messing about, instead of falling victim to the formal teaching that is provided by schools and university. I have always believed that learning how to hack programs together is the best way to understand what you are doing. You can learn formal methods later if need be. I don’t think hacking is the source of bad habits. Rather, it is more likely to show you the workings of the machine so you can exploit it better. I have seen too many taught programmers make good impressions of being mentally crippled after being forced to think in just one way, any fee-thinking and originality purged.

The Raspberry Pi isn’t the only tiny computer around though. FXI also have one, the size of a USB memory stick, and pretty impressive capability, albeit five times the price. It is easy to imagine how devices like this could really change how we work. I like to travel very light and haven’t carried a laptop for years – even the latest are still heavy and big and just aren’t worth the trouble. I won’t even use an iPAD because it is still obese, power-hungry, and altogether too primitive.Turning up at a conference with a memory stick containing your presentation has been fine as an alternative, but you are reliant on the conference laptop having the right setup. If you could bring a full PC memory stick and run everything from that, that would be better. At home it will be good to put media straight onto your TV without cluttering the room up with big boxes. A Slingbox has done that for years, and smart TVs now do it built-in, so it isn’t new, but this makes it a lot easier and cheaper to provide web and media on more conventional TVs.

On the go, you need some sort of visual display of course but soon we will have visor based head up displays that work with fingertip tracking or virtual  keyboards. Then these compact devices will come into their own. You’ll be fully connected and IT capable, but carrying hardly any weight.

Both of these new devices are small but capable, and most of the size they still have left is really interfacing to other devices. The processing guts is much smaller still. There is room to shrink further, and it is clear from these that the era of digital jewellery is almost with us. Imagine the enormous environmental benefits too, if we hardly need any resources to provide for all our IT needs.

It is the curse of futurology that you are never really happy with the stuff available today because you know what is round the corner. But when I can easily fit all my IT into my pocket as a memory stick and wear a lightweight visor as my interface, I’ll be pretty near content. Can’t be long now

Environmental and engineering convergence

My best friend Dave Faulkner runs an environmental consultancy. I host a couple of his papers on global warming on the Futurizon web site. We have many a beer over debate about environmental issues. Over the years, I have worked a few times with both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. I have a lot of respect for Jonathon Porritt and Doug Parr. We share a passion for a healthy environment, though we disagree on some of the ways to achieve it. It’s the same with my friend Dave. I can like and respect a person without agreeing with everything they say. It is nicer still when some common ground appears.

Only a small bit of my work involves environmental issues so I am far from expert in the environment field, though I do have my own embryonic environmental consultancy now. But I am expert at studying the future overall and pretty good at making predictions – I get it right 6 times more often than I get it wrong – and as I look at the many factors affecting the way the world is going, I feel hesitantly optimistic. There is some potential for a techno-utopia but I know we won’t get that. We will take a sub-optimal path that creates as many new problems as we solve. The world of 2050 and beyond will still be a mixture of good and bad, just with different goods and bads.

The approach to our environment though is one area I think will improve. On one side, we have the likes of Porritt and Parr, leading much of the green community and doing what they can to motivate people with the desire to live in a nicer world in harmony with nature. I can’t fault that, only in some of the policies they recommend to achieve it, which I think come from occasional flaws in their analyses. On another side, engineers are racing to develop better technologies, sometimes deliberately to help the environment, but more often almost coincidentally making better toys that happen to be better for the environment. Engineers are mostly driven by market forces, but they are still human, and many also care passionately for the environment, so will generally seek solutions that do their job but are better for the environment where the choice exists. In fact, it is hard to spot examples of new technology that are worse for the environment than their predecessors. Market forces, mediated through well motivated engineers, can make the world better just as well as any green. Both can help us move to a better world. 

I see a lot of needless worrying by environmentalists though, some of whom (I won’t name names) think of scientists and engineers as the enemy. Needless worry, and sometimes counter-productive. One of the big worries this week is that a lot of resources are scarce that we need to make renewable energy, or to make batteries to store it. But almost at the same time, articles appear on inductive power delivery to cars that circumvents the need for large batteries and hence the need for lithium – I even proposed that solution myself a few years ago, so it is good to see it appearing as a project somewhere. New materials for IT are being developed too, so we won’t rely for much longer on the other things that are scarce. So, no worries, it’s just a short-term problem. For the last few years it has been recommending spending trillions to avoid carbon dioxide production. But even without spending any trillions, future energy technology that is being developed anyway will make fossil fuels redundant, so it will take care of itself. Panic is expensive but unnecessary, the worry needless and counter-productive, serving only to slow down the race to sustainability by diverting funds to the wrong areas.

The environment has some very good friends in engineering now. Biomimetics is the engineering field of copying ideas  or at least inspiration from nature. I’ve occasionally use biokleptics when an idea is blatantly stolen. Nature doesn’t have any lawyers defending her intellectual property rights, but has been using random trial and error for 3 billion years to develop some fantastic engineering solutions and if anything encourages their copying. So, someone looks at spiders and develops a new kind of architecture that produces better structures with less material. Going way back to the 80s, I looked at evolution and made the tiny deductive leap to thinking of evolving software and hardware, then soon after looked at embryo growth and came up with ideas of how to self organise telecomms networks and sensor nets. I love biomimetics.  So do many other engineers, and the whole field is exploding now. It will help to make systems, objects, fabrics, materials, architecture and processes that are more energy or resource efficient, and quite often more beautiful.There are a few purists who insist on copying something exactly as nature does it, but mostly engineers are happy to be inspired and make their own tweaks to adapt it to needs. So, long ago, Icarus started the field by copying nature but a century ago we discovered we could make planes more easily with metal fixed wings.

Synthetic biology essentially completes the relationship by adding human design into biology. This embryonic field will expand vastly, and will be used for a wide range of tasks from resource extraction and processing, to computing. Nanotech and insights from neuroscience will add more to allow rich interaction between organic and inorganic devices, often bridging the gap to allow us to put electronic devices in direct connection with our bodies, or those of other creatures. This field also allows the wonderful possibility of undoing some of the damage done to the environment, and even making nature work better. Gaia 2.0 will be with us this century. Of course, if we don’t develop all this science and technology, we will be stuck with a human world that is immensely resource hungry and getting worse, using far more resources than would otherwise be needed, damaging the environment, with no hope of repairing the damage. There wouldn’t even be a plus side, because people would also live poorer lives and be less fulfilled and less happy.

Having been highly convergent on the goal of making the world a better place, this is where engineers often part company with greens. Most engineers think better engineering is the best route to a sustainable world, most greens (and, it has to be admitted, some engineers) think we should slow it all down. This superficially suggests lower environmental impact, implying that people will consume less if they swap devices less often, or don’t get that next pay rise, but it doesn’t deliver. It is a wrong deduction. In much the same way that poor people are often fatter than rich people, what it does change is the access to a better diet, in this case, of environmentally friendlier technology that really needs extra R&D before it is with us. That funding comes from market demand and the ability to pay, and that needs more people to be richer. For the next several decades, what we need is economic growth, selectively. Again, I start to agree with Porritt here. It isn’t just any growth we need, but growth that is spent wisely, using growth to improve peoples lives, and improving the environment we live in either directly or via R&D and the greener technology it will deliver.

Is greed more sustainable than frugality?

Sustainability is much misunderstood. Certainly government and corporate sustainability policies often point completely the wrong way.

To be sustainable, we must ensure that future generations are able to live decent lives. Not much argument about that usually. But conventional wisdom in the field is that this means we should cut back on consumption.  That leap of logic is flawed. Cutting back reduces environmental impact in the short term but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will reduce it in the long term, or overall over any significant length of time. The full lifetime, full system impact is what counts. Achieving a reduction in overall impact well be best served by increasing consumption in the short term, if this leads to development that reduces the later impacts enough to offset short term damage.

An excellent example is in mobile phone design. Vigorous marketing and encouragement to replace mobiles frequently seems to many people to be wasteful and environmentally unsustainable. However, the rapid obsolescence cycle here has given us 150g mobiles that essentially replace 600kg of previously needed IT equipment. If everyone wants a mobile phone, or to access to the functions they provide, then the lowest environmental impact is achieved by using ultra-high tech phones that do far more with far less. Increased consumption has led to lower environmental impact. If instead, we had held back development and demanded that people use their phones till they fail, we would still be using a lot of heavy and resource intensive kit that needs lots more energy, generates far more waste, and would need far more mining, nasty heavy metals and pollution. And it wouldn’t work half as well, so we’d have less happy lives too.

Greed v frugality? Greed is the more sustainable. Because it leads faster to more advanced technology that is invariably better for the environment.

For a fuller analysis of sustainability and technology, download http://futurizon.com/articles/sustainingtheearth.pdf. It is free.