Canada’s emerging technologies metascan

By Robert Hickson 09/04/2014

The Canadian Government’s just released a report on emerging technologies. It looks out over the next 15 years and focuses on digital technologies, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and neuroscience technologies, which they consider have the potential for disruptive rather than incremental innovation. As you’d expect they consider biological enhancements, nanofactories, robots, wired-up everything.

There are no major surprises in their findings. Some of which include:

  • fewer carbon-based workers, but greater productivity
  • many areas of the economy will need to adapt as the technologies spread out across the sectors
  • the need to look at regulatory and risk management practices and requirements
  • the need to develop a better “innovation ecosystem” [the policy-speak du jour]

The report examines the impacts across a range of sectors – agriculture, manufacturing, services, energy, transportation, home, etc. The intention is to stimulate discussion, rather than predict.

The report is only 45 pages long and readable. It provides a good overview of some of the technologies and how they are or may be applied. They include a range of videos to illustrate some of the trends and developments. It would be nice to see New Zealand do something similar to help inform and stimulate discussion here.

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology’s Biotechnologies to 2025 [Pdf], produced nearly a decade ago, was a great example of creative and  good quality futures analysis government agencies can (but rarely do) produce. It would be nice to refresh and broaden the scope of that report (which I had a small role in helping to develop) so the country as a whole can better consider what we may be facing.

The Royal Society’s recent green economy information paper is aimed at such informing, but it would be great to see the bigger picture and interconnections across the economy rather than just sector-specific analyses.

What I liked most about the Canadian report, and still need to delve into, are the visualisations they produced in conjunction with a company called Envisioning which estimate timeframes for some of the developments. Business Insider has made these zoomable, which is quite handy.

envisioning future tech
Envisioning’s composite visualisation of emerging technologies (