Robert Hickson

Robert Hickson has evolved from an evolutionist, looking backwards, into a futurist. Many of the skill sets are the same; looking for patterns, making sense of them, and trying to fill in the gaps. He's of the view that in New Zealand we don't do enough forward looking. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent the views of his current employer (if any), or Charles Darwin.

Five things we know about COVID-19, and five we don’t - COVID-19

Sep 11, 2020

Five things we’ve learnt 1. We know where the virus ultimately came from We know that the virus originally came from bats, and most probably a species of horseshoe bat in South East Asia. However, the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, which allows the virus to attach to cells and infect them, is more different than those from horseshoe bat sequences. While the sequence of this protein is more similar to one in a coronavirus from pangolins, researchers now think this is because the bat sequence has recombined, rather than pangolin being an intermediate host. However, this has not yet been verified. Some epidemiologists think that a less pathogenic version of the virus may have been circulating in people from Vietnam, Laos and/or Myanmar before it appeared in Wuhan, … Read More

Learning from techno-hype - Ariadne

Sep 07, 2020

There have been several hyped technological developments in the last few weeks. Nothing unusual in that, but they provide useful examples of the need to adopt a critical mindset when considering the significance of developments and trends. Some futurists seem to just scrape the headlines for content without questioning the reports. That just feeds an uncritical futures frenzy. Others enjoy debunking them. But there is the risk of being too dismissive and overlooking the broader significance of developments, even if a particular event doesn’t actually show what it claims.   Too good to be true? First up, reports of a cheap “game changing” battery, that lasts for hundreds of years, could power just about anything, and gets rid of nuclear waste. What’s not to like? A company called NDB – Nano Diamond Battery … Read More

It’s complex - Ariadne

Jul 29, 2020

An article in the EETimes suggests that advances in autonomous vehicles are not moving as quickly as expected because those working on them have confused complicated problems with complex ones. Engineering can only take you so far in complex worlds. Complicated systems tend to have fairly predictable inputs, processes and outputs. Complex systems (like city streets) not so. Complicated systems are often designed, while complex ones are more organic. The article notes that some of the autonomous vehicle companies are directing their focus to more predictable operating environments such as retirement villages, campuses, and long-distance trucking. These are less complex than navigating chaotic (to algorithms at least) urban streets. It feels like we are confusing the complicated and the complex in other areas too.   The allure of the complicated An article in  … Read More

The long and winding rivers of social change - Ariadne

Jul 06, 2020

 I like Andrew Curry’s succinct and insightful futures blog The Next Wave. His most recent post is about social change. In particular, the decadal-long periods usually required for changes in values. He highlights a 2016 paper by Inglehart and Norris, who examined whether economic insecurity or a “cultural backlash” are behind the recent political shifts towards populism. They looked at social surveys from Europe and found that: “all of the five cultural value scales proved consistent predictors of voting support for populist parties” They propose a cultural shift from “modern” to “post-materialist” values. The former they define as being about conformity, hierarchy and authority. The latter places greater emphasis on issues such as environmental protection, increased acceptance of gender and racial equality, and … Read More

The “Great Reset” - Ariadne

Jun 07, 2020

The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative that they are calling “The Great Reset”. Its purpose is to help “guide decision-makers on the path to a more resilient, sustainable world beyond coronavirus” At first glance it can look like virtue signalling by some of the world’s elite. The WEF’s annual Davos forum, which it has run for over 30 years, is viewed, justifiably, by some as a just a talk fest with little action. Others see it as calling for reforms but really wanting to maintain the status quo. At last year’s January Davos meeting Nik Gowing reported that there was an “Oh sh_t” realisation that economic systems needed to change to address climate change impacts (or rather ensure that … Read More

Building the bridges to the future - Ariadne

May 17, 2020

In a previous post I noted that futures thinking usually tries to identify what people think will change and what they think needs to change. As lockdown constraints ease, we are seeing a lot of opinions about both. There is no shortage of shovel ready points of view and aspirations. Aspirations are good, but what we aren’t seeing so much of (at least I haven’t) is more nuanced thinking about how we get from here to there, and how different aspirations and expectations may be negotiated. Many advocating for a low carbon economy envisage a sudden shift. While those arguing for retaining some of the status quo favour a not so hasty change. So, what we end up with is often framed as a dichotomy of choices – “either, or” rather than … Read More

A day at the pandemic races - Ariadne

Apr 27, 2020

A friend came up with a useful analogy the other day. Much of the commentary about getting ready for opening up the lockdown seems like a set of racehorses at the starting gate. Different ideas and special interests in fine fettle, champing at the bit waiting for the gates to open. Meanwhile those thinking longer term are struggling to get the race officials attention and delay the start. Let the horses (and their determined riders) have a breather and a graze first. Some of those nags probably need to be scratched, we need to test some of the others for illicit performance enhancers. A jockey or two may be too enthusiastic with their whip hand. One may also be liable to canter off to tilt at windmills. Some promising younger horses need to … Read More

Thrivable - Ariadne

Apr 20, 2020

In my previous post I set out some simple techniques to help explore the future. Here I give a worked example. Most of the space I have devoted to one scenario, since that probably is the more interesting part for readers. Scenarios don’t predict what will happen. They are a method to help you explore different possible, or plausible, futures – to anticipate non-obvious changes and plan for a range of possibilities. They can also be used to identify a preferred future, and what can be done to achieve it. I’ve included at the end visuals that use some other methods I described in the last post. These are what help you identify important influences and ideas to include in scenarios. The scenario is more art than science, so not … Read More

Getting in futures shape  - Ariadne

Apr 03, 2020

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Lenin Don’t we all know that feeling now. Prospect Magazine alerted me to this particularly apt quote. It is a much more evocative quote than Hemingway’s “gradually then suddenly” which is also doing the rounds with discussions of the pandemic. Foresight and futures thinking aren’t necessarily good at spotting when exactly decades will happen in weeks. But as I discussed in my last post, they can help you prepare for and better navigate rapid change when it does happen. In this post I describe some of the simpler techniques that can help you get started looking at post-pandemic worlds.  I’ve based it on my stump presentation “How to think like a futurist.” Think of them as … Read More

After the Pandemic - Ariadne

Mar 26, 2020

It will pass. What happens next? Not immediately, but longer term. There are many opinions, fewer certainties. Will it “change everything!” as many confidently, and contradictorily predict? In this post I look at how foresight can help bound some of the uncertainties so you can more objectively consider the future.   Opinions and uncertainties Some current headlines are hyperbolic. Such as Politico’s “Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.”  Followed by a random selection of people pontificating, largely based on books or articles that they have previously published. Many of those ideas seem to have been trotted out following other calamities. “It will bring us together”, “we’ll become more insular”, “we’ll move on from capitalism”, “we’ll trust experts more”, etc, etc, etc. To someone with a single opinion, every crisis is … Read More