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.

A robotic “Cambrian explosion”? - Ariadne

Sep 06, 2015

Gill Pratt, who until recently ran some of DARPA’s robotics programs, has posited in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that the field of robotics may perhaps in the near future go through the technological equivalent of the “Cambrian explosion”,  resulting in a myriad of wondrous mechanical forms.   Source: ChopShopStore [Of course, the Cambrian “explosion” occurred over millions of years. It is only in hindsight, and through a geological timeline that it becomes an “explosion”.] Pratt suggests 8 technical drivers could underpin this, involving continued exponential improvement in computational performance, better energy storage and power systems, improved design and manufacturing tools, expanded wireless communication networks, and a more “muscular” internet. On top of that, the emerging ability of robots, and other computer systems, to connect with and learn from each other’s experiences via the cloud … Read More

The future of science in NZ - Ariadne

Aug 03, 2015

Being an author of one of the articles published last week in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s “The future of science in New Zealand” forum (Volume 45, Issue 2; open access for the next month) I was interested to see what futures the other authors came up with. I deliberately took a less serious line to explore future possibilities, because that can help the creative spirit. However, most of the other articles are not imagining what science in NZ will be like in 2030, or beyond. That’s not too surprising since, as Juliet Gerrard notes in her article, most predictions fail. No one probably wants to end up looking foolish in the pages of this august Journal. But disappointing that not many new ideas were revealed. The other articles are generally prescriptive rather … Read More

Australia’s future workforce? - Ariadne

Jun 29, 2015

Australia’s Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has released a door-stopper of a report called Australia’s future workforce? It explores a range of themes and issues associated with changing workforces, with chapters from academics (largely), industry representatives, and policy people. CEDA is a respected non-profit organisation for economic and social issues; the equivalent of the Conference Board of Canada. The report considers global and national trends in relation to the Australian labour market. The chapter on “The impact of computerization and automation on future employment” applies Frey & Osborne’s approach to modelling the affects of automation on the workforce (see my previous post on that), and concludes that 40% of Australia’s current jobs have a “high probability” of being automated in the next 10 to 15 years (compared with 50% in the US). These are … Read More

The Upside of People - Ariadne

Jun 08, 2015

There may be some schadenfreude going around following the recent DARPA rescue robot challenge   But some, at least, will rise again. There is still a lot of hand wringing about the impact that robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence may have on the human workforce. I’ve noted this previously. National Public Radio in the US has put together a nifty website to illustrate what jobs may become automated, based on the analysis of Frey & Osborne [Pdf]. It is important to note though that Frey & Osborne’s conclusions are derived from a model and don’t represent manifest destiny. There have been many commentaries based on Frey & Osborne’s results, but not many alternate models or assumptions tested. Davenport & Kirby, writing in the Harvard Business Review,  take a … Read More

One hundred years hence - Ariadne

Apr 19, 2015

Over the next week New Zealanders (& Australians) are looking back a century to remember and honour a tragic battle in a foreign land. There are a lot of activities and discussions happening about Gallipoli and how it subsequently influenced New Zealander society. It is right and important to reflect on our history, both the good and the bad. What is missing, however, is discussion about our society’s future. “Study the past if you would define the future.”  ― Confucius What do we want New Zealand to look like in 2115? That we aren’t looking forwards as well as backwards now seems a lost opportunity. Many of those who went off to war did so with some regard to protecting our way of life and ensuring future well being. Looking to the future, particularly as a society, is always harder than … Read More

Leadership for the long term - Ariadne

Apr 13, 2015

Long term thinking has never appeared to be a strong point in New Zealand’s public or private sectors. We used to have a Commission for the Future, which produced a range of reports (a list of which is available courtesy of the McGuinness Institute), but it fell out of favour during the Muldoon years. The Commission for the Future is scrapped, by Malcolm Walker, 1981.NZ Cartoon Archive. Alexander Turnbull Library. A-316-2-010 More recent governments haven’t established anything like it. The Key-led National Government set up a green growth advisory group, which came up with a very pedestrian report that, three years on, is hard to see having had much of an influence. And Pure Advantage, a private sector initiative which also had a focus on opportunities for “green growth”,  hasn’t … Read More

Kiwi codestars - Ariadne

Apr 08, 2015

On a per capita basis New Zealand, reputedly, is a hot spot for top computer coders. That’s according to an analysis by Venture Beat of rankings from Stack Overflow – a site where programmers rank each others answers to coding questions. That comes as a surprise. Sure we have innovative IT firms like Xero, TradeMe, Sidhe, Animation Research Ltd, and of course Weta Digital. But who knew that we could, relatively speaking, rank up along side Silicon Valley and London? It’s not obvious from the Venture Beat report or the Stack Overflow data whether those top coders actually live in New Zealand, nor whether they are professionals already working for New Zealand (or international) IT companies or just “amateurs”. Are some of them largely unknown, but highly sought after, freelance coding superstars, with a high-powered … Read More

Living longer - Ariadne

Mar 29, 2015

Imagine, in 20 or 30 years, going to your health preservation service provider to receive your annual injections to remove senescent cells and down regulate selected gene expression in the hypothalamus, alongside a transfusion of synthetic “young” blood to promote tissue repair and healthier ageing. Later on you may take a pill to check your body for early stage cancers, while you also wear a bracelet or implantable sensor that constantly monitors for other diseases and zaps them dead. Is ultra-long life, or at least a longer healthier old age, within reach through such “elixirs”, pills and bracelets? And if so, does this mean youthful excesses could be simply annulled through a biological “hack”? While not a common view, Aubrey de Grey considers ageing a disease that is … Read More

All transplants great and small - Ariadne

Mar 01, 2015

In the last few weeks reports have appeared that span the spectrum of bodily transplants: organelle, cellular,  faecal, and full body (or head) transplants. I noted others in a post last year. Seems like we can swap just about everything now. The full body transplant is pure hype. It seems unlikely to happen for decades, let alone within the promised two years.  And, as the Guardian notes, aside from the biological and technical challenges there are psychological and social challenges. Some people come to hate their other transplanted appendages and have them removed.  The psychological effects of face transplants aren’t yet clear. Opting to amputate your donor body isn’t going to be a medical option. Another transplant challenge is finding suitable parts. It’s hard enough finding donors for cornea’s … Read More

Uncertain predictions - Ariadne

Feb 19, 2015

“Active open-minded thinking” and “massive ignoramus”. Those are views on what makes a good forecaster according to two  “super-forecasters” from Philip Tetlock’s and IARPA’s Good Judgment Project.  It also helps if you forecast as part of a team with other good forecasters. But some things are more predictable than others. Michael Burnam-Fink, in a paper in Futures, cites a observation made by Frederick Pohl in Arc 1.2  that, in science fiction stories at least, there has been better success in correctly predicting developments related to engineering where there are already well developed plans and research projects (space, weapons systems, etc), than in the biological and psychological fields, where hypotheses and theories rather than engineering solutions dominate. No surprises there, its easier to make accurate predictions when there is more certainty. But those enthralled … Read More