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.

Where’s my Robot? [Part 2] - Ariadne

Sep 15, 2011

Part 1 looked at trends in Robotics. Here I consider some of the challenges, as well as provide more information on military robots. Challenges What is needed for robots to be valued and respected members of our world? As a non-specialist I see five main requirements: Discriminating – It is easy for us to distinguish individuals and objects by sight, sound, touch and smell. It is much harder for software to do so, but this is changing rapidly. As better and more sensors are added to robots, they’ll need to also get better at analysing and filtering the information that these sensors provide them with. Safe – Not quite Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics at this stage, but as robots become increasingly autonomous in both mobility and decision-making there is a need to ensure that they do what … Read More

Where’s my Robot? [Part 1] - Ariadne

Sep 14, 2011

Robots have been a promise and a fear for the last century. Up till now robots have been used for what have been called the 3 D’s — Dull, Dirty and Dangerous work. Things like building cars, vacuuming, mining, chopping up carcasses, search & rescue, and joining the armed forces. But there are also robotic footballers, pool sharks, penguins, spiders (yay!) and kung fu fighters. Robots are also starting to drive around town or do experiments (thankfully not yet on us). There may be over 8 million robots already out there. We haven’t yet got to Rosie the Robot Maid, positronic brains, or Skynet, but we seem to be heading towards at least some of them. Robotic office workers are on the way – oh, here was … Read More

The Internet of Things - Ariadne

Sep 02, 2011

An interesting infographic from Cisco forecasts the anticipated growth of devices connected over the internet. It notes that the number of things connected to the internet in 2008 was greater than the world population. By 2020 it predicts that 50 billion things will be connected — from cows to household appliances. This assumes that Internet Protocol version 6 is adopted so that there are enough IP addresses for all these things. We aren’t yet living in a world where your fridge does the shopping for you, and some wired-up appliances have been expensive gimmicks that didn’t sell. But an increasing number of things are being connected up — bathroom scales, ‘smart’ fridges, laundry services, printers and manufacturing processes  . Some of the main … Read More

Barriers to clean energies - Ariadne

Aug 31, 2011

Clean energy technologies are being hailed by some as the sixth great technology revolution — an insurrection that will free us from the shackles of fossil fuels, and provide the staging ground for further economic growth without the nasty environmental and military consequences of an addiction to hydrocarbons. However, this revolution will play out over decades. [“Clean” is relative of course – reliance on digging rare earth elements out of the ground (or seabed) to build wind turbines or batteries isn’t totally benign. And some, of course, object to the visual and auditory pollution of wind turbines]  The philanthropic recently modelled the impact of clean energy innovation on the US economy out to 2050. They concluded that ‘aggressive energy innovation’ could both more than halve greenhouse gas emissions while enabling the economy to grow and unemployment to fall. Read More

Social disorder - Ariadne

Aug 19, 2011

There has been much debate all over the place about the causes of the recent riots in the UK. Similar discussion and analyses occurred following the ‘Arab spring’ uprisings earlier in the year. In this post I look at signals and trends that are being used to forecast social disorder in various parts of the world. Conflicts over resources (food, water, oil, minerals) are regarded as underlying causes for some local or regional unrest. Poverty, corruption, and social inequality (among other issues) have been cited as factors in the Arab spring uprisings, as well as in the UK. One researcher considers that riots can develop and spread in ways similar to epidemics (and aspects of the spread of the uprisings in the Middle East did seem to have elements of a contagion). However, riots and other forms of … Read More

Moving away from the “God complex” – Tim Harford on TED - Ariadne

Aug 12, 2011

Following my previous post a colleague pointed me to Tim Harford’s talk on TED. Tim favours the trial and error approach over the “God complex” . The latter is where someone confidently proclaims they know how a complex system works, when in fact they don’t. This is similar to the fox and hedgehog analogy I wrote about. On a similar vein, good advice to foresight people from Paul Saffo [PDF]  is that if you forecast, do it often and be the first to correct your forecast. Fellow Sciblogger Shaun Hendy wrote more about Tim Harford in July in relation to how some of his ideas relate to improving innovation in New Zealand. Read More

What foresight animal are you? - Ariadne

Aug 10, 2011

In workshops I’ve been involved in a warm up exercise is often to name an animal that symbolises what foresight or environmental scanning is. Common responses are giraffe, meerkat, dog and eagle (or vulture for those with more melancholic tendencies). These animals evoke being vigilant or able to see further or more clearly. (Poor old Ariadne’s cousins rarely get mentioned.) However, this is only part of the skill set for being an effective ‘futurist’. You have to also make sense of what you are seeing. Other animals in the futurist’s zoo can symbolise this talent. Kylie Sven Opossum [Facebook link — you may not be able to get to this at your day job] from the filmFantastic Mr Fox isn’t one of them. He is, though, a good illustration of … Read More

The iBrain? - Ariadne

Aug 05, 2011

 [Long post alert — I want to keep them short and pithy, but the brain deserves a lot of attention, and I’m new to this blogging gig. Synopsis for time limited  readers – scientists want to simulate the workings of a human brain in the next 10 years. Probably won’t do it. But be prepared for a range of interesting brain treatments, engineering projects and widgets] Scientists and engineers are getting more ambitious in the complex systems that they model. Earthquakes, epidemics, flight dynamics of new aircraft, and climate are routinely simulated.  So too are some human organs — heart, lung, and the muscular system. Take a look at the exciting research and applications in this field coming out of the University of Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute.  Now a much more ambitious biological simulation is planned. The Human Brain Project. This is a … Read More

Welcome to my world wide futures web - Ariadne

Aug 02, 2011

These blog postings will be on the theme of looking to the future — foresighting — particularly in relation to science and technologies. But not exclusively; I’ll also be examining social, environmental, economic and political trends and developments around the world as my fancy and browser take me. I’m on the look out for interesting developments, significant trends and influencers or drivers of change and considering the ‘So what?’ questions these raise, particularly for New Zealand. I’ll be taking a critical look at emerging science and technology issues, and will peel back the hype as much as I’m able: The Gartner Hype Cycle So I’ll give my view on where I think some of the things I discuss may fall in the hype cycle. I’ve called this Blog Ariadne. Not because I will be leading you through … Read More