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.

Green sky thinking - Ariadne

Apr 09, 2018

We are starting to see more scenarios about getting to a “decarbonised” future. One where greenhouse gas emissions are no longer a problem. Many scenarios are forgettable. The good ones have the power to create the change. Shell has added a new futures scenario, called Sky, to its New Lens scenario set. I think it has that power. Its purpose is to look at what it would take for the world to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate agreement. That is, to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions before the end of this century. In case you think that Shell is just pushing it’s own agenda, they worked with The Nature Conservancy, and others, on the scenario. Westpac bank has also just released a … Read More

Electric vehicles are their consequences - Ariadne

Mar 25, 2018

Electric vehicles are increasingly popular, but for society they aren’t as simple as “plug ‘n drive”. Vector energy have produced a useful green paper on the implications of electric vehicles for NZ’s energy system I wrote last year about some of the issues facing a growing electric vehicle fleet here. Vector explores some of these issues in detail as they relate to the energy network. They highlight that you can’t think of the energy system just as a pipe (or a cable), where all you need to do to meet greater demand is to put in a bigger pipe or cable (ie add more generation). For example, the Tiwai point aluminum smelter uses as much power as 700,000 houses.  If the smelter shut down and all that power went to domestic … Read More

Future foods of the dogs - Ariadne

Mar 19, 2018

There has been quite a lot of fascination with lab-grown meats, such as the “impossible burger” [Correction: whoops, the impossible burger is, of course, made from plants. Wired has a recent article on the lab-grown kinds]. There is still a long way to go with them to become economically and gustatorily viable. However, that’s not deterring expansion into the pet food market. And we aren’t talking chicken feed.  There was around US$75 billion in sales globally last year (in the US alone the market pet food is worth nearly US$30 billion). NZ’s pet food sales are just under $400 million. A company called Wild Earth is moving into lab-grown food for pets. They too want to make “ethical” fodder. That reinforces the … Read More

What can AI do right now? - Ariadne

Mar 16, 2018

With all the hype and speculation about artificial intelligence it is nice to get some perspective on current applications. The site DeepIndex does this, recording 320 (and counting) reports of applications. They break this down into applications that are: “Crushing it” – meaning they are particularly successful, such as in playing the game Go Competent – perform about as well as a human Getting there – not that great, at the moment The site categorises applications into 19 themes; from medical applications, professional applications (such as reviewing documents), through to gaming, lifestyle (movie recommendations), and other things (such as learning common decency). It is by no means complete. It doesn’t, for example, include Zach, the application described by John Pickering, that listens to medical conversations and produces summary notes. Still it provides a useful … Read More

Little future houses on the prairie - Ariadne

Mar 12, 2018

There’s plenty of innovative thinking around building houses, but less so about communities. I’ve been writing a series of blogs on the future of construction for the industry transformation initiative. They’ll be appearing on their website over the next few months. There’s a lot going on in the housing and construction field. It’s not just about increasing the rate at which buildings (particularly houses) can be built, but also improving health and safety (of people and buildings), and raising the productivity of the sector (by, for example, better coordination of activities, and reducing costs). PrefabNZ is extolling the benefits of prefabrication, which is more common elsewhere. Flat-pack housing is coming too.  And you thought assembling a bookcase was stressful. Other innovations are starting to become more common overseas. Houses are being … Read More

How many jobs will automation create and destroy? - Ariadne

Feb 28, 2018

I’ve written previously about how no one really has any idea about the effect of automation on jobs. Erin Winick has done the hard work to illustrate that by compiling the predictions of  numbers of jobs created or destroyed by various pundits and studies. Mostly these predictions focus on the US, with a few global predictions thrown in. The numbers are all over the place, generally in the tens of millions. But there are also some very wild predictions from Thomas Frey that reach up into the billions, and seem to be outrageous guesses rather than sober calculations. McKinsey puts in a bit more work, but also gets up to near a billion for both jobs destroyed and created globally in 2030. If you like looking at tables see Erin’s short article in MIT … Read More

Jobs of the future – landfill-worm riders vs truckers - Ariadne

Feb 13, 2018

There’s a lot of effort going into anticipating the impact of automation on jobs. Some more useful than others. The World Economic Forum has (unintentionally it seems) inspired a Dune-like future occupation of “Landfill recycler”, where some poor person gets to ride a giant sandworm-like creation. I don’t see why you’d need a person for such a machine. Indeed, from the image there would seem to be significant health and safety risks associated with that job too. But perhaps, this could be a replacement for rodeos. The pace of change More in-depth analyses about the job situation in 2030 have been provided recently by the consulting firms Bain and Company and PwC. Bain predicts that: “By the end of the 2020s, automation may eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs, hitting middle- … Read More

Futurists, a field guide - Ariadne

Dec 20, 2017

While you are out and about over summer keep and eye and ear out for futurists. They are not so common in the antipodes, but more are starting to appear on our shores. There are several species (and subspecies), so I’ve created a little guide to help you identify the most likely ones that you’ll come across in the wild. Some are more worthy of attention than others.   Mayfly futurist – Ephemera ephemera Source: Hectonichus – CC BY-SA 3.0, These tend to swarm briefly, particularly in the social media, marketing and fashion fields. Their defining characteristic is the very short term, with production of “Top ten trends in X for 2018”. Can be readily snapped up, but provide little sustenance.   Dung beetle futurist – Scarabaeus singularis Source: Axel Strauß – CC BY-SA 3.0 Characteristically ponderous, specialising … Read More

From battling bots to robo-athletes - Ariadne

Dec 07, 2017

Robotic combat is becoming a thing. In TV studios, not the battlefield. A tiresome thing, the hi-tech equivalent of Monster Truck shows. MegaBots promotes itself as “the future of sports“. (I think they forgot the (TM) in that tag line.) But they have a way to go to be more that dudes driving dumbbots. Its more like professional wrestling at the moment, with staged fighting sequences. Then there are the BattleBots, a TV series of smaller devices (more radio-controlled it seems than autonomous) trying to deconstruct their opponent. And the less excitable sumo bots. You see more diversity in events with RoboGames – “the Olympics of Robots”. This probably helps stimulate developments, although mostly in single tasks. More versatile demonstrations of skill are found … Read More

The science of prediction - Ariadne

Dec 04, 2017

It’s coming up to that time of year when predictions start popping out like buskers playing Christmas jingles. We all know a litany of bad predictions: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo, 1876 “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943 “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, …” Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss, 1954 “Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles.  We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”  Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General, 1959 “We don’t like their … Read More