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.

Hopeful futures - Ariadne

Jul 15, 2017

A few weeks ago I gave a conference talk about using stories to look at the future. I focused on the need to pay more attention to creating stronger story lines and characters. That’s because it is more important to stimulate the audience to explore a range of possible futures than to try and predict what you think may happen. I got a very good reaction to that. However, since it was an information technology-focused conference one of the questions afterwards was “what are the technologies to keep an eye on?” That, and the “What next” series on TV, got me thinking again about our level of sophistication in thinking about the future. I’ve written before about the less asked “why?” futures questions. “What?” type questions can be too deterministic, or narrowly focused. It … Read More

NZTech suggest a Ministry of the Future - Ariadne

May 24, 2017

NZTech have promoted the creation of a Ministry of the Future in their 2017 Manifesto “New Zealand’s Digital Future“. As a country, we need to wholeheartedly embrace this change, installing a dedicated Ministry of the Future, and Chief Technology Officer, to consider the implications of change across social, economic, educational and all other areas of policy.   I’ve written on this topic previously (and this too), and still think that establishing a Ministry, and associated Minister, is not a great idea. With respect to NZTech, while I whole heartedly agree for the need to think more about the future, and it is good to see it raised again, this seems to be a poorly thought through goal. Firstly, they just focus on “technology”. Not surprising given their interest, but that’s too narrow … Read More

The darker angles of our futures - Ariadne

May 21, 2017

Futurists, on the whole, tend to be optimistic. On the other hand, Frank Bures wondered last year why many people (at least in the “West”) tend to gravitate to dystopian futures in novels and films. Is this a  challenge for futurists? Bures’ thoughts have now been turned into a short video:   The “good” times are here In the here and now Bill Gates points out that the world is getting better, and we have the ability to influence the future. I also noted in a previous post some of the data collated by Gapminder supporting this view. Mr Gates suggests you take inspiration from Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature.”   Less fragility The Economist also highlights the recent Fragile States Index data … Read More

The autonomous state - Ariadne

May 01, 2017

The biggest fear of artificial intelligence is usually it getting smart enough to get rid of humans. But what if one of the biggest threats is regulating us to death, or at least to subservience? “Efficiency and effectiveness” is a common refrain from those advocating the use of artificial intelligence in government. There is certainly plenty of opportunity for improving government (central and local) processes and services with smarter automation. Even, perhaps, up to and including “Fully automated luxury communism” as Brian Merchant called it in the Guardian two years ago. However, one aspect of AI and governance that I haven’t seen discussed much yet is the potential for over-regulation. The Common Good, which calls itself a “nonpartisan reform coalition” in the US, argues for more common sense in law-making, and keeping people … Read More

The flying car, nearly here? - Ariadne

Apr 21, 2017

A small German-based company, Lilium, has announced that they have successfully tested an electric “flying car”. A ducted fan mini-plane really.   Others are also looking at developing small air-borne taxis. But Lilium is the first to have a working prototype. Initially piloted, but Lilium hopes it can become autonomous and able to be summoned using a smart phone. And eventually cheap enough so most can use one. My first thought was, is this a hoax? But it looks legitimate. The CEO, Daniel Wiegand, has been talking about this for several years, and one of the investors was a co-founder of Skype. The most surprising thing for me is the speed with which they have got to prototype stage. The concept was, according to their website, developed only in 2013. New Zealand’s own Martin Jetpack is based on … Read More

Hoppy meals - Ariadne

Apr 20, 2017

Here’s a weak signal associated with changing dietary habits. Grasshoppers were on the menu at a Major League Baseball game in the US recently. At a Seattle Mariners vs Astros game six kilos of spicy grasshoppers sold out. I wrote in October in more detail about some of the trends and challenges associated with traditional western food consumption. This case illustrates how some of these new foods are getting out to the masses. Six kilos of crispy hoppers is 310 orders. For comparison 10,000 hot dogs are eaten at a Major League game. So we aren’t looking at dietary disruption yet. Still it’s part of a broader trend of trying new sources of protein. Insects aren’t yet big on fancy restaurant menus in the US. But they are a gaining popularity in Japan. The … Read More

Death and resurrection - Ariadne

Apr 17, 2017

The oldest person in the world has died, aged 117. Life expectancy in Italy in 1899 when she was born was 44 years. She wasn’t the oldest; the current record is 122. NZ’s oldest living person is 109, although the oldest so far reached 113 years. Life expectancy in New Zealand has, as elsewhere, risen dramatically over the last century and a half. Average lifespan has nearly doubled. That is spectacular. Source: Statistics NZ   Maori and Pacific people have on average shorter lives, although the differences have been decreasing.  Source: Statistics NZ   Better healthcare, sanitation, diet, and economic circumstances are key factors in improving lifespan over the last century. Reduced heart disease and declining incidence of infectious diseases explain much of the decline in … Read More

Foresight as a gravitational force - Ariadne

Mar 21, 2017

Jonathan Boston, of Victoria University, is launching two books this week on anticipatory governance. These are based on his study tour looking at how other governments look ahead. One, Safeguarding the future, from Bridget Williams Books is an extended précis of his larger Governing for the future. Jonathan notes New Zealand and many other governments have a “presentist” bias – making short term political decisions. His books note possible ways to address this bias. His thesis is well researched, and timely. However, while political structures are important for longer term thinking, they aren’t sufficient. A broader appeal is necessary to make these structures effective, and enduring. Cat Tully notes the need to integrate foresight into policy and decision making as a business as usual practice, and to look beyond simply the creation of institutions … Read More

Send lawyers, bots, and money - Ariadne

Mar 14, 2017

The bank JP Morgan Chase & Co. has used machine learning to complete some mundane tasks (such as interpreting commercial-loan agreements) in “… a matter of seconds”  that would normally take 360,000 human hours. It also reduced the number of mistakes. Many legal firms (and banks) are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) to take over routine tasks. Including in NZ. Is this the death knell for many legal positions? No. At least not yet. JP Morgan isn’t shedding all those human jobs, but using technologies to move people to “work on higher-value things”. Unacknowledged ironies in predictions about the impact of AI (with its superior data analytics) on work are the scarcity of data to support those contentions and the simplistic analyses that are often employed to make them. However, Remus & Levy have analysed the issue … Read More

The internet of predatory things - Ariadne

Mar 05, 2017

My first job after completing my Bachelor’s was tracking and trapping rats on Stewart Island. Decades later, the tools and approaches for mammalian pest control have progressed; better lures, traps and poisons. But not so much. Particularly if you compare how the field of genetics has changed over the same time; from laborious manual DNA sequencing to high-speed automation. The objectives of Predator Free 2050 seem to want to continue the traditional approach to refining trapping and poisoning. Although reproductive disrupters and genetic approaches may be involved eventually (see Helen’s Sciblog post too). Why not really bring pest control into the 21st Century? Lets go big on data and analytics, not just building better (mouse)traps. Rentokill is already moving in this direction for protecting premises from pests. Conservation efforts too are starting to … Read More