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.

After the Singularity - Ariadne

Nov 13, 2016

SingularityU’s summit happens in Christchurch this coming week. It’s purpose is to see how to “… thrive in an exponentially changing world” I’m not a fan of SingularityU. They seem overly enamoured with exponential change, rather than taking a more considered approach to looking towards the future. However, as an event to highlight emerging technological trends it is useful, and if it helps raise awareness that’s excellent. My question though is, what next? We stimulate interest, but then how do we capitalize on that? We are good at inviting in experts to give us their thoughts on where technologies are heading. I’ve heard several of these. They are like fishing boats, coming into port, off-loading their catch and then sailing back off into the sunset. It can be a good starting point, but we shouldn’t become dependent on … Read More

AI, why? - Ariadne

Oct 14, 2016

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere these days, especially in opinion pieces and reports to or from governments. It’s almost like you need IBM Watson Analytics to keep up with it all. Here’s a sampling from the last week or so. Venture Capitalist Marc Andreessen notes that it’s a new architecture not just a new feature. Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu Research, suggests “AI is the new electricity”. Some of the big internet companies are funding a partnership to “formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI”, and to discourage government’s over-regulating the field. Stanford’s AI100 project has just released its first report describing current developments and what may be feasible in 2030. Their main message is “don’t panic!”. Though one columnist has pointed out that the report panel … Read More

Cellular ag - Ariadne

Oct 12, 2016

A US meat company is now an investor in vegan burgers, and selling them alongside meat patties. That’s just one of the signals pointing to big changes in food production systems in affluent nations. Lab-grown meat gets the headlines, but burgers made from plant proteins are well ahead of that, and likely to have a much lower yuck factor. Red meat consumption is trending downward in many western countries, which is an important influencing factor.   Source: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016     Source: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016 [Per capita, China;’s consumption is low, but multiply those numbers by a billion, and that is still a lot of demand for red meat]. Fortune magazine has called some of these developments “cellular agriculture“, with farming moving from the field to the lab. Firms with … Read More

Electric dreams of sheep - Ariadne

Oct 05, 2016

At the moment there is more attention given to, and concern about, machines getting smarter than us. But there is also research going on which possibly, probably, definitely (depending on your source) will make us smarter, stronger, and/or creative. This short video interested me for two reasons.   Firstly, the suggestion that by tapping electronically into our dreams we could become more creative. That initially seems quite appealing. There are several “industries” promoting unlocking inner potential through enhancing connections with our subconscious. Both evidence-based and fact-less ones. By contemplative, pharmacological, and physical means. Legal and otherwise. But on reflection, Chun’s suggestion seems more like Dumbledore’s pensieve in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire “I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It … Read More

Adapting to disruptions - Ariadne

Sep 26, 2016

The Economist magazine and EY (the consultancy firm formerly known as Ernst & Young) have been producing a range of videos recently about industries facing significant change. This one about alternative energy is well worth a look (15 minutes of your time).     The two key points I took away from it are: “Big oil” is far from dead “Disruption” (one of the latest over-used phrases) doesn’t mean the decline and death of established industries. The video shows how at least some oil and other energy companies are adapting to different types of energy production through using their core capabilities in new ways. Such as moving from building floating oil rigs to floating wind farms. And, by shifting from energy production to energy management systems. We are seeing this in the transport sector too. While start-up and IT companies are … Read More

The silent “y” in futures - Ariadne

Sep 23, 2016

Many discussions about the future are about “what?” and “how?” What will … [insert favourite industry or issue here] … look like? How will we … [insert favourite activity] … in the future? The outcomes are usually lists or descriptions. These are fundamentally second order futures questions. They are a consequence of a need for answers in the face of uncertainty, to demonstrate perhaps the perceptiveness of the futurist, or the failure to go deep enough in your futures or foresight activities. Less commonly is “why” used. And when it is, it is nearly always deployed as a definitive statement (“Why x will be the future of z!”), rather than a question. Rarely is a futures question framed as “Why will we … in the future?” (or even without the why). Why is that important? The questioning why is more … Read More

Technological socialism - Ariadne

Aug 31, 2016

Letting technology take more care of us will give us better lives. That’s the thesis of “technological socialism” proposed by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. Despite Bernie Sanders, it is still interesting to see the term “socialism” used with a positive intent in the US. There are two main questions here: are technologies and their applications making things free?; and is ceding more control to technologies going to result in “better” lives? Too cheap to meter? Diamandis suggests that technologies are helping “demonetize” living. By this he means dramatically reducing costs over a range of goods and services – housing, transportation, food, health care, entertainment, clothing, education – making it virtually costless to meet our basic needs. This sounds a lot like the “too cheap to meter” claim for nuclear power in the 1950s . That’s borne … Read More

OK, computer - Ariadne

Aug 24, 2016

Ten years ago we were largely communicating with computers through key pads and mice. Then came touch screens, and more recently voice recognition systems such as  Siri, Google Now, and Cortana. Tim O’Reilly has written a good article on LinkedIn about the voice recognition technology that sits within Amazon’s Echo, and what it signals for the future. O’Reilly makes the point that it just isn’t the technology, but the design that goes into how it will interact with you (what he calls “human design intelligence”), and that is what Amazon is currently doing better than others. But probably not for long. As with other computational developments, the pace of change is often phenomenal. Here’s an even-handed video review of the Echo: It seems to be able to handle a kiwi accent fairly well too, unlike some … Read More

The next 90 years - Ariadne

Jun 26, 2016

In my previous post I noted that the last 90 years saw a tremendous amount of change. Are the next 90 going to be as, or more, turbulent? Or as “golden”? Given that no one in 1926 could predict what the world in 2016 would be like, what’s the point now of looking ahead? One reason is that the future isn’t a time machine that suddenly materializes. Some of the trends and developments that we see today are likely to be as, or more, important several decades out. The trick is often knowing which ones they will be, and their consequences. Thinking about the future can help us consider potential effects of the trends, what type of world we think the next generations would want to live in, and what we may need to do now to … Read More

The last 90 years - Ariadne

Jun 06, 2016

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith is officially 90. Happy Birthday Ma’am. What are some of the most significant changes that have happened during her life, and what could we expect over the next 90 years? 1926 to 2016 Profound changes have occurred over those nine decades. Admittedly, they didn’t start off that well (from a Great Power perspective, at least) or progress smoothly; the continued decline of the Empire,  and the Great Depression. Followed by World War II, the Cold War, and other conflicts. But compared to earlier periods, it’s been a great time to be alive in the later decades, particularly in Western economies. The OECD describes some of the key well-being data and trends in their … Read More