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.

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

Australia 2030 – CSIRO’s scenarios - Ariadne

May 30, 2016

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has a futures group. They’ve just released a report called Australia 2030: navigating our uncertain future.  There are some nice aspects to the report, and it is good to see rigorous futures techniques being applied in our hemisphere. But, overall, I was underwhelmed. The report is based around four scenarios: Digital DNA – where digital services play a greater role in the economy Mining & dining – where minerals, energy and food have a renaissance Clean & lean – where economic growth occurs alongside environmental sustainability Weathering the storm – global economic stagnation affects Australia too These scenarios could, largely, also apply to New Zealand (except for digging out huge amounts of ore). Some of the challenges they lay out, such as relatively poor productivity and low investment in research & … Read More

Beware the pundit industrial complex - Ariadne

May 25, 2016

In one of my very first Ariadne posts I referred to the prediction pundits. You have, perhaps, noticed the prevalence of this species in the technology world. In a recent newsletter the folks at CB Insights have called this the pundit industrial complex, and illustrate it with various headlines about the future market size for drones and virtual reality.   You see similar confident predictions for 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things. Many of these seem intended to stimulate the Fear-of-missing-out response in companies and investors. As CB Insights  comment: To predict technology trends, the processes we are forced to use are hopelessly antiquated and overly-reliant on pundits. They don’t suggest how to become less-reliant on pundits (and many in the media seem to love to … Read More

Algorithmic organisms? - Ariadne

May 21, 2016

Here’s a really absurd mis-reading of biology from a Professor of History in a Huffington Post interview: The whole of biology since Darwin can be summarized in three words: “Organisms are algorithms.” I wasn’t aware that we were living in the Matrix. This is the type of talk you most commonly hear from Silicon Valley folk talking or writing about technological progress and what they see as our future. What do they mean? An algorithm is usually defined as: “A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” As a metaphor, it is just an updating of the older view that bodies are machines. But it just doesn’t compute. A petunia, E. coli, or a kakapo isn’t a process or set of rules. Each has a physiology and set of behaviours that may help solve problems, but … Read More

Future work - Ariadne

May 16, 2016

There are four narratives about how increasing automation of manual and cognitive tasks will affect employment: Many people will no longer have paid employment, and will depend on government assistance. Many people will no longer have paid employment, but automation will create highly productive and equitable economies that enable people to pursue their own creative and social endeavours. As in the past, new technologies will create new jobs for people. Less a narrative than an admission that we have no idea at all what will happen this time. Is information on employment trends helping identify which of these is more, or less, likely? The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted that jobs in the US generally involving high levels of non-routine tasks are growing, while those involving more routine tasks are declining. They particularly noted the rapid rate of … Read More