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.

Smart technologies – uninvited guests? - Ariadne

Apr 14, 2016

This nice short video from Superflux looks at how some people may actually respond to smart technologies around the home, particularly if it wasn’t their choice. What are the messy, whimsical, unintended human behaviours that might collide with the one-size-fits-all ‘care’ that many smart devices are designed to deliver? It is also a commentary on how people may substitute gadgets for real contact, even if they mean well.   [vimeo 128873380 w=500 h=281]   Neither the video nor the associated work identify how to avoid such problems. It’s intended to stimulate thinking about what happens when technologies find their way past the early adopters. It also illustrates how, as I noted several years ago, good thinking and design can be a powerful way of illustrating possible futures, without producing lengthy reports.   Header … Read More

High-Tech Sechs - Ariadne

Apr 09, 2016

Wired magazine has always been somewhat of a tech fetish publication. Recently they’ve highlighted fetish tech. Silicone valley comes to “adult” toys. [I’m not revealing anything explicit here]. It’s not the sad and seedy that you may expect. These are items designed to be flaunted, or at least not to be seen as embarrassing items hidden away in a bedroom drawer. 3D printing, apps, haptic technologies, and new materials – it’s all being brought to bare. As the smart clothing field develops, you’ll probably want to upgrade your gimp suit to keep up. A more socially positive result is that such technologies may enable those with physical or sensory limitations to enjoy more healthy and fulfilling sexual relations. This highlights the broader trend of such devices becoming more mainstream. It’s now such a thing that you … Read More

Minister of the Future, please no! - Ariadne

Apr 04, 2016

Something that I didn’t pick up at the time during the World Economic Forum in January was the suggestion by Marc Benioff, the Chairman and CE of Salesforce, that “Every country needs a Minister of the Future“. Last year, though, I did write about Sweden’s new Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation. The World Economic Forum’s picked up on that idea, with it being promoted by an entrepreneur in India. However, both Benioff and the WEF appear to frame the scope mostly around technology, which really just seems to make the role one of a Minister of (Science and) Technology, or of Innovation. There are plenty of those around already. South Korea has a Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, which focuses on promoting a “creative economy”. As I noted in my … Read More

Societal trends - Ariadne

Mar 30, 2016

Hans Rosling, of Gapminder fame, and perhaps the world’s most enthusiastic statistician, has an hour long video making the case that increasing global population levels aren’t fundamentally a prelude to disaster. (You can read a synopsis here). You can also save time by looking at these shorter videos showing the key trends of population growth and the average numbers of babies per woman over time. Eleven billion people may be alive by the end of the century, barring any substantial global catastrophes, or rampant procreation. Sure that’s a lot of people to feed, keep healthy, housed, and ensure that they get out of extreme poverty. Hans’ message is “Don’t panic!” It isn’t insurmountable, and many communities are already moving up economically. One of the stories he tells illustrates how significant “Low tech” (i.e. Read More

Artificial intelligence research in New Zealand - Ariadne

Mar 24, 2016

AlphaGo’s been leading the artificial intelligence news the last few weeks. It’s an impressive display of the advances in AI, but as the Verge notes, AI doesn’t do so well (at the moment) when there is imperfect information – which is most things in life. While the likes of Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley companies are investing heavily in AI, one of the hotbeds of research and entrepreneurial activity is London. However, Bloomberg Business just featured the work of Auckland University’s Professor Mark Sagar in a video as part of their “Hello World” series. Mark’s research group, which is part of the Bioengineering Institute, were involved in creating some of the visual effects for Avatar, King Kong and other recent films.   It’s a great example of interdisciplinary collaboration. In this case, … Read More

Fonterra and foresight - Ariadne

Mar 13, 2016

I can’t help thinking whether Fonterra, and NZ’s dairy industry, would be in a better position now if they’d devoted some (more) resources to strategic foresight. They may have, but it isn’t evident so far. What is “strategic foresight”, and what, if anything, is it good for? Strategic foresight, which is being used increasingly now in the private sector rather than simply “futures”, is about linking foresight activities (scanning for trends and weak signals, scenarios, visioning exercises, etc) with strategy formulation and execution. Strategic foresight needs to ask and answer the “So what?” questions, and identify actions to address anticipated challenges and opportunities. The organisation then deliberatively chooses to undertake them, or not. A key factor is that the foresight activities should be systematic and utilize good methods and processes, so you don’t just focus on what you think is … Read More

Rethinking universities - Ariadne

Mar 10, 2016

A few years ago “disruption” in the university space was mostly about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The hype on that is over, with providers in this area rethinking their strategies.  But a lot of venture capital is still going into these types of “ed tech” companies. There are also other approaches to improving the quality of teaching and training that universities provide. The UK think tank Nesta has just released a draft paper –The challenge-driven university: how real-life problems can fuel learning  – looking at different approach, focusing more on relevance than access. They aren’t advocating a complete change in what universities do, but complementing what they do, and “they may be better suited to preparing young people for the needs of the world.” More than a challenge That’s harder to assess … Read More

Poor robots? - Ariadne

Mar 03, 2016

Hard on the heals of robots getting “bullied” …   … are humans now “stealing” robot’s jobs? No. As Forbes notes, it is more an evolution of robotics within the auto industry. Big clunky first generation industrial robots are being replaced by smaller more agile machines which can work more safely and efficiently alongside human workers. A couple of years ago Toyota also started changing how people and robots work in their assembly plants, putting greater emphasis on human craftsmanship in some areas. I noted this collaborative robot trend several years ago, and it is now hitting the factory floor. People are better, at the moment, doing a broader range and more delicate tasks. As the International Federation of Robotics points out there is still a steady stream of robots entering industrial service. Read More

Global risks 2016 - Ariadne

Jan 20, 2016

It’s Davos time again. As usual the World Economic Forum publish their Global Risks Report to coincide with that. Source: World Economic Forum http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2016/shareable-infographics/   Also as usual, it mostly seems to be the here and now issues that pop to the top. That’s not surprising, given that it is based on a perceptions survey. It is reactive rather than predictive. This year it is the Syrian refugee crisis and the Paris climate change meeting that appear to have been big influences. The Forum highlight the fact that they surveyed nearly 750 “experts and decision-makers”, but they don’t appear to distinguish between the opinions of more sophisticated long-term risk experts and business leaders worried about the latest threats to their market. They produce some nice graphics, but they seem designed more for getting people and media organisations to report on … Read More

Fashionable futures - Ariadne

Dec 24, 2015

Tis the season of prediction. However, the Wonkblog “re-discovers” a whimsy from 1893 predicting the future of fashion. The original article, written by W. Cade-Gall, has popped up previously. The revealed truth from a dreaming gentleman in Cade-Gall’s piece is that during the 20th Century the “immutable laws” of fashion were discovered, and fashion became a science in 1940. And lo, the Grenoble School of Management now offers a Master of Science in Fashion, Design and Luxury Management. Here are some of the predicted fashion items. Probably not so far off for a brief time in some circles in the sixties, and in academia today. 1893   The 1920s:   The 1940s:   The 1960s:   The … Read More