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.

Santa’s not redundant yet, but … - Ariadne

Dec 22, 2015

I was in Mega Mitre 10 on the weekend and noticed that they had a Dremel 3D printer for sale. For $1700 you can print your own little plastic figurines. It’s a bit cheaper on-line, but I still prefer to look at the woodworking tools. Nonetheless, I thought it interesting since it is the first I’ve seen one for sale in a home improvement store here. The stock prices of companies selling 3D printing systems are falling, since the consumer boom hasn’t (yet) occurred. Nonetheless, companies such as Nike are thinking about letting you print your footwear at home, which would be both a significant advance, and useful to the average consumer. The US military is certainly very keen on using 3D printing for a whole range of gadgets and gear, and … Read More

Future Schlock - Ariadne

Dec 07, 2015

A sure sign of when to be skeptical of futurists’ (or journalists’) predictions is if the title conforms to the “Why x is the future of y” narrative. That’s just future schlock. (As in “cheap or inferior goods or material”). Take, for example, 3D printing is the future of manufacturing, Why lab-grown meat is the future of food and Why the gig economy is the future of work. These seem like classic examples of “hedgehog” futurists. One big idea, which is easy to promote. The future, though, isn’t usually so tidy. The “gig economy” The current hype around the “gig (or sharing) economy” seems to be based on the way in which firms like Uber and TaskRabbit are changing how some can get work, and extrapolating that to many other areas. There is often an echo chamber effect, … Read More

Sweden’s “Ministry of Future Issues” - Ariadne

Nov 30, 2015

Motherboard has a short interview with Kristina Persson, whom they call the Minister of the Future. Although her official title is Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation.   Her work involves: “… pursuing the long-term development of ideas at the Government Offices. This will include the green transition, jobs and distribution, and initiatives to influence the global agenda for sustainable development. I will also work to ensure that the Nordic countries cooperate and make use of their combined strength. Together we are an actor with clout.” Sounds sensible, but hard to do, especially ensuring the Nordic countries cooperate.  It’s a new position, so not much evidence to determine if it is effective. I’ve noted before that New Zealand doesn’t have strong strategic foresight capability, although there are pockets of foresight activities within individual agencies and organisations. Sir Peter … Read More

Blindspots to the future - Ariadne

Nov 18, 2015

Why is it more commonplace to attempt to predict technological developments, but not to be as speculative about cultural changes? Tom Vanderbilt, writing in the Nautilus, discusses this. I’ve touched on this previously (and here) but Vanderbilt does it in more depth. He suggests that we both fail to notice some changes, and fail to give sufficient importance to some things that don’t change. Vanderbilt quotes social historian Judith Flanders: “Futurology is almost always wrong because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes” And from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile:  “We notice what varies and changes more that what plays a larger role but doesn’t change” That’s not to say that social and cultural factors aren’t ignored. Demographic and ethnic changes are often highlighted as important drivers of change. Read More

Commodified futurism - Ariadne

Nov 13, 2015

An article by Lee Billings in the September edition of Nautilus caught my attention this week. While it looked at some of the forgotten work of Polish science fiction writer and philosopher Stanislaw Lem (someone I haven’t, yet, read), what struck me most was Billings’ phrase “commodified futurism”. He applied this to “Silicon Valley billionaires”, and meant those seeking to profit from investments in new gadgets and “disruptive innovation”. That is, those wanting to make a quick buck from technical fixes, rather than addressing important problems. Others have made similar points about the fear of missing out mentality, and the narrow view of many inhabitants around San Jose, CA. I see other ways in which futures can be commodified (in the sense of undifferentiated or low value products). Such as the regular publishing of … Read More

Energy scenarios for New Zealand - Ariadne

Nov 04, 2015

It’s good to see more futuring emerging in NZ. A few weeks ago, the Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand released a report on the risk to jobs of automation.  I’ve previously noted the research from Oxford University that this is based on, as well as the caution that it’s a relatively simplistic model and the results shouldn’t be treated as facts. Last month the Business New Zealand Energy Council also released two energy scenarios developed in association with the World Energy Council.  While they have been adapted from two energy scenarios (“Jazz” and “Symphony”) applied elsewhere, quite a lot of effort, involving discussions with NZ interested parties, has gone into developing scenarios that reflect NZ conditions. The two kiwi scenarios are called “Kayak” and “Waka”, derivatives of “Jazz” and “Symphony”, respectively. [As … Read More

Best. Invention. Ever? - Ariadne

Oct 16, 2015

Everyone’s got their own view on what are, or will be, the greatest inventions or most disruptive technologies. Live Science offer up their top 10 inventions that changed the world, though no clear criteria for why these 10 and not others are the top. Other sites do the same, with varying degrees of overlap, but similarly opaque criteria.  Another genus of listicle looks forward, anticipating what the most disruptive new technologies will be (or the BBC’s more engaging site).But again without much rigor. I’ve written about this in other posts too. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has just picked up on an older piece of economics research that has been recently highlighted by Our World In Data, and proclaimed that “the most disruptive technology of the last century is in your house” … Read More

Histography - Ariadne

Oct 09, 2015

Matan Stauber has created an interesting interactive historical website, spanning 14 billion years, called Histography. It’s based on Wikipedia, so is idiosyncratic in what it covers. But it is fun to explore. Screenshot from Histography’s interactive site – A few years ago I noted the fictional timeline of the future created by Giorgia Lupi. And, more recently, the future of the universe by the Quarks to Quasars team.  It would be neat to make them similarly interactive. Better still, from a futurist’s perspective it would be a useful resource to compile a collection of the predictions, forecasts and scenarios derived from futures work into a similar tool. Then it would be easier to explore the mass of futures work already out there. Sadly, I don’t have the time, or skills, to … Read More

A good time to be alive - Ariadne

Oct 08, 2015

It’s a good time to be alive, on many counts. BBC’s Horizons show looks back on the progress of some of the technology developments that they covered over the past five years.  That’s great, because often we only hear about the hype and hope at the start of a new development, and not what transpires later as it attempts to enter the real world. The series of short videos they have posted follow up on a range of technological developments. The Lifesaver® water filtration system is now being deployed in developing communities and communities before or after natural disasters. You can even order some for yourself. Although the costs are high, your investment will probably be priceless following a severe earthquake or storm. Not your usual stocking filler, but Christmas isn’t far off. The Lifesaver illustrates … Read More

Automation for the people - Ariadne

Sep 09, 2015

Following on from my last post about robots, evolution, and metaphors, the Journal of Economic Perspectives has, for a non-economist, a surprisingly good pair of other articles in the same issue. Both Mokyr et al. and Autor provide good historical perspectives on how economists and others have a poor track record of predicting future jobs, and that the current concerns about technologies displacing human workers is nothing new. Autor notes that discussions of the workforce impact of technologies focuses, not unnaturally, on what is lost rather than how such innovation may have longer-term social and economic benefits. Obviously that’s not much comfort to those losing their jobs right now. But it’s not necessarily bad from a societal perspective. Autor states that “societal adjustments to earlier waves of technological advancement were neither rapid, automatic, nor … Read More