Technology and Futures Thinking Primer
8 min read

Technology and Futures Thinking Primer

Technology significantly affects society and development. Understanding the principles of change is rapidly becoming a fundamental skill.
Technology and Futures Thinking Primer

Launch presentation at GIZ techDetector in Berlin.

Technology significantly affects society and development. Understanding the principles of change is rapidly becoming a fundamental skill. This presentation explains patterns of technological transformation and readiness development.


I want to thank GIZ for the opportunity of having us here, and I want to build on a few of the ideas that Dorothy presented and try shedding a little bit of light on how we look at technology and why we're doing what we're doing.

I want to start by talking about certainties, and the first certainty about technology is that we are are blind to it.

There's this wonderful definition called technological somnambulism which says it's the way we view technologies as something as tools as things we can put down and pick back up again, is flawed, because of this view of technologies are just objects and something we can separate ourselves from we don't see that there are long term implications so the moment we incorporate of Technology any technology into our life we are forever changed because it changes our expectations and the way that we expect the world to works.

my name is Michell, I'm a geek and a nerd and I was born in 1982 some sort of first generation millennial born inStockholm got broadband very early so I was in many ways sort of pushed into the online world whether I wanted to or not and some of my friends define me as oh here she is some of my friends define me as the intersection between an early adopter and a heavy user.

I do spend a lot of my time not only using technology but also thinking about it and the work we're doing at envisioning is meant to help people understand the implications and develop their own long-term view of where technology is heading and what is it doing to us one of my formal titles is that of a futurist but I like putting the asterisks around it because it's not so much about the crystal ball knowing what's next but rather how can we how can we draw road maps or roadways into the future and decide which future we actually want to opt for and how can we do that collectively so the first thing we need to do is to define or at least establish a common baseline of what technology is because technology follows many definitions

one good one good definition is technology was invent is everything invented after were born so everything that exists when we're born into the world is just there in an obvious way of how the world were but everything that's new we like what is this are we sure we want this and I think this is a good way of framing it because we don't look at electric light as a technology but it's you know we need it to be where we are and every technology follows a certain direction they all develop they all build up overtime individually and collectively so you can sort of draw the visible history of writing and see how we got to where we are now and this works for everygiven technology something is trivial oras obvious as aviation was it wasimpossible a century ago something andwhen we look at what's happening nowsuch as the the parkour robot on theleft and my left your right and comparedto where robotics was only a decade agothese are actual videos 10 years apartand it's a good quick way of remindingus of how quickly these things aremoving and how much is actually is howmuch is changing in such little time weused to hunt now we click when we'rehungry and this is this to this shedsome light on how it affects ourexpectations because once you know thatthe delivery server service exists it'sgonna affect your decision-makingprocess it's gonna make you thinkdifferently the next time you're hungryMoore's law effectively says that thingsget faster faster and things get cheaperfaster and these are certainties in theuncertainty over technology is taking usand if this is true then we have to sortof agree on that everything isaccelerating because technology has endsup affecting all of these differentaspects of our lives and if everythingis accelerating that also means thattoday is the slowest day will ever livethrough tomorrow will be slightly fasterand the next thing will be slightlyfaster and so on and so forth the goodthing is this is true for everyone itaffects all of us and I think the wayout of it is to is to is to see what'scome you know what's moving in ourdirection and understanding some ofthese patterns some of theseuncertainties that exist in theuncertainty of technological developmentso we we're certain of exponentialchange but which is the sort of theframing of this of this trend if youwill but if you have exponential changeyou also inevitably have consequencesand these consequences are farmore interesting and far more uncertainthan that of exponential change so forexample the automobile which we've alltaken for granted was more than just afaster horse and if I ended up affectingus in many different ways the the factthat we have urbanization and urbansprawl is a direct consequence of thepopularization of the automobilesame thing with allocating so much spaceon our planet to just storing cars andtraffic did not really exist before thecar so all of these things are just partof how the world works now but they're adirect consequence of a singletechnology very popular one and aubiquitous one and one that hasestablished large economies but it'sstill just the technology the same wayelevators have led to cities like HongKong you don't have vertical you don'thave dense cities with with withvertical locomotion unless sorry youhave done cities unless you havevertical locomotion nobody wants to liveon the 44th floor unless you have anelevator but once you invent theelevator cities like these becomepossible it's non obvious but there'sstill a direct correlationonce you have social media you canaffect the outcome of electionsapparently and now and we have to takeit for granted because you can'textinguish social media that's not anoption anymore so how you deal with itand of course I'm thankful to beEuropean in these moments where at leasthere we're asking those questions asopposed to many other placesRoy Amara the founder of the Institutefor the future has a law in his namewhich basically says that we tend tooverestimate the short-term effects oftechnology and we tend to underestimatetheir long-term effects so in the shortterm we think technologies will be waymore impactful and disruptive than theyactually are then we forget about themwe go back to normalnormality and after a while they takeoff and actually end up changing ourlives way more than we expected it to bepossible the tricky thing is this istrue even when you know it's true so youhave to keep compensating instead ofclimbing up the hill more and morefaster and faster so these are twocertainties I'm going to talk about athird certainty that maps on directly tothe work we're doing here and that isthe strong correlation between sciencefiction and science fact so again as ageek I did spend and I still do spend alot of timezooming science-fiction and after awhile you notice that there is there'stoo much correlation between what'shappening in in sci-fi to reality to bea coincidence and so that's that's oneof the ways that we look at technologyat a visioning is to look at the fulltimeline between idea and reality we webelieve that every technology begins asan idea some of these ideas becomeconcepts some concepts eventually mergeinto prototypes and some prototypeseventually make their way into becomingproducts it doesn't mean that every ideabecomes a product but it means thatevery product began as an idea and wecan map this and we can track this andand the sci-fi aspect is fundamentalbecause the things that we dream up endup becoming reality not the way we seethem but you could argue that the Dysonautonomous robot is a variation of theRosie from the Jetsons the same way youcould sometimes it's directly assumed such as the tricorder in Star Trek whereyou measure someone's vital signs became a product it wasn't there was an X PRIZE around it a few years ago and no dozens of companies put millions of dollars together in order to build the technology from the film or from the TV series so these things manifest Nike youknow famously created a self-lacingshoes which is not a product it was afilm a few years ago and now it's anactual thing you can buy my favoriteexample is arthur c clarke one of the writers of 2001 who as a scientist published a paper in 45 saying hey if you want to if you want to send signals around the worldyou should put these flying objects in this particular orbit it's called theclark orbit and 19 years later the tokyo olympics were broadcast using the firstcommunication satellite in real time around the worldso in 19 years you had the jump between idea into reality and these exampleskeep happening over and over again it's not a coincidence the StarTAC from StarTrek it's the last Star Trek example I promise and and I want to argue thatimagination instructs innovationinnovation begins as imaginationimagination is broader it's widereverything is possible in imaginationeverything is not possible in innovationbut one baguettes the other and thefourth certainty is the work we'retrying to do together which I said and acouple of other partners and it's ourattempt at building a platform fortracking knowledge around thesetechnologies because if technologies areso impactful if they are so disruptiveif they have all of these effects on usthen how do we keep track well it turnsout nobody really is or at leastnobody's doing that collectively a lotof organizations do it individually we want to do it collectively so we track technologies throughout their whole lifespan we track science fiction we take films we observe the technologies that appear in the metal books and videogames and translate them into database entries not only sci-fi obviously but like everywhere we see technologies we tracked them we organize them we catalog them we track we do this cross sector360 and every in every conceivable direction we look at technology which by incorporating them measuring them, assessing them when we're doing this because we believe people need to make everyone has the right to making better choices about what's out there a lot of hype is invested into a IML blockchain obviously but there's so much more out there and they're all at different levels.

these levels vary per region and we're trying to add a data layer to that because it's remarkably hasn't been done so we're building an intelligence platform in conjunction with again 2g and a handful of other partners around the world with the intent of bringing this knowledge to as many people as possible we're creating this in the open we're turning this into a public utility which anyone can access and everyone should access to learn about what's going on we do a lot of visualization work I'm not going to go into it because you gonna see more of it in a few minutes but we believe that the best way to represent the data is visually we believe interactive visualizations are way more engaging than reports and actually convey information more efficiently

our belief is also that in in as Larry was talking about in so many other ways with so much more eloquent than I can it's about being inclusive it's about making bringing the capability of making better choices to more people we're building this as a asa public utility obviously because it's 2020 come on and we're doing it globally these are the locations of the organizations that are on board now helping us do this and we work both in the public and private sector and we have the privilege of working with wonderful organizations that believe in this vision and that actually want to help us build this together and just wrap things up, technology is neither good nor bad but it's also not neutral so every technology comes with bias every technology can be used for any possible outcome but they all have some you know potential built into them and understanding that is fundamental understand the implications of that is crucial to the type of decision-making we have to make today

Thank you very much.