Insights · January 8th, 2023
In 2023 it’s difficult to escape the gravity of excitement around technology. CES 2023 was a testament to that with over 100,000 people in attendance.
I’ll be honest, I am an unabashedly excited Technology Futurist as much as I am a practitioner of futures exploration and foresight in a wider sense. I used to get carried away with the promises of a better world – that curiosity was born in me at the age of 8 when I was given a copy of the ‘Usborne Book of the Future’.
Today we see a lot of amazing tech categories that are truly having real world impacts – Data transformation and storage, Big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and automation, Internet of things, Sensor Fusion, Genetic editing and CRISPR-Cas9, Nanotechnology, Quantum computing, Blockchain, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Metaverse and other areas.
We can sometimes be blinded by the flash and exuberance of PR and marketing related to solutions across these areas. And, we can be brought down to earth by solid critical thinking and diligence on understanding the architecture and application of these technologies.
Having said this I also never forget what Roy Amara established with ‘Amara’s Law’ – “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
This is what makes technology an interesting world to explore. We can wildly speculate about a technology’s application or place in a larger system. To do so we need a sense of responsibility if we are to call ourselves ‘Technology Futurists’.
Principles and Good / Bad Habits
That’s why we need to establish a set of principles that reflect a responsible approach to exploring our futures. I see the following as being important as a scorecard on what good and impactful technology should be:
- Human needs lead tech solutions exploration
- Treat the people that use the technology as people with thoughts, needs and feelings, not ‘users’
- Ethical data collection, usage and (potential) ownership by the people that use the systems
- Demand sustainable tech operations
- Expect transparency on the tech-stack, business practices and processes
- Application and architectural place defined through human-centered design
- There is cross industry collaboration and communication on guidelines and standards
- Innovation is supported through open patents. It is worth questioning the motives of those technology companies that do no..
In addition to these, as technology futurists, we must establish some good habits
- Rational thinking – using the above principles – with presentation of ideas across multiple real contexts
- Inviting people to wonder what if tech gains acceleration and wider adoption
- Exploration of both positive and challenging/dystopian outcomes and futures
- Speculation on future applications relating to an overall ecosystem of people, place, process, tech and governance.
We must also avoid some bad habits – and there are a lot of examples of people trying to be ‘technology futurists’ that have the following:
- Focusing on single point tech as a savior of modern challenges without wider consideration of other human and technological solutions
- Unchecked hyperbole and over confidence relating to technology promises
- Fanatical following of the technorati and the idea that they can do no wrong
- Wild ideas that are based on no sense of reality of limitations of science and physics
Fighting the Poverty of Imagination
Our collective ‘Poverty of Imagination’ is the ability to think and see beyond the obvious, packaged solutions provided to us. It’s easy to consume ideas packaged in marketing speak. A good Technology Futurist exercises their imagination along with a healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism.
A key to this is to think about new technologies in wider ecosystems. This is something we did when working with Vancouver International Airoport (YVR) on their YVR 2037 project which aimed to drive public engagement. You can see all of the stories at nikolasbadminton.com on the web pages listed here.
Let’s look at one such story – ‘Welcome to the Airport of the Future’.
YVR Airport: Thursday May 14, 2037 at 08:45
This is Pascal’s first visit to Vancouver International Airport. As he wanders inside, his augmented reality glasses alert him to watch the Welcome to YVR Airport story. He accepts, prompting a YVR Storyteller to appear.
The Storyteller – one of five hundred, personalized, holographic customer service representatives, helps travelers with wayfinding, gate details and information on airport amenities. The Storyteller accompanies Pascal through the main concourse, detailing the history of YVR and describing the unique journey he is about to experience.
“Vancouver Airport Authority welcomes you to Vancouver International Airport, or YVR. Here we work as an active member of the community to build a sustainable, vibrant, innovative and diverse airport. We also aim to deliver hyper-efficiency with friendly, fast and reliable service for airlines that connect you to friends, family, business partners and associates in Asia, the Americas and beyond.”
As Pascal proceeds through the building he’s struck by its ambience, its forest-fresh air and the fusion of clean, modern 21st century architecture with stunning First Nations art – a visual reminder to travelers of the city’s origins and history.
The Storyteller continues – “We listen to your needs, and together with local transport operators, get you to your destination as efficiently as possible. This means reduced congestion, flexible transport choices and more time for you to enjoy your journey.
We are proud of the fact that revenue we earn is reinvested back into our airport, it plays a part in making us one of the best airports in the world.
In addition, we create value for Greater Vancouver and all British Columbians from the available land on beautiful Sea Island. We achieve this by offering automated stacked parking for longer stays, quick transportation connections to downtown Vancouver and other key regional destinations, a world-class retail park and the creation of the YVR Business District – home to the world’s best aeronautical startups. These businesses focus on the study, design and manufacturing of air flight-capable machines and supporting systems.
Upon entering the terminal building you will experience fast track bag check-in, you will pass through state-of-the-art security with ease, and beyond that – enjoy a cosmopolitan shopping and dining experience to rival any around the world.
YVR strives to be fully sustainable and environmentally efficient. We’re achieving this through the harnessing of rainwater and solar energy. Our revolutionary vertical farm delivers fresh vegetables daily, while our award winning ground operations carefully manage the environment to reduce noise, taxiing times, queues and greenhouse gasses. We strive for zero carbon emissions and zero waste each day of the year.
To ensure travelers have the best experience, we have deployed sensors to capture and transmit data to help with optimization, artificial intelligence and automated control systems.
We thank you for choosing to travel through YVR. We’d love to hear how we could make your airport experience even richer. In the meantime, have a great trip.”
This story – a piece of design fiction – looks to the overall experience with technology within serving the needs of the people in that context needing to achieve progress towards their goals – in this case travel.
In some cases we create visual reference to help us – see how humans are served by technology vs. technology as the star in the following video we produced:
So, there we have it. A quick look at what a Technology Futurist is and should be.
Get excited and be enthusiastic in telling the world where it may go. Just have a deep sense of responsibility doing so.
Nikolas Badminton is the Chief Futurist at futurist.com. He’s a world-renowned futurist speaker, consultant, author, media producer, and executive advisor that has spoken to, and worked with, over 300 of the world’s most impactful organizations and governments. He helps shape the visions that shape impactful organizations, trillion-dollar companies, progressive governments, and 200+ billion dollar investment funds.
You can preorder ‘Facing Our Futures’ at Amazon, Bloomsbury, Barnes and Noble and other fine purveyors of books. We’s also love it if you considered pre-ordering from your local, independent book store as well.Please contact futurist speaker and consultant Nikolas Badminton to discuss your engagement or event.