Foresight and Strategy 2018
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Past copies of Foresight and Strategy (formerly eSAMI) our monthly e-newsletter, are available. For other years go to Foresight and Strategy
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Jonathan Blanchard Smith will lecture at the London Stock Exchange as part of the "On Risk" conference on the 5th June. He has been working for some time on developing what we are currently calling "value-free modelling", which moderates the effect of various decision biases in futures thinking. He will be talking about developments in the project, especially in relation to contentious issues such as Brexit.
Gill Ringland delivered a presentation on “The near future to 2030 and its potential impact on the role and impact of International Institutions on Economic Policy” at the XV International Colloquium of the World Academy of Arts & Sciences in Brussels.
Huw Williams led a discussion with the joint Panel Heads of the Institution of Engineering and Technology on the four Grand Challenges of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and how well-known drivers of change may affect them. The IET is responding to a consultation from BEIS.
The Law Society held a very interesting conference on “AI and Ethics”. Speakers included Lord Clement-Jones, Chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on AI discussing its recent report, and Professor Richard Susskind, co-author of “The Future of the Professions”. Watch our blog for a review.
NESTA are organising an evening discussion on “AI and the future of work” on the 17th May as part of their FutureFest programme. Look out for Cathy Dunn’s forthcoming blogpost.
News of a plastic-eating enzyme, developed at the University of Portsmouth, caught the news. A commercial infrastructure based around the enzyme would have two benefits: disposing of the original container, and creating new clear plastic for reuse.
Self-care and digital wellness apps sales are booming. Millennials are dealing with the stress of social media by turning to mindfulness and meditation online. What other markets might be affected by the underlying generational trends? The wearable health tech market is also forecast to grow rapidly, with products such as blood pressure and ECG monitors, smart insulin patches and smart contact lenses, and VR phobia treatment.
A Chinese hospital is looking to overcome the shortage of doctors by using AI to do patient pre-diagnosis, CT scans, organise patient records, and transport operating-room supplies.
Singaporean scientists have used off-the-shelf robots and open-source code to assemble an Ikea chair. Rather than having a dedicated robot do the task, they managed it using generic robots – indicating that a much wider range of tasks could be done robotically.
The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) is working with the Georgian Government to reform their legal system. It’s using Blockchain as a way for the national public registry in Georgia to make land register entries available digitally. In future, the aim is for real estate transactions to be handled completely via Blockchain, with “smart contracts”.
Are your walls sitting there doing nothing (apart from holding up the ceiling)? New smart walls can track a user’s touch and gestures, enabling them to play videogames by using different poses to control them, change the channel on their TV with a wave of their arm, or slap the wall directly to turn off the lights, without the need for light switches.
In the last month we have published some blogs on reports and articles from the UK Government. Firstly on the future of the sea by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and secondly a short blog based on a note on horizon scanning from the Government Office for Science. This was followed by a review of a recent exhibition at the Museum of London on future visions for London. And finally, a short blog on the future of international institutions to coincide with a presentation given at the recent Colloquium in Brussels organised by the WAAS (World Academy of Arts & Sciences).
Our tagline of "robust decisions in uncertain times" has seemed unusually pressing this month. An emerging trade war, an emerging cold war, and the lack of clarity over Britain's departure from the EU have all combined into very uncertain times indeed. We have, unsurprisingly, seen an uptick in companies and organisations getting in touch to try to get a handle on what the future - and especially their future - looks like, and we look forward to working with more, in more depth, as the year continues.
One of our key themes - the rise in regionalism - clashed with another, the polarisation of opinions. During a visit to Spain this month, the issue of Catalonia was much in evidence; in conversation, in the display of flags in the streets, and in the press and broadcast media. That's not to say they didn't have strong opinions on Brexit as well. Their views reflected what seems an increasingly embedded European media approach exemplified by this article from Handelsblatt in Germany . As the UK seeks to redefine itself, its credibility will be of real importance, and where some 'robust decisions' with a proper view of the future are needed.
At the Chartered Insurance Institute President’s Dinner, SAMI’s work on “Building Resilient Households” was singled out for a special mention in the “Building Public Trust” award category. The report explores the factors affecting resilience to sickness absence and what can be done to help more families weather the effects of this in future.
SAMI’s Gill Ringland and Jonathan Blanchard Smith have both been selected to present papers at the EU’s Future-Oriented Technology Analysis(FTA) conference on June 4th and 5th. Gill’s, “Supporting decision making with foresight tools in chaotic times”, outlines a new approach to futures thinking which balances what we know with reasonable certainty about the future against foresight’s more usual exploration of alternative possible futures. Jonathan’s paper “Debiasing political decision making through “value-free” scenario models” describes ways in which contentious issues, like Brexit, can be analysed without the noise and fury of entrenched positions.
Gill is also presenting a paper at the World Academy of Arts and Sciences XV International Colloquium on the role of International Institutions on Economic Theory and Policy , on May 2nd. The paper covers some of the major trends affecting policy out to 2030.
Huw Williams is presenting to the joint Panel Heads of the Institution of Engineering and Technology on the four Grand Challenges of the Government’s Industrial Strategy , and how well-known drivers of change may affect them.
We are reviewing our training portfolio and would welcome any suggestions on topics you would be interested in. Please contact us on email@example.com.
A lot has been written about the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle . The Guardian also listed other deaths by robot . Perhaps we need a system/process like that for plane crashes, with an independent body transparently analysing the causes so everyone can learn.
Twenty-six experts from academia, civil society, and industry have written a report on the security implications of emerging technologies . It raises serious issues about the potential malicious use of AI by rogue states, criminals, and terrorists. More cuddly is the AI baby monitor which tracks behaviours and habits, and alerts parents to unusual events. And if you thought that, although AI may replace many jobs, humans are better at empathy, you may be disturbed by a study showing that AI reads emotions better than humans .
A tooth sensor can measure your alcohol, salt and sugar intake, while Fitbit is targeting the smartwatch mass market. More fundamentally, CRISPR gene editing is now ready for testing in humans - biotech companies plan to use it to treat blood diseases and blindness.
Shell’s post-oil scenario, “Sky” , explores what it would take to comply with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and keep global warming to “well below” a rise of 2°C above preindustrial levels. It concludes that “a simple extension of current efforts” is insufficient, and that “deployment of disruptive new technologies at mass scale” is necessary.
China needs more water . So it is building a vast system of chambers, three times the size of Spain (!!), on the Tibetan plateau which could send enough silver iodide particles into the atmosphere to allow extensive clouds to form. What unintended consequences might follow from this?
Fifty years ago, Prof Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne published “ The Population Bomb ” which predicted the collapse of civilisation due to over-population and lack of resources. Today he still believes that “Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people”.
In recent weeks we have posted blogs reviewing recent publications from the Millennium Project. One covered the report of a workshop that examined methods for countering threats from terrorism ; the other reviewed their latest ‘ State of the Future ’ report. We followed up these reviews with a further look at the ideas of Philip Tetlock and his work on superforecasting and revisiting the book 'Beyond Crisis’ .
A compilation of last year’s blogs into various categories is now available on our website .
We've been in Europe again, looking beyond Britain's departure from the EU with governments, thinktanks and industry. Our "value-free" model of looking at the future gained lots of interest (we are currently working this up into a paper for a conference in the summer). The takeaways included: the concern of Brexit is turning into searching for opportunity, both in attracting UK businesses to Europe and in purchasing UK businesses following the fall in the pound; a continuing concern over the rise of populism with the European body politic; and an interest - though not yet action - on the impact of new technologies, especially amongst the SME sector.
We've also been looking at the future of agricultural investing with industry groups in the sector, and there'll be a blog on that in the next few weeks.
The Government Office for Science has issued an updated Futures Toolkit , covering several tools including Horizon Scanning, Delphi and Scenarios.
We ran a workshop on Scenario Planning and Futures Thinking for the Chartered Quality Institute’s Corporate Connect programme. Fifteen participants explored how fundamental megatrends would affect the profession, over what timescale, and how different scenarios would require different approaches.
We are reviewing our training portfolio and would welcome any suggestions on topics you would be interested in. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several EV stories this month:
Type 2 Diabetes may be a rapidly growing concern, but the good news is that technology is starting to offer monitoring and “closed loop” solutions.
According to one study people typically touch their phones over 2,000 times per day, leaving a trail of data to mine. Could your digital footprint — how often you post on social media, how quickly you scroll through your contacts, how frequently you check your phone late at night — could hold clues to your physical and mental health? “Digital phenotyping” suggests it could.
NESTA’s ten predictions for 2018 include altruistic drones, prize-winning AI artists and policy shaped by simulation.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report surveying the landscape of potential security threats from malicious uses of artificial intelligence technologies, and proposes ways to better forecast, prevent, and mitigate these threats. And if you want to see what AI is currently capable of, DeepIndex have over 300 examples .
Is the commercial ethos of big business starting to shift from short-term shareholder value to a wider morality ? Larry Fink, CEO of asset managers BlackRock, and Apple’s Tim Cook are arguing for “moral responsibility”. Indeed BlackRock is considering offering investors the chance not to invest in gun firms , and is asking those firms how they monitor safe use of weapons. Will this become a real trend or is it just a response to recent incidents that will quickly fade away?
During February the focus of our blogs has been around risk, reputation and what boards need to think about. We looked at a range of issues from reporting of risk , the lessons that could be learned from the collapse of Carillion , and considering the issue of why boards fail to address the issue of risk . Other topics we’ve explored in the last few weeks have included a report on the launch of Cities Outlook 2018 , a review of last year’s ESPAS conference and options for addressing social care funding .
It is perhaps inevitable that British business is focused on the implications of leaving the European Union. That concern is shared elsewhere; this month, SAMI is working on scenarios and strategies for organisations in central Europe, for instance. On the other hand, what is sometimes lost in the UK is that the rest of the world has other concerns, but SAMI is bringing its skills and experience to those as well. We look forward to reporting on the results in later issues of Foresight and Strategy.
We have been working with the Chartered Quality Institute on developing our description of megatrends. The document is evolving – if you would like to see it – comments welcome, please email email@example.com .
Our own review of our work continues this month with away days and some detailed self-examination - we want to be the best at what we do and are spending time and energy practicing what we preach, as we review our own strategy and approach. We'll be able to report back on that as well in the next few months.
The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report always comes out in January ahead of the Davos shindig. This year the top three high impact/high likelihood (HI/HL) events are all environmental: extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Also HI/HL are biodiversity loss and manmade environmental disasters plus, because no doubt they are linked, water crises and large-scale migration. The exception to this environmental theme is cyber-attacks.
The report also lists 10 “Future shocks” - sudden and dramatic breakdowns caused by the instability of feedback loops, threshold effects and cascading disruptions. These include:
We’re still impressed by Professor Rohrbeck’s 7-year longitudinal study showing that the right Strategic Foresight practices boost profitability by 33% and market capitalization growth by 200%. Our case studies have always shown how valuable clients thought Foresight was, but quantifying its effect is remarkable.
We are again running our two-day Futures Thinking workshop, in central London on the 5th and 6th of March. This practical "hands-on" course is designed to give participants a good understanding of a range of futures techniques and includes exercises to gain confidence in using them. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss case studies and for participants to share their experience. Topics covered include:
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register.
US researchers are developing a a high-efficiency “thermal battery” , a polymer that is very effective at absorbing and releasing heat. The plastic-like material holds 200 times as much thermal energy as water. When exposed to sunlight, its molecules adopt a high-energy state. Then, when slightly warmed or activated by another trigger, the molecules revert to their low-energy form and the stored heat is released.
In their paper "Improving Palliative Care with Deep Learning", Stanford researchers are using an algorithm to predict mortality, and their goal is to improve timing of end-of-life care for critically ill patients , for example enabling people to end their days at home.
In Syria, a swarm of home-made drones has attacked a Russian airbase. In what may be the first announced use of a swarm of drones in a military action, 13 small drones descended on Russian forces, but none did significant damage. What next for military applications?
We’ve reported before about increasing mental health issues amongst Millennials, with greater levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. A new study puts this down to perfectionism , and in particular to “multi-dimensional perfectionism” – feeling inadequate in many different ways.
Nissan announced that it is working on a “brain-to-vehicle” interface , which monitors the driver’s brainwaves in order to take action (eg braking) 0.2 to 0.5 seconds faster. The possible range of such applications is literally mind-boggling (sorry!).
January continued with weekly blogs on a variety of different subjects. To begin, we returned to the issue of reputation and how quickly messages meant for one audience reach others with unintended consequences. The following week we reviewed a conference on anticipation - something with which those mentioned in the previous week’s blog could usefully engage. Lastly we looked at an interactive exploration of decision-making and cognitive bias and how such bias could be avoided.
With the New Year, we have taken the opportunity to start a detailed review of how we reach out to our clients and colleagues. In the near future, you'll start to see changes to our website, but most immediately, you'll have noticed that "eSAMI" has become "Foresight and Strategy". At a time when every email is competing for your attention, we want to make sure we stand out - and giving our newsletter a new, clear name is part of that process. We'd like your views too - what should we be doing better? How should we best present ourselves? Do let us know at email@example.com.
Helping people understand what the future may bring is increasingly important when the future has never seemed so uncertain or confusing. Every time one goes on Twitter, hears the news or catches a newspaper, the world seems ever stranger and more unpredictable. 2018 shows no signs of slowing down: technological and biotech advances compete for mental space with politics, social change and conflict. Near term events have long term implications, and 2018 promises to have more than its fair share. We will be working, thinking about and discussing what matters, as always - in the UK, inevitably that means Brexit; in Europe, the pace of social change as the liberal order of the EU's founders continues to be challenged by a resurgent populism; as China outpaces an apparently rudderless United States, and as events across the globe threaten peace and security for some, or all, of us.
But it is not just politics, the changes which will cause material differences to life in the medium and long term continue - the fourth industrial revolution is picking up speed, technology both enables and restricts freedom and opportunities, and medical as well as biotechnological innovation moves out of clinical trials and into the real world. We will be there, gathering in all of this, and helping our clients understand it, and what it means for them, now and into the future.
This year will be no easier than last - and its implications as long running. We look forward to being alongside you as it develops.
We’re often asked if there is any evidence that “this futures stuff” actually works. We’ve put several case studies of successful projects on our website, but now at last independent research has quantified the value of “future preparedness”. In a robust 7-year longitudinal study, Professor Rohrbeck showed that the right Strategic Foresight practices boost profitability by 33% and market capitalization growth by 200%.
After the ESPAS conference in Brussels last month, Gill Ringland joined our friends at the School of International Futures for a discussion in the issues facing futurists and how to embed foresight within organisations. The photo below shows some of the things identified.
Details of the SOIF Webinars are coming up soon - if you aren't already signed up to the SOIF newsletter, you can do it here .
We are again running our two-day Futures Thinking workshop, in central London on the 5th and 6th of March. This practical "hands-on" course is designed to give participants a good understanding of a range of futures techniques and includes exercises to gain confidence in using them. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss case studies and for participants to share their experience. Topics covered include: • Horizon Scanning • Drivers of change • Scenario Planning • Policy assessment Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register.
The Economist pointed out some interesting demographic changes we can expect to see in 2018 - France and Finland will join the list of countries with a shrinking workforce, while China continues to see the biggest decline in its working age population.
The wonderfully named Magic Leap announced the forthcoming launch of its Mixed Reality goggles. As well as six cameras to track the wearer’s environment real-time, the goggles have four microphones to sense the sound around a user. Applications can be built on dedicated portal from “early” 2018.
The US Food and Drug Administration just approved the first gene therapy for an inherited disease, a hereditary form of blindness. It’s just a one-time injection into the retina, but could cost as much as $1 million if it’s anything like previous treatments.
A Japanese company is rolling out a “ digital pill ” which reminds patients to take their medication. The digital pill dissolves in the patient’s stomach activating a sensor to send a signal to a patch reader attached to the patient's waist and on to the system's app on the patient's smartphone via Bluetooth. It’s particularly aimed at schizophrenia patients, as many as 40% of whom stop taking their medication within 6 months.
Uber is reducing the costs of ambulance services in the US. A before and after study showed rates of ambulance usage drop by around 7% after Uber or similar ride sharing apps launch in an area. Some doctors are concerned however that calling an Uber rather than dialling 911 may mean that patients do not get the best treatment.
Although Bitcoin itself is having a rocky ride, new applications for Block chain keep emerging: wealth management, ethical business practices, tackling electoral fraud. Could it be used to halt “fake news”? It’s also suggested that Blockchain could help developing countries cut regulation costs and spur greater access to the world economy.
A recent study showed that algorithms designed to detect lymph node metastases in patients with breast cancer could out-perform a panel of pathologists.
Alder Hey hospital is using an AR app to make children feel more relaxed in hospital. A virtual guide can show them round the hospital – what is like to have an X-ray - answering questions about the medical procedures.
Meanwhile the ECB is trialling the use of VR headsets to improve batsmen’s reaction times, against specific bowlers rather than generic ones. Shame it was too late for this Ashes series.
Global spending on the Internet of Things is expected to reach $772.5 billion next year, up 14.6 percent from the $674 billion seen for 2017, according to the latest study from IDC. The key applications will be fleet and asset management, smart utility grids, smart cities, and home automation and security.
Intriguing effect of greater use of renewables in Germany – negative energy prices . Improvements in battery technology, and “smart home” systems should be able to better balance supply and demand.
Our recent blogs have covered quite different subjects; firstly we shared some thoughts following the sad news of the death of Watts Wacker , including a project he had been involved with at ICL in the 1990s. We then reviewed our time at the DMDU workshop in Oxford last November where we heard great perspectives on the ‘real world’ from speakers such as Claire Craig, giving insights into how the foresight – or DMDU – community can provide inputs to policy makers. The full programme is available here . Following our Christmas break we began the New Year with a look at the technology trends for 2018 .
A collection of our 2017 blogs will be shortly be available in pdf format on our website.
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