Foresight is a difficult subject. Scenarios should be grounded in fact, drawing the lessons of today and yesterday out into the future in ways which are genuinely useful and thought-provoking. Weak signals should not be ignored, strong signals acknowledged and accommodated, including if one is lucky a sprinkling of trends, leading to a range of reliable futures backed by evidence.
And somehow, one has to avoid, in long term projections, concepts which smack too much of science fiction – a form of futures thinking that has been around for hundreds of years and which can be remarkably accurate and useful in some circumstances, but not in all. Sci-fi, like so much of literature, situates today’s issues in an unfamiliar surrounding, the best to shine a light on it and study it. The concerns of the present are projected, in sci-fi, into the future and given a space where they are unconstrained by today’s setting. Foresight is more practical, more grounded in the present, more directly applicable to the now and the future.
Or so one would think. Sometimes along comes a set of scenarios which are a delight. Hopeful, optimistic, accompanied by images which feel like they belong in a science fiction movie. Constrained only slightly by today’s conditions, they have been allowed the freedom to roam.
Such a set of futures is in the rather wonderful new paper from Samsung, Samsung KX50: The future in Focus. Aquatic Highways! Space Hotels! Androids! Sports involving some kind of flying skateboard/lacrosse stick combination! Anchored by serious thought from very serious futurists, this is a splendid collection of forward thinking, with a range of essays covering Work and Leisure, Transport and Infrastructure, Food, the Future of Cities, Healthcare and Entertainment.
Samsung produced its first television set fifty years ago, and as the introduction points out, it now produces smartphones and technology which would have seemed unthinkable then. The firm has brought together eminent futurists and academics and, though there is an inevitable technology focus, the quality of its contributors is such that that focus does not exist in a silo. These are real glimpses into a future world. One with space hotels.
Some highlights of 2069:
- “Brain implants have totally changed how we interact with our colleagues across the globe” and, distressingly for those of us who are linguists, “learning languages has become unnecessary”.
- AI has replaced “repetitive, mundane tasks”
- 3D printing has effectively killed the transport industry – objects are made locally.
- Truly immersive virtual experiences replace holidays
- “Centralised control by way of governments and national borders [will be] weakened or cease to exist”
And that’s just a start, a brief selection from the first essay.
Elsewhere, transport will be by quad-copters, superconductor buses, subsonic tube systems and reusable rockets. Food will become more local (though we shall be eating insects); water supplies will be more controlled; and “tasty, nutritious, synthetic food” will be produced in our own homes by food printers. Skin embedded devices will monitor our bodies, telling us what we need to eat and when.
We will be living in giant climate controlled cities under domes in different types of relationships “forming new boundaries of state, nation, sea or planet”. Hydroponics will provide our food and we will grow it in our cities. We shall build underground, and under the sea. Our virtual companions will be complemented by our own in-body implants. Nanomedicine will put an end to cancers. And we shall no longer watch games or films, but directly experience them through our implants, haptic body suits and the immersive and all encompassing power of technology.
Samsung’s future is astonishing in its ambition and its scope. It is to be commended for the positive approach – this is the world of our ambitions and our dreams.
It is not the world of mass migration, of climate change, of the rise of nativism, but maybe that does not matter, Maybe what matters is that there are people out there, founded in companies that have led the way in the technological revolution, thinking about how technology will be a force for good. Perhaps it is that which will cope with the consequences of the adverse effects we see in the future and, by providing a technological set of solutions, go some way to mitigating them. Perhaps.
The future, though, is not without its national stereotypes. British readers will not be surprised to learn that, in a survey to accompany the publication of KX50, British people were most excited about one thing. At 63%, it scored a full twenty percent higher than any other of the many benefits of the future. It is, naturally, “Self-cleaning homes using robot technology”. It seems we’ll leave the space hotels and haptic suits to other, more adventurous people – who we will watch from our perfectly clean apartments.
Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.
SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.
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