Newsletter 2021

Newsletter - Foresight and Strategy 2021

May 2021

Our SAMI Cohort  continued with its 5th session this week. One of the attendees reported that “the sessions were full of insights and provided me a lot of food for thought and further considerations.” We are now recruiting for a second cohort where in a small group with other professionals you can explore the issues surrounding your foresight work. Cohort members choose the topics for discussion. Contact Jane.Dowsett@samiconsulting.co.uk if you are interested.

Jonathan Blanchard Smith received a very positive response to his talk on “Britain in 2030 – Four Post-Brexit Scenarios Revisited” to the Greater Manchester branch of the Chartered Quality Institute with a score of 9/10. Taking our “Four post-Brexit Scenarios” publication is his starting point, he re-examined the scenarios in the light of the withdrawal agreement. Comments included:

  • “the most thorough and thoughtful discussion of Brexit I’ve yet heard”;
  • “insightful”;
  • “thoughtful and interesting“.
  • “This was a high-quality, well thought-through and thought-provoking presentation – as interesting for its precise and methodical exposition of the method, as for its conclusions. Well worth attending.”

The Institute of Leadership and Management is publishing today an article by Huw Williams on scenario planning, called “Expect the Unexpected”. Using an example from SAMI’s work for the EU’s Health and Safety Agency (EU-OSHA), the article goes through each of the steps of a scenario planning project, from identifying key drivers, through creating scenarios to testing policies against each of them (“wind-tunnelling”).

Emeritus Fellow Gill Ringland gave a keynote address to the Association for Strategic Planning’s Virtual conference on the role of ethics in strategy. The keynote starts by asking why organisations need ethics – why is keeping to the law not enough? Using several examples of how the world is changing, Gill illustrates that ethical behaviour in business reduces risk and contributes to performance – that ethics is absolutely a central part of strategy.

On a lighter note, Robert Hickson on Sciblogs came up with a characterisation of futures reports.

Futures reports

We’ll take care to examine which of these we might be guilty of doing!

Executive Education
Our online course “Understanding the Future” will be run again on 24th to 28th May 2021. The course fee is £490 + VAT, and discounts may be available for self-funded individuals. For more information, please email us at training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

A range of information on various futures techniques – our version of the GOS Futures Toolkit – is available on our website.

Futures Issues 
10% of Generation Z said they’re considering not having children so they can afford to retire early, compared to just 4% of Millennials, with the percentage being higher amongst those that lived in London with an average to higher paid job.  This is on top of already falling fertility rates and the onset of a declining population.

In recognition of the inevitable, the United Mine Workers of America, the country’s largest union representing coal miners, announced that it supported a renewable energy future — provided that miners get “good-paying jobs” in return. A good signal of societal change.

Carbon capture and production is pushing its way onto the agenda. An exhibition a the Science Museum demonstrated how a range of products – vodka, toothpaste etc – can be made from captured carbon. And a Finnish company is developing a process to use airborne carbon to produce a healthy ingredient that looks like wheat flour and contains 50% protein

Hydrogen could be used to power electric vehicles more easily using a “liquid organic hydrogen carrier”  which converts hydrogen into a liquid. The EVs could be refuelled like a petrol car with the liquid being re-converted on board, providing a simpler and cheaper alternative to onboard storage of compressed hydrogen.

In Uganda, drones are being tested as a way of delivering HIV drugs to 78 community groups and health facilities across the widely scattered Ssese islands. This could be an example of the Hype Cycle, with delivery drones finding a much narrower niche than originally touted.

Field trials of a robot weeding system will begin on October. A scout robot identifies broadleaf weeds, passes the information via an AI system to the killer robot, which uses electrodes to destroy the roots, meaning there is no need for herbicide. This is one of a number of Smart Agriculture developments now emerging.

A 3D-printed house now houses paying tenants. A robotic nozzle that squirts out a specially formulated cement, “printing ” 24 concrete elements according to an architect’s design, adding layer upon layer to create a wall to increase its strength. These were transported to the building site and placed on a foundation; roof and window frames were then fitted. The process will  cut costs and environmental damage by reducing the amount of cement that is used. It also provides an alternative at a time when there is a shortage of skilled bricklayers.

Our Blogs 
Since our last newsletter we have posted some more blogs looking at the US National Intelligence Center’s Global Trends report: one looking at the structural forces they identified and another looking at the emerging dynamics as they see them. We have also posted about the MIT review and list of technologies for 2021 and returned to the topic of AI as the EU published its proposals on the values and ethics in this field.

 

April 2021

The UK is slowly and carefully working its way to the end of what we are promised will be the last lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic. Whilst we appreciate that “slowly and carefully” are not normally words one would associate with the current government, we do see in them one of the more obvious coronavirus impacts: moving too fast, without foresight, and with minimal planning, has no benefits. We are hopeful that the lesson has been learned.

Indeed, we are seeing increased focus on foresight in the wider public sector in the UK. SAMI is currently working on projects for the public sector which illustrate what may be a systemic change – an understanding that scenario work, with its deep engagement in the whole galaxy of trends, the intensity of thinking developed  in scenario generation workshops, and the creation of truly flexible plans, is preferable to single-point planning.

Two important reports from the US illustrate the point: the Global Trends analysis from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and the same office’s unclassified Annual Threat Assessment. The latter “examines the diverse array of threats that exist against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, great power competition, and rapidly evolving technology.” Both are worth reading – and for those just who want the headlines take a look at Huw Williams’ blog.

Foresight, scenarios and trends. Is it possible that futures thinking is becoming mainstream? We would very much like to think so.

SAMI is pleased to welcome two new Associates:

Tanja Schindler: Tanja supports companies, start-ups and freelancers in understanding Futures Thinking as a holistic, sustainable and goal-oriented organizational and life direction. Formerly working for large German corporates in the industrial and lighting sector, she now supports organizations to transform their businesses successfully into the future. She also leads and contributes to Foresight projects at UNESCO, the EU Commission and WFP.  She is the founder and guardian of the global community Futures Space. Her biography is here.

Harry Wilby: Harry specialises in scenario planning, crisis management, political advisory, and the implementation of business strategy. He has advised financial institutions on their operating models as well as their commercial and communications strategies. He has successfully managed and delivered projects for Coutts & Company on Brexit and ICB Ring-fencing. Harry’s biography is here.

Jonathan Blanchard Smith gave a talk on ” Britain in 2030 – Four Post-Brexit Scenarios Revisited” to the Greater Manchester branch of the Chartered Quality Institute. Taking our “Four post-Brexit Scenarios” publication is his starting point, he re-examined the scenarios in the light of the withdrawal agreement. Now the direction of travel is more clear, this was a useful opportunity to see what happens when scenarios become actual, and to think again about where we are – and where we may be going.

The Institute of Leadership and Management is publishing an article by Huw Williams on scenario planning, called “Expect the Unexpected”. Using an example from SAMI’s work for the EU’s Health and Safety Agency (EU-OSHA), the article goes through each of the steps of a scenario planning project, from identifying key drivers, through creating scenarios to testing policies against each of them (“wind-tunnelling”).

One of the attendees at our current SAMI Cohort  reported that “the sessions were full of insights and provided me a lot of food for thought and further considerations.” We are now recruiting for a second cohort where in a small group with other professionals you can explore the issues surrounding your foresight work. Cohort members choose the topics for discussion – in the first group these included improving your horizon scanning, winning over internal customers, and examples of successful scenario planning. Please contact Jane.Dowsett@samiconsulting.co.uk if you are interested.

The blocking of the Suez Canal by a megaship is a lesson on resilience.  Developing systems with single points of failure is a recipe for chaos. At the beginning of the month, Guardian writer Flora Lipo reported on plans to build a second canal.  Where are the points of failure in your systems?
 
Executive Education
Our online course “Understanding the Future” will be run again on 26th to 30th April 2021. The course fee is £490 + VAT, and discounts may be available for self-funded individuals. For more information, please email us at training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

A range of information on various futures techniques – our version of the GOS Futures Toolkit – is available on our website.

Futures Issues 
Four strains of bacteria, three of which were previously unknown to science, have been found on the space station. They may be used to help grow plants during long-term spaceflight missions in the future.

“Smart bricks” could act as supercapacitors to store energy and power your lighting. The bricks are coated with a conductive polymer made up of nanofibers that get absorbed in the porous structure of the bricks, eventually turning the whole brick into “an ion sponge” that conducts and stores energy.

Low power chips can convert contacts lenses into augmented reality displays to enhance the vision of people with diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis, pigmentosa, and macular degeneration.

The US Army is using Microsoft’s HoloLens AR to provide “enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios”. HoloLens is also enabling surgeons to match 3D images with what they are seeing front of them.

A second-hand car market for EVs is needed, both to increase their adoption and to reduce waste. It’s an interesting example of how tech adoption is about more than just the tech itself.

Custom-fitted mouthguards with sensors that measure collisions and direct impacts to the head could give a greater understanding of when rugby players potentially become at risk of concussion or head trauma.

A “smart forest” has been equipped with a system for real-time monitoring and warning on sounds specific to illegal logging operations.  Acoustic sensors send sounds via the cloud to an AI system, which analyses them in real-time, and if noises such as chainsaws or cars are detected sends real-time alerts to an app installed on forest rangers’ phones.

Gucci sneakers for $17.99?  The catch – they’re virtual! Their first ‘digital’ shoes can be worn only in virtual or augmented worlds online.

Our Blogs  
Our blogs recently have looked at overviews of reports and articles looking at future trends and themes that may anticipate the future. In March we first considered resilience which a BCG blog argued that the focus on efficiency left us no longer resilient to crises such as the pandemic. Following that we reviewed a book edited by Riel Miller on futures literacy and anticipation. In April we reviewed an online event held by the Alan Turing Institute which explored the state, and future, of AI in the UK and latterly looked at the US National Intelligence Center’s report on Global Trends to 2040.

March 2021

As the UK shows signs of emerging – perhaps, and with a following wind – from its year long pandemic-imposed hibernation, two key plans have been published.

The EU published the strategic plans, and the first calls for the period 2021-2024, for Horizon Europe on 15 March. With a €95.5 billion budget, and extending out to 2027, Horizon Europe is the EU’s research and innovation framework programme.

The three pillars: Excellent Science, Global challenges and European industrial competitiveness, and Innovative Europe, will determine the direction of EU science and innovation for the next six years. Building on the success of the Horizon 2020 programme, Horizon Europe offers an intention, a direction and a funding pool.

We like to think we may have played a small part in this. The SAMI project for the Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate generated reference scenarios for R&I across ten global regions. Deep and wideranging horizon scanning, workshopping, the invention of a new model of scenario generation and testing, and a comprehensive scenario report, all went to give the EU a comprehensive picture of its place in the R&I environment in four potential futures.

We continue our work within SAMI. Our regional specialists remain engaged with their regions; we shall be creating a scorecard process to identify the matching of the scenarios to the real world; and we look forward to engaging fully with Horizon Europe itself.

One day after the publication of Horizon Europe, the UK Government published its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This is a review with a hugely ambitious aim – to set the direction of UK policy for years to come. The headlines – more nuclear weapons, fewer troops, the dangers of a future pandemic – are just the tips of the iceberg of a paper, and a transformation of thinking, that will affect all of our futures. We shall be examining the Review in detail in our blogs; and in the preparation work we are undertaking for a project specifically looking at defence and security in the future, about which more in a later newsletter.

Why do futures?  In their brief guide to futures thinking and foresight the Government Office for Science cogently lay out the case:
Policies which are based on assumptions of how the world is today can limit our choices and put us in a position of constantly responding to change, rather than creating the conditions to achieve the future we want. By considering alternative plausible future worlds, based on trends, drivers, and external insight, we can develop more resilient policies with a better chance of delivering the outcomes we are seeking, whatever the future holds.

And they quote Bill Gates:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

They then go on to provide an introduction to the Futures Toolkit, a set of techniques that SAMI helped develop.

After the success of the SAMI Cohort , we are now recruiting for a second cohort. In a small group of other professionals you can explore the issues surrounding your foresight work, from improving your horizon scanning to winning over internal customers. Please contact Jane.Dowsett@samiconsulting.co.uk if you are interested.

SAMI Principals Patricia Lustig and Wendy Schultz  have contributed podcasts to FuturePod.  See Wendy’s item on “Evocative and Vivid Futures”, and Patricia’s piece on  a “Very Practical Futurist”. Patricia and Gill Ringland also regularly publish blogs in Long Finance Pamphleteers most recently Foresight In The Time Of Covid-19 – How Next?

Executive Education
Our online course “Understanding the Future” will be run again on 26th to 30th April 2021. The course fee is £490 + VAT, and discounts may be available for self-funded individuals. For more information, please email us at training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

A range of information on various futures techniques – our version of the GOS Futures Toolkit – is available on our website.

Futures Issues
Major advances in AI are threatening to replace many medical roles such as radiologists. But maybe AI will simply be another tool used by medical professionals. Empathy, creativity and physical support may all continue to need humans. Nonetheless, there is a huge transformation coming.

Oranges falling from Seville’s trees cause a slippery hazard but now they are being put to good use – making electricity.

De-carbonising shipping has been a major challenge, but new advances in bio-ethanol technology have enabled Maersk to bring forward its carbon-neutral plans.

Global warming has opened up the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in the Arctic during the month of February allowing a commercial vessel to sail from Jiangsu in China to the remote Arctic terminal of Sabetta in Russia. What was it carrying? Fossil fuel!

Falling sperm counts “threaten human survival”. Chemicals such as  phthalates and bisphenol-A found in everyday plastics, and unhealthy lifestyle practices (smoking, marijuana, obesity) are disrupting our hormonal balance.

As people work more from home, and perhaps move to “Zoom Towns”, will the interest in self-driving cars increase?  The argument is that cars will be needed only intermittently for specific tasks, and so shared vehicles will become more popular. And as your driving skills diminish through lack of use, self-driving cars become more necessary.

Missing physical contact during lockdown? Why not pay for a “cow cuddle”? Maybe not, they are the most dangerous larger animal in the UK in terms of human deaths.

Our Blogs  
Recent blogs have focussed on trade, finance and the future of London. Firstly we looked at what the future might hold for world trade. We then explored possible futures for London, approaching this from two somewhat differing perspectives. One explored the possible threats of an uncertain future; the second blog examined possible opportunities and strengths.

 

February 2021

The very recent announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown in the UK comes as a relief. The astonishing speed of the invention, development and deployment of a wide range of vaccines, with impressive  efficacy rates, is a testament to what properly funded and incentivised science can do. We have been struck by the awful and increasing number of deaths worldwide; but also of the differential rates of rollout, and the difference in preparedness to take the vaccine in the first place. These are, in a line we use in explaining our Three Horizons process, “pockets of the future in the present”: as William Gibson said in 1999 “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Recognition of the need for scenario planning is extending ever-wider as people anticipate the speed and scale of disruption in the coming decade. The American Alliance of Museums’ produced a report to help museums “to forge on without knowing what lies ahead, dodging and weaving as new obstacles arise, constantly recalibrating their course towards a preferable future.”  It goes on to describe the “Cone of Plausibility” and describe four future scenarios that can be used “as the seeds for longer narratives, building out these futures and envisioning how your museum might respond”.

The GameStop bubble caused lots of people to scratch their heads. One way of thinking about it is as a conjunction of weak signals of the kind that can be explored using Wendy Schultz’s Manoa method, creating unanticipated outcomes.

Patricia Lustig’s interview on the chapter she and Gill Ringland wrote for “50 Years after Future Shock” is now available on YouTube https://youtu.be/tR2htj76ZLU

SAMI Associate Keith Leslie’s new book “A Question of Leadership “launched on the 18th February. He provides a wide range of illustrative case studies derived from both research and his first-hand experience in the public and private sectors as a former partner at both Deloitte and McKinsey. See also our blogpost. Keith was also on Radio 4 ‘You and yours’ (streamed on BBC Sounds) talking about leadership and mental health.

After the success of the SAMI Cohort , we are now recruiting for a second cohort. In a small group of other professionals you can explore the issues surrounding your foresight work, from improving your horizon scanning to winning over internal customers. Please contact Jane.Dowsett@samiconsulting.co.uk if you are interested.

SAMI has a long history of academic engagement – Gill Ringland’s book Scenario Planning has been used on the Harvard Business School course for a while, for instance, so we were pleased this month to hear that our resources on horizon scanning have been taken into use for a major university’s business transformation courses.

Executive Education

Our online course “Understanding the Future” will be run again on 22nd to 26th March 2021. The course fee is £490 + VAT, and discounts may be available for self-funded individuals. For more information, please email us at training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

A range of information on various futures techniques is available on our website.

Futures Issues

A number of battery developments this month:

  • Australian researchers have developed a battery the size of a large fridge, can be hooked up to an existing array of solar panels, and use that power to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored in a fibrous metal alloy. The unit can store three times as much power other wall-mounted batteries, allowing it to power the average household for two to three days on a single charge.
  • A new approach to hydropower (using excess renewable power to pump water uphill for later release) could mean many more sites would be suitable for use as “hill batteries”. “High-intensity” hydro projects use a mineral-rich fluid, more than two and a half times the density of water, to create the same amount of electricity from slopes which are less than half as high.
  • Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced. Instead of the graphite used in existing Li-ion batteries which can get congested when charged rapidly, the StoreDot battery uses semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. The cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.

There were also several brain/computer integration stories:

  • Neurotechnology company Neuralink could be launching trials, implanting an artificial intelligence chip in humans’ brains to control technology just by thinking.  “later this year.”
  • Conversely, work started on a project that uses human brain stem cells to power artificial intelligence (AI) devices. The project will show how neurons can be harnessed to supercharge computers’ ability to learn while dramatically cutting energy use.
  • An intelligent material that is able to learn by changing itself physically, in the same way our brain does. The material that is able to store and process information in similar ways to a brain – and, like a brain, it is able to adapt itself.

Cutting-edge light design help plants to grow more sustainably – while being an artwork in itself.  Photobiology light science technologies have shown that certain recipes of blue, red, and ultraviolet light can enhance plant growth and reduce the use of pesticides by up to 50%. You experience this as a poetic artwork of ‘dancing lights’ across a huge agricultural field.

Apartments on floating cities are going on sale.

And for further amusement:

  • Spinach is now capable of sending emails. When the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists. The technology is known as “plant nanobionics”.
  • Smart toilets fitted with technology that can detect a range of disease markers in stool and urine, have been discussed for a while. But the records need to relate to the individual using it. So the latest development adds added a small scanner that images a rather camera-shy part of the body. Your anal print is unique – this is the polar opposite of facial recognition.

Our Blogs 

Since the start of 2021 our blogs have covered topics from vaccine nationalism to leadership. Firstly, though, we completed our short series on the future of cities by looking at city financing and economics, followed by an exploration of some of the political impacts. We then looked at the recent announcement of the EU Strategic Foresight Network at the ESPAS 2020 Conference. Issues relating to the current pandemic and vaccine rollout were explored in our next post; this was followed by a look at the recently published WEF Global Risks Report and, lastly, we were pleased to have a blog on the subject of leadership based on a new book written by SAMI Associate, Keith Leslie.

If you’d like to receive reminders when our blogs are published, then check the link on our website or if you would like to write a blog for us, then please contact us here.

 

 

January 2021

As always, many commentators have come up with their predictions for the year, tempered this year by what a shocking time 2020 was. Here’s the Atlantic Council’s top ten risks:

  • The COVID-19 crisis deepens amid a slow vaccine rollout
  • Trump remains a thorn in Biden’s side, as many of his supporters continue to believe his rule is illegitimate
  • Massive global debt causes another financial crisis
  • Western countries’ economic growth is stultified
  • North Korea pressures Biden with new missile tests
  • Iran remains recalcitrant despite Biden overtures
  • US and China clash over Taiwan
  • Disrupted food chains causes food crisis
  • Expansion of global middle class comes to an end
  • Turkey goes more rogue.

Surprisingly, the Atlantic Council list does not identify the political and economic impacts of climate change. For the UK, Brexit continues to be a disruptor, and not in a good way – logistics chains are under strain, the introduction of the new trading arrangements with Europe seems confused and administratively burdensome, particularly with respect to Northern Ireland – and, of course, the pressure on the fabric of the Union itself is only increasing.

Patricia Lustig and Jonathan Blanchard Smith ran “Gaming the Future – Scenario Game Play” based on SAMI’s work for EC Research and Innovation exploring how Trends can play out across four different scenarios as a demonstration for Futures Space, an online futurists community.  For further information contact patricia.lustig@samiconsulting.co.uk.

SAMI Associate Keith Leslie’s new book “A Question of Leadership “ is to be launched on the 18th February. He provides a wide range of illustrative case studies derived from both research and his first-hand experience in the public and private sectors as a former partner at both Deloitte and McKinsey. Each chapter first provides an engaging narrative that presents a relatable leadership dilemma, before an analysis of what works and when (often reaching seemingly counterintuitive solutions), followed by a selection of research which supports this thesis and, finally, actionable advice for leaders who find themselves in comparable circumstances (or may do so in the future).

The Future-Proof Cities theme at  the Manchester Urban Institute, led by Joe Ravetz,

explores the dynamics of change: how to understand and analyse it, how to manage and plan, how to experiment and learn, how to build capacity, and how to look ahead and envision viable futures.

Joe is also putting together the 2021 program of “Synergistic Conversations

  • Jan 22nd: Peri-urban-resilience 3.0: (with the Peri-cene at KTH Stockholm & IIT Madras)
  • Jan 29th: GreenLocal-onomics-3.0: (with the EC-JRC ‘Industrial transitions’ program).
  • Feb 26thSmart-wise-3.0: (with Shanghai Smart City Development Institute).
  • Mar 26th (tbc): Food 3.0:  (on-site with Camley St Community Land Trust, London)

 Our SAMI Cohort programme is half-way through. It is proving to be a valuable resource for Cohort members, enabling them to improve their foresight activities by sharing experiences with others.  We are now recruiting for a second cohort – please contact Jane.Dowsett@samiconsulting.co.uk if you are interested.

Executive Education

Our online course “Understanding the Future” will be run again on 22nd to 26th March 2021. The course fee is £490 + VAT, and discounts may be available for self-funded individuals. For more information, please email us at training@samiconsulting.co.uk.

A range of information on various futures techniques is available on our website.

Futures Issues

Google’s Deepmind AI program Alphafold was used to determine the 3D shapes of proteins. Many commentators suggest this would vastly accelerate efforts to understand the building blocks of cells and enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery.

Gene-editing tool CRISPR has been used to make cattle more resistant to climate change, which causes increasing problems with heat stress and fertility.  Scientists sought to lighten the coats of cattle  to make them more resilient to heat, because darker-coloured animals absorb more heat from sunlight, and so are more affected by warmer temperatures than lighter-coloured ones.

China plans to massively expand an experimental weather modification program to cover an area more than 1.5 times the total size of India. In the next five years, the total area covered by artificial rain or snowfall will reach 5.5 million sq km, while over 580,000 sq km will be covered by hail suppression technologies. The program will help with disaster relief, agricultural production, emergency responses to forest and grassland fires, and dealing with unusually high temperatures or droughts.

Researchers have discovered  a cost-effective and efficient way of producing jet fuel from carbon dioxide. The method involves using CO2 captured from the air, which is converted with hydrogen (H2) using a process called hydrogenation and a catalyst made from a compound of iron, manganese and potassium to produce specific hydrocarbons.

Veebot, the “first robot phlebotomist”, uses a combination of infrared light and image analysis to detect a suitable vein, and then applies ultrasound to see if the vessel has sufficient blood flow. While it’s still in development, it can correctly identify the best vein with an accuracy of about 83%; comparable to an experienced technician. This means less room for painful errors and less time spent on the procedure. 

Our Blogs 

If you’d like to receive reminders when our blogs are published, then check the link on our website or if you would like to write a blog for us, then please contact us here.

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