Image: chrisf608 (Flickr)

Image: chrisf608 (Flickr)

In March 2014 in London, in a closing keynote address to the Wearable Technology Conference, Cisco chief futurist David Evans forecast that the ongoing miniaturization of technology would lead to its installation inside the human body. “If you do the math and fast forward a little bit, in about two and half decades the power of your smartphone will fit into something the size of a red blood cell. It completely changes the game if humans can have red blood cell-size computing.” (By what technology and to what extent the miniaturization of computing technology will continue is a subject of considerable discussion, but that’s a topic for another post.)

I’ve sometimes pondered the progression of computing technology I’ve experienced: from the mainframe (a device operated by experts, to which you are granted access) to the personal computer (on your desk) to the laptop computer (in your briefcase) to the mobile phone (in your pocket) to the smart watch or smart glasses (on your person). Evans notes the next logical step—the implanted device (in your person). Note that this is a progression not just in miniaturization but also in the intimacy of connection between you and your device.

The obvious question: What are the further stages in this progression? According to Evans, “Ultimately where I think we’re going in the next couple of decades is to actually move into the replacement phase; where we take perfectly good parts of our body and replace them with something a little bit better.” At this stage humans begin to “self-evolve.” It seems to me that the term “evolve” hints at an even further stage, one in which the implanted technology becomes something that is passed from parents to offspring and co-evolves as part of the human species. This is the ultimate destination of intimacy, when human and technology become indistinguishable.

p.s. It’s worth pointing out that Cisco has on its staff a chief futurist. In fact, in the last several years we’ve noted numerous examples of futurist titles and/or futurist roles at major national and international corporations and government agencies. It seems that an increasing number of organizations are seeing the value in exploring possible ways the future may unfold and what they need to do now to anticipate and shape it.

p.p.s. Thanks to Shaping Tomorrow’s newsletter for alerting me to this source.

workingoutside_JesseWagstaffFlickrThree recent scan hits show how work, workers, and even innovative offerings are shifting away from the traditional corporate setting.

1.Work is moving away from the office. A recent New York Times article on telecommuting noted that a 2013 survey for the Society for Human Resource Management found “a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit.”

2. Workers are moving from traditional employment to freelancing. Forbes offered “Five Reasons Half of You Will be Freelancers in 2020,” citing the rise of online marketplaces, the ubiquity of technology that empowers remote work, the burgeoning size of the freelance economy, workers’ desire for flexibility and control over their work, and opportunities for individuals to promote themselves.

3. Consumer demand for authenticity gives small entrepreneurs a marketplace edge. A Forbes post asked, “Can Homemade Goods Become the Global Brands of Tomorrow?” Farmers markets, artisan foods, and the maker movement can all be seen as responses to consumers’ desires for authentic offerings from “real people.” Forbes contributor John Owrid points out that, “Inevitably, big business is attempting to fight back by putting more emphasis on the ‘real’ and ‘genuine’ in their goods. But for the moment the force appears to be with the DIYers.”

Corporate workers are working away from the office, freelancers are forsaking the corporate world altogether, and  artisans crafting goods and services may even have an upper hand on big business when it comes to creating the authentic offerings consumers are seeking.

It’s worth noting that Foresight Alliance has already crossed several of these bridges. We are a virtual organization in which all of the partners telecommute in a partnership work format. While we’re not exactly freelancers, several of us have left the corporate world to pursue a smaller, more independent vision. And we certainly aim to be skilled artisans in our chosen trade and to offer foresight services that are second to none.

Image: marc falardeau (Flickr)

Image: marc falardeau (Flickr)

An overly optimistic view of the future can be a precursor to negative outcomes, according to a recent study in Psychological Science. The authors found that during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis positive statements about the future on the economy page of USA Today correlated with declines in the Dow Jones Industrial average in the subsequent week and month. They found similar results when comparing the tone of US presidents’ inaugural addresses to GDP and employment performance during the following term of office. The authors contend, “These counterintuitive findings may help reveal the psychological processes that contribute to an economic crisis.”

A recent New York Times article describing these results points out that while a correlation between optimistic talk and negative results doesn’t prove a cause and effect relationship, there is a body of additional evidence that points in the same direction. What might be the mechanism of such an effect? According to the Times, the research paper “speculates that widespread optimism could cause people to discount the risk of trouble ahead, make unwise investments, be less entrepreneurial and thus exacerbate or even create economic weakness.”

As futurists we firmly believe that a realistic assessment of a wide variety of plausible futures is an essential precursor to any planning effort. Often clients are less than eager to consider possible negative outcomes. But sad experience (now backed up by data) says that ignoring the possibility of negative futures can only leave an organization unprepared when disaster threatens. Some of my biggest regrets as a consultant have come from failing to insist that clients (who explicitly asked us not to address some important issues) consider the possibility of a downturn or even a disaster and think through what they need to do now to be prepared to respond. The recent results are a reminder to all of us — futurists as well as clients — to diligently address a broad range of possible futures, be they pleasant or unpleasant to contemplate. Only that way can we help our organizations be prepared to meet whatever may come.

p.s. When I was a graduate student preparing for my qualifying exams lots of people told me, “Don’t worry — you’ll do just fine.” But one of the postdocs in our lab warned me that I had better be well-prepared or I’d be facing a rough exam and a bad result. I’ve always said that, in that moment, he was the only one who did me any good.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Jim68000, Flickr.

  1. Startup Siluria is building demonstration plants for a catalytic process it says can convert methane and oxygen to ethylene, which can then be converted to gasoline for half the price of petroleum-derived gasoline, at least at today’s bargain natural gas prices.
  2. Science magazine has named cancer immunotherapy, a treatment approach that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight tumors, as its breakthrough of the year.
  3. McKinsey has come out with a report on how to make the cities of the future great.
  4. The travails of the Internet of the Things: A recent analysis of a botnet attack found that 100,000 connected devices and appliances–including a smart refrigerator–were used in a malicious spam attack.
  5. China has embraced the cloning of pigs on a mass scale for the testing of medicines and other biomedical research.


Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Megan Ann, Flickr.

  1. Josh Freedman and Michael Lind consider America’s next social contract in The Atlantic.
  2. Joel Kotkin observes that increasingly Democratic Silicon Valley will pose challenges for progressives. Digital plutocrat supporters and rhetoric condemning the “1%” could eventually lead to stress within the Democratic coalition.
  3. BBC Future has published an infographic that maps its view of humanity’s possible future in 1,000 years, 10,000 years and 10 quadrillion years.
  4. Researcher Christopher Bettinger of Carnegie Mellon University has detailed his vision for an “edible battery” that could be used to power biomedical devices. The battery, which uses pigment from the cuttlefish, could power swallowed devices from 5 to 24 hours, based on use. Bettinger’s paper outlining the idea was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  5. In the wake of a raft of new connected, “smart” devices showcased at last week’s CES, Ars Technica takes a deeper look at the security questions and concerns the Internet of Things raises.




Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Chintermeyer, Flickr.

  1. Writer Chris Mims at Quartz posits an interesting future for smartwatches–as sensors for smartphones. He cites proposed updates to the Pebble smartwatch OS as an example of how this could work.
  2. NameTag is a facial-recognition smartphone app the allows the user to take a picture of anyone and match it against available social media profiles/services (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) as well as  public databases such as sex offender registries. As expected, the app is raising a host of privacy concerns.
  3. Never want to clean a dirty dish again? Swedish designers have created prototype dinnerware made from nanocellulose and treated with a hydrophobic coating. The result is dishes that make it near impossible for food or water to cling to.
  4. Analysis reveals that Twitter growth is mostly happening in languages other than English.
  5. A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that 16 of the largest US food and beverage companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than in 2007, far exceeding their pledge to remove 1 trillion calories over this period. It should be noted that while some of this decrease results from product formulation changes, another significant portion comes from a slow decline in sales.

Image: The Great 8, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. Americans are increasingly doubtful about the future and the tenets of the “American dream,” polling finds.
  2.  The first major poll of American Jews in more than 10 years shows rapid assimilation into the larger culture for every denomination except the Orthodox.
  3. Agribusiness giant Monsanto is buying data analytics firm Climate Corp. The move is seen as a step to further integrate data into agriculture as Climate Corp is the leading agricultural “Big Data” company.  In addition to extensive data sets (including extensive profiles on all land in production) Climate Corp offered services based on its number crunching, such as tailored crop insurance policies.
  4. Toronto-based Bionym has developed a biometric sensor bracelet that keys on the wearers heartbeat. The wristband can be linked to a user’s computer, front door or on-line wallet to act as a key.
  5. Emotiv, creator of EPOC neural headset, have partnered with the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia to create an attention-powered car prototype. They headset measure how focused the driver is on driving the car, and when it detects attention waning, will slow the car down. To drive at top speeds, the driver must provide full attention to the task.

Image: Snapchat

One of the central conceits of the Internet is that once something is published, it is out in public forever. This is so basic an idea that sitcom characters were joking about back in 1996 (1996!). But in the post-Snowden age, there is greater interest in being able to limit the data shared on the Internet, or to be able to scrub your data later. New laws and a flurry of new products could help make Internet content more ephemeral.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill that would give users under the age of 18 the ability to purge their social media profiles from the Internet. This may be welcome news for kids who want to have fun, but also want to get into good schools, get good jobs, etc.  A report from May 2013 found that 1 in 10 young job applicants missed out on a job due to a social media post and that nearly one-third of Millennials regret some social media posts.

But an alternative to scrubbing data from the Internet is limiting its lifespan. This is the premise behind mobile photo-messaging app Snapchat, which allows user to set a lifespan for how long a message will last in the recipient’s in-box before self-deleting. The service has become wildly popular, with users sending 350 million messages a day. The ‘self-destruct’ feature means that users can send pictures that might be questionable, with less chance they will become permanent.

Akin to Snapchat is a web-based picture service called BlinkLink, which limits the number of people who could view your photo. But whereas Snapchat sets a time limit, BlinkLink sets a viewer limit. Users can set the number of viewers who can see the picture and once the click-through is reached, the photo disappears.

While privacy and control are prime functions of Snapchat, BlinkLink’s limited viewership (which also offers privacy) reveals a second benefit of these kinds of apps: Exclusivity. By publicizing content on Snapchat or BlinkLink and then limiting access to it, via time or number of viewers, users can create exclusivity and demand for their content. Brands looking to generate buzz for new products could do so through the ‘limited-time-only’ features of these apps.

Of course, if none of these laws or apps are enough for you, you could use lasers to create a ‘time hole’ and effectively erase your data from time.

Image: Bill Selak, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. 2013 is on pace to become the first year ever in which the number of US paid TV subscriptions drops. The phenomenon is driven in part by the emergence of “cord nevers,” consumers who have never subscribed to paid television programming via cable, satellite, or a phone provider, instead accessing TV shows and movies through Amazon, Netflix, or broadcaster websites.
  2. Polling by Pew Research finds Chinese optimistic over all but worried about inequality, corruption, pollution, food safety, and a lot of other things.
  3. Adam Elkus examines some issues around simulations and modeling, including ethical issues.
  4. In all but 4 of 23 European countries bicycle sales topped car sales, data from 2011 (the most recent) shows. And since 2000, bike sales across the EU 15 have drastically outpaced car sales. The shift is attributed to the Great Recession.
  5. At Google’s Solve for X conference, a representative from Lockheed’s Skunk Works revealed the research lab would produce a working fusion power plant by 2017. The current iteration is about the size of a semi-trailer and could conceivably power a small city.

Image: Chintermeyer, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Slate suggests that a combination of Uber-like car services and autonomous electric vehicles could drastically change cities.

Chinese researchers, using data from the Twitter-like social network Weibo, found that anger spreads more readily through social networks than joy, sadness, or disgust.

In the World Economic Forum’s 2013 report on top global risks, the latest in its authoritative Global Risks annual series, almost all of the top 50 risks identified in 2012 are now deemed to be both more likely and to have greater potential impact.

For the first time, the CDC has quantified the impacts of antibiotic resistance on Americans. At least 2 million fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 die from those infections.

Michael Porter of Harvard and Thomas Lee of Press Ganey argue for a preferred future for the global healthcare system in which the core goal is to maximize value for patients—”achieving the best outcomes at the lowest cost.” They offer a six-part strategic agenda to achieve this transformation.

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