As part of the 6Heads group I was able to attend a very inspiring day by BoraCo. The session was kicked off by futurist Gerd Leonhard from The Futures Agency.
He nicely illustrated with his slides that we are faced with exponential technological changes. Almost nothing seems to remain linear any more. These changes are quickly showing interdependencies and are cross-fertilizing accelerating the pace of growth. This is driven by a whole army of startups, supported by an ever-growing number of incubator and accelerator programmes which will create even larger waves of disruption and will sooner or later impact all industries.
Gerd predicts humanity will change more in the next 20 years than the previous 300 years. Therefore, the need to define our future has never been so crucial. Tech is challenging our human nature by challenging who we are, what we want and where we want to go.
Gerd uses key principles to clarify how we can face the future:
- The future is no longer just what may happen tomorrow – rather, it is something that has already happened today that we simply don’t realize or acknowledge yet.
- Our world is now changing exponentially and not gradually. Many businesses and academics still develop predictions based on traditionally linear assumptions; this will be detrimental. Science fiction is increasingly becoming “science fact”, and we must therefore start to consider the utterly implausible and unreasonable to be our new reality.
- The future is not something that just happens to us. Rather, we create our future every single day, based on our beliefs, ethics and assumptions, and resulting from our actions. We always have choices – but we must discover them early enough to make the right ones!
- We have reached a cross-roads. The quantum leap of technological progress we are about to experience is either taking us to a better place or it has the potential to ruin life as we know it. How will we look back at this period in history ‘books’ of the future? Modern tech has benefits but also negative consequences.
A good way to support this message is by showing that the leaders of the big countries have embarked on a new “digital arms race”. Technology is a huge economical force, bigger than oil and banking. These countries are hungry for digital power which comes with winning this digital battle, which will most likely lead us down the wrong track.
China, a global power with 1.5 Bln people and the tech prowess to rule the world, is a nation poised well to win this race.
The introduction was followed by 3 panel topics:
- Digital advertising: fixing up and looking sharp
It felt like this is an area where there is a lot of confusion. According to Geisla de Souza @JellyfishAgency the big corporations (e.g. Unilever, P&G) are still trying to centralize and control their marketing ambitions. This was in contradiction to what Gerd recommended. He believes we need to decentralize, provide more decision-making power to base and I couldn’t agree more.
GDPR is being seen as a step into the right direction. It will bring higher transparency and understanding of what is being done with our data.
However, as a novice to this particular area I witnessed a lot of confusion and lack of clarity. This ad industry has benefited from the beginning from ‘Mad Men’ selling dreams and smoke. It is a relevant industry still, but digital transparency will mean the whole idea of marketing will be reinvented into becoming something much more social, measurable and accountable.
- Access to information: who owns the truth?
This panel discussion seemed rather theoretical to me. More insight came during the break; considering GDPR and increased transparency it was interesting to speak to Ryan Garner from CitizenMe.com who helped me to understand that consumers nowadays can come together to benefit from the data they are providing. The tables are starting to turn. This shift in power is a shift in paradigm; truly fascinating if you spin this thought out!
I guess the question should have really been ‘What is the truth?’.
Professor Andrew Stephen, Saïd Business School, provided some interesting research findings with regards to social media. Great to see senior business schools using more lively forms of communication.
- Emerging technologies: our future with the machines
AI will profoundly change our reality, exponentially speeding up our development. Yet even the biggest tech entrepreneurs of our time and the panelists on that morning couldn’t agree whether it’s a threat or a blessing. Seemingly simple decisions set precedents for the societal values of the future.
We still live in a world of command and control stated Thomas Stoeckle and we have to learn to let go and embrace uncertainty. Nicola Millard from BT said we need to use tech to replace people doing the dull, dirty and dangerous, but to set clear moral limits.
Another panel verbalizing that even the people in the field have no clue which path we are taking.
After lunch were two more speeches, one of which was Michaela Rose Forum for the Future’s technology catalyst, exploring how emergent technologies can accelerate or hinder a more sustainable future. They think about this using three questions:
- How might we use technology to accelerate current sustainable solutions?
- How might we harness specific technologies to create new solutions?
- How might we manage unintended consequences of these technologies?
Their thinking is definitely along the lines of the 6-heads and here a copy of their slide-deck BREAKOUT17-Conference_Ethical-Codes_Forum-for-the-Future.
The End (hopefully not too soon)
To return to the beginning and what Gerd pointed out at the end.
Due to the accelerating pace of exponential technological change we are now constantly becoming something else, all the time; we are going from being to becoming (see Kevin Kelly). We must embrace this as our default status by shifting our mindset. People need to come first and the FutureOfLife’s 4 AI principles nicely capture the future of our being on this beautiful planet of ours.
The upcoming decisive decisions can only be made as a global community. This will decide which role tech will play in our lives. It needs to me seen if we are the most greedy or intelligent species on the planet.
Thank you for everyone involved for making this happen and letting me participate.