This interview with Jacintha Scheerder, project leader of the Horizonscan 2050 at The Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends (STT)., takes place in a series of discussions with the keynote speakers of An Interesting Afternoon – The world in 50 years and how do we get there? This event by the Dutch Future Society takes place at April 11, 2014 in Amsterdam. For registrations, follow this link.
How do you see the future in fifty years?
Some very interesting and promising technologies are developed right now, which can influence life in the future drastically. Technologies are often seen as a means instead of a goal in providing a solution for some of the great global challenges, like climate change, healthcare for a growing population, and scarcity of resources. When talking about energy scarcity and for instance the demand for energy, currently it is equally likely that we end up in a world of scarcity or in abundance. The question with many technologies is whether we can implement them in the same pace as these challenges are increasing exponentially. There is still a lack of confidence in how technologies would affect us as human beings. Especially technologies that are imposed on the human body give rise to resistance. How far do we want to go? There could become a tipping point in society. People could say, this is the limit as they no longer have grip of what technology does to their bodies and brains.
Which innovations would probably generate the biggest change?
I think this would be of a sociological nature. People are more into sharing products and services in their own networks. They want to be less dependent on the old 20th century systems laid down by governments and old institutes. This gives rise to all sort of self regulated systems and small, podular networks within these systems, in which people make their own choices. The freedom of making their own choices, is why people are so excited to follow this path. They feel ownership, involvement and responsibility. This societal trend goes hand in hand with reduced confidence in politics and the role of the State in taking care of its citizens.
Technology plays an important role in facilitating this trend. We are able to connect and organize networks online and offline. And we are able to share products, services and energy in all sorts of networks. New payment systems or bartering systems are popping up. This is what happens today. In the future, brain-to-brain technology may help to unite people with similar opinions, which may open up a whole new way of connecting in the global society.
What can we do to anticipate the future and make it a better future? Which issues should we address?
We need to stay open-minded and constantly look out of the box. We need to assess all possibilities. That means, focus on weak signals, especially when they impose a fear on us. If we study even the most frightening signals, they may become less threatening by thinking over the consequences. This applies for instance brain to brain technology and body chips. The role of privacy is one issue that we need to consider with great attention. We need to understand what privacy means to us and why we feel threatened by the perceived loss of privacy. The concept of privacy may be defined differently in the future, compared to how we think of it today. Privacy is intrinsically linked to what it means to be human. What is part of yourself and what is not?
What does it ask from futurists?
Futurist can catalyze human thinking about the consequence of technologies and societal change. The pace of developments is currently going very fast. We need futurists to open up the conversation in the wider society. This catalyzes the societal perception and willingness to engage in the dialogue about change. In this way, change is not thrown upon people, they are active participants in shaping the future.
Governments, industries and knowledge institutes also need to be prepared about the signals for change. Foresight studies and horizon scans can help to think of new fields of interest that could be worth further exploration. They also need to engage in the dialogue about societal change and new roles for institutions. Thinking about possibilities could help them to perceive new structures and roles for originations in society. Instead of being afraid to become irrelevant, this dialogue would help them find their new place in the future.
Predictions are often wrong. What is a sensible way to say things about the future? How to navigate between confidence and uncertainty?
I wouldn’t like to talk about predictions, but I prefer foresight. And I also want to emphasise the possibility of multiple views of the futures. In talking about the future, involve many different stakeholders, derived from the triple helix of government, industries and knowledge institutes. An important role should be reserved for children, artists and ethicists. A creative approach with all kinds of thinkers involved, helps to create scenarios about a possible future, taking into account the weak signals that have emerged in horizon scans. Storytellers have the power to engage emotions that help us experience possible futures in a lively way. For many of us, it is hard to imagine potential “what if’s”. Stories can bring us there. The main point is that our minds need to be flexible to capture the meaning of new signals that will emerge again and again. Finally, it is good to be aware that in discussing the future, we mainly refer to the present spirit of the age.