A Focus On “What If?” Versus “What Now?”

A quote from a recent book The Genesis Machine captures the importance of focusing on the future. “If we encourage ‘what if?’ questions today, we can avoid ‘what now?’ questions in the future.” As far as I am concerned, that quote says it all. Rehearsing the future is complex, given the uncertainty and volatility of the environment. Signals emerge from multiple domains, and they converge in ways that shape futures. As we identify signals, ‘what if?’ questions help us explore the possibilities.

Multiple sources exist that help with rehearsing. One such source is a what if YouTube channel. This channel has a large subscriber base and covers a broad range of topics like, space, humanity, environment, health, and others. Exploring these what if scenarios helps us expand our thinking, open our minds, and challenge our cherished beliefs – as highlighted in the quote above.

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An Impactful Era Is Emerging – And It Becomes More Evident Every Day

Energy transitions throughout history have ushered in times of dramatic change. Every day another series of breakthroughs can be found in the media. This astounding level of innovation speaks to the reality of an energy transition that is at the leading edge of a shift from our current era to the next. It also highlights the role that catalysts play in creating the future. In the energy context, the situation in Ukraine is a catalyst that likely accelerates the transition. For example, Denmark wants to build what it calls ‘Energy Islands’ to free Europe from using Russian fuel. This article describes how these islands were part of Denmark’s transition towards renewable energy, but tensions with Russia (catalyst) both expanded and accelerated their vision.

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Healthspan Is As Important As Lifespan

I like the way Daniel Davis described the prospects of humans living both longer and healthier lives. In his article on the topic of ageing, he points to scientific advancements that are leading to life extension. At the same time, he underscores a key tenet of the journey: healthspan is just as important as lifespan. This lies at the heart of a key future scenario identified as healthy life extension. That one scenario has many thinking about a world where people live much longer, healthier lives. Imagine a key institution like retirement. As much as we believe that our lives have always been segmented into three dominant phases (education, work, retirement), those phases represent a small portion of human history. This is an example of the institutional change that lies ahead. Now imagine a scenario referred to as radical life extension.

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Invisibility Cloaks

Long a staple of science-fiction and fantasy, the ability to become invisible would be a revolutionary technological development. By bending light of all wavelengths around an object, irrespective of its shape, both metalenses and metamaterials offer the potential to effectively “cloak” any object. Recent research has demonstrated that combining the two nanotechnology devices may in fact pave the way to the first working, universal invisibility cloak.

Ethan Siegel – Invisibility cloaks are not just possible, but are becoming reality
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Three Mind-Blowing Predictions – Michio Kaku

What lies in store for humanity? Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku explains how different life will be for your descendants—and maybe your future self. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku looks decades into the future and makes three bold predictions about human space travel, the potential of ‘brain net’, and our coming victory over cancer. Here is a brief summary – but be sure to check out the video.

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Is The Age Of Fire Over?

In January, I launched a poll that represented a form of rehearsing the future. Rehearsing versus predicting allows us to envision possible futures. Complex adaptive systems contain multiple intersecting building blocks behaving and interacting in ways that make prediction impossible. Although we can’t predict, we can inform our rehearsing with an ever-expanding amount of insight and foresight. In addition, technology now enables us to continuously probe and learn. Learning our way forward through continuous learning loops enables rehearsing. To that end, the poll looked ahead and asked if people believed that artificial intelligence would ultimately be more impactful than fire, electricity, or the Internet. The results were fascinating.

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Immigration By Country

Immigration continues to be a hot button issue in our polarized society. I shared a book back in 2020 that explored the reasons for this polarization. The book identified several societal changes that contribute to this alarming trend. A recent article provides a glimpse into the societal challenge of immigration, providing this visual that identifies the immigration make-up of countries. The article states that there were 272 million immigrants in 2020, amounting to 3.5% of the global population.

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The History Of Energy Transitions

Energy transitions throughout history have ushered in times of dramatic change. While energy may be the biggest piece of this emerging story, it is part of a bigger narrative in what increasingly looks like a phase transition. That notion of dramatic change is echoed by several prominent sources. For example, Alec Ross in his recent book The Raging 2020s speaks of a world that resembles the 1930s, a growing sentiment that maps to my research on the period beginning in 1920.

As the visual below illustrates, that 1930 date aligns with the energy transition. That period began the long transition towards our current fossil fuel era – representing a major transitory period for the world. This recent article reflects on the history of energy transitions and the drastic change in our sources of energy over the last 200 years.

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The Genesis Machine

I just finished reading my latest book titled The Genesis Machine, in which authors Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel explore the world of synthetic biology. Although not as widely discussed as AI, Blockchain and others, it is perhaps the best example of why the future may look very different than the past. I have argued that the world is in the early stages of a phase transition. The content of the book represents a clear reason why.

The authors provide a riveting look into the world of synthetic biology. The book focuses initially on its origins, shifts to the here and now, and then pivots to a glimpse of the future. They provide several scenarios that help the reader envision that future, and in so doing, allow us to see both the potential for human development, as well as the possibility of several destructive paths. The book closes with a discussion on our way forward. As a world-renowned Futurist, Amy knows how to tell a story, and it is through storytelling that individuals can see the possibilities along both paths. The authors define synthetic biology as:

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Disrupting The Way We Travel

Put bluntly: The infrastructure we have in one era isn’t the infrastructure we’ll need in the next.

Devin Liddell – A futurist predicts the 3 biggest disruptions to how we’ll travel

That quote from a recent article can be applied to anything. For example, the institutions created in one era are not suited for the next. In the article, Futurist Devin Liddell looks at what he believes are the three biggest disruptions coming to travel. He begins by looking at the transformative changes existing infrastructure will struggle to support. First, as mentioned in an earlier post on urbanization, seventy percent of the human population is projected to live in cities by 2050. Second, climate change is poised to wreak havoc on cities, ninety percent of which are coastal. Lastly, the phenomenon of blurring boundaries takes the world of physical infrastructure and merges it with the digital domain.

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Urbanization And The Rise Of Megacities

By 2050 it’s predicted that 68% of the world’s population will live in a major city — that’s 2 in 3 people. According to this recent article, less than 10% of people lived in urban areas in 1800. Today, more than 4.3 billion people or 55% of the world’s population live in urban settings.

This macro-level societal force will converge with forces from other domains to shape an uncertain future. One such domain is technology, where the rise of smart cities will coincide with the rise of megacities. What is a megacity?

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Our Immersive Future

I have long believed that the way we interact as humans is on an accelerating journey towards massive change. Whether the next interaction frontier involves the brain or a broad Metaverse vision, it is almost certain that how we interact will change. There have been several waves of change to our interaction paradigm through at least three stages of transformation. However, the next transformation will alter many long-standing beliefs, and as we explore possibilities, emerging scenarios can be very illuminating.

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Innovation Is Everywhere

My belief that human development will accelerate in the coming decade is fueled by a wave of emerging innovation both now and in the future. Our ability to invent dates back a very long time. Each new wave of invention builds upon the last, with subsequent waves accelerating on the strength of new building blocks that emerge and the growth of knowledge. We stand on the shoulders of brilliant people that came before us, and as inventors, inventions, and knowledge converged, our standard of living was elevated. No period represents this phenomenon better than the late 19th and early 20th century. It was early 2016 when I first attempted to capture the dynamics of that period visually.

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Science Fiction and The Future

Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science. He is a professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. In a recent article, he makes three predictions about the future. His first is his belief that humanity will become an interplanetary species.

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The Future Of Mobility

In one of my posts from a recent series titled A Journey through the Looking Glass, I focused on the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of our current environment. Although this dynamic makes it difficult to envision possible futures, the “Future of” question is a growing focus among leaders around the world. While many themes have emerged, mobility is a common topic of discussion. Current conversations are dominated by electric vehicles, batteries, and charging infrastructure. However, the future of mobility is much bigger than our current focus.

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Climate Investing 2.0

According to this recent article, there is a surge in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing, which is attracting record amounts of capital and bringing shareholder activism to the forefront. In contrast to the first wave of climate investing, this second wave will benefit from a more established ecosystem. In 2021, global venture capital funding for clean technology hit $43 billion, which was more than double the $20 billion invested in 2020. Experts believe that the trend is just getting started.

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Ford To Use Robots To Operate 3D Printers

A recent article describes how Ford intends to use robots to operate 3D Printers. According to the article, Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center has developed an interface that allows machines from different suppliers to speak to each other in the same language and operate parts of the production line autonomously. The article explains how Ford’s patent-pending system solves a crucial bottleneck in the production line by using robots to operate the 3D printers through the night without human interaction. The video below provides a glimpse into the process.

Video Reflecting Artificial Intelligence Poll Results

In 2015, best-selling author Martin Ford gave us Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. In the fall of 2021, he followed that up with Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Transform Everything. In his recent book, he explores various aspects of artificial intelligence – both positive and negative. When I finished that book I launched a poll that attracted a significant response. After analyzing the results, Adam Boostrom and April Harris produced this brief video. What did the respondents believe? After viewing the video, give us your thoughts via the same poll.

Innovation At Scale

The world is experiencing another period of great invention. We have the building blocks of the future, but to drive human advancement, the resulting innovation needs to scale. Organizations are getting better at experimenting, prototyping, and delivering minimum viable products. But scaling innovation remains a challenging endeavor. As the organizing system of our world changes, structural shifts will follow. One such shift involves the way we create and capture value, which increasingly takes the form of ecosystems. These emerging ecosystems complicate our scaling efforts.

In a recent book titled The Voltage Effect, author John A. List shares his perspective on how to make good ideas great and great ideas scale. He provides a number of examples that describe why some ideas are built to fail, while others are built to scale. Given the importance of the topic, I highly recommend the book and have added it to my library. The Amazon abstract is provided below.

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The Future Home

It is interesting to watch the patterns in which foresight questions emerge. I’ve seen periods where one specific domain is asked about more frequently than others, with the future of our homes currently a popular topic. The question is coming from multiple industries like construction, insurance, entertainment, healthcare, and banking. That’s not surprising given the horizontal nature of value creation and capture in the future. You may ask, what is there to talk about, the home has not changed much in a long time. However, a stop at the home section of the innovation wheel captures some of the changes coming to the home.

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