One of the obligatory yearly conferences a professional futurist should attend is the one set up by World Future Society. I feel particularly obliged to attend since I am representing the Central Texas Chapter of the WFS in Austin as vice president. But alas, I haven’t attended since being a student in 2002 when I was selected to present under my university’s category of best student work. I presented some work I did in a class called System Dynamics, an interesting research method I’ve tried to describe here. This was my first public speaking gig ever, and I can safely say I failed to give a convincing performance.
Fast-forward 13 years and I’m back in theWFS world – this time for attending only. The fact that it is held in beautiful tech hotspot San Francisco didn’t hurt my decision to come.
The destination’s tech hub status is strongly influencing the conference this year, drawing profiled speakers embedded deep in the tech magic of Silicon Valley. They preached a mantra so many futurists identify with, that foresight’s most important role is anticipating the technologies that will cause discontinuous change.
After the Millennials, being entrenched in generational research, should probably make a better effort at covering these disruptive changes and what they mean for the next generation. Ideally we should have subchapters on new trends in 3D and 4D printing, machine learning, big data processing, robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and genomic research. We should ask more meaningful questions. With the emergence of the collaborative economy, 3D printing and micro-grid technology, what will production supply chains look like when generation Z turn 30? How will they use, connect and protect the multiplying zettabytes of data collected about themselves and their environment? How will breakthroughs in nanotech, mobile communication and genomics affect our children and grandchildren’s health and the personalization of their healthcare? What will self-driving cars mean for the future of transportation, urbanization and the environment? What will they do when 47% of current jobs disappear, many of which are skilled professions?
After the Millennials recently executed a market research survey on the perceptions of smart appliances and the internet of things for Samsung, and we look forward to sharing these observations.
In the meantime, I think it’s important that in spite of the radically different future this exponential technological revolution will cause, we should be careful not to appoint too much agency to the transformative powers of technology alone. The mere entry of a new technology rarely changes fundamental aspects of what it means to be human. Instead of a mindless, reactive heap that always respond to new technologies the way the Silicon Valley gurus often predict, users can apply, misapply and manipulate the tools the way they see fit. And hence I tend to disagree with generational experts who suggest generational cycles are getting shorter as a consequence of the exponential nature of technological advancement. While technology will continue to have great impact on how the different generations chose to live their lives and to a certain extent their preferences, habits and behaviors, I don’t believe technology has the power to upend generational cycles – at least not until we start messing with our childrens’ genetic code. Nor do I find much historic evidence for this dynamic.
I believe forecasters who appreciate the ambiguity of the interplay between humans and their tools are the ones who can best envision how technological progression might affect the next generation. More later…