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Why a good story goes a lot further than the truth

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nichola Cooper is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is her second article written for the program. In it, she explores the importance of telling a good story and displaying the right character to engender trust.

Ronald Reagan was renowned for his stories. Arguably more so than his gaining control of rampant inflation and boosting the military, both legacies of the Carter era.

His first story to the American public as 40th President of the United States was of Martin Treptow, a barber, killed in 1918 on the western front carrying a message between battalions. Why did Reagan use his inaugural address to deliver this story? On Treptow’s body was a diary in which he had written, “America must win this war. I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure”. Reagan used this story to reassure Americans they had what it took to survive the problems of the hour. When the New York Times reported the following day that Reagan had made several substantial errors of fact, did Americans care? No. Americans loved Reagan’s stories, they made them feel confident, they made them feel clever in choosing such a charismatic leader. In running against Reagan in 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale, in his acceptance address as a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party spoke passionately about telling voters the truth: “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did”. Mondale insisted voters wanted a politician who told the truth. It was a terrible political decision. He lost to Reagan in a landslide victory of 49 states. Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota and Washington DC.

Why does this story matter? 2017 was the year of trust. We had ourselves in a knot about “fake news”. It subsequently became the agenda of all customer-facing organisations to improve their perceived trustworthiness. Crashing trust levels – 2017-2018 representing the largest slide in US trust levels ever recorded, incidentally – means we can no longer discern the difference between what is true and what is not. While we certainly possess the ability to get at the truth, our brain is not biased in favour of the truth; it is biased in favour of efficiency. Despite the techlash in response to technology firms’ concentrations of power, sinister manipulation of algorithms and the absence of a regulator – reasons suggested for fake news creation – it is the multitude of cognitive biases and heuristics that mean we source and assimilate confirmatory information. We preference simplicity over complexity. In so doing, we believe as true that which is untrue.

As long as humans are biologically hardwired for survival and efficiency, cat videos and crypto-kitties are here to stay. Sadly, for this trust researcher, so too are our declining trust levels. Simplicity protects us from a complex future we are unprepared for. As Richard Nixon headed into the election of 1972 he told his story of restoring America by easing tensions with China, Russia, and Vietnam and cracking down on war protestors. The voters ignored Watergate, explaining away incongruent facts with their mind’s own narrative – a much more efficient process than building a new story.



© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  politics  society  technology 

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What would a Post-Automation Bangladesh look like?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 8, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Riveong is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. His first article discusses the potential opportunities and risks that Bangladesh may face in a post-automation world.

The global textile industry is a lifeline for many of its 60 million workers throughout the world, especially in developing countries such as Bangladesh, and others like Vietnam and Cambodia. The optimistic capitalists among us see these factories as part of the age-old story of economic progress. They are the ladder of development. From Manchester during the Industrial Revolution to South Korea in the 1960s, their start in low-skilled textile manufacturing has been the gateway to greater economic development and prosperity. But will Bangladesh have a chance to climb up the same economic ladder?

Industry 4.0, which brings together AI and robotics, threaten to wipe away this very economic ladder. Already, the effects are being felt. According to the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, “automation is mainly responsible for the shedding of workers” of over 800,000 garment-related jobs since 2013. Such job losses may only continue as China pursues greater automation, as evidenced by Guangdong province’s allotment of $150 billion USD to automate its manufacturing base.

The immediate risk is Bangladesh’s 3.8 million fabric workers (mostly women) and 80% of its annual exports. At stake is Bangladesh’s future: how else can it easy bring millions of jobs to its low-skilled workers? How else may it pursue more sophisticated industrialization and climb the economic ladder? What is the future of post-automation Bangladesh?

The competition of automation is not the only threat that Global South countries like Bangladesh face. There are secondary effects of automation, such decentralization, and shifts in consumer behaviors like the slow fashion movement. These trends will impact its economic options and ability to develop:

Decentralization. Automation will enable greater decentralization and flexibility in global manufacturing. Addida’s first factory in Germany in over 20 years, called the Speedfactory, creates customized on-demand shoes using computerized knitting and high-tech additive manufacturing. It signals potential job losses for textile hubs like Bangladesh due to “insourcing” to advanced economic countries.


Slow Fashion. How people view fashion has begun to change. Trends such as fair trade, eco fashion and most recently “slow fashion” have become more prevalent. Slow fashion advocates buying less, buying quality over quantity, and eschewing fast fashion by brands such as Zara. For export-focused industries, declining consumption – while beneficial for the environment – hampers economic productivity.
Sajeeb Wazed Joy, ICT Affairs Adviser to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, has called for the country to meet the threat of automation by growing the ICT industry. While ICT-related skillsets are a sine qua non for the future, ICT alone is not a panacea to counter the impact that automation, decentralization, and slow fashion brings. Automation makes it difficult to produce jobs at scale, as witnessed in India, and can eliminate ICT-related jobs too. Decentralization challenges the need for specialized export-based hubs. Slow fashion is part of a larger trend of shifting away consumerism, lowering the demand for physical goods.

Yet, the challenge of automation is a profound opportunity. By taking away the “default” path of development – industrialization – the Global South has both the urgency and need to re-examine the most basic questions to reimagine our future:

  • What is the economy for? How might we increase living standards without growing GDP?
  • How might we provide jobs – or ways to improve people’s lives – at scale?
  • How might we economically empower women? What readily-available jobs exist for women outside of textiles?
  • And last, but not least: How can we better help the 800,000 displaced garment workers today?
  • How will we help prepare the next 3,000,000 workers, when they become displaced?

 

The post-automation economy is already here and will impact the Global South the hardest. The Global South is both the most populous and vulnerable region, yet it is here that the future of capitalism and post-automation economics will be most urgent to explore and define. This is the world’s moment to redefine progress and economics in human-centric terms appropriate for each society.


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  automation  economics  technology 

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Swift trust in virtual reality

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nichola Cooper is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the importance of trust and when implementing mixed reality technologies.

Is 2018 the year you advise on the business impact of mixed reality (MR) technology?

The enterprise potential for alternate reality products is growing, with an increasing number of use cases from technology companies that create immersive scenarios in gaming, social media and team collaboration that can potentially transform how we share culture, communicate and collaborate.

It is important we also consider the inherent risks in implementing MR into a business environment – one such risk is trust. As we design environments with a projected self, how do we not just protect the data within the environment, but also the outcome of the collaborative process too? Trust is a functional lubricant that enables effective feedback loops between people and systems. As our communication is advanced to include a non-human projection of ourselves, are there impacts to the psyche and the subsequent development of the trust process that might undermine the business impact of MR technology?

Social networking sites indicate our digital persona is a narrated composition of our authentic identity and our ideal self, customised for each channel. The narrated self is a defence mechanism the self-employs to manage the risk involved in issuing a faceless communication. Humans have evolved to instinctively discern from non-verbal cues whether someone is trustworthy or not; communicating online introduces uncertainty, which we manage by controlling the trust process. Unless digital communications are supported by offline personal relationships we distrust the other until evidence proves otherwise. Strategic mistrust is efficient, rational and functional, it may not, however, be the best way to organise our affairs.

The success of mixed reality for industry and educational use is predicated on creating trust in the virtual environment and the persons present to make the most of the technology. While cyber-security and risk practitioners concentrate on delivering trust in data integrity, it is incumbent on business to instil trust in the virtual space. Using principles of human-centred design and swift trust, business can customise existing operating principles to recognise the short-term nature of virtual engagement.

Establishing traditional forms of trust take time. Trust involves cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors in the assessment of another’s trustworthiness and the decision to make oneself vulnerable in commencing trusting relations. Interpersonal trust also assumes longevity: we trust to build relationships over time.

Swift trust, however, is cognitive and normative in development; trust is assumed as a condition of the gathering and is verified in the actions undertaken by participants. It is best employed in conjunction with traditional team-building strategies, for it is fragile. Deviations from group norms in a swift trust environment can produce volatile reactions that are unmitigated by trusting relationships.

Therefore, swift trust is a tactical approach to team dynamics which needs to be supported by strengthening offline relational trust in order to enhance its impact. Companies considering integrating the use of MR technology into their operating practices from 2018 could consider an MR playbook that outlines the principles and practices of applied swift trust, and then integrate expectations for virtual environments into codes of conduct. It is quite probable that team members engaging in virtual environments have not met before. It is essential they understand the rules of the game.



© Nichola Cooper 2018

Tags:  technology  trust  virtual reality 

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Trust Beyond the Present

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 15, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Monica Porteanu is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the intersection of society and trust.

Trust is a social construct essential to economic and societal development. However, trust has issues that the passing of time has not only not yet solved but also blurred any futures orientation. Furthermore, while technology presents possible solutions, it also introduces new challenges. One would expect that science has resolved such issues, but science itself has undergone a trust crisis. A solution to re-establishing trust is designing the future with the society itself.

In 2017, trust in official institutions registered a collapse in the US and a significant drop in the UK, after a steady decline over time. Decades earlier, behind the Iron Curtain, the communist regime thrived through the propagation of mistrust.

Centuries ago, the victory or defeat in war was a question of how the communication amongst generals, stationed at various locations, was transmitted through trusted, non-forgeable links. The system, at that time, did not have any control or feedback loop to ensure traitors did not intercept and interfere with the message. Dubbed the Byzantine Generals’ problem in mathematics, in many ways similar to the Prisoners’ Dilemma in economics, the challenge might now be solved by blockchain technology, with its promise for a single record of fact between two parties involved in a transaction.

Even if blockchain succeeds, another technology facet raises trust questions: data. With staggering amounts of data available but a remarkably low percentage analyzed, and even smaller amounts validated, how do we know whether we can count on the truth of this content?

The belief that scientific research is a trusted leader is also challenged. Investigations show that less than 50% of psychology studies could be replicated, together with increasing instances of corruption, including priming effects, fake peer reviews, or proliferation of citation cartels.

Extending the question of trust to forward-looking settings enhances decision makers’ ability to anticipate possible futures and navigate risks and uncertainties, especially when trust molds into “the willingness to be vulnerable to another party’s actions.” Trust in futures thinking enhances the capacity to embrace opportunities presented by “actionable images of the future” while deflecting weaknesses and threats.

A solution to re-establishing trust is expanding its definition from being an ingredient that catalyses economic prosperity and social life for people, to envisioning futures of a society with people. This participatory approach is diametrically opposed to the communist doctrine as well as the hierarchical, patriarchal, belief, and value systems that underlie existing power structures. Participation not only increases the likelihood of trusting what could be developed but also the engagement to ignite futures and shape the preferred one.

The reciprocal relationship between participation and trust is self-explanatory: participation spawns trust through dialogue, transparency, and agency, while trusting beliefs and actions (e.g., ability, benevolence, integrity) strengthen participation through the willingness to engage, take action, and break various barriers such as personal, situational, functional, or psychological.

Such relationship alleviates the anxiety of unknown futures through mental training and careful orchestration of expert and participant involvement. For example, while futurists’ skill is critical in trend analysis to unearth blind spots and set the stage for grounded results, diversity and wide participation is more beneficial than competence during the next phase focused on opportunity prioritization. Further refining of selected opportunities is easily enabled by experimental prototyping of actionable future narratives, as a method to understand and handle the uncertainties and risks of unproven ideas about the future. The experts’ facilitation skills and toolkits, such as empathy maps, role-playing, or installations, contribute to establishing the need, desire, and feasibility of building the envisioned futures.
As a final note, participation to build trust is the opportunity to develop further the networked society in which the collaboration amongst creativity, ethnographic, foresight, and analytical approaches convert the unknown into a viable and promising future for society.

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  future  technology  trust 

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Future Shock for Futurists

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jason Swanson

Jason Swanson shares his thoughts about Future Shock for Futurists in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Roughly this time last year, Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institute wrote about what he called the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox. ” Wittes argued, “…the threat environment America faces is growing ever more complicated and multifaceted, and the ability to meet it is growing ever-more-deeply dependent on first-rate intelligence. Yet at precisely the same time, the public has grown deeply anxious about our intelligence authorities and our intelligence community is facing a profound crisis of legitimacy over its basic authorities to collect.”

 

Witte’s explanation for this paradox is technology. Technology has allowed for weak nations and non-state actors to play “in the big leagues of if international power politics”.  As technology is helping to contribute to the USA’s threat matrix, “…technological change is also the fundamental reason for the intelligence legitimacy crisis. The more ubiquitously communications technology spreads and the more integrated it all becomes globally, after all, the more that surveillance of the bad guys—in all their complexity—requires the intelligence community to surveil systems that we all use every day too. In other words, the same technologies that are making the threat picture more complicated, more diverse, and more bewildering are also bringing the intelligence process into closer day-to-day contact with people living their daily lives. These technologies also require intelligence agencies, to be effective, to touch giant volumes of material, most of which is utterly anodyne. The more the community does these things, as it must, the more people it offends and the more legitimacy problems it creates for itself.”

 

As a Futurist, I find the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox” fascinating.  Technological advances have made for an increasingly complicated threat matrix, yet at the same time gives our security agencies the tools to mine for first-rate intelligence. Leaving aside the issues surrounding the authority to collect data and information, I wonder if technological acceleration might one day create a paradox or dilemma for the futures field?

 

As mentioned above, Witte’s explanation for the paradox was technology, but to be more accurate the core of Wittes’ idea might be better defined as technological acceleration. With more and more data being generated and shared, agencies must sift through vast piles of information to find first-rate intelligence, scanning more broadly, probing more deeply, and coming closer in contact with those creating and sharing the data than ever before. As technological change continues to accelerate, the amount of data we generate will continue to grow. In 2015, we are expected to create and share eight zettabytes of information. How much is a zettabyte? 1 zettabyte = 1 trillion gigabytes. And that amount will rise, along with the ease of sharing the data that we create. As technology accelerates, Witte’s “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox” might be even more pressing in the future, with more and more data being generated, an ever more complicated and evolving threat window,  closer touch points with data creators, and a greater need for quality data in the ever-expanding sea of information.

 

So where might this leave the futures field? To be clear, the majority of us are not dealing with a security risks or impending violence, rather we see more complex and rapid changes to the present, a more complicated and multifaceted threat matrix to present or current reality by way of rapidly approaching futures. Much like the intelligence community, our field must also contend with technology acceleration. As researchers, we put a premium on quality information, or what Witte calls “first-rate intelligence.”  If the information we use for our work is less that quality, we can assume the output also to be less than quality, or to borrow a phrase,” garbage in, garbage out”.

 

As more and more data is created and shared there is an issue of quantity versus quality that any researcher must contend with. For Futurists, in particular, this has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. With the acceleration of data generation, we are able to use increasingly rich streams of information to gain insights and generate images of the future. Beyond trends and drivers of change, these data streams also put us in touch with novel ideas and other signals. With more data being generated and shared over time, we might expect to come in contact with greater numbers of novel ideas and signals. This is where I see a potential issue. While not quite a paradox such as the “Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox”, the issue I see arising might be called something to the effect of “Future Shock for Futurists”. This is where the accelerating change of technology, specifically the increase in the amount of data being generated and shared exponentially increases over time, combined with accelerating social change, create an issue in which novel ideas and signals are no longer novel but commonplace, or in instances where they are novel, the shelf life of these ideas are extremely short, creating the potential for an echo chamber of sorts within the field.  What happens to our signals and signposts if they move from novel to accepted idea in a matter of weeks rather than years? Would that affect your practice?

 

Longer term the issue of increased data creation may be solved as data analytics such as R become easier to use so that we might make sense of  this growing sea of information. It stands to reason that web analytics will also provide increased brokering and curation services for information delivery in the form of a stronger filter bubble. Nearer term we might continue to use primary research, social networks (being mindful of our own filter bubbles there!) and other tools to ride the growing wave of data, being mindful of the rate at which ideas move from the seemingly crazy person rambling to accepted social fact.

 

How has increased data generation affected your practice? Do you see a downside to the increased creation and sharing of data? How might the hyper acceleration of ideas, where an idea might move from novel conception to mainstream inception affect the filed?

http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/05/the-intelligence-legitimacy-paradox/

http://www.informationlifecyclemanagement.net/collateral/analyst-reports/idc-extracting-value-from-chaos-ar.pdf

http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-pace-of-social-change/

http://www.r-project.org/

 

© Jason Swanson 2015

Tags:  futurist  technology  the US 

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Looking at next year’s list

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 29, 2014
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bridgette Engeler Newbury  shares her thoughts with us about the “future possibilities” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

It’s that time of year. Celebrations and traditions. Endings and beginnings. Promises and provocations. Reflections and resolutions. And now that the tinsel, incandescent holly and Santa-shaped shortbread are on sale, the flurry of ‘top ten’ lists will appear as quickly as the hot cross buns do (across supermarkets in the UK and Australia at least).

As Jim Carroll says here it’s relatively easy to extrapolate current trends into a ‘Top Ten for 2015’; it’s quite a different matter to look further ahead, as he does to 2025.

Some of those lists will posit that we’re in an era of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology to transform cities, economies and lives. Spurred on by wearables, rapid urbanisation, smart cities and rising popular demand for access to high-quality (and sometimes sustainable) infrastructure, it all leads to seemingly ‘good’ growth that is assumed to follow globally.

So I want to highlight Mashable’s list of notable innovations in 2014.

Few of the innovations that improved the world in 2014 will make onto the top tens for greatness in 2015 or beyond, and only a couple might be considered trend-setters. Why, I wonder? Compare it to a list of tech predictions like this one – just who are the incredible innovations on this list intended for? What worldview or model of subjectivity is inscribed in the scenarios and technologies offered by the developers of such marvellous wearables and other remarkable tech wizardry? And who stands to benefit? When you compare this with the Mashable list, it’s pretty obvious that most espouse a pronounced way of thinking about the world and civil society, with rather limited implications for people, planet and participation.

It is one thing to reinforce the beliefs, value systems and infrastructures that underpin particular ways of life; quite another to expound the importance of technologies that privilege a few when reliable access to electricity, clean drinking water, somewhere safe to sleep or sanitary facilities are not part of everyday life for too many. I’m not denying the need for or value of innovation, invention or experimentation (that Mashable list embraces all of those) but I am questioning the way value and need are prioritised, and by whom, based on what, and the kinds of futures that are being shaped by the infrastructure, innovation and technology these choices deliver.

As Andy Hines notes in his latest blog, maybe we could take some time to explore the ‘why’ of values, not just the ‘what’. Because there’s more to life in 2015 than networked information technology. Lasting change has to come from within, whether it’s individual, community or organisation. It won’t come from an app alone or something we plug in.

Tags:  future  technology  value 

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