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This community-wide blog showcases blogs by APF members on topics they select. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this section belong solely to the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of APF.


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The New Digital Divide

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

This is a blog post about the digital divide from a member of the APF, Emilio Mordini. It was originally posted to his LinkedIn account. He also regularly updates his Blogger account which is more focused on medical topics. The views in the article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the APF or its other members.

The expression “digital divide” dates back to mid-1990s and refers “to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities” (OECD, 2001, Understanding the Digital Divide, OECD Publications, Paris, p.5).

For more than two decades, scholars and policy makers have discussed the digital divide in terms of inequalities between people who could benefit from digital resources, and people who do not have these opportunities and skills. The concept of a digital divide has been used to describe the technology gap between rich and poor populations and individuals; to depict disparities in technology access between young and senior people; to capture inequalities in ICT usage between people living in cities and in rural areas; between the educated and the uneducated; and between low and high income countries.  However, that type of digital divide is now finished, and a new digital divide is rapidly progressing.

According to the last OECD survey, young people all over the world have roughly equal access to the Internet, no matter whether they are rich or poor, educated or not. Yet, what changes it is how they are using the Internet. While richer teenagers, and teenagers living in richer countries, tend to use the Internet to search for information and to read news, poorer teenagers, and teenagers living in poorer countries, prefer to chat, play video games, or surf Facebook. Moreover, disadvantaged students spend more time on line than advantaged students, which contradicts the conventional wisdom about the old “digital divide”: the socio-economic disadvantaged are those who are more often online.

It is somehow obvious that patterns of Internet usage change according to a user’s socio-economic status, what is less obvious is the way in which inequalities impact on these patterns. Current digital divide does not concern access to technology but its usage. While advantaged people conceive the Internet as a tool for exploring the world, disadvantaged people think of the Internet chiefly as a game and an instrument to establish and develop social relations.  What is the reason of this disparity?

The OECD Report provides a simple answer to this question, “the use of online media – they argue –  depends on the student’s own level of skills, motivation, and support from family, friends and teachers, which vary across socio-economic groups…socio-economic differences in the use of the Internet and in the ability to use ICT tools for learning are strongly related to the differences observed in more traditional academic abilities”. In other words, according to the OECD, poor and uneducated people use the Internet in the way in which they conceptualize it, which is determined by their baseline knowledge. Yet, this is not an explanation, it is a truism. Of course, people use the Internet in the way in which they conceptualize it, but the question is exactly why disadvantaged people think of the Internet chiefly in terms of Facebook, social media, and video games. Is there any reason for this phenomenon?

Society has not yet realized the epochal change which occurred due to the digital revolution. Most of us are still thinking in terms of the industrial society. Who was the “poor” in the industrial society? The proletariat, those –  in Marxist theory – whose only possession was their labor.   The proletariat is the social class that sells the new merchandise “invented” by the industrial revolution, that is to say, “human labor”. The proletariat does not exist any longer, yet poor people still exist. Who is the “poor” in the digital society? Those people whose only possession is the new merchandise “invented” by the digital revolution, that is to say, “data”.

Discussing the digital divide, we are often victims of an illusion because we have difficulty in understanding that those who use the Internet only as a game and an instrument to establish social relations are not active users. Rather, they are passive data providers. They are the mines, not the miners.

Therefore the discrepancy between disadvantaged and advantaged people on the Internet is now defined as: advantaged people are mostly”purchasing” data, while disadvantaged people are mostly “selling” their own data. This is the new digital divide. Marx would probably have commented, "hic Rhodus, hic salta".

Tags:  digital divide  digitisation  technology 

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Making Peace with Chaos

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 25, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

This is a blog post from a member of the APF, Sara Robinson, originally published at Civic Hall. It provides perspective about the point in history that the USA currently finds itself after the past 12 months of divisive campaigning and the presidential election. Any political preferences expressed are not necessarily shared by the APF or its respective members, but the post has provided great discussion on the association’s listserv. Further civil discussion is encouraged in the comments. 

As a futurist, I’ve worked with William Strauss and Neil Howe’s saecular theory of history off and on through the years. They first presented their thesis of recurring historical cycles 25 years ago; and so far, this theory has managed to predict some important things well ahead of the curve. The characters and life trajectories of the Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. 9/11 (which they predicted in some detail in 1997). The crash of 2008 (ditto). And this [the Trump election], too, is right in line with what they anticipated.

Their basic thesis is that every 80-90 years, America simply comes apart at the seams, and is forced to radically re-create itself. The failures—of the economic order, of physical infrastructure, of the political process, of foreign policy, of basic civility—mount for a decade or so. Then, apparently all at once, things hit a catastrophic acceleration point that suddenly launches us into another decade of blindingly rapid chaotic change. When we come out of it, we are never the same country. Our entire economic basis usually shifts. Almost always, our energy, communications, and transportation regimes change, too. Old institutions fail en masse, and are replaced with a suite of new ones. There’s a lot to be said about these big historical inflection points—S&H wrote several books laying it all out—but everybody, if they live a standard lifespan, gets to see this movie once. And as of this week, it appears to be our turn.

Previous crisis eras included the Glorious Revolution of the 1680s (which was centered in England, but had huge repercussions here as well); the American Revolution of the 1770s; the Civil War era; and the Depression/WWII crisis that shaped our grandparents. We were all born and raised into the world that forged in that war: Everything from the food we eat to the houses we live in to the roads we drive on to the world political order that has kept the peace are the results of the dreams and priorities our grandparents shared in the 1940s and 50s.

But the 80-year WWII cycle has now ended. The world has changed enough now that that the old system, which gave us 50 good years before beginning its slow breakdown, no longer works for any of us. We’re children of the Information Age, which is changing the entire epistemology of society away from machine metaphors and toward cybernetic ones—a shift that will require us to re-make all of our institutions, economies, and physical infrastructure to keep up. The carbon-based energy regime of that era is killing us. The Cold War balance of powers is now obviously archaic, and the relationships that once defined it are destabilizing. I could go on, but you get the point: we are entering an acute era of all-levels-all-sectors disruption, which has been a long time in the making, and which might be viewed as a seasonal, cyclic event—a historical winter, if you will.

That’s a scary thought, but it also gives us reason to hope. First: Just knowing that earlier generations of Americans have also gone through these convulsive times, going back centuries, allows us to look back at their experiences and draw lessons from the legacies they’ve left us. Many of the basic things they did to survive then will also sustain us now. Also: It’s good to know that on balance, while the losses of those previous eras were always catastrophic, we usually came out better and stronger in the end for them (though the end of the Civil War crisis resolved badly, and it took a very long time to get back on track). What we’re going through isn’t new at all: these are the birth pangs of the better world that we’ve nurtured in our hearts for 40 years. But pulling the country through these perilous times and safely to the other side of this will demand the best of us, just as it demanded the best of those who came before us. A lot of us are already intuiting this, and feel in ourselves the rising sense of determination and purpose the moment calls for.

But the more important thing, if you buy this theory, is that you need to cut yourself some slack about the failure of your predictive skills. It’s not you. It’s the fact that the entire system as we’ve always understood it—and as our parents and grandparents understood it before us—is breaking up under our very feet. None of the old rules that governed our conception of reality up until November 8 can be assumed to be operative now. Most of what we know about the past is now utterly useless. We’ve been abruptly swept through to the other side of a huge historical gate here, and are now swirling in the very first days of the next 80 years. It will be quite a while before we understand what the new rules are, and how this saeculum will operate. In the meantime, we need to make our peace with chaos, learn something about surfing change waves gracefully even when we can’t control them, and decide for ourselves (very quickly!) what principles we choose to live for—and if called upon to do so, die for.

For now, our value as intellectuals will not be in our deep understanding of a now-dead order; but in how quickly we can divine and organize around the emerging patterns that show us how things will work now and in the future. Studying past crises is useful here, but we also need to pay careful, wide-eyed, thoughtful attention to the present, and learn whatever we can about the nature of this particular shift — what’s driving it, and where it’s taking us. The future will not be forseeable for a long while. The only ones who will have any clue at all will be the ones who are most actively creating it.

Finally: Fascism has been a common ornament of these crisis eras going back to the first proto-fascisms of the 1860s. Apocalypticism has also been a handmaiden, going back many centuries. (S&H traced this cycle all the way back to the Plantagenets.) It feels like the world is dying, because it is. A lot of people may well die with it—that usually happens, too. But the worst is usually over in a decade or so, and after that things get much better quickly.

In the meantime, we are likely to make and see more history in this coming decade than at any point in our lives, before or after. And the things we do, the people we do them with, and the courage and character we bring to these efforts will define our legacies forever. We may not know squat about what’s up ahead; but we are still among our country’s best and brightest, and they’re still going to count on people like us to think the nation through the abyss. And our keen ability to know when to reach back into the past and pull up the right pattern, and when to let go of the past and figure out the new right answer on the fly are going to be critical to getting the USA sorted out.

Tags:  chaos  peace  war 

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How Generation Z Thinks About the Future

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

This blog post is cross posted from the blog After the Millennials which belongs to futurist consultant Anne Boysen, a full APF member. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

Do you lead a group of children and want to engage them in future thinking in an effective and meaningful way? Please fill out the contact form for workshops and futuristic gameplay. You never know what future they will reveal to you, but it can make your job leading them to make much more sense.

The most rewarding way I gain post-millennial insight comes from doing scenarios sessions with children and teens. While scenario methods like Futures Wheel, STEEP brainstorming and cross-impact analysis are typically intended to help organizations find strategies and discover new opportunities, they also allow us to discern the thought processes of those who partake in the exercise. Of course, traditional surveys, focus groups, and ethnographic research methods continue to have merit, but I find the scenario approach particularly effective in learning how young people think about the future. Providing structure without putting creative limitations on the participants, children or teens explore trends, contemporary events, and emerging issues, and are then nudged to combine their observations into plausible, internally coherent scenarios. These exercises tend to convey unspoken attitudes, perceptions, and worldviews inherent to a generation that has only seen the world of the 21st century. It gives us a preview of a brand new zeitgeist about to unfold, and which will shape our future in the years and decades to come. In other words, while useful for the participants themselves, scenarios can also provide pivotal insights for researchers.

I recently did a scenario workshop with a group of 12-year-old girls who first brainstormed various trends and then selected the two most uncertain trend variables. The chosen trends were those the tweens felt could produce very different futures. The variables were given high and low values and coordinated in a 2×2 matrix, which elicited 4 different scenario logics.

While I would never claim that these girls represent a whole generation, their insights opened the window into some of the worries, excitements, threats and opportunities young people are facing today. And many of their concerns do in fact reflect observations I find in other sources.

Main takeaways
1) Environment and Tech Engaged Less Than Politics and Economics

We started with a STEEP-exercise, which is essentially brainstorming a variety of trends categorized as Social (or cultural), Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political. The girls enthusiastically came up with 7 economic trends and 7 political trends. But surprisingly only 3 environmental and 4 tech trends were mentioned. Social or cultural trends were somewhere in the middle. This focus was unexpected at first, but it makes sense when considering which future domains represent the greater uncertainties for these kids. It’s not that kids care less about the environment and tech – quite the opposite. Gen Z’ers care deeply about environmental issues and take technology for granted, but these domains are already well-trodden paths. No one in this generation would question the existence of environmental degradation. No one questions the fact that technology has almost limitless possibilities to solve some of these problems. But that is it. This generation is well beyond “the environment is hurting” and “new tech is cool” narratives. To engage them you will have to get beyond context-less discussions around new technology and environmental degradation. Instead, Generation Z will take these discussions one step further, and bring agency and action into the picture. And here is where politics and economics come in.

The strong engagement with political trends likely had a lot to do with the election year and that the workshop took place soon after the Brexit referendum. The tweens had likely heard a lot of political buzz, which created an artificially strong interest in this topic. Their interest in economic trends was noteworthy as they seem to sense deep macroeconomic challenges associated with The Fourth Industrial Revolution. So again, the heightened interest political and economic issues are effects of deep technological shifts.

2) Corporate Concentration of Power Undermines Future Entrepreneurs

In 2013 a report from Oxford university suggested that 47% of today’s jobs will be taken over by robots and artificial intelligence in the near future. MIT professors Brynjolfsson and McAfee have popularized these ideas in The Second Machine Age and suggested that not only will technologically outsourced jobs increase income disparity, but the corporate structure itself will only have room for a few winners and many losers. This has to do with technologically enabled scalability. Network -or platform companies do not necessarily increase their operating costs when volumes increase or markets expand, which makes local competition increasingly difficult. The combination of machine intelligence and diminishing marginal costs abate the demand for, and the relative power of workers and entrepreneurs in ever more industries and professions.

The girls had an almost eerily accurate premonition of these trends. While envisioning a future where digitally caused unemployment is likely to increase, they also believed that we would have fewer small businesses because competition from the tech giants is increasing.

By contrast, MTV recently surveyed 1000 Generation Z members across the countries and found that if this generation were to name themselves, they would want to be called The Founders. And not because of some powder wigged dudes from the Enlightenment Era. This is a generation that has been spoon-fed a digital diet of YouTube fame, Instagram memes and inspirational quotes plastered on top of hedonistic images of Richard Branson.

But Gen Z consists not only of Silicon Valley hopefuls constantly comparing who can poop the prettiest rainbow and attract the most VCs. Most of these kids have ingested enough recession coal to know that unicorns are fantasy figures – at least most of them. Gen Z watched their older siblings get trophies just for showing up until they entered a job market where neither trophies nor living wages were anywhere to be found. These kids seem to have an intuitive understanding that the mechanisms that once used to lead to a steady accumulation of Volvos, 401K value, and white picket fences can no longer be taken for granted.

Surveys show that unlike Millennials who remain remarkably optimistic about the future despite current economic setbacks, Gen Z displays much more realistic expectations. Viewing the startup bonanza with a grain of salt could mean that they will plan for their careers more sensibly.

3) Increasing Segregation and Nationalization

The tweens weighed in on Donald Trump’s presidential platform as well as the Brexit vote. The group suggested we might see a future with many types of walls rising, both figurative and physically. The parallel between Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU and Trump’s nationalistic agenda did not go unnoticed. The group suggested that supranational institutions, such as the EU and maybe even UN might become weaker and that we might experience what they called “national bullying” – or bullying between nations. The concept is noteworthy because this is a generation growing up with social and emotional learning in their school curricula along with cultural globalization. The more unsavory rhetoric in the election campaign seems to have very distinct effects on this generation.

4) We Will Use Technology to Help the Environment

The group came up with ideas such as using drone-based watering systems to save on fresh water (yes, it’s a thing), increased use of rooftop solar panels, windmills, and turbines to generate energy. They even deduced that if people are going off the grid, some of the tax base would disappear because self-sufficiency would dismantle utility based taxes. In noticing the disappearing tax caused by prosumerism, the group seems to have identified yet another technologically derived trend that turned out to have political and economic consequences.

Beyond Faster, Better, Cheaper
Embedded in a futurist world where everything seems to be undergoing accelerated change, X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis recently asked in an article in Medium: “What will remain the same?” He quotes a conversation he had with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos where the king of digital distribution answers that people’s desire for lower prices and faster delivery will always persist. Is it really fair to assume the next generation will continue to put “Faster, Better, Cheaper” above all other concerns? In my research and many conversations with young people, there is a growing awareness that the products we produce and consume are part of a greater system that takes many other factors into account. Factors such as environmental impact, automation vs. human employment issues and inclusiveness are issues that matter to younger workers and consumers. In fact, when companies create their young consumer strategy nowadays one of their first checkpoints is to make sure the business fulfills triple bottom line standards (People, Planet, Profit). If kids see this, why don’t turbo-futurists like Diamandis and Bezos?

After a decade-long obsession with tech entrepreneurs and narrow-minded focus on technological prowess and new business models, we are starting to ask questions about how we use these technologies can be used to solve problems, and Generation Z is taking a lead in shifting the narratives. It seems that when you grow up between technological abundance on the one side and technological unemployment on the other, you have more important concerns than faster delivery time and pies in the sky.

Tags:  future  generations  millennials 

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“Final” Version of Foresight Competency Model

Posted By Website Admin, Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

This APF Foresight Competency Model is “final” in the sense of this initial effort. We will, of course, revisit and update the competency model in the years ahead as needed. The Board suggested a more contemporary design for the competency model graphic — thus the original pyramid structure used with the DOL/ETA approach was replaced with an updated graphic aligned with APF design and branding. This new design was unveiled at the 2016 Town Hall Meeting in Washington DC on July 23rd. It was extremely well received — kudos to the design team on a job well done!

The competency model suggests what one should be capable of doing in order to be a professional futurist. The Competency Model Team — Cornelia Daheim (Germany), Jay Gary & Andy Hines (US), and Luke van der Laan (Australia) — drove this effort that involved many others and took more than a year to complete. This final version is APF’s view of futurist competencies at this point in time. It is offered to the large futurist community in the spirit of stimulating further discussion of what it takes to be a professional futurist. Indeed a competency model is not intended to be static or fixed, but rather to evolve along with the field it describes.

Tags:  foresight  foresight competency  guide 

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Towards the future of technology for education

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 7, 2016
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2019

The blog post below is reblogged from Bryan Alexander’s own site: The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

On June 16th I gave the closing keynote at the New Media Consortium’s annual conference. It was a big talk, with tons of images, ranting, and ideas crammed into a very busy hour.

It meant a great deal to me to address an organization which meant so much. I cut loose in this talk, making 95% of it new just for the occasion, taking a lot of risks and challenging the audience. I’d like to share recordings and material here for your use and/or feedback. So sit back and watch, listen, or read.

Here’s the NMC’s video recording:

The slides are on Slideshare.

And here are the prepared remarks. I riffed on them at points, which you can see in the video above. I’ve added several of the images as I referred to them directly, plus a very short bibliography at the very end:

“It is a signal honor to address an organization – a community – that has meant so much to me for more than a decade. NMC is a source of inspiration, learning, challenges, and many friendships. In honor of the futures work long conducted by the NMC, allow me to take you on a futuring journey for the next hour

Here’s my plan, what we’ll be exploring:
1.Some quick introductory notes
2.The short- term future
3.Some medium-term futures
4.Towards the longer term
5.What to do

1. Introductory notes

I’m going to focus this talk on the ways technology might develop in the future. This entails a risk, that of technological determinism. This assumes that technological developments drive some non-technological changes – for our purposes, to education and society. Think of how train tracks and rolling stock can enable yet constrain human actions. A related assumption: people will keep developing and playing with tech. More simply put: I’ll take the persistent drive for technological invention seriously.

I won’t be talking much about Black Swans, like a possible Singularity, or airborne Ebola, or a WWI-scale disaster, or everyone’s favorite, the zombie apocalypse. Also, I won’t dwell on most non-technological contexts (economics, policy, demographics), unusually for me.

Is the future we’re making a good one or a bad time? Americans like to see technologies and futures in terms of starkly opposed utopian and dystopian poles. I’d like the make things more nuanced, stretching futures across a utopia – reality – dystopia spectrum.

Two guides will help us forward, starting with history. We have a good sense, now, about how humans tend to create and react to new technologies, and we can extrapolate from that knowledge. Our second guide is science fiction, which informs much of today’s talk. Not only has sf been giving us visions of possible futures for more than a century, in addition to offering cognitive tools for imagining the future, but technologists and designers are increasingly influenced by what sf has already imagined. In short, if you’re not reading science fiction, you’re not ready for the rest of the 21st century.

2. Short term, to 2021

We are living through a remarkable time when revolutions are rippling through traditional education. An unprecedented boom in human creativity thanks to the digital revolution is returning storytelling and story-sharing capabilities to people around the world. And powerful changes in economics, demographics, and globalization, not to mention technology, are reshaping education. Some of schooling as we know it might not survive the decade.

Technological development rushes on. VR in now in place, with applications in gaming, storytelling, and visualization. Watch the costs drop and accessibility rise. Content is starting to appear. AR is developing broadly, for basic visualizations across many different hardware platforms. What’s next? AR and VR connect and intertwine, as the digital and nondigital worlds are thoroughly interlaced. Think Mixed Reality. Think computing in space. Watch Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap.

Meanwhile, 3d printing is growing rapidly. In education, we’ve seen it move from engineering to libraries. Think: 3d printing across the curriculum. 3d printing is also allied to new learning spaces. A DIY ethos contributes to the growth of Makerspaces and the Maker movement.

Those spaces and technologies link up with the often-heralded transition from consumption to co-creation and production, which continues. Think: student as producer, student as maker.

Meanwhile, hardware continues to shrink, as Moore’s Law keeps on going. For example, my alma mater, UM, produced a combination camera, data storage, and Wifi connection the size of a grain of rice – last year. Let’s assume hardware keeps shrinking. This will let us embed hardware throughout our environment. It will let us do more with projected displays, flexible interfaces. Contact lenses as interfaces could well appear. Mark Weiser’s dreams of ubiquitous computing are coming true.

One way of describing this world of small, embedded, invisible, and environmental hardware is the Internet of Things. This is already occurring through an enormous infrastructure build out, including: expanding into the IPv6 internet protocol; developing new middleware, OSes; building out data ownership and control systems. This should lead us to rethink privacy, data ownership and control, safety tradeoffs, and the public/ private dynamic.

At a technical level, will we rethink what a file is? Imagine an ecosystem mostly composed of streams, not documents in directories; points and flows, not files.

Will there be hyperlinks in the internet of everything? What happens to the web in a world of ubiquitous, often invisible computing? There are many incentives to not develop the web. For example, mobile apps, streaming video, AAA video games, the LMS, paywalls all offer alternatives to the open web of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention. Perhaps the web of 2021 will become like US community tv, trawled by a few humans and increasing #s of AIs. Or perhaps, as Kevin Kelly suggests, we’ll see the IoE hyperlinked and Googleable. Perhaps we’ll improve our ability to search and link across time, connecting to a site’s prior states, hyperlinking the emerging history of the web.

While we shrink some hardware devices, we send others into the air. Drones are changing public and private spaces, around the world. There are peaceful uses for delivery, photography, research, art. Some hobbyists have figured out how to add new devices to drones, such as shotguns and chainsaws. Others, like the United States Pentagon, have created still more uses in war and espionage. Drones were once largely controlled; now some are semi-autonomous, or autonomous, acting on their own. Already ethicists and insurance companies debate the implications of drone crimes, asking who’s responsible for injuries and deaths at the metaphorical hands of a literal machine. And automating jobs: Japanese firm Komatsu uses drones on construction projects to feed data to automated trucks and digging machines.

So many future trends are historical trends that won’t die or seem to cease only to lurch back into life later on. Some of you may remember p2p architectures dating back to the 1990s. The blockchain is a new realization of that concept. Not only has blockchain led to bitcoin, an interesting, messy, and potentially transformative financial development, but now, through Ethereum, supports decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO): distributed, automated enterprises. One such already functions as a fundraising and fund dispersal firm.

Meanwhile, for the next five years let’s expect more of the boring old stuff: social media, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, open source, data analytics, mobile computing, gaming, gamification, virtualization, digitization, digital storytelling, always-on media capture, always-on surveillance, hacking… There’s more, of course. There always is.

That’s all in the short term. The next 5 years. We already know all about this stuff.

3. Medium term

Let’s look ahead 10 years. To 2026.

Facebook_next 10 years_Business insider

Facebook is already looking ahead to that point and planning. Note what they want to nail down by then:

Facebook_next 10 years_Business insider -detail

Automation: so to get to 2026, let’s just assume progress, and let’s consider artificial intelligence. Not at the level of a cataclysmic, world-rebooting Singularity. Just extrapolations of current trends, along the lines marked out by McAfee and Brynjolfson. I’ll assume Moore’s law continues., and add in that quantum computing starts to appear at consumer and enterprise levels. We start talking about a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Let’s grant further, steady growth in deep learning and advanced neural networks. Count Google’s victory over the game of Go as a milestone, and Siri’s uncanny abilities as a baseline.

Then we have to rethink how we design the digital world. Maybe all of it. How does more advanced AI force us to reconceive data standards and publication, information architecture, archiving, for starters?

Mobile first to AI first world

As it advances, AI starts taking up human functions. We, humans, generate a vast and growing horde of data; this is fodder for machines. Projects are appearing every day to take advantage of improving machine analysis, like, which aims to improve your health by diving deeply into your guts to better understand their microbial life. We’ve already seen criminal analytics automated – which already has problems. Machine to machine functions keep rising, such as high-frequency trading, which has already advanced beyond regulators’ abilities to constrain. Already we’ve seen flash crashes, economic incidents, driven by the conversation among programs.

Looking ahead to 2026, imagine increasing segments of human life automated as machine-to-machine functions. We could see the emergence of a posthuman order in our lives.

Let’s add robots to the mix since automation means both AI and robots. The combination is extending into more human labor functions. This can supplement labor shortfalls (Japan, China) or replace capital with labor (everywhere). Robots + AI + 3dprinting could mean deglobalization, as we relocalize production, especially through customization and creativity.

More: we’re seeing the development of affective, emotional computing, as the Horizon Report notes. For example, we could develop emotional analysts. When will they be on par with a human baseline of emotional assessment? When will they go beyond, and how do we handle that? On another line, what does good machine translation do to professional translators and second language teaching? If we combine automation with the IoE and MR, should we anticipate the appearance of intelligence, even sentient tools?

Today we’re seeing the automation of more job functions and entire jobs. Sometimes they replace human functions, physical or mental, sometimes through expert systems. Since 1990, for the first time in centuries, automation outmodes jobs without creating new ones, perhaps leading to rising unemployment. Imagine a 2026 with persistent 10% or 20% unemployment. What does education mean in such a world?

We’re also seeing the development of automated creativity. Already operational in writing (finance, sports, weather) and images. This image is a screen cap from a neutral net recreating a classic movie – 2001 – on its own terms:

This next image was created by Google’s DreamDream, which turned my original photo of our pre-conference session into mild psychedelia:

NMC 2016 scenarios group_Google Dreamed

We’re also seeing automated assistants. For example, tools for analyzing one’s writing, which can help us edit and revise more effectively – without a teacher. We’ve seen IBM’s Watson help point to new avenues of medical research, and legal AIs help with document analysis. By 2026 will we see an AI acknowledged, or even credited as coauthor for a scholarly article?

How should we expect creativity itself to change with automation? The history of human interaction with technology suggests we should, as humans love to revise old forms and create new ones with each invented medium. So look to new ways of making art, different forms of storytelling, fresh takes on gaming, and, maybe, new forms of creativity in 2026 we lack the words to describe in 2016.

Hang on. There are plenty of reasons to resist such an automation-shaped scenario.

Objection: Humans want contact!

Answer: except when we don’t. Introverts overdose daily on human contact. People don’t necessarily prefer human interaction for unpleasant tasks. Geeks and increasing geeky culture famously are comfortable with the computer-mediated experience. Generally speaking, younger folks are happier with the digital than their elders.

Objection: Automation is too expensive!

Answer: capital continues to accumulate in this economy. That’s one part of rising inequality (cf Thomas Piketty’s R>g equation). And technology prices drop, historically.

Objection: I’m scared of machines doing bad things to me and my children!

Answer: what happens when the machines are safer and better than humans? Think of self-driving cars, while human drivers murder tens of thousands each year. Or robots in hospitals, where human accidents kill 100s of thousands every year.

4. Long term

Let’s look ahead even further. Try 2050. And let’s be open to the full range of possibilities.

What’s happening in the long range horizon is truly disruptive. We’re seeing grand challenges loom like science fiction plotlines. The specter of automation threatens to radically reformat the world of work and society, changing the world our students will inhabit while supplanting teaching and learning. And that’s just for starters.

Consider the new silicon order. Let’s consider different ways AI could unfold. Nick Bostrom at Oxford has done speculative research into the different ways AI could grow and shape the world, ranging from benign to malign to simply strange. Stephen Hawking wants us of proceeding too quickly, of allowing a dangerous force to erupt across our deeply networked world; imagine how much more threatening his warning becomes in an IoE world. There’s the dystopia of a world ruled by inhuman AI, like the classic movie The Forbin Project. Then there’s the utopian vision of Iain Banks. Imagine benign, grand, and administrative AI that simply works to improve human life. That’s a continuum of silicon-ordered 2050s.

Consider the new social order. Given sufficient automation, how do humans organize together in post-2016 forms? We might not see new jobs appear. Income inequality could accelerate to 19th-century levels. In which case, we could see two new worlds of work.

On the one hand, the mass of humans work part-time at low wages, living at a subsistence level, otherwise engaged and entertained by a rich and endless digital environment. Above them are the 1%, often deeply skilled, the owners and managers of the new digital order. There isn’t much middle class between them. Call it the new Gilded Age, or neofeudalism.

On the other hand, automation unleashes a new era in human prosperity, of digital delights and technology-enabled offline goods. New political regulations and social orders transfer enough wealth to the majority of people to enable them to lead rich and rewarding lives, which combine productive work with reflective leisure – what one British organization half-jokingly referred to as Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Again, hat’s a continuum of the 2050s.

Perhaps we combine and synthesize these movements. Technology doesn’t replace humans but extends and enriches us. We work and play in ever-closer relationship to the digital world. We are both metaphorically and literally cyborgs.

Let’s go further. These technological advances let us hacking life. At the same time as we develop silicon technology, we apply digital tools and concepts to the biological realm. New tools, like CRISPR, give us the ability to shape offspring – to edit life – with increasing precision and power. Open source biology gives new insights into life forms – and shares that knowledge widely. Consider a recent paper in World Neurosurgery, “Brainjacking: implant security issues in invasive neuromodulation”. Or consider another paper, on creating macromolecules to reduce the spread of infection within a body.

The new humanity: consider more deeply what happens when we apply these technologies to humanity. What happens to our sense of what it means to be human?

What we think of as “human” may change beyond recognition. We’re already there in 2016 with bionics and widespread, legal, even mandated psychopharmaceuticals. We’re experimenting with brain-controlled machines. nutraceuticals. We’re starting to print tissue and organ replacements. Precision medicine via bioinformatics, new imaging technologies, and nanotech medicine are coming online. New devices give some measure of sight to some blind people. A Stony Brook team used targeted light to alter acetylcholine in the brains of mammals, removing some emotional memories. We can conceive of editing human DNA via CRISPR and gene driving. Some populations live decades longer than they did just 2 generations ago; if life extension becomes even basically successful, by 2050 will we see 100 become the new 60? Meanwhile, biological indicators are increasingly used in security: retina scanning, gait recognition.

With such innovations, after such knowledge, what happens to our sense of what it means to be human?

How does public health change? Does health care become the leading American industry? What’s the public interest in editing people’s minds and bodies?

Beyond human life, we could experience a new nature. As one marine biologist, Ruth Gates, explains her new role: “Really, what I am is a futurist. Our project is acknowledging that a future is coming where nature is no longer fully natural.” None of our technological innovations occurs in a vacuum. As we alter life and grow the digital world, we also alter the earth. As we change humanity, we alter nature. We may, by 2050, speak of a new Earth.

Already some use the term Anthropocene to describe the planet after the year 1900. The Northwest passage is now open. Multiple nations are engaged in a geopolitical rush for the north polar region, which is now opening up into a new world.

That’s just the start. What happens when snows and permafrost retreat northwards, opening up lands for farming? When hot climates turn arid and desertification begins? Do more cities become like Las Vegas, artificial creations maintained solely by massive infrastructural investment? When do people flee such cities? What changes will occur in the planetary ecosystem when we produce hybrid and novel forms of life?

In a parallel to the transformation wrought by infusing human bodies and societies with increasing numbers of machines, what happens to the natural world when that world is suffused with small, networked, data-gathering devices? What happens to the thin layer of life wrapping the Earth’s rocky mantle when we achieve nanotechnology at industrial scale, or nanotechnology at consumer scale? Will digital connectivity laminate or subsume the biosphere?

In one of his novels, Iain Banks describes the infusion of computation into the world through tiny, networked devices. Others have used the term computronium to name the new material that results. Banks coins the sharper word Smatter (smart matter). By 2050, will we produce matter in labs? Or in garages? Or in forests?

What would we call this world, revised by humans and post-human technologies? Donna Haraway offers the maybe tongue-in-cheek term “Cthulhucene”.

By 2050, in short, we are hacking the world. Humans change humans, humans change the world, the new world changes humans, and so it goes. By 2050 we’ve hacked the world, and keep on doing so.

Should we envision this as a renaissance? Perhaps this new world is one where human creativity and identity is reborn through an expansion of our powers and capacities, fraught with all kinds of dangers and disasters. Perhaps 2050 is a time of human rebirth.

Maybe a new politics appears by 2050. Think of this combination: drones, perhaps perpetually aloft thanks to solar power, with big data, IOE-based surveillance, and data analytics backed by AI could yield a dictator’s ecstatic dream of total social control. Does this system elicit a new politics in thirty-five years? Perhaps, for some, they will idolize heroes of our time, like Edward Snowden and Alexandra Elbakyan. Others will abhor them as dangerous criminals. What kind of politics are described by their fans and opponents?

A new politics: for example, in 2016 a proposal appeared for casting some urban areas as Rebel Cities, spaces where surveillance is disallowed. Would such spaces be fruitful ground for shooters like the one in Orlando, as well as for creative expression? Would Rebel Cities descend into chilling cycles of escalating violence and terror, or create new forms of social amity? By 2050 has this range of thinking about surveillance become the new left-right, blue-red political bedrock?

Or, instead, after we hack the earth and transform our population, is our politics described as what Bruce Sterling calls “cities full of old people, afraid of the sky”?

Hang on. What could stop some or all of these developments from happening?

Objection: Moore’s law could slow down or stop, which might ratchet down the pace of technological innovation and production a bit.

Answer: the pace might slow, but the end state still occurs. Alternatively, we could shift energies from digital technologies to robotics and quantum computing.

Objection: we could turn our postindustrial economy into one based on the principle of no growth economies. After all, as Edward Abbee famously observed, growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Answer: you first. Seriously, try to convince people that they don’t need any more economic growth. Think of the vast equity issues involved in telling the developing world to stop. Or doing this without redistributing wealth.

Objection: a resource crash could knock these futures offline.

Answer: true.

Objection: we could voluntarily stop developing technologies.

Answer: “giving up the gun” rarely works, historically, with the rare exception of state power used against the crossbow.

Objection: a new anti-technological politics could arise, urging us to return to an older form of humanity. NeoLuddites? anti-intellectuals? New Humanists?

Trump the Game, littlebiglens

“I love the poorly educated!”

Answer: it’s possible, and something to watch for. But too many people see themselves benefitting from technologies. This will take some interesting cultural turning.

Objection: could a religious movement against new technologies arise? Frank Herbert gave us such a vision in his classic novel Dune, where a kind of crusade blocks AIs from working for centuries.

Answer: it’s possible, and something to watch for. But most religions are happy to use the technologies, in the end. So we have to anticipate a new religious movement.

Objection: various Black Swans could occur, such as an extraordinarily massive solar event or EMP strikes from some foe or the clathrate gun firing.

Answer: true. That’s the nature of very unlikely, high impact events. Will our technological society build enough resilience into its new Earth?

But before we leave, let’s go even further.

Imagine 2075.

The humans we knew from the year 2000 are a vanishingly rare type, studied by descendants of anthropologists. Artificial intelligence busily works around and above the globe, redesigning life. The biosphere has gained and lost species and entire biomes. The Earth… is transformed. Education and creativity? something else entirely.

Some inspired and creative AI and semi-human teams launch mixed reality reenactments of life in 2016.

5. What is to be done?

How can we anticipate and act strategically in the face of such potential transformation?

We are so not ready.

We currently suffer under a bad mix: the weird simultaneity of a popular and well-funded embrace of technology with strong anti-scientism and unreason. Academic disciplines are not necessarily prepared (think of how 2008 caught macroeconomics flat-footed, and what 2016 is doing to political science. We are radically divided over what constitutes human nature, as we start to hack it up. In the United States, we enjoy political sclerosis and dystopian reaction.

We have many political leaders skeptical of, if not actively opposed to civil liberties in the digital world: Trump, Clinton; Cameron; China’s gamified autocracy. Journalism is less free to report now than it was a decade ago, according to a Reporters Sans Frontières report; Turkey arresting journalists on press freedom day. Meanwhile, American tv “news” is a planetary and historical embarrassment. We maintain a horrible legacy of prejudice restricting human growth and creativity. And inequality is starting to aim for nineteenth-century levels.

So given all of that, what shouldn’t we do?

Don’t think about it.

Evade the issue by thinking of retirement. (Present generations don’t have a good record about leaving the world to the young right now)

What is to be done instead?

The blindingly obvious: collaborate with each other, across institutions, sectors, nations, populations, professions. Work through inter-institutional groups (like NMC!). Use social media. Use and be open. Read and watch science fiction.

The not so obvious, and challenging: rethink everything in terms of automation’s possibilities. Think of what can be replaced. Become a cyborg. Use futures methods.

The more challenging: Lead! You’re best placed on campuses and other institutions to inform people in context. Get political. Imagine different worlds and inhabiting them – yourselves, your institution, your children and the generation to come.

You. Help. Make. The. Future.

It isn’t something just done to you, delivered like gifts from a cargo cult. You help make the future.

Every decision you make contributes. When you craft a creative work, or teach in a certain way, or nudge a campus in one direction, or support a political candidate, or tell a story, or dream out loud, or influence younger folks, you help co-create what is coming next. Don’t be passive – it’s too late! You’re already making it happen. You are all – each of you – practicing futurists and world-makers. Do so with open eyes, and the flame of creative possibility roaring in your heart.

Thank you.”


Renata Avila, “Ciudades Rebeldes – hacia una red global de barrios y ciudades rechazando la vigilancia“.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age.

Andrea Castillo, “Can a Bot Run a Company?

Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, Peter Felten, Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty (2014).

Kristi DePaul, “Robot Writers, Open Education, and the Future of EdTech” (2015).

Lori Dorn, “The First Aerial Illuminated Drone Show in the United States Takes Place Over the Mojave Desert”.

Fully automated luxury communism: a utopian critique“.

Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble”.

Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

Rebecca Keller, “The Rise of Manufacturing Marks the Fall of Globalization.”

Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable.

“Komatsu to use drones for automated digging in the U.S.“

Ray Kurzweil,

Brooke McCarthy, “Flex-Foot Cheetah”.

Alexis Madrigal, “‘The Future Is About Old People, in Big Cities, Afraid of the Sky’”.

Babak Parviz, “Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens

Brandt Ranj, “Goldman Sachs says VR will be bigger than TV in 10 years “.

David Rose, Enchanted Objects.

Edward Snowden, “Inside the Assassination Complex“.

Avianne Tan, “Legally Blind 5th Grader Sees Mother for 1st Time Through Electronic Glasses”.

Tags:  education  future  technology 

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What construction jobs will look like when robots can build things

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 4, 2014
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2019

The following is a member post by George Quezada. This blog post is cross-posted from the blog of Data61, an APF organizational member, and was originally published by The Conversation. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the APF or its members.

By 2034/35, almost 20% of Australians (6.2 million) are projected to be aged 65 or over. One sector already feeling the impact of the ageing population is construction. In Queensland, the number of construction workers aged 55 and over increased from 8% of full-time workers in 1992 to 14.2% in 2014.

An ageing workforce is likely to increase the need for less physically demanding jobs or maybe technology might address this issue. Task automation and the industry’s innovation culture are two of the greatest areas of uncertainty for the construction industry.

A new study that developed evidence-based scenarios for 2036, depicts how automation and manufacturing could grow in the construction sector, creating more knowledge-intensive jobs as a result.

The study explores future technology that eliminates dangerous and difficult tasks, particularly in light of the ageing workforce.

Experts in the industry were asked the extent to which technology would progress and how many or which tasks could be automated. There was no consensus on this and the other point of contention between the interviewees was how bold the industry would be in its pursuit of new solutions.

The research did suggest the construction workforce will need a broad understanding of digital applications, in addition to traditional project management and communication skills.

Construction jobs of the future

The trends analysis and scenario development in the report produced some examples of possible construction industry jobs in the year 2036, including:

Building assembly technician

Someone who oversees robotic systems and examines data feeds throughout the life of a project. This worker would optimise workflows and make adjustments on real-time feedback from clients about design or changes to materials.

Virtual/augmented reality trainers

Breakthroughs in virtual and augmented reality technology could provide low-cost immersive environments where apprentices and trainers can meet virtually in any training situation, such as worksite, factory, design studio – the possibilities are endless.

Building drone operators

These professionals would control and program drones to carry out complex tasks such as site inspections, deliveries, and maintenance.

Robot resource manager

Robots in the workplace will need someone to take care of commissioning, software programming, maintenance and re-purposing or recycling of robotic parts. Keeping track of this exploding field of technology will be a key challenge for the role.

Other opportunities

The Australian construction industry is changing with the introduction of digital collaboration platforms, like Building Information Modelling (BIM), robot machine prototypes such as the Fastbrick robot and rapid progress in 3D printing capabilities. These innovations will need more people skilled in the use of software programs and fewer people for labour-intensive jobs such as bricklaying or paving.

BIM is software that creates a 3D visualisation of a building. However, it extends beyond 3D imaging to show scheduling, cost control, facility management and energy performance monitoring. The UK government has mandated that all centrally funded work is to be undertaken using BIM by April 2016 and the Queensland government has stated that it will progressively implement the use of BIM into all major state infrastructure projects by 2023. As workers’ skills in BIM increase in Australia, the improved cost and time saving will drive customers to demand that projects are managed in this way.

Already, in the Netherlands, the company MX3D is using 6-axis industrial robots to print a fully functional steel bridge. Contour Crafting technology, a process invented at the University of Southern California, has great potential for automating the construction of whole structures as well as sub-components and a company in China is using 3D printing to build houses.

The manufacturing part of the construction industry is expected to grow at 5% per annum out to 2023, compared to a growth rate of 2.3% for the industry as a whole. While the current prefabricated building market in Australia is still comparatively small, with only A$4.5 billion of the total A$150 billion construction industry, it is expected to contribute to more affordable housing stock and to take a much greater share of creating multi-storey buildings.

The nature of construction work is set for a step change over the next 20 years and careful strategic thinking is needed to navigate the changes.

The changes will require humans to exercise judgement and decision-making that reflects human values and aspirations; a task that is well beyond the most advanced artificial intelligence systems.

George Quezada, Research Scientist, Data61, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tags:  construction  job  work 

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