When did your interest in computing and futurology begin, and what inspired these interests?
“My interest goes back a very long way. I remember reading a Ladybird book called “How it works: The Computer” when I was six or seven years old, and also having an interest from an early age in space travel and the finite resources of the Earth. So the seeds of my current career in computing, future technology and sustainability have always been with me. I do not quite know why!”
With so much having happened in recent years both politically and environmentally, are there any future trends you are finding particularly important to discuss at the moment?
“Top of the list of trends I’m asked to talk about right now is the rise of AI, machine learning, cognitive computing — or whatever you want to call it. AI as a service is already here, and is going to have a major impact in the 2020s. So the automation of work tasks — not whole jobs — is something many of my clients are interested in.”
“I think one of the biggest impacts will be a growing demand for non-digital skills. This is because, as cognitive computing takes hold, we will see the emergence of widespread “attentive computing”, with machines increasingly be able to attend to people. So the need for people to give so much of their attention to computers — and to train to interact with them — will diminish.”
“The work tasks that will be automated first will inevitably be those that are currently done on a screen. So it will be offline communication skills, along with creativity, empathy and things like that, which will become more and more valued.”
“As you imply, the world is also finally starting to take an interest in climate change, pollution and resource availability. I think that the realization is yet to sink home that to deal with these issues will require most people to lead more constrained and less convenient lifestyles. But I think, and hope, that this will start to be accepted across the 2020s. And this will be a very, very major future trend.”
“Turning to politics, we clearly have a crisis of tolerance world-wide. Democracy only works if everybody accepts that the minority who voted for something different will be unhappy all of the time. And somehow, in today’s me-first and me-only social media fantasyland, we seem to have forgotten this.”
“In turn, the divide between the Establishment and the population is a rising problem globally. Since Brexit, I’d had clients — sometimes very big companies — who have engaged me to talk about why they are so out of touch. I’m often told that the world is becoming more uncertain, and while it is becoming less stable, I don’t necessarily think this is true. Rather, the perceptual gulf that separates the Establishment, and the mainstream media, from most ordinary people is getting bigger.”
“Things keep happening that those in power and in the press did not predict. But this is not because these things were not predictable. And as a futurist I find this both fascinating, and an increasing aspect of my work.”