The two cities I have in mind are both Spanish: Barcelona in the north of the country, and Seville in the south. They’re each outstanding cities.
I’ll come back to these two cities in a moment. But first, a word about two speeds – two speeds of futurism – slow-paced futurism and fast-paced futurism.
As someone who’s had the word “Futurist” on my personal business card since early 2009, I’m inspired to see more and more people taking the subject of futurism seriously. There’s a widespread awareness, nowadays, that it’s important to analyse future scenarios. If we spend time thinking about the likely developments of current trends, we’ll be better prepared to try to respond to these trends. Instead of being shocked when disruptive forces burst through from being “under the radar” to having major impacts on lifestyles and society, we’ll have been acting to influence the outcome – pushing hard to increase the likelihood of positive changes, and to decrease the likelihood of negative changes.
But it’s my observation that, in many of the meetings I attend and the discussions I observe, the futurism on display is timid and conservative. Well-meaning speakers contemplate a future, ten or twenty years ahead, that is 95% the same as today, but with, say, 5% changes. In these modestly innovative future scenarios, we might have computers that are faster than today’s, screens that are more ubiquitous than today’s, and some jobs will have been displaced by robots and automation. But human nature will be the same in the future as in the past, and the kinds of thing people spend their time doing will be more-or-less the same as they have been doing for the last ten or twenty years too (except, perhaps, faster).
In contrast, I foresee that, within just a couple of decades, it will be very clear to everyone that momentous changes in human nature and human society are at hand (if they have not already taken place):
- Robots and other forms of automation will be on the point of displacing perhaps 90% of human employees from the workforce – with “creative” jobs and “managerial” jobs being every bit as much at risk as “muscle” jobs
- Enhanced suites of medical therapies will be poised to enable decades of healthy life extension, and an associated “longevity dividend” financial bonanza (since costs of healthcare will have plummeted)
- Systems that exist both inside and outside of the human brain will be ready to dramatically increase multiple dimensions of our intelligence – including emotional and spiritual intelligence as well as rational intelligence
- Virtual reality and augmented reality will be every bit as vivid and compelling as “natural reality”
- Artificial general intelligence software will be providing convincing new answers to long-standing unsolved questions of science and philosophy
- Cryonic suspension of people on the point of death will have become pervasive, since the credibility of the possibility of reanimation by future science will have grown much higher.
So whilst I cautiously welcome the slow-paced futurists, I wish more people would realise the immensity of the transformations ahead, and become fast-paced futurists.
One group of people who do have a strong appreciation of the scale of potential future changes are the faculty of Singularity University. In November, I took part in the Singularity University Summit Europe held at the DeLaMar Theater in Amsterdam.
I was already familiar with a lot of the material covered by the different presenters, but – wow:
- The information was synthesised in a way that was compelling, entertaining, highly credible, and thought-provoking
- The different sessions dovetailed extremely well together
- The speakers clearly knew their material, and were comfortable providing good answers to the various questions raised by audience members (including offbeat and tangential questions).
People in the audience told me later that their jaws had been on the floor for nearly the entire two days.
My own reaction was: I should find ways of enabling lots more people to attend future similar Summits. The experience would likely transform them from being slow-paced futurists to fast-paced futurists.
Happily, many Singularity University faculty members are returning to Europe, for the next Summit in the series. This will be taking place from 12-14 March in Seville. You can find the details here.
Sessions at SU Summit Spain will include:
- Intro to SU and Exponentials – Rob Nail
- Artificial Intelligence – Neil Jacobstein
- Robotics – Rob Nail
- Networks and Computing: Autonomous Cars – Brad Templeton
- Breakthrough in Digital Biology – Raymond McCauly
- Future of Medicine – Daniel Kraft
- Digital Manufacturing – Scott Summit and Nigel Ackland
- Energy Breakthroughs – Ramez Naam
- SU Labs – Sandy Miller
- Global Grand Challenges – Nick Haan
- Security – David Roberts
- Institutional Innovation and Scaling from the edge – Salim Ismail
And did I mention that the event is taking place in the fabulous history-laden city of Seville?
As it happens, Summit Spain will be taking place just ten days after another large event that’s also happening in Spain: Mobile World Congress (MWC), held in Barcelona, from 2-5 March. Many readers will know that I’ve been at every MWC since 2002, and I’ve found them to be extremely useful networking events. In my 2014 book Smartphones and beyond, I told the story of my first visit to MWC – which was called “3GSM” at that time, and which was held that year in Cannes, across the border from Spain into France. Unexpected management changes at Symbian, the pioneering smartphone OS company, meant I suddenly had to step into a whole series of press interviews scheduled for that week:
Never having attended 3GSM before, I had a rapid learning curve. Symbian’s PR advisors gave me some impromptu “media training”, to lessen the chance of me fluffing my lines, unwittingly breaching confidentiality restrictions, or otherwise saying something I would subsequently regret. My diary was soon full of appointments to talk to journalists from all over Europe, in the cramped meeting rooms and coffee bars in Cannes. The evenings were bristling with networking events in the yachts which clustered around the dock areas. Happily, when the week was over, there was nothing to regret. Indeed, Symbian’s various PR departments invited me back for numerous interviews at every subsequent 3GSM. In later years, 3GSM changed its name to MWC (Mobile World Congress), and outgrew Cannes, so it relocated instead to Barcelona. I have attended every year since that first sudden immersion in 2002.
But all good things come to an end (so it is said). In recent years, I’ve found MWC to be less compelling. Smartphones, once dramatically different from one year to the next, have slowed down their curve of change. The wellspring of innovation is moving to other industries.
After MWC 2014, I had the privilege to chair a discussion of industry experts in Cambridge, co-hosted by Cambridge Wireless and Accenture, regarding both the highs and lows (the “fiesta” and the “siesta”) of the Barcelona event.
In that panel, the expressions of “siesta” (snooze) were consistently more heartfelt than those of “fiesta” (feast).
When the time came, a few weeks back, for me to decide whether to follow my habit of the last dozen years and book my presence in Barcelona for 2015, I found my heart was no longer inspired by that prospect. I’ve decided not to go.
I’m sure a great deal of important business will happen during these hectic few days at MWC, including some ground-breaking developments in fields such as wearable computing and augmented reality. But that will be slow ground-breaking – whereas it’s my judgement that the world needs, and is headed towards, fast ground-breaking. And Seville, ten days later, is the place to get early warning of these changes. So that’s where I’m headed.
If you’re interested in a preview taster of that early warning – a ninety minute anticipation of these three days – then please consider attending an event happening at Google’s Campus London on the morning of Thursday 12th February. This preview meeting is free to attend, though attendees need to pre-register, here. The preview on Thursday will:
- Introduce the rich resources of the Singularity University (SU) community
- Highlight some of the most dramatic of the technological changes that can be expected in the next few years
- Answer your questions about SU Summit Spain
- Conduct a lottery among all attendees, with the winner receiving a free admission ticket to SU Summit Spain.
The speakers I’ll be introducing at the preview will be:
- Russell Buckley: Mentor, angel investor in 40+ startups, Government advisor, fundraising specialist, and Singularitarian
- Nick Chrissos: Collaboration CTO, Cisco
- Luis Rey: Director of the Singularity University Summit Spain.
The preview will start at 9am with tea/coffee and light breakfast. Presentations will start at 9.10am.
- To register for SU Summit Spain, see here (event website)
- To register to attend the free preview, see here (EventBrite).
Footnote: If you’re interested in how the wireless industry can respond to the threat of being bypassed (or even steamrollered) by innovation arising elsewhere, you should consider registering for the 7th Future of Wireless International Conference, being held by CW (Cambridge Wireless) on 23-24 June. That conference has the timely theme “Wireless is dead. Long live wireless!” I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the event. Here’s the description of what I’ll be talking about there (taken from the event website):
Wireless has spent two decades disrupting numerous other industries. But the boot is now on the other foot. This talk anticipates the powerful forthcoming trends that threaten to steamroller the wireless industry, with the well-spring of innovation moving beyond its grasp. These trends include technologies, such as artificial intelligence, next generation robotics, implantable computing, and cyber-security; they also include dramatic social transformations. The talk ends by suggesting some steps to enable a judo-like response to these threats.