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Rli publication Survey of Technological Innovation in the Living Environment

In January 2015 the Rli rapport “ Survey of Technological Innovations in the Living Environment” has been published. Ruud Smeulders has been one of the participants in the online discussion facilitated by Synmind.

The main question addressed in the study is:

What impact might technological innovations have on the public and private domain in terms of healthy nutrition, efficient mobility and smart buildings?

 

Get ready for the future before it’s to late!

In earlier blogs I’ve shown that the future can be bright (see: “Create your own future”,   “Creating your own future: what is possible today?” and “A positive future scenario”). Therefore you do need the right future scenario and take the right decisions. But we have to change our attitude if we are to get here.

How can we accomplish a wonderful future? How can we build this self-sufficient city with free, independent residents that don’t have to work so much, and are happy if they choose to work (as described in my earlier blog “A positive future scenario”) ? First of all: don’t believe what a lot of politicians and world leaders are saying! Don’t believe them when they say we need oil, coal and gas so much that we have to start wars, or drill under the North Pool. Don’t believe the CEOs of the majority of large companies when they say we have to work a little bit harder to get out of the economic crisis. Don’t believe them when they say that our economy has to grow and their companies have to grow in order to come out of the crisis. The only thing they want is their salary or their power to grow!

You need to understand that solar energy is the best solution for all systems requiring energy. OK, there will be some alternatives, like windmills and even bio fuels. But all the energy can be obtained sustainably, without oil, coal or gas. Take a look at the WWF rapport on 100% renewable energy by 2050 [1]. You need to understand that we don’t need so much money to have a comfortable life; that a lot of the work we are doing today is only to keep others in work, but not to make our life easier. If energy, food and water are almost for free, and living in our homes is sustainable and therefore much cheaper, we don’t need all that money. Maybe we can even do without the current monetary system…

We just need to eat a little bit differently: less meat and fish; more fruit and vegetables; and maybe even insects. With a little more creativity and, for instance, a 3D food printer we can make beautiful meals without real meat, even though we don’t yet realize it. Get your food from the local market, out of the greenhouses or from vertical farms in the city, or why not grow your own food in your garden. Use the free time you now have to help others: help them in the garden; care for the needy; educate others and spread your knowledge. And above all enjoy life and be happy!

It is possible to make a sustainable future city that is completely self-supporting and with happy residents. In fact, this is already possible! But we can definitely accomplish this by 2030. We will have to change our way of life a little – but not very much. We have to eat less meat and fish. And we have to stop listening so much to all things the political and world leaders are saying. Especially when they keep saying we need oil and gas. Or if they saying we need our economy to grow, and that work is the most important issue.

It is not a life full of work that makes us happy. In this scenario, we don’t need all that work and we don’t need all the money that we need today. All we need is a good vision of our future. And to adjust our behaviour to go with it. We already have most of the knowledge of science and techniques to reach this goal. There is still some work to be done: to change behaviour and to optimize some of the science and technology to realize everything we need inside this future city. But it’s certainly possible. And we can do this if we do it together.

Literature and sources

[1] WWF, ECOFYS, OMA, “The Energy Report, 100% renewable Energy by 2050”, 2011

 

A positive Future Scenario

There is a bright future for humanity possible and we can create it together. In this blog an example is given of the scenario of a self-supporting city of the future. We already have sufficient knowledge of science and techniques to reach this goal (see my 2 earlier blogs “Create your own future” and “Creating your own future: what is possible today?”).

Which positive scenario is plausible and possible if you consider all the opportunities that I mentioned in 2 earlier blogs? My favourite is a scenario of self-sufficient cities with free, independent residents [6]. Let us consider a city in the year 2030 with between 0.1 and 1 million inhabitants. The population can grow its own food in greenhouses around the perimeter, and in vertical farms inside the city. The residents will also grow some of their own favourite fruit and vegetables in their small gardens, or on their balcony. Artificial meat is created on 3D printers, using the ingredients from the gardens and farms. Water for drinking and recreation is purified from the local river, sea, or pumped up from the ground. Energy is entirely from the sun and wind [1]. Every roof in town has its own solar panels, and there are several batteries and reservoirs for the storage of electric energy. Electric cars, trains and bicycles are the only vehicles driving along the roads. And the batteries of these vehicles are partly used for local storage of energy.

Housing will not have changed much in 15 years’ time. Most houses are built to last at least 50 to 100 years. However, some of the major buildings in the city will undoubtedly change. And they will definitely change the face of the city. But most people will still live in houses similar to their current home. And they will do most of their work at home. Offices will only be needed for some team activities, or for the company’s social and cultural events. Because food, water and energy production are local, and because housing is more sustainable and work is done from home, there is much less traffic on the road. The massive traffic jams at the beginning of this century are gone!

Also healthcare and education are different in this future city. You can do these yourself, using eHealth and eLearning. The large general hospitals are divided into small, local district health centres, care hotels and specialized surgery centres. If you want to see a doctor, you can go to the local health centre, where you will be helped by your doctor or the specialist from the local outpatients’ clinic. Because people have more time to spend, they have also more time to care for their baby and to help their elderly grandmother, or neighbour. Learning is also different, especially in the higher education sector. Students take most of their classes from home. Most presentations and lessons by professors and tutors are recorded and made available though the on-line learning system. Students only use the laboratories and facilities of the local colleges and universities where they really need to learn by doing.

And of course there are robots! In this future city, robots are mostly used for cleaning the home and for farming. But you also see several robots in healthcare jobs, caring for patients. There is some local industry, specialized in building structures, fashion clothing and several high-tech sectors that are typical for this city. Our future city is specialized in robots, biotechnology and nanotechniques. Lots of new professions and several old ones have disappeared [2]. Economic activity is rather small compared to the large industrial activities of today’s cities. People in our future city don’t have to work as hard as they did 15 years earlier. Lots of things are available for free, or very cheaply. And everything is sustainable. There is a new way of life. People now really do have time to spend on the higher levels of the Maslow Pyramid!

Literature and sources

[1] WWF, ECOFYS, OMA, “The Energy Report, 100% renewable Energy by 2050”, 2011
[2] Ruud Smeulders, Renée Prins, “ Professions of the Future in Technology and ICT”, to be published

Creating your own Future; what is possible today

We can create our own future by making the right decisions and having a sustainable future scenario. What is already possible today?

Let us look for all things that are already possible and those things that will be possible within the next 10 years. Why not start by concentrating on the basic things a human needs. We will exam the lowest levels of the Maslow Pyramid [1]. People need food, water, clean air, energy, housing, clothes, health, nice people around them, and protection. Starting with food: to grow our vegetables and fruit, our grain, rice, corn and potatoes, and to get the meat and fish we eat, we no longer all work in the garden or on the farm. Less than 2% of the population of Western countries like the United States and the Netherlands still works on farms or in the agri-food industry. Yet these countries have more exports than imports of food. A country the size as small as Belgium is enough to grow all the food the world population needs. That is, if we stop eating as much meat as we now do. So, if you create the right conditions and diet, food will not be the problem.

Now water: is that a real problem? Our world is more than 60% covered by oceans and seas. And under the surface of almost all the land mass there is fresh drinking water. Even under deserts like the Sahara in Africa there is drinking water. In some cases, it may take a lot of drilling and pumping to get the water out. Or we might need a lot of energy to purify seawater into drinking water. But the problem is not the water, rather technology and energy. The technology is available; however, it is sometimes expensive. Is energy then the real problem? No, it is not! We have lots of energy sources. The biggest one being our sun. If we were to use the sunlight that hits only half of all the roofs, then, even in a Northern country like the Netherlands we could generate enough energy to meet all our needs. By also using some other pollution-free energy generators, like windmills or flowing water turbines, the energy problem is no longer a major problem anywhere in the world.

Then there is the problem of clean air and a clean environment: clean up the pollution! Mostly, this is a question of behaviour and politics. If we use sunlight instead of oil or gas to put energy in our homes for heat and in our vehicles for travel, pollution will already reduce considerably. The carbon dioxide problem is solved using the sun instead of oil. So clean air and environment are also not the problem. These too can be solved, if we want to. So what about housing and clothes? These are partly driven by culture, climate and fashion. We can influence these very much, by using better materials, better isolation, better design for longer use and more comfort. But building new houses will remain a local industry, although it can be done on a small scale and environmentally friendly. In the future clothing will continue to be both a local and a worldwide industry and business. But with less pollution and less transport than we see today. Techniques such as 3D printing will improve this further.

So, health, protection and having nice people around you are perhaps the real problems of the future. For health, we will need to help ourselves a lot more than we do today. New technology and medicine will help. But also new diseases will appear. A whole new area of risk is now emerging in the area of security and protection. The Internet is giving criminals and terrorists, and also rogue nations the opportunity to attack people inside their homes and inside any physically protected area. We need new forms of security and new rules for protecting us from all kinds of known and unknown dangers [2]. And what about having nice people around us? Is that the real problem? I’m afraid it will stay one of the problems in all our futures. Being social and learning to live well can help, but in the end you have to do it yourself.

Companies and work will change dramatically if we solve the food, water, energy and pollution problems of today. In fact the way we work today is already changing. Working from your home or from a local office is now possible, thanks to the digitization of work. This is even reinforced in our society, where services are much more important than goods. It’s easy to perform your service from your home. Your home is usually better equipped than an office. And why would you work such long hours: if food, water and energy are cheaper, and housing or clothing are better, more local and also cost less? Looking at the higher levels in the Maslow Pyramid, we see that we are getting more time and space to address these aspects of our life. This means we will achieve more happiness and wisdom faster, to achieve our goals in the future.

Literature and sources

[1] Abraham Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Psychological Review, 50, 1943

[2] Ruud Smeulders, “3652 x Tomorrow”, Secsi Media, 2012

Create your own future

There is a bright future for humanity possible if we create it together. We can create our own future. To do so, we need a good sustainable future scenario.

What the future really has in store for us is unclear. People have considerable influence on future development. More influence than many of us are aware of. Perhaps you remember the phrase from the song by Leonard Cohen “Get ready for the future, it is murder” [1]. It may indeed be wild, or even murderous. There are many scenarios describing the end of humanity, or even the end of the earth or our universe. An interesting collection and an excellent overview of these is given by Daniel Berleant, in his book “The human race to the future” [2]. Even in the near future, numerous wild things are possible. Mighty robots may conquer the world. A shortage of drinking water and increasing poverty may destroy civilization. Biotechnological changes to the DNA structure in living cells may result in new diseases and famine. But I believe there is a bright future for humanity possible if we create it together. And that is precisely what we have to do. If we know and understand what is possible, then we can create the best future for mankind.

You may think the notion of creating the future a crazy one. But that is exactly what entrepreneurs, managers, politicians and scientists do all the time. They make strategies and plans, scenarios and models to structure the future [3]. If you know what the possibilities are; if you make the right decisions; then you can create your own future. In companies, this is mostly done for a relatively short period of 1 to 3 years. But in government and in science, we see a much larger time period. If you’re planning infrastructure, then you should have an outline for up to 20 or 50 years. It can be done! We can build highways for cars; railways for high-speed trains; dikes to protect land below sea level. We can design new vegetables, and medicines to combat deadly diseases. We only have to know where we want to go to. And we need to understand what we can do with all of the possibilities available today and tomorrow.

When designing your optimal future, you need to be aware of all the things that can go wrong! As Cohen said, the future can, after all, be murder. There are so many things that can happen that could destroy your ideal future. Generally, this will be because other people interfere and will change your future. To counter this, try to create your future world together with lots of other people. Make it beautiful and desirable. But nature can also influence your ideals. Major disasters and small spontaneous changes in nature can have a huge impact on your plans. The future remains uncertain to a certain extent, but you can steer it in the right direction for a long time. And in the end, it is likely that your future will unfold as the only real future.

Literature and sources

[1] Leonard Cohen, The Future”, 1992

[2] Daniel Berleant, “The Human Race to the Future”, Lifeboat Foundation, 2013

[3] Frank Kwakman, Ruud Smeulders, “Big Innovation Models Book”, Van Duuren Management, 2013

Trendwatching and Future Design

Is the future really that unpredictable? I don’t think so! And here’s why…

In a time were everything is changing fast, many people think that the future is very uncertain. And it’s often said that the future is unpredictable. That’s not really truth. One can predict the future, but not in a very detailed way. Maybe also not just in all of the details you want to know. But a lot of our future is not as unpredictable as many people expect.

If we can’t even forecast the weather, how can we ever hope to forecast what the market is going to do?

Take for instant our weather forecast. And I agree with you that it is not always as accurate as you want it to be. For instance, if there is still some unexpected rain on that sunny day where you planned your family picnic. But most of our common weather forecast is very good. It gives you an excellent view of the weather in the near future. And one of the reasons that all those weather reports and weather channels are so popular is that we really believe that they can predict the future. We know that those models for weather prediction in the future are often correct, although not always very accurate.

Can we still believe what the economists have to say?

In many other areas a lot of people believe the predictions from specialists. We believe government when they say that the population is aging next 20 years. We believe them when they say that the cost of healthcare will rise enormous. We believe economists who are showing us that countries have to economize and banks are to be saved. But in many cases those predictions are not as solid as the weather forecast. Ageing is a problem for the Western World and for countries like China and Japan. But not for Africa, South America an major big parts of Asia. And if we open our borders in West Europe, the aging problem is solved in a few years. We will have other problems, but not an aging problem. It’s a political matter. Not a clean, scientific forecast of our future.

Understanding the past really does help

In technology and science a lot of our future development can be predicted. In fact science is nothing more than a way to understand the past and make models to predict the future. That’s the essence of science. That’s what scientists are doing. By analyzing and decompose observations in the past they make models and theories. And by using these theories and models they can say what will happen under certain circumstances. With this theory they can predict what will happen in the future under these circumstances. So, in fact, they make the tools to predict our future. But in practice, there are a lot of uncertainties. It’s very difficult to get a real nice set of rather certain variables of the future circumstances to use the models and theory. So it’s not so very easy to use the models to predict the future in a very accurate way.

That’s why I’ve written a book looking back over 10 years of trying to forecast the future.  The book describes the pros and cons, the sense and nonsense of trend watching within companies. It gives you a helping hand by doing your own trend watching within your company. This is the first step to develop a sustainable future vision for your company. But the book also describes how technology trends are sustainable over time. And the book shows you how to predict the future using these trends.

One way to create a reasonable future proof environment is by using trend watching and scenario planning tools. By using megatrends one can build an imaginary future environment that is credible. If you make several of these future worlds by using also the uncertainties in the trends, one has completed the scenario planning process. And if you have such a collection of environment you can design your company in such a way that it survey in all of these future worlds. You get a sustainable future image for your company or institution. After that, you can start to innovate in the right direction.

Want to know more about why forecaster often get it wrong? Contact us.