Predicting the Future at Thinking Digital #TDC12

What a week of awesome techness…

@drbexl @tim_hutchings @noahapprentice) have been at Thinking Digital at the SageGateshead.  The conference was introduced by this truly beautiful video:

It was a great conference with many highlights.  Many of the talks were storifyed live.

The talks ranged from discussions of cybersecurity (from Mikko Hypponen @mikko)and the connectome project (from Prof Sebastian Seung @sebastianseung) through to a great talk (from Pam Warhurst @incredibledible) on edible gardening in Todmorden.  Although others included talks on future prediction, bubbleology, cellos and tech music, 3D printing of scary dolls and the future of learning. The whole idea of Thinking Digital is a kind of TED like splurge of ideas which the audience sit and gaze at!

Probably the most moving presentation was from @zachlieberman who has created eye tracker technology to assist a former graffiti artist called Tempt, now stricken with a muscle wasting disease, to begin producing graffiti art digitally:

Inspiring stuff…

On the Tuesday, I attended a great session by Markus Lindkvist (@TrendyMarkus).

Markus was offering a Practical Introduction to Predicting the Future.  Of course, this wasn’t about prophecy and it wasn’t about reading predictions out of any sacred texts.  Lindkvist is an expert in following trends and exploring patterns which might push us to see what the future might look like.  His key insight was that the future was probably more different than we think but that we simply don’t have the wherewithal to work out what it will be like.  He showed a picture of the Jetsons – the scifi cartoon which includes Mrs Jetson staying at home to do the housekeeping.  The issue was that the cartoon had to speak to the society it was written into and so it used models and patterns which could be understood.  Other sci-fi – such as Dune, he suggested – offers a world which is much harder to understand and so more realistically the future!  Ever thought why you don’t understand Revelation?

Anyway it was a great talk.  Here are Markus’ nine criteria forpredicting the future..

  1. Define ‘the future’ – more than real time, social, mobile
  2. Don’t be blinded by the present – infobesity – importance of movies for future casting – in our minds we are taken right there – really hard to perceive slow changes…
  3. Study slow-moving ‘ninja trends’
  4. Distinguish between change patterns – decline, growth, exponential, decay, bell-curves, s-curves – growth doesn’t have to be limited
  5. Don’t just predict the visuals
  6. Don’t focus on the meaning of the future
  7. Be open-minded
  8. Dare to make enemies
  9. Think Futures

Markus didn’t, of course, suggest that predicting the future was an easy thing. He distinguished between different futures:

1. A future for a tennis ball dropped from your hand – pretty epay to reprint that future

2. The future of an individual – what will happen to you in your life – not easy

3. The future development of a 13 year olds brain – hypercomplexity

In other words, whether a system is closed or open, whethinstitution is subject to variables or not, whether it has external non-controllables all matters.  It is not easy to predict the future.  We may know that theworlds is getting warmer. But climate change is a much more accurate description than global warming. But it just shows how predicting the future has to be cast plenty of qualifications rather than in global certainty.

I mean look at the mixture of conservatism and fantasy that was Tomorrows World.  Who could have predicted today?


About pmphillips

Pete Phillips Bio: I'm into the New Testament (especially John's Gospel), technology, literary theory, postmodernism, football and that kind of stuff. I am married to Theresa and we have three great kids (and a Westie called Grace). I'm a Christian and love the whole church thing, which is good because I also work for the Methodist Church in the UK. My formal job titles are: Director of Research for CODEC at St John's College, Durham University and Secretary to the Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church.