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Thinking differently

Technology Time Machine is just a few weeks away. Time to start thinking differently.

The Future is already here (it is just unevenly distributed… as William Gibson said), tomorrow is going to be faster, cheaper, healthier …

And yet, what if the future will be different?

If we take a look at macro-scale, indeed tomorrow looks very much like today. Actually, if we were to look a thousands years ago, and then at nine hundred years ago it would be difficult to tell any difference in how people thought, lived, believed…

However, if we were to do the same exercise looking hundred years ago and then looking around us today, well, there are huge differences in … everything, including how people meet, socialise and fall in love.

The time arrow is getting shorter (or it is flying faster, whatever you say) and we might expect in the coming 30 years changes in technology, economy, society that may compare to the ones we saw in the last 150 years.

That is why a Technology Time Machine is so exciting and… useful. In San Diego a bunch of people from many paths of life and ages will be stimulated by a few speakers and will be stimulating each other discussing what the future could be, thinking differently.

There is a future that is already here today: as an example the slot dedicated to agriculture will be addressing (I suspect) agriculture robotisation (it is already here, just not everywhere), genomic engineering to create crops that can fit a specific ambient (we are already doing that in some areas), manufacturing of steaks (the first one might reach your table next year), drop by drop root irrigation cutting the need for water by one tenth (the Negev desert is already an irrigation laboratory) and so on.  Just imagine when this future will become pervasive, the  increase in yield satisfying the 2 billion people we are expecting to join us in the next 20 years … Amazing, but this is not thinking differently.

At the Far Future panel speakers will take a different approach. They will offer a divergent thinking. Taking the above example on agricultural evolution. What if the evolution will not be in how we grow/select crops but in how we can feed ourselves? What if we can engineer bacteria to populate our guts (we already have billions of them helping us to digest sugar, breaking complex sugar molecules into glucose molecules that our gut can absorb and our cells use)? We would be able to increase the nutritious property of food not by changing the food to suit us but by changing our digestion processes to make use of existing food.

What if we can re-engineer our genome so that we can get nutrients from the soil, as plants do, or activate photosyntheses processes in our skin so that we can use sun-light and air (C and O) to create packets of energy cell-usable (as plants do)? Yes, I am aware of the low yield of the photosyntheses process which is why plants need so many leaves, but I am also aware that scientists are on the way to re-engineer plants to increase their photosyntheses capabilities, allowing them to use less light (or less leaves) to manufacture the energy packets they need. Couldn’t we imagine that in the far future part of our need for food will be satisfied by just walking in the Sun? Will there be a time when people will be sun-bathing not to get tanned but to feed themselves?

Think of places like the Sahara desert. No crops but plenty of Sun. Being able to “eat” sun-light, well, that will be something, wouldn’t it!

As we are getting closer to TTM 2018 (you can register here) I will be posting a few more ideas based on Thinking differently.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.