My Saturday spent thinking about where I want to spend the rest of my life – it’s called the future

I spent all of today at an event entitled  “FUTUREFEST: SHAPING THINGS TO COME” which was held at the Shoreditch Town Hall (build in 1862) in east London. We will spend the rest of our lives in the future but we spend so little time thinking about the future. So I found it a fascinating occasion. I reproduce below the notes from my iPad.


Speakers at the event generally young (at least to me) with very good gender and ethnicity representation.
Many speak without notes and all speak very fluently.
Dominant clothing colour of speakers is black.

Welcome by Geoff Mulgan, CEO of NESTA:
80th anniversary of “The Shape of Things To Come” by H G Wells
NESTA funds groups looking at the future
“What’s posterity ever done for me?” – Groucho Marx quote

Jessica Bland, futurist at NESTA:
Flown a drone and bought Bitcoins

Pat Kane – curator of event:
“It is a sell out.”
“Think of it as Glastonbury for the mid century.”

1) Nick Karkaway – philosopher:
“Rats get all the best technology first – which bugs me,”
If our intelligence is transferred into a box – what rights does the box have?
What about if we share our intelligence until it becomes a group intelligence?
In what sense are we an individual? We cannot be conceived or live as an individual.
The nature of our parliament is the antithesis of the notion of the wisdom of crowds and ‘crowd sourcing’.
“Nothing is so technologically unimaginable as to be conceived as magic.”
“Be wrong in interesting ways.”

2) Berlolt Meyer – German social psychologist with bionic left hand to compensate for birth defect (cost = 50,000 Euros):
He can do things with his techno hand that cannot be done with a normal hand – such as revolving in 360 degrees!
“Bionic Bertolt” = product of a Channel Four television series called “How To build A Bionic Man” about putting together all the latest technology for replacing body parts and functions including artificial blood
Rats have been given extra memory through implantation of a memory chip
When the engineer who developed this chip was asked if it should be used for humans, he answered: “That I don’t know.”
Problems about such technology:
– Who will be able to afford the latest, very expensive technology? Who would be entitled to such advanced technology?
– What if bionics evolve? Technology could provide more functionality than the normal human
– Is it right to replace an existing limb by an artificial one that is more technologically advanced?
– If technology changes how people perceive disability, could disability confer an unfairful advantage? Example: Oscar Pistorious
[Next day the “Observer” newspaper carried this interview with Meyer.]

3) Peter Gregson – cellist:
Talks about why the arts matter
Challenges the type of people produced by exclusive learning of science subjects
Learning is not simply about earning
Technology cannot empathise and listen and care
An app cannot solve all our problems.
Is classical music still relevant? Popularity is not the same as relevance.
Concludes by playing a short piece on his cello

4) Paul Mason – Channel Four culture editor:
Capitalism is an organism .. It has a beginning, a middle and an end .. It mutates … We got wrong what the end would be.
Slide = four Kondratieff waves in the US financial markets of 1789-2003
Each wave of capitalism driven by a wave of technological innovations
We are living through a messed up start of the fifth wave delayed by the printing of money
Characteristics of Wave 5.0
– rise of the network
– growth of information goods
– development of non-hierarchical structures
– arrival of the eco-determined markets
Information goods have destroyed the notion of scarcity and so destroyed the price formation mechanism
Physical goods now have information content that can be replicated by 3D printing
Corporate responses:
1) Monopolise information eg Amazon, Google, Big Pharma
2) Skate on edge of falling prices and expanding demand
3) Develop non-market forms of production eg Wikipedia
“Everything is pervaded by the fight between the network and the hierarchy.”
The networked individual will not accept an unchanged capitalism.

5) Sadie Crease – professor of cyber-security:
All solutions to world problems – like food scarcity – depend on cyber-security
What does it mean to be citizens of cyber-space? What is our carbon footprint in cyber-space?
There are coding errors that can be employed by the malevolent.
These errors can be purchased on “the dark web”.
These hugely complex systems are hard to understand and protect.
The future is not about data but the intelligence in data (big data)
We will all be potential victims of attack because we will all have embedded technology.
In the future, there will be digital viruses like digital superbugs.
Should we develop a new form of governance where there are no secrets and no need for leaking?

6) David Runciman:
What is the future of democracy?
Very little change in politics over the last 25 years.
Yet most rapid change in technological change
No political revolution because we have had a technological revolution.
Governments better at using the technology to control citizens than citizens are at using the technology to control governments whether in democracies or dictatorships.
Some think we are moving to “technocraries” where technological elites rule eg China. Control but no adaptability.
In Italy and Greece, where normal democratic government was suspended, it was replaced by bankers. Adaptability but no control.
Bad alternative – these two systems rival each other.
Good alternative – “rebooted democracy” = not e-democracy but scaling down to level of the city and scaling up to level of continent.

7) Vinay Gupta:
Talks about open source housing – examples in Haiti
The city is where you go to make enough money to move to the country.
About half the world lives on land where they grow their own food in unhygienic conditions
These people could leapfrog past western citizens to live in rural units with low-cost, city-level standards of technology such as clean water, solar panels and tablet computers.
We have to look to this model because there is not enough metal, let alone enough money, for 9 billion to live in western-style housing with two vehicles each.

8) Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg:
PlastIc bags were seen as better than paper bags, plastic bottled water was seen as better than glass bottles, but they have created new issues – so we assume that design and technology makes things “better”.
Synthetic biology presents new opportunities for design
A kind of chemical yoghurt could be used to diagnose problems in the body that would show itself in the creation of particularly coloured excreta
Mentions project called synthetic aesthetics – can you design nature? can you design a synthetic computer?

9) Tom Kenyon:
Talks about the future of schools –

  • All students will have an Internet connected device
  • All schools will need to have adequate WiFi access
  • Teachers will become more competent in ICT
  • On demand video will play a bigger role in teaching
  • 3D design and printing will become common
  • Games will become a bigger part of education
  • we will have new versions of assessment with use of Big Data
  • We will see virtual schools
  • We will see fewer examinations because we will have real time data.

10) Anab Jain:
How do we rethink health? She uses an imagined  future scenario.
The future National Heath Insurance service provides DNA testing to all citizens which leads to insurance levels based on risk of ill-health.
Might need to seek gene therapy, but can one afford it or go for underground unlicensed genetic therapy?
Turns to the reality of now and wish of governments to create a national database of the DNA of  all its citizens.
Another danger is an attempt by ambitious parents to determine genetic skills of their children through genetic tests.
New gene therapies can not only cure diseases but make us resistant to things we do not have.

11) Rachel Armstrong:
Talks about “black sky thinking” which is way beyond “blue sky thinking”
Mentions various singularities such as The AI Singularity (when computers became capable of creating themselves) and The Transhuman Singularity (when we live beyond our bodies) and The Interstellar Singularity (when humans leave the solar system).

12) Tamar Kasriel – business futurist:
Uses phrase “actuarial escape velocity” = our deaths before many of these technological scenarios happen
In her work, she uses scenario planning developed by Herman Khan of Rand Corporation. This accepts that any system is complex and multi-faceted and that we cannot be certain of the future but can examine the most likely scenarios.
Classic scenario planning uses a two by two analysis
Three elements for using business planning in our personal lives:
1) Accept uncertainty and understand the locus of control – what do you have the power to control and what is outside your control?
2) Need to be objective and rational. To change perspective, can go off site and extend timescale
3) Planning for your future is a process which you have to do for yourself.

13) Rohan Gunatillake – meditator:
“Training is the most important thing.”
Does a little experiment = silence. Asks how we reacted to this strange absence of speech
How do we use “attentional technologies” ie anything with a screen.
These technologies are fragmenting our attention because they are funded by advertisements. What would it be like if we put mindfulness at the centre of technological design?
Explicit mindfulness technology = headset which enables you to understand your neural connections.
Indirect well being technology = web site designed to promote mindfulness
1) Interface design that rewards patience
2) How can communication represent people rather than data?
3) How can we design hardware to remind us that we are here physically?
Web will go through a mid life crisis before it is transformed.

14) Alice Casey:
Talks about activism in the future and how the Internet will change we way we organise.
Shows map of informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi called Kibera
– blank on official map but populated with information through personal digital tools
Mentions sites like, 38 degrees, which some criticise as “slackavism”
In Iceland, people trying to write a new constitution online to replace current one because of the banking crisis

15) Kathy Hinde – audio-visual artist who plays piano:
Talks of pieces of music which are open score and different every time they are played
Shows video of birds ‘playing’ her old suspended piano

16) Marek Kohn:
He talks about Britain’s climate in 2100
On present trends, global temperatures could rise by 4C by end of the century
For UK, there could be quite agreeable temperatures (+2C) but cities will be hot and water will be scarce in summer and south will be more impacted than the north.
Rest of Europe will bake so “British weather will become the envy of the world.”
But climate change could alter human relations (limited shared space) and buildings will change shape (fewer outside walls)
Also UK will be impacted by the economic changes caused by climate change throughout the rest of Europe and the world

17) Ian Goldin – South African from the Oxford Martin School:
“This is the best time to be alive.” We live at a period which he calls “the new renaissance” and yet …
The first Renaissance was not a time of economic progress
In many societies today, we see rejection of immigration and internationalism
Most of our global institutions date from just after the Second World War
Decisions which are rational for us as individuals not rational for societies or the world
This what led to the financial crisis of 2008 and what leads to massive environmental consequences.
So: “We need to accept a loss of individual and national sovereignty.”
Mentions threat of pandemics because declining impact of antibiotics and the growth of airline travel.

18) Ben Hammersley (magnificent moustache):
In US, Karl Rove once told a bunch of journalists that they were in the reality business but that is not how the political world works today.
So much of our way of thinking is based on metaphors and the use of the same metaphors in a new context – for instance, desktop or folders in a computer context
How do we shift metaphors?
We decide whether to licence new drugs depending on analysis of benefits and costs and risks.
Could we use the same approach to assess the efficacy of various counter terrorism measures?
“Countries are incredibly weird.” We base so much of our life based on lines which are historical accidents drawn on maps by people who are dead now.
Only one of the countries at time of Columbus in 1492 still exists within the same borders (Portugal).
We could redraw national boundaries based on personal similarities derived from social data.
Patriotism should be assigned to groups of people and not to lumps of soil.

19) Alex Fleetwood – founder of game design studio:
He talks of the design and building of game places which need to incorporate plasticity.

20) Alice Taylor – creator of Makies (married to Cory Doctorow):
Talks about the maker movement
Maker skills and traditional manufacturing are colliding
Kids can create their own dolls or toys which are then produced in local manufacturing units using 3D printing processes
Over next decade, many homes will have 3D printers or people can go to the neighbourhood 3D printing unit

Only at the very end of the day were participants invited to talk together and participate. I was one who took to a microphone briefly and talked of the need for politicians to look at how public services could be better delivered using these new technologies.


  • Oskar van Rijswijk


    I really like how you put your iPad to good use. Being a great writer, you also make very good notes.

    Thanks for sharing these.

    I shared them on Svbtle.

  • Roger Darlington

    Many thanks, Oskar.

    Don’t you just love new technology?

  • Oskar van Rijswijk

    You know I do, Roger 🙂

    But most intriguing insight from your notes is for me: “The nature of our parliament is the antithesis of the notion of the wisdom of crowds and ‘crowd sourcing’.”

  • Roger Darlington

    The speaker who talked of parliament being the opposite of crowd sourcing’ was referring to the narrow social strata from which most politicians come and the tight party constraints on their thinking and voting.

    I don’t have a problem with representative democracy, but I wish that public policy making could be more evidence-based, that public policies could be subject more to independent review for their impact and efficacy, and that the whole process could be made more transparent and accessible (to the crowd).


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