We are as gods – the cycle swings back to techno-optimism and neo-psychedelia


The opening words of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog in 1968 were: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Indeed, the late 1960s were a time of vast optimism for many, based not just on the belief that ancient social strictures could be thrown off, but also that by use of new technologies we could liberate ourselves. The 1970s and then 1980s disabused people of the notion that revolution had truly arrived, as so little of the potential seen in the full flowering of new ideas seemed to have come to pass.

Then in the 1990s there was a smaller renaissance of techno-optimism, I think best captured in Douglas Rushkoff’s book Cyberia (now fully downloadable), which talked of designer reality and technoshamanism. By then Timothy Leary had reinvented himself as a digital apostle, in Chaos and Cyberculture (the full text is here though it doesn’t do justice to what is a highly visual book) describing how computers and connectivity were now the tools of enlightenment.

Today, after a decade of financial greed and excesses analogous to the 1980s, techno-optimism and neo-psychedelia are coming back with a vengeance. A strong indicator is the forthcoming documentary Turning into Gods by Jason Silva – the trailer is below.

TURNING INTO GODS – ‘Concept Teaser’ from jason silva on Vimeo.

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Trend Blend: 4 Infographics showing the major global trends


At the end of every year media call on futurists to ask them what to expect in coming years, reflecting the appetite from their audiences for future thinking. One of the best ways to feed this desire is with infographics, distilling ideas into an accessible visual representation.

For the last four years a Trend Blend has been produced to close out the year. Each year this has been driven by Richard Watson of NowandNext, with myself and Future Exploration Network participating in the creation of the first three of these.

Below is a compilation of the four Trend Blends. You will see some themes recurring, and other fresh trends emerging over the years. All are intended to be fun and provocative, used both for general entertainment and sometimes for stimulating new thinking in the course of more serious futures and strategy work.

Click on the maps to see the detailed versions.

Trend Blend 2007+ map
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Population growth, urbanization, and the future of regional centers


On the weekend Australia’s freshly minted Prime Minister Julia Gillard said “I don’t believe in a big Australia,” in an about face from her predecessor Kevin Rudd’s vision of strong population growth for the country.

As a futurist I have been increasingly drawn into this discussion, given that immigration is one of the most fundamental levers shaping the future of countries. I have discussed the coming rise of gerontocracy, the uncertainties in Australia’s demographic future, and was interviewed on the social impact of population growth in ABC TV’s special series on Australia’s future.

I was interviewed this morning about Gillard’s comment on ABC Ballarat, a town which is the hub of one of the largest regional centers in Australia. Non-urban regions have a particularly interesting perspective on population growth.

On the one hand, in the face of the inexorable global trend of urbanization, regional areas are consistently losing their youth and talent to the allure of cities. Concerted efforts are being made to revitalize the economies and culture of regions.

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Six Radical Visions for the Future of Health (including Self-Serve Pharma)


Today I gave the closing presentation at the National Medicine Symposium, rounding out deep discussion over several days on how to get better use of medicines. I developed six radical ideas that could be part of the future of health. The intention was to be provocative rather than rigorous, generating new ways of thinking about how healthcare may evolve.

Here are brief summaries of the six visions I presented:

1. Complete data.


Image source: Toto

The amount of information that we have about the health of an individual could become comprensive, generating terabytes of data from just one person. Bathrooms that monitor not just what we excrete but also analyze our skin color and tone as we look in the mirror are just the beginning. Images and sensors could record everything we eat and all medicines we take, providing far better analysis on the effectiveness of drugs. Odor is a highly data-intensive yet effective way to identify maladies. We could build virtually complete data sets of our health on a second by second basis.

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7:30 Report: the social impact of the population boom and Australia’s future


Last week the ABC’s 7:30 Report spent the entire week looking at the drivers of Australia’s long-term future. The fourth program, on The social impact of the population boom, was an excellent examination of the diverse issues and perspectives on the implications of rapid population growth, including interviews with a diverse range of politicians, demographers, analysts, and myself as the lone futurist.

It’s well worth seeing the video of the full program along with the transcript on the ABC’s website. A video of the program’s introduction and excerpts from my comments are below.

The program examined Australia’s demographic and social future, however the issues raised are absolutely relevant in all developed countries, where low immigration inevitably means a rapidly aging population, with all of the associated challenges.

Last December I wrote about the driving trends and uncertainties in Australia’s population growth, pointing to the recent dramatic increase in the 2050 forecast for Australia’s population from 28 million to 35 million. This revised forecast had a powerful impact, resulting in heated discussion about the social, ecological, and economic implications of what would be the fastest population growth of any developed country in the world.

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Trend map for 2010 and out to 2050


For the last few years Richard Watson of NowandNext has created annual trend maps based on city subway maps. This year he has been more ambitious, creating a highly detailed map with five time zones, ranging from 2010-2015 out to 2035-2050.

For the previous three trend maps (shown at the bottom) I collaborated with Richard and we co-branded them with Future Exploration Network, however time pressures this year meant that I haven’t directly contributed to the 2010 map. It is still as rich and glorious as ever – spend some time delving into the trends ahead!



– Ageing

– Power shift Eastwards

– Globalisation

– Localisation

– Digitalisation

– Personalisation

– Volatility

– Individualism

– Environmental change

– Sustainability

– Debt

– Urbanisation

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The top 10 trends for the 2010s: the most exciting decade in human history


In his excellent book The Meaning of the 21st Century, James Martin asks when in human history you would most like to be alive.

For me there is no question that it is now. The coming decade will be the most exciting in human history. The very challenging year of 2009 that we are preparing to bid farewell to helped to tear up the fairly linear progress of the first decade of the century. Now, technological and social change are poised to accelerate far beyond what we have become accustomed to.

A critical uncertainty is how well we will respond to this extraordinary pace of change, both as individuals and as societies. Will we be able to adapt and change, or will severe dysfunctions emerge? Just one dimension is the manifold ethical dilemmas that are raised by gaining extraordinary technological capabilities.

Here are the ten trends that I believe will be most fundamental to the decade ahead. I hope to present these and associated trends in an interactive visual format before long. For now, here are the 10 trends for 2010.

1. Information Intensity

We will soon consume more media than there are waking hours, by virtue of multi-channeling at most times. Billions of people and places will be media producers, including video streaming from most points of view on the world. We are just at the dawn of an incomprehensible daily onslaught of news and information – some valuable, much useless.

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Top blog posts of 2009: The future


Other 2009 summary posts

Top blog posts of 2009: 6 on Twitter and the media

Top blog posts of 2009: Enterprise 2.0 and organizational effectiveness

Top keynote speech presentations/ videos of 2009

Third in my series of my blog posts that have attracted the most interest this year, on the general topic of the future. (I haven’t included any of my presentations – I’ll select some of these to put in another post.)

1. Wealth Adaptation Syndrome (WAS): a defining malaise of our times and the opportunities that stem from it

A syndrome to help understand society in 2009

2. Why traditional conferences are dying and how unconferences and audience participation are the future of events

Why events will always be important but they are starting to look very different from before

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The 10 TENsions That Will Define 2010


To anticipate what will shape 2010, we need to understand the TENsions that will define the opening year of the TENsions decade. The TENsions that are most prominent will evolve during the course of the decade. However the accelerating pace of change means that TENsions will inevitably define the decade, in myriad forms.

These are the 10 TENsions for 2010, the opening year of the TENsions.

1. Optimism – Fear

Many companies and workers are now daring to be optimistic as they put 2009 behind them, look forward to opportunities, and worry about getting left behind if things improve rapidly. Yet with the shock of the onset of the financial crisis still fresh, any optimism is subject to being shattered, resulting in wild swings in confidence.

2. Institutional work – Independent work

While many lost their jobs in 2009, sparking a rise in home-based work such as direct selling, many others gave up self-employment to return to the workforce. Over the long term more people are making the shift to work independently, by desire or necessity. However the temptations of self-employment can be replaced by desire for a steady pay packet, pulling people both ways.

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Leadership event: How fast will Australia’s population grow? Examining the uncertainties in demographic forecasts


This morning I gave the opening keynote at an internal leadership conference of a major Australian retailer, addressing the topic of Embracing the Future.

One of the key issues for the long-term planning of any large organization is the basic demography of the country. While I spent much of my presentation looking at social change, I started by looking at the state of population forecasts for Australia.

A few months ago Australia’s Treasury department foreshadowed the release of the third Intergenerational Report, which examines the impact of population change and aging. The second report, released in 2007, forecast an Australian population of 28.5 million in 2050, however two scant years later the forecast has been revised to 35 million. This would make Australia the fastest-growing developed country in the world.

Let’s look at some of the figures and uncertainties behind these forecasts. While we often hear that “Demographics is Destiny”, in fact demographic forecasts are fraught with uncertainty.

This first image shows the earlier three population scenarios for this century from the government.


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