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What Keeps Me Up At Night: Innovation Matters founder Roger Dennis

Roger Dennis is:

I help organisations understand where the world is going and what it means for their business.  I’ve worked alongside the Shell GameChanger team in The Hague and am part of the team for Future Agenda, which is the world’s largest foresight programme (www.futuregenda.org).  I’ve blogged for a decade about the links between foresight, strategy and innovation (http://www.rogerdennis.com/ideaport/?page_id=537) and my thinking has bee referenced by the FT, CNN Online, and the Australian Financial Review.  I write the occasional column for Scientific American.

What worries you the most about technology?

I’m not so worried about technology itself, but about how people understand it.  There’s a lot of breathless hype around at the moment, but very little comprehension of some of the second and third order implications of how technology will impact society.  Technology adoption will affect many complex systems in unexpected ways, but people default to simplistic models that tend to rely on historical precedents. 

What’s your scariest prediction for the future?

In the near term it would be that Donald Trump wins another term.  If he wins it would signal several things – a further rise in populism, an international power vacuum and increased levels of volatility caused by incompetent governance.  In the medium term I’m concerned that genetic engineering becomes even easier that it is now.  In the long term it’s a failure of humanity to unite and de-carbonise growth.

What’s your most encouraging prediction for the future?

Governments realise that combatting climate change requires them to work together, and this unleashes a new era of co-operation on many fronts.

What do you think New Zealand will look like as a country in 2038?

At the moment it’s extremely challenging to predict life in ten years, let alone twenty.  To put this in perspective, just over ten years ago Nokia had one billion customers and the iPhone had just been released. Now people carry supercomputers in their pockets that give them unlimited instant access to almost all knowledge. However at a country level I think New Zealand is at a cross roads right now.  Our economy currently depends on a few centimetres of topsoil.  This creates lush scenery which attracts tourists, and also powers our primary industries.  However one of these sectors is low margin and cannot scale, and the other is a bulk proposition with very little value added. As a country we need to think carefully about the future of tourism and agriculture, and try to plot a course that either removes our dependancy, adds significant margin or fosters new industries.  In doing so we also need to factor in how climate change will affect the country.

Where we end up in 2038 depends on how these issues are addressed.

What’s your social media usage like? 

I keep my personal social media usage very restricted, and post very little about my family.  I never post any photos of family members anywhere.  Professionally I blog, use Twitter and LinkedIn.

Do you try limit how much personal information is available about you online?


What will be dead in the next five years? (Products, companies, trends, etc)

I think the most interesting product that will be in it’s death throes will be the mobile phone.  The idea that we need to use an interface to interact with a computer will seem odd in ten years, and that that trend will become apparent within five years.  Voice will take over, and the device will start to disappear completely, replaced by something extremely small that has a constant connection to the cloud.

Facebook – in it’s current form – may also not exist in five years.

What do you hope will be invented in the next five years?

There’s three things I like to see:

1. Cheap – but well regulated – cures for cancer (probably using CRISPR gene editing technology).

2. A viable successor to the lithium ion battery that is lighter, lasts longer, has a high power density and charges faster.  This would enable the electrification of transportation beyond passenger cars, and be a significant enabler in reducing carbon emissions.

3. A viable model for the evolution of democracy.

Will the robots become sentient and kill us all?

I’m more worried about the action of humans that robots.  

How likely is it that we’re living in a simulation?

If we are, then you’d have to ask yourself what was the purpose of certain parts of the programme – especially the bit where I received a parking ticket last week.

How far should we take human enhancement? (Bionic limbs, computer chips in brains, designer babies)

This is the type of question that doesn’t really get asked before the technology gets developed.  However I think it will first start to become an issue in rules based competitions, especially in sport.  For context, at what point will ‘pure’ human competition become too boring to watch, and bionically enhanced sport become the accepted norm?

If you are not counting sheep, what are you counting?

How many Nissan Leaf cars I see on the road each day.  It’s a rough proxy for how fast transportation is changing.

What is it about the future that gets you up in the next morning?

What the world will look like for my children.

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