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Futurist Kate Levchuk on work, AI, robots, colonizing Mars, and the science fiction she loves


Will there be any jobs in the future? And, will humans live on Mars in our lifetimes?

In the latest edition of future39 we’re talking about the future of work (and life in the solar system) with Kate Levchuk. Kate is an exec at Infosys. She’s a futurist, a consultant, an author, a researcher, and has masters degrees in two disciplines.

Listen to our conversation (there’s also a full transcript below):

What we talk about

  • 30 years ago, Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff said that everything that can be automated, will be. Agree?
  • If we look at the scope of history and we see a time in the past where nothing was automated, and we see a future that is completely or mostly automated … where are we now?
  • What does work start to look like when most or all manufacturing is automated … what jobs remain? What does it do to our economy? What does it do to trade … does it kill regional advantages in costs due to cheap labor?
  • Two massive missions of the 21st century:
    • One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the massive global job of the next century is repairing and restoring our environment, and creating sustainable and healthy living conditions for people. What does that look like to you?
    • Another major job … mission … colonizing the solar system. If we look down the line a little farther … there are serious people with serious technology who are seriously looking at things like expanding where humans can live to the moon, to Mars, and beyond. How does that change the picture for humanity, and jobs, and your vision for the kind of future we’ll have?
  • What science fiction do you love, and what has influenced your thinking?

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Or, read the full transcript

Be aware, this is a very lightly-edited transcript from Descript. It will not be perfect!

John Koetsier: Will there be any jobs in the future? We keep hearing about AI, robots, automation, many of the things like that, and sometimes we wonder, will there be any jobs, especially in manufacturing in the future, and will we ever live in places other than the earth in our solar system or even beyond?

Welcome to future 39 with John Koetsier

Today, we’re talking about the future of work and life in the solar system with Kate Levchuk. So let me bring her in right now. Hello Kate.

Kate Levchuk: Hello John. Great to hear you.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Our guest today, Kate, is an exec at Infosys. She’s a futurist. She’s a consultant. She’s an author, a researcher, and has a Master’s degree in two disciplines.

Kate, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

Kate Levchuk: Thank you very much for having me.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. So let’s start here. 30 years ago, Harvard business school prof Shoshana Zuboff said that everything that can be automated will be automated. Do you agree with that?

Kate Levchuk: That’s a very strong statement. And at the same time, I think it’s a very pragmatic one.

So, obviously we need to look at the cost benefit factor here and if the jobs will be cheaper off being automated, especially in the shorter run, because, many executives and politicians everyone tends to look at things short term, so if ROI is good in up to five years, I think those jobs will be automated for sure.

However, it’s interesting. We would expect to have so much automation already now in fields like driving or even manufacturing, you were mentioning like Amazon, but I think it’s only about 15 to 20% of this packaging things that are automated in Amazon. So it really shows us how much cheaper the people’s labor is still.

So, it’s, I think definitely in a very short time machines, you know, Moore’s law, we’ll get to the situation when, machines will be really cheap. And then, especially in developed countries, it will make so much more sense than having people do the work.

John Koetsier: Let’s talk about that timeline a little bit.

So if we look at the scope of history, we see a time in the past, the Iron Age, Bronze Age, even before Stone Age, nothing was automated, right? Everything that you wanted to do a human had to actually physically do, and the only machines that they may have had was something like a bow and arrow or a spear, or maybe a lever, you know, which can only be labeled a machine with a very liberal definition there. But if we look into the far future as well, we see a future that’s completely or mostly automated, and we have manufacturing processes with robotics and automation. Where would you place us right now on that kind of scale?

Kate Levchuk: Yeah I’m already picturing some timeline and I don’t really see us coming to the end of the automation timeline. I think we are now probably, like in all the history you mentioned, we’re very close to the end, but in terms of our lifetime, we’re still pretty far. So, I think the full automation, which means like probably 70, 80% of jobs of current roles that exist in the market. I think they will be automated in developed countries in the next 15, 20 years, taken the advances in technology and especially robotics. However, I do expect that because of that, not despite, there will be so many more roles being created.

Like for example, those that will have to actually program all the robotics and the ones that would have to deal with people, the huge numbers of people who find themselves outside of job market. So something like mood programmers, psychologist, who will be creators, you know, this VR games creators. So all the fun, creative professions that we’ll have to deal with those people will also be newly created.

And, yeah, I think that we are coming to a very interesting point in history where we will see jobs that we talk about only in sci-fi novels today.

John Koetsier: Can you give some examples of those?

Kate Levchuk: Well, first of all, I think there will be a huge need for various kinds of engineering jobs, like especially civil engineering.

So some people that would be creating dams that we’d be creating the floating constructions because of the climate change and the rise in sea waters. So that would be a whole new industry. I envision, some manufacturing jobs being created in air purification sector for example, there can be even the huge walls around specific place.

Like let’s say whoever has a lot of money, let’s say Apple City. And they have, true, so they might as well create air purification walls around the city, and there will be definitely a company that will be creating these walls because they already have the expertise in, let’s say air purification, AC and discovering new materials.

I think the whole new industry will be coming from finding out new materials on the earth, as well as bringing new ones from space. So let’s say mining meteors and this kind of things, we’ll need to create new habitats because the population will be changing drastically. There will be way more poor people.

So we’ll need to create some sustainable and possible living environments for them. Like moving away from areas for example. People would also want to leave in some healthy, clear and clean area. So we would be seeing other creation of something more like Elysiums, maybe in space or some places on earth.

So New Zealand is a very popular, natural Elysium area. And yeah, I would say ton of these similar jobs, like 3D printing, creating these floating structures on water, maybe from trash because we have tons of that.

John Koetsier: Trash is the new resource.

Kate Levchuk: Trash, yeah, I think trash could be used quite wisely. If there is a good segregation of possibility as well as maybe possibly 3D printing will become so cheap to actually create something from all this plastic that we have on earth anyways.

John Koetsier: That’s interesting actually, let’s talk about that. Let’s say that we have a future where manufacturing is mostly or completely automated, 3D printing is widespread and inexpensive for multiple forms of materials, not just plastics, but also metals. We see that right now, SpaceX 3D prints rocket nozzles for instance, right?

You can’t get a part that needs more, strength and tensile durability and all those other things than rocket nozzles. Well, we get to a future where that is cheap and readily available. What’s that do to economies? What’s that do to international trade?

Kate Levchuk: Oh that’s a good question.

I think that, so again, let’s go back to short term versus longterm thinking, and I think countries and leaders that really have the longterm thinking for this or other reason, and then can see into the future in 20 or 30 years. And that’s why some companies or leaders are actually spending tons of money for futuristic consultancy.

Having the focus groups and understanding what would be the needs taking various different factors in 20-30 years, those countries will come up with the solutions and start preparing for them right now, when most of us are talking about the new apps on the iPhone, they will take the leadership. So of course I can really see China as one of the contenders for the leadership in manufacturing, not only because they have so many resources, but also they have good experience doing that. And I think they have the largest gold reserves. They don’t rely on anyone else to do this type of trial and fail. And I’m pretty sure that there all so many initiatives that we don’t even know are happening.

Like, even few years ago, there was a discussion that they’re building huge cities somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And why are they building that? No one knows they’re still empty. So lots of things are happening there and they have huge capabilities for that, so hopefully we’ll not be too far away.

John Koetsier: China’s also on the forefront of investing in robotics as well. And having factories that are heavily roboticized. We see some other economies like that. Germany has a high percentage of robots per thousand workers, that sort of thing. Few other economies like that as well.

I imagine that as we see economies having a higher and higher percentage of robots to workers. We’re going to need to see some changes in how we tax labor perhaps. Bill Gates has talked about taxing robots for work that they do. You talked about people in the future as… perhaps there are fewer jobs, at least in manufacturing and new, different types of jobs that come out.

And you talked about a future there are more poor people. That’s obviously not the Star Trek future that we’ve kinda been hoping for, looking for, this future where more people are happy. We don’t really work for a salary, there’s sort of a credit system, but we kind of graduate and find the niche that fits what we do and we really, really enjoy it.

I mean, I still hope, obviously that’s perhaps utopian, I still hope that in a future where most manufacturing jobs … at least the physical manufacturing is automated, there’s still an opportunity for people to have creative jobs. There’s still an opportunity for people to have service jobs.

There’s still an opportunity for people to do something and contribute something, whether that’s artistically or otherwise, right? And have a society set up in such a way that, you know what, you don’t have to work those 40 hours a week. You don’t have to work those 50 hours a week.

Maybe you don’t even have to work those 20 hours a week. Maybe 10 hours a week is enough. And you’ve actually then generated some revenue and are able to sustain yourself and your family. But that the cost of living goes down. We looked at that for so many generations, right?

I mean people used to work from the moment the sun arose to when the sun set, right. The 18th century automation and factories in the UK. And I’m hoping that we get to a point where our labor matters and our labor isn’t just what we can do with our hands, but it’s what we can do with our minds and our emotions.

Kate Levchuk: Yeah, that’s very true John. And actually, talking about what you mentioned as people used to work so much more and now it’s actually better. I do agree that it’s better in terms of workers unions that were created, the elimination of child labor and all the slavery, but actually we look very much back in history.

We can notice that during hunter-gatherer period, people worked much less and it just a little depends on the quality and level of life you want. So a reason why I’m saying there can be more poor people as well as more rich people as we see inequality charts increasing now. It’s simply because if we continue with business as usual, there will be much more people on the planet and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have more resources. So obviously we will have, we will need to provide for people who lost their jobs to manufacturing and robotics. So that will I think, some kind of social welfare system like UBI will be easily, we’ll be able to do. But I envision tons of new possibilities for people who will be actually, who will fall into this UBI category, to start to doing their own new thing.

Like for example, I could become a full time sci-fi writer if I didn’t have a full time job. So it very much how you prioritize your time and what else you can do with this if you are given an opportunity.

John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense. Let’s talk about what I’ve put here as a two massive missions of the 21st century, right?

We have this reclamation project, which is our planet, and we have this opportunity that Elon Musk and some others are pointing towards of visiting and maybe even establishing a colony on another planet. Let’s talk about the first one first, and that’s reclaiming our planet, cleaning the ocean, finding ways to create enough food for enough people without stripping the ocean bare of all the fish that are in it. Cleaning our air. You talked about air and you talked about companies and maybe cities having air cleansing walls of some sort, stations of some sort. That’s something they could really use in India.

I have a number of friends in India, in Delhi, for instance. Over the past months, they’ve had horrific air conditions, just horrible. Do not get outside, and even inside you are at risk of early death with just a little bit of exposure here. We, we saw that in Sydney as well, right? With the wildfires that they had in Australia where their air quality was just horrific.

Absolutely horrific. let’s talk about some of the jobs that you see coming out and the tasks that you see coming out for engineers to create, for people to implement, other things like that in restoring our environment.

Kate Levchuk: Yeah thanks John for mentioning this question. I think it’s a truly very important mission because apart from some obvious examples like Beijing and New Delhi that you mentioned, we can really see the impact of fires, natural or artificial, like whole Singapore is suffocating because of fires in Philippines, in Indonesia, where where they put the tropical forest on fire to get more space for, well, what is this…

John Koetsier: Farming?

Kate Levchuk: No, no, no, the trees they put in… Nutella this thing…

John Koetsier: Oh, chocolate? Or chocolate trees or perhaps even rubber.

Kate Levchuk: Oh yeah, rubber could be, but yeah, there is some special oil as well, which is the worst type. Then the same, of course, in California. Sometimes it’s even in Europe. We definitely talk very little about Europe, but I used to live in Krakow in Poland. It’s a beautiful and old city, very popular among tourists, but not everyone knows that it’s one of the most heavily polluted cities in Europe and actually in the world.

So I was checking sometimes the level of pollution when I was living there. Sometimes it was coming very close to Beijing and sometimes it was higher.  Our awareness of what is happening in our own backyard is unfortunately very low, and I think as it becomes higher with the increase in the different groups like extension or valley here in UK, of course, Greta Thurnberg really contributed to this crucial, tendency.

We will see more and more people actually understanding the importance of preserving this very planet, and this is also what I’m advocating with transhumanism and improvement of humans species. Because in all fairness, there is absolutely no point living longer, or even forever if you’re going to spend this life in a trash bin. This is exactly what we are doing out of earth today.

So it looks like capitalism as it is now, this with the short term gains is really is outliving itself. And we need to see this search of professions that will take care of the earth to restore itself for new generations for, I think I still define more or less as a millennial, but I’m like, my children and my grandchildren will be absolutely screwed if we don’t do something in the next 5. 10 years to create a new ecosystem. So you were mentioned ocean cleaning. This is crucial. Any type of engineer and construction that will be efficient in that is very important. Even species preservation. We’re talking about our health, the pollution and stuff like this, but we forget about six mass extinction of spacious and critical loss of biodiversity with about thousand species going extinct in a week.

So, so far we are not noticing it too much, but maybe in 10 years when we are left only with domestic chickens, we’ll start wondering. So it’s very good to have people who are gathering genetic samples and or recreating the suspicious in, in labs or artificial environments. And this will be huge, huge new professional in the future, biologist, marine biologists, recreations of corals.

So, so much creativity can be reestablished here. Like actually just recently I read about some new technique of the sound that they’re putting next to a bleached coral reefs. I dunno, like a special, tone that can lure fish back and start the coal ecosystem growing from the start.

So people just understood that corals are dying. Even Great Barrier reef is almost gone. And, I think people are not, you know, do I think we actually have something good in us? The population of rhinos and blue whales is coming back to norm just because their worst specific, restrictions in fish, in poaching.

And the only thing we have to do is increasing awareness. And, telling people that it’s important because I don’t think that, naturally we are bad. We just like to close eyes to anything. And if we’re not given this chance, we can really help the planet.

John Koetsier: I think that, we do need to open people’s eyes to it, but I do think that many people’s eyes are open to it.

I think that what’s missing is an economic imperative. We do have a capitalist system in most of the planet, even parts that aren’t, nominally capitalist and, and, and the challenge with that and in a consumer society is that it is hard to assign value, where there is no economic, current value.

Like what is the Great Barrier reef reef worth? Obviously, from any, rational perspective, it’s incalculable. You can’t calculate the worth, right? It’s precious beyond imagining. But when we fail to actually assign value to these things, then it’s hard for us to assign new jobs of creating, preserving, biodiversity, other things like that and assign social value to that, that it comes with economic value as well.

So we can actually create economic incentives for companies, for individuals, for people to work at the things that we need to work at to restore this planet to what it can be. I think that that’s something that  people have tried to do with carbon credits perhaps.

And I think that we need to extend that concept, even farther so that we see value in a startup that’s trying to reduce the great garbage patch of the Pacific, and we assign a value to that. And then we also properly cost out … If you’re a Coca Cola and you’re the largest plastic polluter on the planet from, from what we’ve heard recently, we are not appropriately charging what it actually costs to produce and complete the life cycle of a plastic bottle.

What did you get 10 cents back when you return it, for, for a deposit or something like that? Well, should it be a dollar? Should it be $2? What is the actual cost to not just produce, but also to the environment, of production and of recycling or other things?

Kate Levchuk: Oh, disposing those, those things, those products and recycling.

Yeah, that’s true. So I think part of how we can, solve this issue is this societal pressure. And currently already, people are very open to using environmentally friendly solution, services and products. So the problem with that is very often they’re still more expensive than, than cheap ones like Coca Cola.

So probably you would still go with cheap option.

John Koetsier: Yeah. And you think that’s the problem, right? Is that we can go with the cheap option because we don’t appropriately cost out with something actually costs us environmentally through its entire life cycle.

Kate Levchuk: However, it looks like there are some companies like, Elon Musk is great in the rooftops that the solar rooftops that actually cost pretty much the same.

And if we think about this, solar power is, so cheap if we understand how to properly, get the right percentage of solar energy because the song in one hour gives more energy than we consume in a year. So why are we not using solar panels on every house? It’s so much cheaper. Even an economic issue.

John Koetsier: Exactly. Let’s turn our attention then to the second, major job, that  could create a lot of opportunity for jobs and for, exploration. which is this colonizing the solar system. If we look down the line a little farther, obviously this is not today, but there are serious people with very serious technology who are very seriously looking at things like expanding where we can live, to the moon, to Mars, beyond.

How does that change a picture for humanity and jobs and in your vision of, of the kind of future that we’ll have.

Kate Levchuk: Yeah, that’s definitely a very futuristic question and a very exciting one.

Something that I was expecting for sure. To be fair, I think, again, it has a lot to do with economic benefit and the actual reason to go to space. So it’s interesting to see how many discoveries and how many trips to space were happening when we had, you know, some kind of, older men politics competition going on during the cold war, like a really good incentive to do stuff.

As of now, I think, we are living in a more prosperous market, relaxed climate. When you are going to do something, if it actually just makes sense. And, thankfully for the time being, earth is still kind of livable. So, I think we definitely should focus on preserving earth and only some part of investments and, some new initiatives to go to, discovering new planets.

However, that should always be our, plan B. Just again, from a pragmatic point of view, living on one planet as a species is not sustainable in case something happens the same as happened to our poor dinosaurs, distant relatives. That would be unfortunate. I mean, whatever they, they

John Koetsier: That would be fortunate! Yes, it would, destruction of the human race.

Slightly unfortunate!

Kate Levchuk: The universe will definitely go on without us. There will be new species created, there will be new stuff happening. But, as a humanist, and I do like our species quite a lot, I think we should at least try to go to Mars. I think moon is not very sustainable in terms of atmosphere creation.

So, definitely all these space barrons, that’s at the moment, our best bet, because governments tend to be a bit stingy and conservative as we see with NASA lately. so yeah, Elon, maybe China. China seems to be quite all there. so are, would a lot of hope on, enter ship and dreamers. Because in the end of the day, dreamers are the people who create the future.

John Koetsier: Very true, very true. I’m excited about a project that, is to send a micro space ship or star ship, I should say, to Alpha Centauri. it’s a, it’s a package only, you know, maybe a kilogram or something like that that they hope to accelerate via laser and send out, you know, within the next decade or so a t a fairly significant fraction of the speed of light, which means that we could, some artifact that a human being has created could be beyond our solar system. And actually in not just an interstellar space, as, as, as we have a couple of probes already doing that, but actually visiting another star system that would be incredible and amazing.

I wanted to end this session with you Kate, on some of your favorite science fiction. Every futurist that I know loves science fiction or has been deeply influenced by science fiction. I have as well. I’ve written a science fiction novel and I wanted to ask: what science fiction has has influenced you and what’s been most interesting to you.

Kate Levchuk: So I tend to use science fiction as inspiration for any thoughts to dream, to find and other meaning in life because it really expands our horizons. And I was very lucky as a child when I was 11 or 12 my parents gave me some books. So I think they were very much into Ray Bradbury. So the first books that kind of big books that I read were the compilations of essays by Ray Bradbury and of course the classics of Fahrenheit 451, and Chronicles and lots of other essays where he mainly looks at the subjects of a space conquering as well as upcoming robotization as well as lots of things around VR and talking walls.

So people like that, like Bradbury, Wells, Stevenson, there are those that pretty much predicted, the phones, all the VR ecosystems and so many things that we haven’t even created yet.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes. Who are you reading lately? So those, some of those, some of the great old masters.

Who are you reading lately?

Kate Levchuk: Oh, I’ve been pretty bad with my reading. I’m actually, I’m working on a book as well. There’s a slight off-scifi but a little bit more into philosophy of tech and society, touching on the freedom of thought.

John Koetsier: Okay.

Kate Levchuk: But I tried reading Pedersen who I had quite mixed feelings previous me because of his, the various comments towards women in the workplace.

And I myself also had various experience in the workplace as well. But I do see a lot of good stuff and good reasons for checking out alternative points of view.

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent. Well, Bradbury’s not a bad place to start and there’s a lot to move on from there. I look forward to seeing your book and seeing what that looks like when it comes out.

And thank you so much for spending this time with us. I really appreciate it.

Kate Levchuk: Thank you very much John. And hello everyone too future39!

John Koetsier: Excellent. This will live on YouTube and it will, the podcast will go out as well, wherever podcasts go. If you are listening on the podcast, please give it a rating and a review, especially if you like it.

Anyways, this is John Koetsier for future39 thank you so much for spending some time with us. Thank you.

Kate Levchuk: It doesn’t matter which galaxy you’re in, give us a like.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Have a great day Kate.

Kate Levchuk: Cheers. You too, bye.

Listen: Anti-futurist Theo Priestley talks about the future of work, AI in charge, and not becoming Gary Vaynerchuk

Theo priestley

The future ain’t what it used to be, to quote Yogi Berra. We chat with Theo Priestley — a former tech evangelist for companies like SAP — about the future of work, AI as our leader, and a coming golden age or renaissance of human creativity.

Or how the future could really suck thanks to surveillance capitalism.

He’s a TED speaker — and has organized a TEDx event — and has written for Wired, Forbes, the BBC, VentureBeat, and other media outlets. He now runs an “anti-consultancy,” where he tells clients what they don’t want to hear.

Listen to episode 2 of future39 right here:

Or, catch it on Anchor, or a bunch of other podcasting platforms. (Future39 is still propagating to Apple Podcasts, but I expect that to happen in the next few days.)

Like reading better? Here’s the full transcript

Note, this is a lightly-edited automated transcript … so it may not be perfect!

John Koetsier: Welcome to future 39: the podcast where every episode, we’ll take a shared peek at one of our infinite possible futures, and maybe a couple more.

My name is John Koetsier. I write for Forbes.

I consult with tech companies and I’m writing Insights From The Future. It’s a book of news … from the future. Our guest today, super interesting gentleman, he’s been the chief evangelist at software AG. He’s been a vice president at SAP, big German company, accounting software, and much more than that. He’s written for Forbes, Wired, VentureBeat, and other publications, spoken at Ted and — didn’t know this — organized a TEDx himself.

Now he’s looking at re-examining how the future should look through a hypercritical lens. If you follow him on Twitter, you will get that. He’s been a futurist, but now he calls himself an anti-futurist. So I’m pretty interested in that. He’s also run a consultancy and still runs one … but guess what …

It’s an anti consultancy. So it’s sort of an anti think tank consultancy kind of service. He says, I’ll tell you exactly what you don’t want to hear because what you do want to hear isn’t worth much no matter how much or how high a price you’ve paid someone to say it. So … super interesting: shoots from the hip, shoots from the lip.

Please welcome. This is Theo Priestley. Welcome.

Theo Priestley: Thanks John. Thanks. I enjoyed that little intro.

John Koetsier: I’m glad you did. Let’s start with this anti futurism thing.  I think this is a Yogi Berra quote: the future ain’t what it used to be. I mean, this year has been kind of an eye opener for us, hasn’t it?

Theo Priestley: Yeah, it has, I think it’s a reckoning happening. It’s certainly in some areas in the tech sector around what people perceive is the right kind of future that we should be aiming for. And that’s certainly where I tried to sort of look from a sort of a hypercritical lens.

There’s a lot of hype. And I tried to sort of peel back the veneer in terms of hype and marketing and actually say, well, is there really anything under the hood worth talking about? And is it really worth something that we should be investing in for the future?

John Koetsier: Interesting. Interesting. So let’s go back in time a little bit to before you were an anti futurist or an anti consultant … and you were a futurist and  you still are obviously in a lot of ways, but what did you see back then some years ago? And how has that changed?

Theo Priestley: So, I mean, I’d been writing blogs for about 10 years or so. And, I was very much sort of concentrated in the digital transformation kind of industry. So a lot of what I saw stemmed from the future of work, I guess. And, how people would interface with various systems.

And so some of the predictions were more around what was going to happen for IOT. How are people going to interact with systems, whether it was going to be voice, whether it was going to be touch, what kind of systems would be, would adopt these kind of technologies.

And in terms of the future of work, what would it mean for collaboration? What would it mean for hierarchy? And as the years kind of sort of rolled on, and I started to look at other trends and, and kinda connect the dots a little bit. So, you know, I saw that AI would have a severe impact on IOT, for example.

In the future.  I looked at some startup trends to sort of understand, well, which ones are worth looking at? Which ones are kind of junk, and then odds, I guess as I steeped myself. I’m more in that kinda sorta culture more, and forward projecting … I could see patterns in terms of, well, actually this isn’t really the way we want to go.

You know, we shouldn’t really be aiming for the singularity, for example. You know, the merging of human and machines that Ray Kurzweil bangs or has banged on about for the last, I don’t know, 20, 30 years or so. And that’s, again, I guess that’s where the anti futurist kind of thing was born from was that a lot of the old guard futurism predictions aren’t necessarily the ones that we should be aiming for.

John Koetsier: Talk to me a little bit about that. I mean, first of all, I’m glad to hear that you’re not the flying car kind of futurist, and you know, I’m also kind of glad to hear that you’re not the kind of futurist that, you know, everything is rosy. Everything is amazing. You know, we’ll all live on Mars and we’ll have a Cybertruck and we’ll drive around and have a great life.

I mean, obviously we want a great life, and there’s amazing things that we see technology can do for us in the future. But I think this year we’ve also seen, we’ve become more aware of things like surveillance capitalism. We become more aware of things that algorithms and AI are doing to us and impacting what it means to be human or what it’s like to have a human experience.

Just today we’re recording. Now it’s Thanksgiving Day in the United States. We’re not, neither of us live … I’m in Canada. You’re in Edinburgh or somewhere close there, right?

Theo Priestley: Yeah. Edinburgh. That’s right. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Excellent. You know, Facebook and Instagram are down and it’s a big deal. Right. So, so talk to me about the kind of future that we should be building.

Theo Priestley: I think we have become very heavily reliant on technology, as a species. And you know, today is a classic example where we have two major outages of services built by one company that we rely on.

And I remember, a while back when Facebook started having outages and, and it was like, Oh, no, you know, all my websites and all my web services are integrated into Facebook with a like button or log in through Facebook or authentication and I can’t do anything.

My life is crippled because my website, I can’t log into my bank because I use it  with Facebook authentication, blah, blah, blah. And, and it kind of strikes you that it’s really dangerous to build a future based on singular technological experiences or technological services.

And we’re becoming more removed from human experiences. For example, like you say, I saw there was a release of a new, another social network called Cocoon, which is only for family and friends or small groups. And I’m like, why do we need this? Pick up the bloody phone and talk to your family or something.

We don’t need to surround ourselves in small bubbles enabled by technology. And I think, this kind of worries me when we’re talking about building futures and in that the technology is becoming more and more in front of the person. Rather, and removing them from the experience and from the process itself.

It’s like the, I don’t know if you remember seeing it, the picture of the  snapshot of I think, the golden Jubilee, of the queen, and in the picture, in the background, everyone is watching this event through the mobile phone and there was this old lady who’s the only one who’s actually not on the mobile phone. Actually watching the event firsthand and everyone’s watching it through the screen and I just thought, that’s really sad that we place so much in front of us rather than just actually experiencing it for real. So I do feel that technology is starting to eat into what it means to be human and what it means to experience things as a human.

John Koetsier: I think that’s really, really valid. I mean, I think that when we see everybody at a concert, a recording something or you’re on vacation and you go to the viewpoint and people look at it for about a microsecond before whipping out the smartphone, or they just race up to it with the smartphone, capture the picture and then leave without actually experiencing it for what it is.

A lot of us feel like there’s something missing there. There’s something wrong there, and that’s something that’s probably gonna get even worse with the rise of smart glasses, which we see are probably down five years, 10 years down the road or something like that. Right. I mean, right now already, so much of our life is digitally encased …  digitally  enclosed …what we experience, how we see things is through glass, right.  Through a device in our hands, a device on our desks or something like that. And we’ll only get more so, as we live in the matrix with smart glasses and augmented reality and mixed reality.

Theo Priestley: Yeah, I know. That’s right. And I think other things, like you mentioned, sort of surveillance capitalism for example. I mean, there has to be a trade off somewhere. I mean for all the surveillance that takes place in China, for example, they do actually build services around that. And I think because the populace has grown up with that, they’re quite comfortable with the trade off.

So they know that the government takes all our data, but we actually have an improved service. And then if you’ve ever been to China, it’s amazing that you literally cannot survive without using WeChat. Because everything is built into that. And, they know that everything that they do is monitored and even through WeChat itself.

But I think the services that you get back, it obviously to the citizens there, it is worth it. Even the social credit system, for example, I think it does drive a lot of conformancey and the removal of basic services. If you walk across the road or jaywalk for example, you know, you get points deducted, or if you, you shout on a train and it causes a disturbance, you get points deducted off your score system.

And that impacts your ability to access other services. And it does force people to conform it into a different way of thinking. But, I think when we look at what we want to do in the West in terms of what will you want? Hyper-personalization blah, blah, but I don’t want to give you all my details.

I don’t want to sacrifice my privacy. Then it’s like, well, how can companies, or how can corporations, or even the government build those kind of enabled services without you understanding that there is a trade off required. So we’re in this sort of weird transitional state where we have various parties who want to build things, and clever things.

But a lot of us balk at the idea of having to give up all of our personal freedom and our data privacy in order to build that.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I can totally see that. I mean, and it’s amazing because it was just probably a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago, that the Black Mirror episode came out right where this woman is getting scored on her reactions and interactions with everybody that she’s passing by.

And we thought, wow, that’s a horrible future and we never want to get there. And we’re living in it right now, at least if we’re living in China with a social credit system and probably living with it here as well. I think it is interesting the point that you brought up, which is, we do want our environment to conform to who we are and what we want.

We do want that. That can become a cocoon … that can become a prison of our own preference. But there is something, there is some value in that as well. I think that one of the challenges with achieving that right now is that all the AI that we interact with today is owned by somebody else and is owned by somebody else with a vested interest in selling our time, selling our attention, selling something to us or our eyeballs to somebody else.

And we don’t own that AI and I know there’s a bunch of projects out there. And I can’t help but think that at some point in the future, everybody will own or have the ability to own their own AI, which then can help. It can be a virtual butler in some cases, in some sense, and control and manage some of the things that are going on … be an assistant in a lot of ways in your life. But also, do what you want it to do rather than what the surveillance capitalists, a company wants to do.

Theo Priestley: Yeah. I’m going back to your point about, predictions that I’ve made in the past. I mean, one of them that I wrote in the blog. Probably through a gin fueled haze, was that kind of thing, which I’m a big data, I think I call it a big data fortune teller was the title of the of the blog itself.

And I did believe at that point in time that we would be able to download all the interactions that we’ve ever had on social media and things like that, and our banking transactions and who we’ve spoken to and our text messages and actually feed it into … you know, a personalized algorithm or an algorithm that we have, and that begins to make sense of the data and all of our daily lives for us. Like you say, rather than all that information being scooped up by corporate entities and they make sense of it, and then they basically feed it back and in the form of advertising and whatnot. We basically have that data and then we feed it through an algorithm for ourselves. And then it basically says, right, well, based on everything that you’ve told me, your life’s a mess and we should turn it around and these are the things that we need to do to help you. And I think that would be immensely useful for the people in general, to make sense of their lives on a daily basis, to wean themselves off for perhaps, and it was kind of a dichotomy to sort of say, wean yourself off technology, but then you’re relying on an AI to help you do that.

But, you know, wean yourself off other things because it’s actually helping you and directing you to make small changes to. So to better your life, because it’s understanding your daily habits. And I think habits are one of the toughest things that humans need to break.

I think we talk about the … we talked about climate change, for example. And how it’s everyone else’s fault, but ours, when in fact there’s 7 billion people on the planet doing daily things that actually impact the climate as well as the big corporations who are pumping out CO2 and not giving a damn.

So we have to break some small habits in order to force them to break one big habit, for example. Yeah. So I think if there are things that can help us achieve that, then I’m all for that kind of self service.

John Koetsier: Nice. Nice. Let’s segue off that then, and you’ve talked about the future of work.

We saw the book come out probably it’s gotta be three, four years now, “The Four Day Work Week” and I think there are actually some countries that are moving in that direction, some of the Scandinavian countries that are moving that direction … to have a four-day work week down from five … can’t imagine that’ll come in the States anytime soon. They’re probably going to move up to six. But, do you see that being achievable?

Theo Priestley: I do in the long run. I think, and again, it kinda goes back to the habits kind of thing. I think what needs to happen is we use the technologies to break the cycle of the five day working week and the mentality around that.

So when we talk about, well, I’m doing four days or five days, or making actually using technology to make us more productive, what that really means is: let’s cram in more work that you can achieve in those five days. I’m not, let’s make you work more efficiently and actually give you some time back for yourself.

And I think that’s the cycle that we need to break in order to achieve a four-day working week for one thing is using their technology to help us achieve this, either the same amount of work or slight something slightly above that level of work within four days, and then give that worker an extra day back for themselves.

And they have to switch off. You know, we have to recognize that yes, we’re always online, but at the same time, we’re giving you the extra day, we’re not going to email you to ask you to do some work from home or anything else like that. And we’re going to serve that time. And then the second cycle that we need to break is obviously, well, how do we fill that time?

You know, how do we not spend a day bingeing Netflix, for example? Because we can though, how do we enable people to … you know, realize some other kind of potential that they have, whether it’s creativity, whether it’s learning, some kind of new skill that’s outside of the workplace, entirely.

Do something for yourself. And how does that happen? So there are a couple of big things. A couple of big societal shifts, I think it’s our attitudes to work. It’s the corporation’s attitudes towards work and productivity. And then humanity’s attitude to how do we move ourselves forward?

John Koetsier: Well, I think that’s essential for people to have some of their time back. I mean, what is the point of having technology? Technology is a tool that helps us do things faster, better, smarter, hopefully. It cannot and can be for other things as well, like military technology.

But, we have technology for a reason and at some point we see that everything that can … like Aaron Levie, CEO of Box told me that he agreed with the statement that anything that can be automated will be automated. Over the long term. Right? And so as that happens, shouldn’t we use that as a way for people to have more time that shouldn’t it take less and less time over the course of coming years for you to earn enough money to have a reasonably good life, a reasonably good living, a couple of vacations, a home, those sorts of things that you want to have. And shouldn’t you be able to do that in less and less time because of the benefits of technology? I think we need to build in that direction.

Theo Priestley: Oh, no, absolutely. I mean, if you think, I mean doctors and nurses, for example, classic, classic example of a profession that is completely overworked, vastly underpaid in my opinion as well. And we see constant reports about some of their work being threatened by algorithms, radiologists, for example, who can turn to an algorithm to, spot diseases or make sure he’s a lot faster.

And I think rather than saying, well, hey, we can make you turn these things around twice as fast. No, but you’re still going to do a 60 hour week. You know, we can say, well, actually let’s bring down those hours a week to something a bit more manageable, which means you can actually spend time with your family.

You don’t have to sleep on a hospital bed in the dark in the dungeon and then not have a shower and have to wake up in five hours time kind of thing, you know? If the algorithm couldn’t take that work away from you, and, and it is this kind of sort of attitude of, you know, doing things faster, smarter, more efficiently, but giving, recognizing that there is still a human being at the end of that work process. And what, how do we basically make their life have more meaning outside of work? You know, if you are living to work, then there’s clearly something wrong, I think with society.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I mean, certainly there are some people who that is their life and that is the meaning of their life. And maybe that’s Elon Musk. But I’m going to guess that that’s a small fraction of the world. And I’m going to guess that even in those cases, those hyper achievers, those workaholics would benefit by having some more time for personal time and family time and other things like that. You’ve talked about, kind of a new golden age or Renaissance. Can you talk about what you mean by that?

Theo Priestley: Yeah. So that kind of stems from the four day working week and giving time back. I kind of mentioned this in my TED talk, where I spoke about would you follow a robot leader and what would people do if AI, you know, not took over the world, but if AI made our lives a lot easier, and I do see algorithms and machine learning and AI sort of.

I’m of the mind that if we, if you want to let AI do the mundane chores, then just let them, because, you know, we weren’t meant to be sitting in a cubicle and a Dilbert box, doing really mundane things. We want to expand what it means to be human. If we want to expand what humanity means as a collective, in terms of art, studying, philosophy, sociology, all those kinds of sorts of things, which are the softer skills rather than technological skills, which is development, coding, all those kinds of sort of things.

So, when I spoke about a Renaissance or a golden age, it was almost peering back in time and seeing, well, look at what the Greeks achieved because they were free to think, and what could we do that, what could we do again if we were free to think, free to create, you know, have that kind of sort of freedom again given to us because AI and robots and stuff like that are actually going to do the really crap stuff that we don’t want to do. Nobody really wants to fill a shelf in a supermarket and nobody wants to serve behind in a McDonald’s or a Burger King, for example.

It we were meant to be better than that. And, and I think we are in this kind of, it’s a really painful transitional period where, you know, we can see that there will be disruption coming through more advanced AI and things like that. What is it going to mean? It’s not going to happen next year.

I mean, we see lots of predictions about people worried about their job, AI’s going to take their job. I mean, let’s put a baseline on this. You know, there is no AI — nobody has AI — there’s some very clever algorithms out there, but they can only achieve very limited things.

There isn’t any AI that can do everything. There’s never going to be a Skynet. These are so far down the line it’s not gonna affect our lifetime probably.  When it does happen, when these things do occur I would hope that we can turn round as a species and say, well let them do the stuff we don’t want to do anymore.

I don’t mind being served by a robot from a burger, as long as it means that I can actually learn how to paint. Or learn how to learn woodwork or learn some kind of, plumbing or, and it’s like anything sort of practical cause again, I think practical skills along with the softer skills are actually going to become more and more important as we face a life dealing with climate change as well.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Interesting. So I can agree with pretty much all that you’re seeing right there. And I do agree with that, and yet see some challenges and I know you’ll see those as well, but I’m interested in your answer to this question because, you know, let’s say we have that future, let’s say it’s 10 years, 20 years from now, whatever it is, and we figured out how to let smart systems, automation and robotics do a lot of the grunt work in society. We’ve also figured out a way to share the wealth and the benefits of that. And I’m guessing some nations are going to be a little better than others at that by the way.

But you know what if you know, 90% of people just want to scroll more through Tiktok watching videos and enjoying themselves all day, or watch Netflix all day, if that’s still around, what’s the scenario there that you see?

Theo Priestley: To me, there’s no real easy answer. I mean, this goes way back into just society in general. I think there will always be pockets of society who will be happy to do nothing, and contribute nothing. You know, in the UK there are, and I’ll probably get shot for this. Or shot down for this, but there are pockets of society who are quite happy to live off benefits and who don’t do anything, who have no inclination to go out and work. But, you know, do have a lifestyle that can be supported purely on benefits alone, and they’re happy with that.

And if that’s how they want to live their lives, and then that’s fine because you can’t force people to turn around what’s natural for them… human nature for them. But it doesn’t mean that the majority of society will be like that.

I think the majority will find that they do want to achieve something. They do want a goal in their life that isn’t tied to work. And does give them some intrinsic meaning to who they are. So I don’t think automation and AI and all these kinds of sort of emerging technologies are going to solve all societal problems, but they will for the majority.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I think I tend to agree with you that for the majority of people, they will find more time to discover what it means to be human and what it means to be them and explore their creativity, explore their interests, explore whether it’s arts and crafts, whether it’s technology, whether it is a practical skill or something like that.

Perhaps it’s more interactions with people, other things like that, but that people largely will explore positive things. And I hope that is actually the case. I wanted to also talk … you just closed a deal to do a pretty significant book project. And I think I’m a part of that actually.

Can you tell us a little bit about what is that book project? What’s it called? What are you doing and when’s it gonna come out?

Theo Priestley: Sure. Yes. You are part of that yeah. So I’ve been mulling the idea of writing a book for a while. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off because I think in the back of my mind when you write a kind of business related type of book, it’s almost like … oh, he’s become a speaker. Oh, he’s become a book writer. Oh … and that is the next thing is to become Gary V … you can sell your soul that way. I’ve been keen to sort of avoid the traditional business book. And what I did was, I thought of a concept where I wanted to tackle the subject of the future and what it means for businesses, society and technology in general.

I didn’t just want to sort of do another Homer Duce kind of thing. I wanted to involve a lot of people because I believe that having different viewpoints and having different inputs actually should enrich the reader experience, but also bring a broader view to, a book.

So, I hit upon the idea of calling the book the Future Is Now, and the subtext is expert insights into the future of business, technology and society. I’m co-authoring it with another futurist from South Africa called Bronwyn Williams. And we are involving 20 to 30 others.

So futurists and experts in different fields to basically, write about the future of health care or about the future of mobility, the future involving AI and the future of banking, all these kinds of business and societal topics that we believe will be key for consideration in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.

And, hopefully, lead the readers through a bit of a journey, but also give them something back in terms of insight, in terms of how to tackle that from their own personal lives, but also from a business perspective. So how does a business adopt AI? How does a business take advantage of the data from IOT?

What does this mean for healthcare? What does this mean if I want to sort of create some kind of new banking empire, that kind of thing. So I’m hoping that the topics resonate with a lot of people, both on a personal, but also from a professional level. And Bloomsbury were excited when we pitched it. They’re picking it up. We signed that deal this week. It will be available, fingers crossed, April 21.

John Koetsier: Wow. Very specific date!

Theo Priestley: Yeah. We have challenging editorial deadlines to meet.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent. Well, I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to starting on the piece that I’m working on and looking forward to seeing the entire thing as well. I wanna thank you for taking some time in your evening in Scotland to join on the podcast here and to contribute your insight on what you see in the future, what you see around the corner, what you see as the future of work and maybe even the future of humanity along with technology. Thank you so much.

Theo Priestley: Thank you John.  Thank you.

Future39 #1 … Futurist Nikolas Badminton: we’re too late to stop climate change (and smart drugs and the future of food)

Welcome to the VERY FIRST EPISODE of future39, the podcast in which we peek at one of our infinite possible futures, every episode.

In this episode, we spend 30 minutes with futurist Nik Badminton on smart drugs, smart food, and the coming “year of resiliency,” in which we start to learn to live with higher temperatures … and all their consequences.

Here’s the full transcript:

John Koetsier: Welcome to future 39, the podcast where every episode we’ll take a shared peak at one of the infinite possible futures that await.

My name is John Koetsier. I write for Forbes, consult with tech companies, and I’m writing Insights From the Future, a book of future news.

We are perhaps the first culture defined by the future of the future. Fear of the future, desire for the future. We can’t stop thinking about the future. It’s exploding into our lives every day in new technology, new wonders and new horrors. Name an area: climate, politics, war, food, culture, art, sports, biology, anything … technology is reinventing our world. This is F-39 number one.

I’m going to introduce our guest today.

Our guest is a futurist and he’s a speaker from Vancouver, Canada. He runs the Exponential Minds podcast. He was programming and hacking computer games at 10, he has a degree in psychology and computer science, a single combined degree. Very interesting. He’s also run conferences like Cyborg Camp, from Now, Future Camp and Dark Futures. He’s written for everything from the BBC to Techcrunch, and he’s spoken to more than 200,000 people at more than 300 events. Nikolas Badminton. Thank you for being our guest.

Nikolas Badminton: Hi John. How are you?

John Koetsier: Doing really, really well. Doing better now that I’m chatting with you! We go back a ways, actually … I mean, we’ve known each other for about a decade.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I was, I was working over at DDB and you are working at a company and you were actually my client and then that company disappeared. And, uh, and then, you know, it was, it was around about eight years ago, I started really leaning into talking about design and futures and human computer interaction and tapping into sort of the subculture of bio hacking and all these things.

Back then, you know, people were kind of thinking we were all a bit strange to be so excited about these areas, and today it’s like a completely viable business.

John Koetsier: It’s wonderful, and you’re doing amazing. And one of the big projects that you have recently, I want to dive into. It’s in and around biohacking and smart drugs, nootropics.

I loved, I don’t know you must’ve seen it as well, the Limitless movie with Bradley Cooper. It’s now on Amazon prime. I think you mentioned iTunes, Google. Talk to me about the project you did and how you got into that.

Nikolas Badminton: [Yeah. So around, about like two years ago, I was approached through some friends. It came at me through two angles. One was through an agent I was working with. Another was through an online tech publication called Betakit. And these documentary producers were looking for a biohacker in Canada that was willing to experiment.

And everyone was saying, go and chat to Nik Badminton. So I ended up chatting to a producer called Anne Shin, and she’s an award winning documentary producer, and she’s a fabulous individual. They said, we’ve got this documentary we’ll want to do on smart drugs. We want to work with someone that knows the area around transhumanism and whatever to help us one shape the documentary too, to take part in the documentary, to host it, to try out the different things that we find.

So that’s what we did. So I sat down and I worked with the producers and directors and we worked out who we’re going to talk to. What was important, what wasn’t important, and then we go on a plane, went to San Francisco and a bunch of other places and met the people doing it. And uh, yeah, I tried a whole bunch of different things to help her.

John Koetsier: Did you have to insert anything under your skin? Anything metallic? Anything with wifi or Bluetooth technology?

Nikolas Badminton: No, I did that on my own a few years before. One of my conferences from now, I actually go to Amaal Graaftra put an RFID chip under my skin.

He runs a company called DangerousThings.com, and he’s been working in implantables for awhile. Anyway, this was very much about the things that you can ingest or the things you can do to your body. Everything from a nootropics. You know, the supplements that give you more focus and attention and stamina in certain cases, uh, all the way through to like a Wim Hof method therapy, you know, breathing a cold water therapy through to, uh, oxygen sitting in a.

Hyperbolic hyperbaric chambers, oxygenate the blood to do whatever. And I’ve gone even further now. I’ve done really deep breath work and I, I do, uh, a therapy called, uh, psychological kinesiology now, which is about belief systems. And, uh, yeah, it’s been fascinating.

John Koetsier: It’s super interesting.

I have a confession to make. I got contacted by a company in SF that was doing nootropics and they sent me a sample and I had the sample, I agreed to do the sample and I checked it out. I thought, you know, what is in this? I have no clue. This is not FDA approved. This is, who knows what’s in this thing.

So you took a bunch of drugs, talk to us a little bit about what those drugs were and what they did for you.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, I mean, FDA approved and all this is, I literally, I was, I was trying, I tried like hooky, hooky Indian, Modafinil off of the black market, you know, you know, I was really willing to like push the boundary.

So Modafinil was one. Obviously, that’s a prescription drug. I was given some that weren’t my prescription. Probably the best for focus. And a lot of entrepreneurs have told me that. It’s amazing for focus in sitting down, writing strategy, you know, doing long stretches of development and whatever.

And then I tried a number of other nootropics. like Piracetam. And Piracetam was actually originally developed in Russia and used on the space program by cosmonauts. And it just gave more focus, attention … sort of oxygenated that brain. And, uh, yeah, that, that was really rock and roll.

I really love that. I, I played around with some nootropics before, like alpha brain, alpha brain or whatever, a few years before, and it just kinda gives you really funky nightmares. Oh, shoot. Yeah. So it’s, it’s not great to take a lot of this, but I really stepped forward and tried out a whole bunch of different things.

I ended up being able to get more done in my days and uh, you know, has it fundamentally changed my life? I don’t think so. But has it shown me that the balance can be achieved by using supplements? Absolutely. It has so I still delve into it once in a while.

John Koetsier: So, so that’s interesting. I mean, like, you know, I want to know when the drug comes out that makes me Bradley Cooper, right. That I can focus and I can, you know, expand my mind … that’d be amazing.

So you don’t use them regularly anymore, but you do do some other things that you learned some, some physical, mental things.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So it was just, it was just really something that, that sort of kickstarted a whole sort of Renaissance with me of, of looking at how things can change. And I, I’d sort of looked at a bunch of it, different areas before and as I stepped into this, this wider world, I started to think, okay.

If there’s some opportunities to use, you know, natural remedies cause all these smart drugs and natural Modafinil is not, it’s a pharmaceutical. But if you can use things like Piracetam or whatever, and you can use a variously CoQ10 and various other sort of over the counter supplements to help really hack how your body works and even using life food as well.

Uh, and, and exercise. Then this is something that we need to unlock. And you know, I’ve, I really struggle with a whole bunch of things like good nutrition and good fitness and whatever. Cause I spend so much time on airplanes and in hotels and speaking on stage of whatever by have to, I have to have a, a balance.

So. Yes. I don’t necessarily, yeah, I don’t necessarily, you know, have a raft of tablets I take everywhere. For example, fenal Piracetam is banned in the UK … is actually a banned substance by the Olympics, so I can’t go flying into the UK with it, so, so you have to still be quite careful because there’s a lot of considerations country by country.

But, um, yeah. I lean on a bunch of different things now to help me really manage how life is. It’s sort of, I’m on sort of version 2.0 of everything.

John Koetsier: Let’s jump to the future of food because it’s a related topic and it’s something that you’re working on recently as well, right?

And there’s so many changes coming on with food. We see the impossible burger. We see, we see meat that isn’t meat, right? We see, um, differences in how we’re producing food with vertical farms that. You’ve got one acre and it produces as much as maybe a 10 acre traditional farm or even more, and you see how important that is it as we lose a land arable land.

Right. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re working on there, what you’re seeing there.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. So I’ve worked with, so I grew up in a farming community. Uh, so I grew up in a 5,000 person village in the Southwest of England, in Somerset, and we had a slaughterhouse in the center of the village.

And we’re surrounded by dairy farms. When I left school, I didn’t have much in terms of qualifications. Um, I was good at computers, but I didn’t get a chance to sit any of those exams. Um, because the educational system is broken. Uh, yeah. And so I ended up working in dairy farms and whatever.

Then went back to university, um, back into computers, AI and the …

John Koetsier: I never would have picked you for a farmer boy, that is amazing. This is insight.

Nikolas Badminton: I know. Yeah, no, absolutely. But like, yeah, I grew up in a, in a community. I worked in a dairy. I used to deliver milk around the village.

I was a milk man. I was a milkman for a number of years after university, and sorry, after, sorry. After

John Koetsier: school and

Nikolas Badminton: university. Um, but you know, now, over the last four or five years since I’ve been doing way more sort of public speaking. Um, it’s a lot of, it’s been with farmers and it’s been with, uh, people that work in the agriculture industry.

And I’ve worked with everyone from like Dow agricultural or, um, you know, Dow pharmaceuticals all the way through to, um, real agriculture, which an online sort of news platform all the way through to, uh, you know, I worked with Bayer. Yeah. That the event earlier this year. And you know what, if you really want to understand the fundamentals of delivering food, speak to farmers, they are hugely technological.

They’ve always been really advanced. Um, the technology world has been hugely skeptical of that at the beginning. Even people like Bill Gates said, I can’t imagine how any farmer would need a personal computer at home. Meanwhile, we’re now in a world where farmers can utilize artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data, drones, satellite technology.

And I had a, uh, like a 70 year old couple that still worked on their farm, obviously with their kids. Um, and the woman got out her smartphone, and she was showing me how she opened and closed the lids on her grain bins. Wonderful. And this is it. This is to me as a revolution … farmers actually find a practical application for technology.

They’re not going to say, yeah, we’re going to buy this. We’re going to buy that. We’re going to buy this, and suddenly our world’s going to be better. Like many big companies can just buy software. For farmers. It’s like, if I’m going to spend $200,000 on this particular thing, say it’s a sensor, that’s going to deliver more than $200,000 worth of value in the next two to three years.

Right? Ideally in the first year. So farmers are very practical about this. Food supply, um, is going to be hugely important in, you know, by 2050 there’s going to be more than 9 billion people on the planet, and the UN thinks that we’re gonna need about 60% more food grown. So food yields, new ways of producing food, vertical farming in cities to reduce the amount of distance that food has to travel.

Um. All sorts of areas that are really being invested in. And you know, you do have the funky things like robotics and AI and whatever, but it does also go back to chemicals and also new ways of actually growing food where you don’t need to rely on fungicides and herbicides, pesticides, much water because water is going to be in, in limited supply going forward. Right.

John Koetsier: It’s super, super interesting. I was just in Bermuda and there’s kind of a preview of the future of food there in some sense, from a consumer point of view, because it’s a tiny Island, 65,000 people, tiny Island. You see the farms there and it looks like somebody’s backyard … that small and I did not see any vertical farms there.

Yeah, and I think that’s a huge opportunity for Island nations like that. But I also, uh, when I went to the, I went to the supermarket and a couple of flowers, $5, right? A cucumber a is $3 or something like that. Right? And it’s super expensive. But if we can implement some of these new technologies, some of these ways of growing food smarter, faster, or just more intensive on the same amount of land.

That’s huge for those places, but that also speaks to where cities might need to go in the future.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I was just in Grand Cayman last year and they pretty much never, they don’t grow their own food. They’ve got some sort of smaller farms, just like you say, like it was backyards.

I’m not sure if Bermuda is the same. You’ve got places like grand Cayman that’s got a huge amount of agricultural potential, but because of the modern world, they fly everything in from Miami. That’s why it’s like $5 for a cucumber. And it’s kind of backwards. I mean, we’ve kind of got it wrong. The modern food supply system of scale, grow food at scale and distribute supply chain is kind of gone wrong because there’s been lots of sort of, you know, shaking hands and deals made to distribute.

You know food. I mean, I was in the supermarket just yesterday and there’s, there’s, there’s garlic from China and those garlic from Ontario. Yes. And it’s like, well, I’m going to buy to go from Ontario even though it’s more expensive. And it’s like, you need, you mean to tell me that garlic is traveled all the way from China to the supermarket.

To me that that fundamentally means that there’s a problem with how we’re growing and sharing food. I mean, who knows how old that garlic is? I mean, the average age of an apple on the shelf in the supermarket is like, what, nine months?

Maybe even more than that.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Wow. So I actually think that there’s a huge potential to sort of bring it closer to home to, to grow the food that we need. And this is why things like cellular meat and plant-based diets and whatever are starting to gain a lot more, um, sort of credence in the conversations happening in the world.

Because, uh, it just reduces that supply chain between the producer and the, the end consumer.

John Koetsier: Well, what’s super interesting to me is that with these new technologies and more intensive agriculture on limited spaces, we can reinvent what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So, yeah. We see in cities that the architecture is growing towards more of a live work type of scenario.

We see some innovations there. What if in the future we looked at cities and we said, Hey, the architecture we’re going to build, we’re going to build spaces for people to live spaces for people to work. You know what? We’re going to build spaces for greenery right into that and the farm is all around us.

And wouldn’t that be amazing for sustainability, for the, for the environment, for how we would feel emotionally about the places that we live in? There’s such huge potential there. Uh, just like in, in energy production, which is going to get decentralized.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I, as I look out from my apartment, I’m in Toronto at the moment and I look out over when, when it’s not snowing, you’ve got rooftops and you’ve got roofs that you can literally go through … I’ve got friend Arlene who runs the rooftop farm at Ryerson, and she’s got a doctorate in agriculture and food production. And, uh, so she, she’s looking at how you can use these spaces in new ways. And I completely agree. We, we’ve dehumanized. The city is literally places that it’s easy to get from B to B in a, in a vehicle, rather than actually having a good human experience on the streets. You know, these rooftops are just one step in the right direction of being able to grow food, but it’s still like a very small amount of rooftops in, in Toronto, probably only about in the whole of Toronto. And it’s actually got that kind of a thing going on.

And even though it’s quite sensible and it’s because, you know, we, we saw forgotten the importance of growing our own food and we don’t reward the people that do right.

John Koetsier: Right, right. It’s almost like we planned this. We didn’t actually, but you know, there’s a great segue here because we want to talk a little bit about climate change as well.

And, and climate change is probably one of the bigger, if not the biggest, uh, challenges facing us right now. And yet. A technology which has in in a very large sense, caused this problem, enabled us to grow to a staggering numbers, enabled us to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Technology also promises potentially the ability to slow it down. Maybe even reverse it. Talk a little bit about some of the things you’re seeing.

Nikolas Badminton: I mean, we were actually in this a situation where we’re never going to be able to reverse it. We’re never going to get cooler as a planet and that sort of there are a lot of people are saying, Oh, you know, we can do geo engineering and we can, we can bring CO2 out of the atmosphere and that’d be great.

That’s not going to happen on a scale that’s going to be actually useful for reducing climate is going to be part and parcel of the solution and an overall everything from like planting trees to geoengineering to um, sustainable practices, running businesses and transportation is going to lead to a future that’s a little bit more stable versus getting warmer and warmer and warmer.

And causing all sorts of catastrophes like, um, the Arctic ice melting and never coming back or, you know, tundra fires and whatever. But over the last 250 years, the industrial revolutions that have shaped our modern world, right through communication, energy, and transportation, and all of that was enabled by fossil fuels. Right?

Um, the early days of, of, of driving cars, you know, the early cars, the best early cars are electric. Their battery technology was just terrible. And then you had the, uh, you know, oligarchs coming in and saying, actually, we’ve got an abundance of oil and we’re going to use combustion engines.

And then was like, Oh, no, that’s absolutely fine. Now we’re in today where you’ve got a hundred of the world’s largest companies make their money by, you know, pumping oil, like getting gas out of the ground or whatever, and distributing that, and they’re causing a huge amount of trouble in industry.

Um, and because we’re still burning it for industrial transportation, like shipping and flying, uh, for personal transportation, whatever, and, um, big changes haven’t happened and they’re not happening yet. Not that I can see. Um. I call 2020 the year of resiliency because we need to work out how we’re going to survive a world where we’re going to be warmer, where there is going to be more adverse weather conditions where you know, our children might have higher incidences of, uh, of, of asthma and eczema and all sorts of things that can be caused by lower quality of air. I mean, if you look at the pictures, I think it’s Delhi right now.

John Koetsier: Yeah. It’s just horrific.

Nikolas Badminton: I mean, back in the 1950s, uh, there, there was also London, there was choked by the similar sort of thing, um, for four days. And like 50 plus people died there in India and hundreds, maybe thousands of people are dying because we’ve absolutely choked the earth.

The inconvenient truth is that the earth is becoming an inhospitable place to live, and as things get warmer, you’re going to say goodbye to places like potentially Grand Cayman and Bermuda because the water is going to be rising.

You know, places like Bangladesh just aren’t going to exist in a hundred years time. If we don’t start taking some action today.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes, yes. Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing. You’re working with some of the largest investment firms in the world, a luxury brands, advertising.

What are you telling these people? What are you giving these people? What are you helping these companies with?

Nikolas Badminton: So over the past few years, I’ve sort of taken, I spent the majority of my career working in technology strategy and then business strategy. So I’ve sort of beefed that up. And now with what I’ve been doing in terms of looking out five, 10, 20 years is I’ve developed a lot of foresight practices and I, I’ve got an associate consultancy.

So I’ve got a bunch of people. I talk to everyone from experts in cyber crime to impact, to, uh, to other futurists as well, that they’re specialized in certain areas. And what we do is, um, typically I get clients coming to me. They’re saying, okay. We realized that our quarterly by quarterly view or our 18-month view isn’t really delivering enough inspiration into our organization to get people to care about what the future is going to be.

And typically it starts with organizations wanting to ignite their own employees, but it typically ends with an idea of creating foresight programs, very much like innovation was touted as something being important in organization. Foresight is being touted as well. Now innovation practices a bit have been established and innovation mindset has been put in place.

The same thing’s happening with foresight. So being able to help people look into the future and forecast, you know, based on a product or based on a consumer change and whatever, what the world would be like in five, 10 20 years. Helps them work out how they can create a resilient business.

John Koetsier: This is amazing. I mean, it’s really amazing because, uh, we’re not far from a time. In fact, we’re still in a time where most companies, uh, are quarterly focused. What’s happening next quarter? Are we meeting the numbers this quarter? Are we set up well for next quarter? And in a climate change world, a rapidly evolving technological world … isn’t one where you can just look at the next quarter.

You’ve got gotta look a few years out, you gotta look at a decade out. You’ve got to see how are we going to be relevant in a world that is fundamentally changing. So that’s super interesting.

Nikolas Badminton: We have to listen to the warnings that are coming. About a month and a half ago, over 130 banks at the United nations in New York city came together. And you know these, these are banks that have got assets under management around about $47 trillion. Trillion with a T.

John Koetsier: So they’re the small banks of the world …

Nikolas Badminton: These are the people that are controlling the flow of what’s happening globally and everything from trade to GDP or whatever.

And, and they’re saying we know that the climate warming is going to be bad for business. And by the way, if you’re in our portfolio, and many of the fossil fuel companies are, it’s like we’re going to divest away from you. They’re taking brave steps towards that.

New York city investment funds are taking steps, uh, away from that as well. So that was one warning.

Another warning that came in was Mark Carney, the governor of the bank of England turned around and said if you work in a business and you do not take sustainability seriously, you do not take, um, the, the effects of climate change seriously … and you do not change.

You risk become obsolete and ultimately bankrupt as a business. So when you start to hear these players coming in and giving these warnings, you’ve got CEOs starting to pay a lot of attention. And every single one of my keynotes, I start with this. Um. I was in Halifax last week to a small group of private companies and doing it with a, with a, with a consultancy partner of mine.

And I’ve been to, you know, 300, 400 conferences and, and I start with we have to take this seriously. And four years ago, people were literally laughing at me. And even at the beginning of this year, I did a private group. I can’t, can’t say too much about it because it’s under Chatham house rules, but it was a private group.

And I was talking about seriously, about, you know, electricity supply and sustainability, the fact that we have to remove a move to renewables and how the, the end is knife for fossil fuels. And there were, there was a table of people. They were from a certain part of North America that will remain unnamed.

John Koetsier: It’s a large part …

Nikolas Badminton: They were just literally talking in the background and it’s like there are some people that literally have got their heads in the sand and think it isn’t a problem. And fundamentally, you know, these are the people that will be out of jobs. And I don’t know why people deny information and science and you know, perpetuating ideas.

I spoke at a conference full of oil and gas workers just two months ago. And, uh, there were a large union or oil and gas workers, and the deputy secretary stood up and said, um, yeah, we want to get out of fossil fuels. We want, we want to see these companies step up and be part of, you know, a solution towards resiliency.

We want them to step into renewables and we want them to hire us. And I gave my presentation and I was quite worried because it’s like these people rely on oil and gas for their salary. And they stood up and gave me a round of applause.

And I was like, this is wild. And it’s because it’s all making sense to all people today except for the people in absolute denial.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s a wonderful thing. And I mean, those of us in the world of technology and who keep up with the news and all that know, for instance, there’s more people employed in the solar industry than in the coal industry in the US and I know that’s the unnamed nation.

I’m thinking that’s the unnamed nation. You’d do not need to confirm or deny that.

Nikolas Badminton: Look at China for where the big changes are happening. Yeah, yeah. Typically they were generating electricity from coal, then are shutting down tons of, excuse me. pardon the pun … tons of coal factories are slowing down and they’re opening huge amounts of, of, of solar generation, uh, ability through wind and through solar in both China and Mongolia.

And they’re starting to look at initiatives like the Asian super grid to connect up like Russia and Korea, Japan, Taiwan to unlimited cheap electricity generated by wind and solar, and they’re now deploying the full infrastructure in their cities. They’re deploying about 6,000 electric buses every, every five or six weeks in their cities to replace all of the internal combustion engine vehicles that are there.

John Koetsier: It’s amazing.

Nikolas Badminton: It is amazing. They can do it because there’s one guy in charge of the country that says, do it and everyone does it right. And fundamentally, they’re, they’re the people that are gonna really own the new world infrastructure. Um, North America is actually in a risk position where they could be potentially annexed out of a global energy, a renewable energies grid.

But yeah, that’s a few years away. But yes, I’m very much an advocate for stepping up and thinking about renewable energy. I talk about it again in every presentation to farmers, to big banks, to consumer product companies. And we all have to have a responsibility to do the best for the planet as we go forward.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Nick, I just want to thank you for spending a half an hour with us. I want to thank you for sharing what you’ve learned and what you’re seeing and also what you’re hearing from your clients and sharing that with us. I really appreciate your time.

Nikolas Badminton: I appreciate the conversation, John. Always a pleasure.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much for spending some time with Future 39. If you enjoyed this podcast, please do take a moment to go to iTunes, go to Podcasts, go to Spotify, wherever you pick this podcast up, and give it a like, give it a rating, and give it a review. Give it a thumbs up. Thank you so much and have a wonderful day.