Timeline of Emerging Science & Technology – An Interview with Richard Watson

This article was originally published at Innovation Excellence on July 30, 2014.

After discovering Richard Watson’s work in 2010, he has inspired and shaped the lens through which I (along with many of his readers, followers and clients) view the world.

Richard is an author, futurist and scenario planner who helps organizations to think further ahead.

Whether it is through talks like Eating in 2030The Future of Work or through his best selling books (outlined below), he tends to suck us into a place where we become completely engrossed in his world of critical examination about the risks and opportunities that lie ahead. His books include:

  • Future Files: A History of the Next 50 Years
  • Future Minds: How the Digital Age is Changing Our Minds
  • The Future: 50 Things You Really Need to Know
  • Future Vision: Scenarios for the World in 2040 (with Oliver Freeman)

Since the release of his data visualization Timeline of Emerging Science & Technology, I had a wonderful opportunity to interview him to learn more about it and to share it here along with the Innovation Excellence community.

Interview with Richard Watson

Lynda Koster: Can you tell us about your Timeline of Emerging Science & Technology and what inspired its creation?

Richard Watson: I’ve been interested in repeating my 2010+ Trends & Technology Timeline for some time and had various attempts (one based on the crossword, another on the periodic table etc). The idea for this one was a tweak on the London tube map plus the need for something viral from Imperial College London. We did about 12 drafts. Someone pointed out recently that the map /timeline looks like an eye and optic nerve.

(LK): Biggest insights since the release of your 2010 Trends and Technology Timeline?

(RW): People like data visualization and info-graphics!!!! (ands free stuff).

(LK): Tell us a little more about you. What is Futures House and what do you do?

(RW): I am a writer that’s interested in the future. Some people think this makes me a futurist. I try to avoid this job spec as much as possible (bit flaky) but I have to give in to it from time to time. My blog is the accidental futurist. Reluctant might be closer, but this is already taken. Futures House is a scenario planning company (tiny) and uses scenario thinking to provoke and test strategic thinking.

(LK): Can you describe your approach to multiple futures and scenario planning?

(RW): I’m OK with single (linear) futures especially if you are only looking a few years out (1-5 years say) but I’m much more comfortable taking the multiple futures approach. If there is one thing we can say with absolute certainly about the future it is that it’s uncertain. Thus, there is always (and I really do mean always) more than one way that things could turn out. Scenarios are a framework that acknowledges such multiple futures. My approach is more or less the GBN approach (Stewart Brand et al), which in turn came out of Shell.

(LK): What are the biggest misconceptions about what it means to be a “futurist”?

(RW): That it’s all about predicting the future. This can be fun, but it’s really about thinking and about thinking about things differently (and in so doing you often end up thinking about ‘now’ (the present) in a new light).

(LK): Can you explain a little more about how this timeline works with the connection points/overlapping of Green, Digital, Nano, Neuro and Bio?

(RW): In terms of what’s on the map, there are 5 key mega-technologies, which are Digital-tech (Essentially Info-tech), Bio-tech, Nano-tech, Neuro-tech and Green-tech (sometimes referred to as clean-tech).

We have split the map into 3 time zones. The first is ‘Present’, which we are defining as now or thereabouts (2014-2015) with at least 1,000 working examples where appropriate (events can be one-off occurrences, but innovations generally need at least 1,000 working examples to be included). ‘Probable’ is the second zone and this is defined as 2015-2030. The third zone is ‘Possible’, defined as being potentially available from 2030 onwards.

See full story of the timeline on What’s Next: Top Trends by CLICKING HERE

(LK): I could get lost in this for days – and have. A few things that stood out (among so many) were, Scaffolds for growing stem cell body parts (present), Cities ban human drivers (Probable) and Insect-Burger food Vans (Possible). This alone has me inspired to do additional research. What can you share about any of these i.e. Why are insect-burger food van possible?

(RW): Insect Burger vans? Not 100% serious, but food vans seem to be huge (especially in US I believe) and eating insects as an alterative form of protein is getting talked about lots too. Personally I doubt it! Double McLocust Burger and grasshopper fries?

(LK): When is your next book coming out?

(RW): No idea. 2016? Xmas 2015 with a strong wind on my back (i.e. a proper deadline). So far written preface and about six pages of chapter one. It’s very much the sequel to Future Files (now 7 years old).

(LK):  Is there anything else that you would like to add or share here (with our innovation community)?

(RW): Not really, except I’m getting more interested (again) in creativity and who, what and where makes innovation happen. The Future is becoming too predictable!

Please Note: The Timeline of Emerging Science & Technology (2014 to 2030+) is published under a Creative Commons license, so you can use it commercially or make versions of it without asking, although Richard would be grateful if anyone using it links back to his original version. Download HERE.

A big thank you to Richard, for his time and generosity in this interview. Thank You Richard!