Coming up to ten years on from the 2007 Technology Futures programme we conducted for Shell, several people have been asking how well the expert perspectives have played out. This is the summary of two sets of weeklong discussions that took place in Bangalore and London, each of which included around 20 experts from across multiple disciplines all looking out 20 years at how technology may, or may not influence society. This was the second run of the Technology Futures programme after the initial project in 2004 where similar discussions had taken place in Amsterdam and Houston.
At a time when oil accounted for over a third of the world’s energy supply and renewables for less than a tenth of that amount, core areas of future focus were on the potential rise of biofuels, nuclear, solar, wind and wave as well as the challenges in enabling a more electric world. Specific issues raised included the opportunities from second and third generation biofuels and the role of synthetic organisms in the mix; pebble bed nuclear reactors and the potential for fusion; concentrated solar power, the increasing efficiency of photovoltaics and associated cost reductions; energy storage, battery power and superconductivity; hydrogen and microbial fuel cells; the impact of maglev trains, autonomous vehicles as well as data mining and quantum computing. Nearly ten years on the summaries of each of these, the likely development paths and the associated constraints and enabling factors are a recommended read.
Personally, however, it is the later chapters that are most insightful, especially in the context of today’s challenges. Whereas many of the energy related technology shifts have played out, largely in line with some of the expert expectations, it is some of cross-cutting views from 2007 that still seem to be at the fore of our to-do list: How to better collaborate globally and locally, especially across multi-sector partnerships; how to manage distributed activities better than centralised ones; how to better share value from intellectual property; and how best to harness artificial intelligence are all questions as relevant today as they were when we first held the discussions.
While we spend more of our time continuing to look forward, seeking new opportunities and challenges to address, if you have a spare hour or so, I would recommend a flick through the summary report which is available for download here.