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More mind-blowing "situational futuring" scenarios


(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

Unlike the study of macro or megatrends, situational futuring is a micro-futuring process that begins with a single invention, tiny idea, or what-if condition and expands from there.

The process begins with an initial scenario and asking some of the standard who-what-when-where-how-and-why questions. Probing deeper, questions formulated around things like timing, monetary implications, disruptive effects, symbiotic partners, who-wins-who-loses, wild cards, policy changes, and strange bedfellows will help expand your thinking even further.

Here are some more examples of starting points designed to begin the conversational thread of situational futuring.

23. Hyper-Individualized Medicine – Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow believes we will soon be using 3D printers to replace traditional pharmaceuticals with hyper-individualized medicines that are printed specifically for the person at the time they ordered them. What are the likely health and business implications from this kind of technology?

24. Crypto Currencies Bitcoin is the first crypto currency to make major inroads as an alternative to national currencies. What will be the first major banking system to accept deposits either from bitcoin or some other crypto currency?

25. Atmospheric Water Harvesters – Several new technologies have been developed to extract moisture directly from the air. These have become known as atmospheric water harvesters. How long will it be before we see the first city to harvest 100% of its water supply from the atmosphere?

26. Ultra High Speed Transportation System – Today’s high speed trains max out around 300 mph. However, vacuum tube transportation systems, like the one being proposed by ET3, have the potential to exceed 4,000 mph. Once implemented, how will a technology like this affect the airline industry?

27. Genetically Engineered Athletes – Will genetically engineered designer babies, often referred to as super-babies, grow up to become super-humans? Will the prospects of creating bigger, faster, stronger humans change the rules for professional sports?

28. Mass Energy Storage – We are now entering the early growth stages of what will surely become a huge global industry – energy storage. In what year will we see the first mass energy storage system capable of storing enough energy to power a city of 1 million people for over a month? How will that impact the price of power?

29. Large Scale 3D Printing�– In April the Chinese company, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering, created the first 3D printed house. They not only printed a house, they completed 10 houses in a single day using a massive printer that was 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. How long before this same technology can be used to 3D print much larger items such as ships, stadiums, aircraft, and even floating islands?

30. Water Bullets � Non-lethal weapons employ many different technologies, but using water bullets could be the easiest to use and also the least dangerous. Are water bullets a likely candidate for non-lethal weapon technology, and how long before police forces are equipped to use them?

31. Crowd-Sourced Court System – If a court system were developed using crowdsourcing to form its jury decisions, what things would have to change in our current justice system? Would this be a fairer kind of justice and who would be the early adopters?

32. Instant Sleep � The workaholic’s dream. People who need to finish an important project, but are feeling exhausted, would simply walk into the instant-sleep chamber, and Voila! In a few seconds they would walk back out, fully rejuvenated and raring to go. Is this possible?

33. Global Language Archive�– Over the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will disappear, as young people abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. Do we have a moral obligation to begin archiving our languages in a central repository as a way to preserve our cultures, and in many ways, our humanity?

34. Legalized Marijuana Movement – Tracking very similarly to the end of prohibition in 1929, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington is paving the way for other states and counties to follow suit. How long before the marijuana is as prevalent as alcohol in nightclubs around the U.S. and around the world?

35. Perpetual Self-Filling Canteen – In a world where people continually die from lack of hydration, one of the most-needed devices is a handheld canteen that is constantly extracting moisture from the air. What are some of the ways a technology like this can be used and how large of market could a technology like this create?

36. Downloadable Personalities – If you had the ability to create a new “personality” for your conversational computer, with some new personality-builder software, what features would you want it to have? Who are some of today’s best-known celebrities that would likely show up as downloadable personalities for your computer, car, or robot? How would this affect your relationship with your machines as well as other people?

37. Nano-Netting – Using super strong fibers so small that they are invisible to the human eye, nano-netting will provide a fibrous support structure that is visually non-intrusive but capable of keeping out insects, birds, and other unwanted animals. But this technology will also enable objects to be suspended in air with seemingly invisible support. Invisible fences, invisible screens, invisible cars and windmills will all be possible. What kind of market will there be for invisible netting like this?

38. Electron-Based Information Storage – Yes, Moore’s Law is still in effect, but we are still a long ways from using electrons as the basis for our storage medium. How long will it be before this happens and how will achieving this milestone for ultra tiny storage particle change the tech industry?

39. Seed Capitalists �� In the startup business world there is a huge gulf between initial concept and fundable prototypes. This dearth of funding options will require an entirely new profession. How will the introduction of seed capitalists, who specialize in high-risk early stage startups, change the entrepreneurial landscape?

40. Avatar Relationship Managers – As the foibles of humanity enter the realm of autonomous, freethinking avatars, people will find it necessary to both manage and limit the often-dangerous relationships that our avatars get us into. Will this be a near term problem?

41. Anomaly Zero – The medical problems most people have can be traced to changes in a single cell. Anomaly Zero is the first detectable sign that something is wrong. We may not be able to spot a change in a single cell, but can get far closer than what we detect today. So how can we use our pursuit of Anomaly Zero to intervene before major damage begins?

42. Robotic Earthworms �� The most valuable land on the planet will soon be the landfills because that is where we have buried our most valuable natural resources. In the future, robotic earthworms will be used to silently mine the landfills and replace whatever is extracted with high-grade soil.

43. Movable Holes � If you drill a hole in the wrong place, will it someday be possible to simply move the hole. Will this type of technology ever be practical? If so, how will movable holes be advertised and sold?

44. Flashdark – As a device that works the opposite of a flashlight, the “flashdark” can be used to shine “darkness” onto any surface. So if you’re getting too much sun on the beach, shining darkness on yourself becomes an easy solution. Does the invention of the “flashdark” violate our current laws of physics? Even so, is it still a viable technology?

Final Thoughts

How much power and influence do predictions have? Do predictions sometimes influence an event to happen? Are some more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a prediction?

The answer depends on many factors. Who is making the prediction, how credible are they, how many people are actually paying attention to it, and are there other factors we may not be aware of?

As with most predictions, some of the ones above are far more likely than others. But the true value in this kind of list comes from giving serious consideration to each one of them and reaching your own conclusions. And situational futuring is a fascinating tool that can help you do exactly that.

In this context predictions become an important tool, even when they are wrong.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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