A couple of years ago I reviewed the excellent report by the Canadian Government’s foresight organization’s Meta-scan 2 Report. I am a huge admirer of the work done by the Policy Horizons Canada the foresight organization.
I had missed that they have now brought out their Meta-scan 3 Report. The web site has some excellent videos which: “enable the reader to examine or build their own mental model of these technologies.”
I would make this report a must read for any person engaged in policy development in any area. We are at the edge of huge changes in so many different areas which will impact on employment and our way of life and most people are unaware of what is coming.
What has been a real problem for many people is the rate of change compared to the past and our ability to absorb those changes in our everyday lives. This is only going to increase as we move forward.
What Meta-scan 3 report does is identify what some of the most likely disruptive technologies are going to be in the next 15 years and the policy challenges ahead.
Meta scan 3 report
The report looks at the potential impact of:
- Emerging Biotechnologies: synthetic biology, bioinformatics, tissue engineering
- Emerging Nanotechnologies: Nanomaterials, nanodevices and nanosensors, nanotechnology for energy
- Emerging Neuroscience Technologies: Naurostimulation, brain-computer interface
- Emerging Digital Technologies: Artificial intelligence, robotics
Most of these are not in general public discourse yet but every government and policy makers should be looking at them and their impacts. Picking up a thread from my review of the Meta-scan 2 report and projects of up to 2 billion job losses over the next 15 years by some people should focus politician’s minds.
So a couple of key areas I want to highlight:
Synthetic Biology: what is possibly the least know and potentially most disruptive of the emerging technologies it basically is developing new biological systems including new foods. It uses:
“genetically engineered organisms to manufacture a growing range of materials such as bioplastics, biofuels, biorubber, biosteel, spider silk and industrial chemicals. Industries that may be disrupted include pulp and paper, building materials, chemical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and fossil fuel extraction.” (Metascan 3)
Policy challenges: Creating of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs), automating farms into smart farms with massive loss of jobs:
Bioinformations: The report suggests that ‘do it yourself’ surveillance and weapons systems will become common – the example used in the Switchblade drone which si lethal at short distances and fits into a small backpack. These are going to cause huge problems for the police and military. With open source material and information on all of us now so accessible on the web then the issue of privacy will need redefining. The report says:
“Smart devices will routinely know a person’s movement, and location to within 10 cms, which will make it possible to infer a person’s activity, behavour, interactions and relationships.”
Policy challenges: How to prepare for the spread of cheap but lethal do-it yourself weapons. The reduction of our privacy
3D printing: Over the last two years since I wrote a review of the Meta-scan 2 Report we have seen 3D printers move to the high street, houses being produced by 3D printers and unfortunately guns. The potential for 3D printing many things including veins, hearts in health is huge as is the loss of jobs. Loss of jobs in many industries including building industry and transportation industries with the google car/lorries – driver-less take the products and people from a-b
Policy challenges: How will infrastructure need to change, what rule should govern what you can or cannot print.
The report is rich with suggested impacts and questions for policy makers. What is clear is that the norm for jobs will be mess and many will move to be temporary jobs. There will be so many more freelance jobs already one of the biggest web sites out and there and growing is Freelance dot com
What Next and Post-2015
- The overall policy challenges the report ask policy makers to look at are:
- Temporary jobs become the norm;
- New patterns of inequality;
- Infrastructure in Transition
- Shifting Competitive advantage;
- Strengthening the Risk Management System;
- Traditional Notions of IP may no longer be relevant;
- Exploring New Approaches to Productive and Innovation.
With less people working one of the critical issues will be how the social service is paid for. With a shrinking tax base but an increasing pollution with less jobs it is a recipe for instability unless governments prepare people for the changes coming and the skill base and mindset to be able to change jobs regularly. Some people are even suggesting that the state should provide a minimum wage for people and that jobs post 2030 may be more shared among people. There huge challenges ahead and so what could the intergovernmental process do to help address these?
I would recommend the UN Secretary General with the UN General Assembly to set up a Commission into New Technologies and their Impacts. This should not be a short time Commission but one which is built on the Brundtland Commission. I would suggest it should be a three year commission with open hearings and its members should include some of the people engaged in the emerging and disruptive technologies.
This is important in the Post-2015 discussion in a number of ways. The first is the discussion on technology facilitation mechanisms. My suggestion is those should be set up for each of the different goals with the relevant UN Agency or Programme acting as a Task Manger for setting up the sector specific technology facilitation mechanism. The second is in areas where they need to have new international and regulation in most of those four areas.