Where’s Watson?

Where have I been? LinkedIn mainly. I will try to be here more often in the future. Much to post, but let’s start with this article about when innovations succeeed – or fall flat. Best read having looked at Gartner’s Hype Cycle and my own Table of Disruptive Terchnologies.

Table of Disruptive Technologies & Innovation

Here, after what to me feels like an eternity, is my table of disruptive technologies, which is designed to make people think, at least periodically. If nothing else I’m sure it will be a catalyst for a few debates, not least some good arguments about what is and isn’t included and where things are positioned in terms of impact and time.

The idea for the table initially came from me stumbling upon a list of emerging technologies on Wikipedia. This felt fairly accurate, but also rather lifeless. It wasn’t especially contextual either. Other lists from MIT Tech Review and McKinsey were better, but somehow these weren’t showing the bigger picture either. 

Using all this as a good starting point I did some further research to identify candidate technologies and then spoke with Anna and academics at Imperial College to validate the thinking. This was the easy bit. 

The tricky part was then deciding which technologies to leave out and how to rank both the disruptive potential of each technology and time (both near impossible, but we had a good go using small post-it notes that could be moved around easily). What results is far from perfect, but it’s better than anything else I’ve seen and it’s hopefully a foundation for people being wrong in really useful and interesting ways.

Here’s how it works.

The table consists of 100 potentially disruptive technologies, which we have defined as new technologies capable of significant social, economic or political upheaval.
One axis (Y Axis) ranks potential for disruption from high to low, while the other (X Axis) is time ranked from sooner to later. Importantly, time relates to common usage or ubiquity, not initial invention. All very subjective, I know, but it has been thought about quite a bit.

The 100 technologies (99 really) are then divided into four groups. Horizon one technologies (green on the table) are new technologies that are happening right now. Companies should be integrating and executing these technologies right now if they are appropriate.

Horizon two technologies (yellow) are probable near future technologies (10-20 years hence). Companies should be experimenting and discussing these technologies now.

Horizon three technologies (red) are things that are likely to emerge in the more distant future (20 years plus). Companies should keep an eye on developments in these areas and explore when appropriate.

The outer edge of the table (grey) contains what we’ve termed Ghost Technologies. This is the really good bit! This is fringe thinking territory with some ideas bordering on complete lunacy. However, while each example is highly improbable, very few, if any, are totally impossible.

Each of the 100 technologies has then been given an abbreviation, followed by a very brief and hopefully self-explanatory description. Each technology is then categorized according to one of five subjective themes (Data Ecosystems, Smart Planet, Extreme Automation, Human Augmentation and Human-Machine interactions). 

On the far right of the table are examples of companies active in each of the technology areas. (Thanks to Roddy for thinking of this and to Gaby for researching it).These examples are not comprehensive and if I’ve missed anything significant (or put something in the wrong place, which is quite possible) then apologies. BTW, note the number of US companies on this list and also the strength of Apple, Google and Musk. 

A couple of things worth pointing out are what’s missing from the table, especially the impact of human psychology (users) and the way in which two or more technology elements might interact (see the small print at the bottom of the chart).

A high resolution Pdf suitable for printing is here. I’d recommend A2 full colour minimum. Ask if you need another file type or hard paper copies.

The list of 100.

Smart nappies
Deep ocean wind farms
Vertical agriculture
Wireless energy transfer
Concentrated solar power
Predictive policing
Micro-scale ambient energy harvesting
Robotic care companions
Smart control of appliances
Cultured meat
Delivery robots and passenger drones
Distributed ledgers
Precision agriculture
Autonomous vehicles
Intention decoding algorithms
Balloon-powered internet
Powered exoskeletons
Computerised shoes and clothing
Airborne wind turbines (high altitude)
Avatar companions
Metallic hydrogen energy storage
Autonomous ships and submarines
Resource gamification
Water harvesting from air
Drone freight delivery
Autonomous passenger aircraft
3D-printing of food and pharmaceuticals
Medical tricorders
Smart flooring and carpets
Diagnostic toilets
Smart energy grids
Algal bio-fuels
Human organ printing
Artificial human blood substitute
Mega-scale desalination
Self-writing software
Public mood monitoring machines
Programmable bacteria
Peer-to-peer energy trading and transmission
Lifelong personal avatar assistants
Smart dust
Predictive gene-based healthcare
Automated knowledge discovery
Autonomous robotic surgery
Emotionally aware machines
Humanoid sex-robots
Human bio hacking
Internet of DNA
Vacuum-tube transport
Scram jets
Smart glasses and contact lenses
Pollution-eating buildings
Broadcasting of electricity
Swarm robotics
4-dimenional materials (and printing)
New (Nano) materials
Fusion power
Low-cost space travel
Colonisation of another planet
Thought control machine interfaces
Dream reading and recording
Planetary-scale spectroscopy
Implantable phones
e-tagging of new-borns
Male pregnancy and artificial wombs
DNA data storage
Genomic vaccines
Quantum safe cryptography
Cognitive prosthetics
Data uploading to the brain
Conversational machine interfaces
Life-expectancy algorithms
Stratospheric aerosols
Battlefield robots
AI advisors and decision-making machines
AI board members and politicians
Invisibility shields
Factory photosynthesis
Trans human technologies
Digital footprint eraser
Personal digital shields
Human head transplants
Human cloning and de-extinction
Distributed autonomous corporations
Space solar power
Space elevators
Fully immersive VR
Artificial consciousness
Reactionless drive
Whole Earth virtualisation
Shape shifting matter
Self-reconfiguring robots
Zero-point energy
Beam-powered propulsion
Force fields
Asteroid mining
I can’t talk about the last one 😉

Further reading links

McKinsey & Company article of disruptive technologies

Accenture 5 disruptive technologies

EY 4 disruptive themes

List of emerging technologies – Wikipedia

Disruptive Technologies by Paul Armstrong

Disruption hub


MIT Tech Review

PS – Big thanks to Anna, Gabby, Nik and Lawrence who helped with this. Images of table development below.

Idea of the month

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 17.03.53





This is interesting. Text streaming technology. Not sure if I want to do it, but it’s certainly radical. Interesting implications for libraries, publishing, education and, of course, reading.

What is it? The company explains it this way:

“The time consuming part of reading lies mainly in the actual eye movements from word to word and sentence to sentence. In addition, traditional reading simply takes up a lot of physical space. Spritz solves both of these problems. First, your eyes do not have to move from word to word or around the page that you’re reading. In fact, there’s no longer a page – with Spritz you only need 13 total characters to show all of your content. Fast streaming of text is easier and more comfortable for the reader, especially when reading areas become smaller.”

Thanks to Luke who put me onto this.


Screens Vs Paper (and comprehension)



I’ve just (almost) completed some scenarios for the future of gaming so I’m back in the office scribbling like a demon. The latest scribble is a map of emerging technologies and it occurs to me that I am never happier than when I’ve got a sharp pencil in my hand and a large sheet of white paper stretching out in front of me.

Thinking of this, there was an excellent piece this time last year (22/29 December 2012) in the New Scientist on the power of doodles. Freud, apparently, thought that doodles were a back door into the psyche (of course he did – a carrot was never a carrot, right). Meanwhile, a study by Capital University suggests that the complexity of a doodle is not correlated in any way with how distracted a person is. Indeed, doodling can support concentration and improve memory and understanding. Phew.

While I’m on the subject of paper by the way, there’s an excellent paper on why the brain prefers paper in Scientific American (issue of November 2013). Here are a few choice quotes:

“Whether they realise it or not, people often approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conductive to learning than the one they bring to paper.”

“In recent research by Karin James of Indiana University Bloomington, the reading circuits of five-year-old children crackled with activity when they practiced writing letters by hand, but not when they typed letters on a keyboard.”

“Screens sometimes impair comprehension precisely because they distort peoples’ sense of place in a text.”

“Students who had read study material on a screen relied much more on remembering than knowing.”

Don’t just do something, sit there

While I’m on the subject of digital detox (previous post), a few of you might have school age kids on holiday at the moment. Chances are you are frantic trying to organise things for the little darlings to do. Don’t. Read this instead.

Boredom is beautiful. Rumination is the prelude to creation. Not only is doing nothing one of life’s few remaining luxuries, it is also a state of mind that allows us to let go of the external world and explore what’s deep inside our head. But you can’t do this if ten people keep sending you messages about what they are eating for lunch or commenting on the cut of your new suit. Reflection creates clarity. It is a “prelude to engagement of the imagination,” according to Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Crazy Busy. It is a useful human emotion and one that has historically driven deep insight.

Boredom hurts at first, but once you get through the mental anguish you can see things in their proper context or sometimes in a new light. Digital technology, and mobile technology in particular, appears to negate this. If you are trying to solve a problem it is now far too easy to become digitally distracted and move on. But if you persist, you might just find what you’ve been looking for. So don’t just do something after you’ve read this chapter, sit and think for a while.

Faced with nothing, you invent new ways of doing something. This is how most artists think when faced with a blank canvas. Historically, children have operated like this too. They moan and groan that they are bored, but eventually they find something to do—by themselves. Boredom is a catalyst for creative thought. Only these days it mostly isn’t. We don’t allow our children the time or the space to drift and dream. According to the UK Office of National Statistics, 45 percent of children under 16 spend just 2 percent of their time alone. Moreover, the amount of free time available to schoolchildren (after going to school, doing home- work, sleeping, and eating) has declined from 45 to 25 percent. Children are scheduled, organised, and outsourced to the point where they never have what New York University Professor Jerome Wakefield calls a chance to “know themselves.” It’s the same with adults. Our minds are rarely scrubbed and dust builds up to the point where we can’t see things properly.

Not only is it difficult to become bored, we can’t even keep still long enough to do one thing properly. Multitasking is killing deep thinking. Leo Chalupa, an ophthalmologist and neurobiologist at the University of California (Davis), claims that the demands of multitasking and the barrage of aural and visual information (and disinformation) are producing long-lasting and potentially permanent damage to our brains. A related idea is constant partial attention (CPA). Linda Stone, who has worked at both Apple and Microsoft Research Labs, knows about how high-tech devices influence human behaviour. She coined the term CPA to describe how individuals continually scan the digital environment for opportunities and threats. Keeping up with the latest information becomes addictive and people get bored in its absence.

In a sense this isn’t anything new. We were all doing this 40,000 years ago on the savannah, tucking into freshly killed meat while keeping keeping a look out for predators. But digitisation plus connectivity has increased the amount of information it’s now possible to consume to the extent that out attention is now fragmented all of the time. This isn’t always a bad thing, as Stone points out. It’s merely a strategy to deal with certain kinds of activity or information.

However, our attention is finite and we can’t be in hyper-alert, “fight-or-flight” mode 24/7. Constant alertness is stressful to body and mind and it is important to switch off, or at least reduce, some of the incoming information from time to time. As Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, says: “Instead of think- ing deeply, or letting an idea simmer in the back of the mind, our instinct is now to reach for the nearest sound bite.” We relax by cramming even more information into our heads.

Chalupa’s radical idea is that every year people should be encouraged to spend a whole day doing absolutely nothing. No human contact whatsoever. No conversation, no telephone calls, no email, no instant messaging, no books, no newspapers, no magazines, no television, no radio, and no music. No contact with people or the products of other human minds, be it written, spoken, or recorded.

Have you ever done nothing for 24 hours? Try it. It will do your head in for a while. Total solitude, silence, or lack of mental distraction destroys your sense of self. Time becomes meaning- less and recent memories start to disappear. There is a feeling of being removed from everything while being deeply connected to everything in the universe. It is fantastic and frightening all at the same time. But don’t worry, you soon feel normal again. Return to sensory overload and deep questions about a unifying principle for the universe soon disappear, to be replaced by important questions about what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight or how you’re going to find that missing Word file.

Consider what Bill Gates used to do. Twice a year for 15 years the world’s then richest man would take himself off to a secret waterfront hideaway for a seven-day stretch of seclusion. The ritual and the agenda of Bill’s think weeks were always the same: to ponder the future and to come up with a few ideas to shake up Microsoft. In his case this involved reading matter but no people. Given that Gates has been instrumental in the design of modern office life, it’s interesting that he felt the need to get away physically; one would expect him to inhabit a virtual world instead.

I once received a brief from the strategy director of a FTSE 100 company who wanted to take his team away to do some thinking. When I suggested that we should do just that—go away for a few days, read some books, think, and then discuss what we’d read— he thought I’d lost my mind. Why? Because there was “no process.” There were no milestones, stage gates, or concrete deliverables against which he could measure his investment.

The point of the exercise is this. Solitude (like boredom) stimulates the mind in ways that you cannot imagine unless you’ve experienced it. Solitude reveals the real you, which is perhaps why so many people are so afraid of it. Empty spaces terrify people, especially those with nothing between their ears.

But being alone and having nothing to think about allows your mind to refresh itself. Why not discover the benefits of boredom for yourself?

Mobile phone etiquette

A man walks into a public toilet and goes into the nearest clean cubicle. As he sits down he hears someone entering and locking the door of the cubicle immediately next to him.

Second man: “Hello mate, how’s it going?”.
The first man keeps quiet but the guy next door keeps talking.
Second man: “Speak up mate, I can’t hear you.”
At this point the first man thinks it rude not to join in the conversation.
First man: “Do I know you?”
Second man: “So what are you up to you old bugger?”
At this point the first man thinks the conversation is getting a little bit personal but replies all the same: “Same as you I’d imagine.”
Then the second voice says: “Hang on a minute mate, there’s a weird bloke in the cubicle next to me that keeps trying to talk to me.”

Moral: It takes time for human behaviour to adapt to any new technology.
Source: A bloke in a pub who overheard some other another bloke in a pub.