PlanetTechNews Interviews David Wood, Chair of London Futurists

David Wood has spent 25 years envisioning, designing, implementing, and avidly using smart mobile devices. He now runs an independent consultancy, Delta Wisdom, that focuses on the dramatic impact of rapidly changing technology on human individuals and communities.
David is also chair of London Futurists and a professional writer.
In this interview for PlanetTechNews, David talks about his mission to promote serious analysis of radical scenarios related to technology breakthroughs within the next 3-40 years. These topics are of great interest for anyone following science news and technology news.
Please can you tell us briefly about your career in the computer industry and how you got into the subject of futurology?
I’ve worked in mobile computing for 25 years. That includes PDAs (personal digital assistants) and smartphones. In these fields, I’ve seen numerous examples of mobile computing becoming more powerful, more useful, and more invisible – becoming a fundamental part of the fabric of society. Smartphone technology which was at one time expected to be used by only a small proportion of the population – the very geeky or the very rich – is now in regular use by over 50% of the population in many countries in the world.
As I saw more and more fields of human interest on the point of being radically transformed by mobile computing and smartphone technology, the question arose in my mind: what’s next? Which other fields of human experience will be transformed by smartphone technology, as it becomes still smaller, more reliable, more affordable, and more powerful? And what about impacts of other kinds of technology?
Taking this one step further: can the processes which have transformed ordinary phones into first smartphones and then superphones be applied, more generally, to transform "ordinary humans" (humans 1.0, if you like), via smart humans or trans humans, into super humans or post humans?
What have been other main inspirations and influences for your current interest and involvement in futurist and singularity related topics?
As a school student, I consumed lots of science fiction. Later, I was fascinated by Eric Drexler’s "The engines of creation" (about nanotechnology), Ray Kurzweil’s "The age of spiritual machines" (about the forthcoming technological singularity), and James Hughes’s "Citizen Cyborg" (about broader political and philosophical implications of emerging technology). It was the third of these books that, in 2005, led me to search out the "Extrobritannia" meetings of UK-based transhumanists. The London Futurists meetups that I organise are one of the successors to these Extrobritannia gatherings. 
What are your thoughts regarding the plausibility of (Ray Kurzweil’s and Vernor Vinge’s) idea of the Technological Singularity, and what do you understand by this term?
Let’s break this question down.
Is it plausible that, by the middle of this century, artificial intelligence is orders of magnitude ahead of the intelligence of present-day humans? Yes. (And it might happen sooner than the middle of this century.)
Would this development have repercussions and consequences that we, un-enhanced humans, will find almost impossible to imagine and predict in advance (similar to the way that pre-human primates can scarcely conceive of many of the issues that motivate much of human thinking and action)? Yes.
Does this development deserve the name "singularity"? Yes, because of our inability to imagine and predict in advance the consequences.
Is this development inevitable? No.
If the singularity does happen, is it guaranteed (as Kurzweil predicts) that we humans will be able to enhance ourselves, by absorbing new technology, in order to keep up with artificial intelligences? No, there is no such guarantee – though it’s an outcome that is possible.
What methods do you use to study the future and how do you go about making a prediction and building the evidence to back it up? 
Technological convergence actually makes predictions harder, rather than easier. Small perturbations in one field can have big consequences in adjacent fields. It’s the butterfly effect. What’s more important than specific, fixed predictions is to highlight scenarios that are plausible, explaining why they are plausible, and then to generate debate on the desirability of these scenarios, and on how to enable and accelerate the desirable outcomes.
To help in this, it’s important to be aware of past and present examples of how technology impacts human experience. We need to be able to appreciate the details, and then to try to step back to understand the underlying principles.
But futurism isn’t a fixed field. Just as technology improves by a virtuous cycle of feedback involving many participants, who collectively find out which engineering solutions work best for particular product requirements, futurism can improve by a virtuous cycle of feedback involving many participants – both "amateur" and "professional" futurists.
What are the main technological developments and breakthroughs that you anticipate will be achieved within next 10 years? What could the technological world of 2024 look like?
I expect numerous breakthroughs between now and 2024 in fields including: 3D printing, wearable computing (e.g. Google Glass), synthetic organs, stem cell therapies, brain scanning, smart drugs than enhance consciousness, quantum computing, solar energy, carbon capture and storage, nanomaterials with super-strength and resilience, artificial meat, improved nutrition, rejuvenation biotech, driverless cars, robot automation, AI and Big Data transforming healthcare, improved collaborative decision making, improved cryonic suspension of people who are biologically dead, and virtual companions (AIs and robots). 
 What are the main technological developments and breakthroughs that you anticipate will be achieved within next 20 to 30 years?
Beyond the specific technological developments I’ve already noted, if we look further out – say to mid century – I envision seven "super" trends: the trends towards super-materials (the fulfilment of the vision of nanotechnology), super-energy (the vision of abundance), super-health and super-longevity (extension of rejuvenation biotechs), super-AI, super-consciousness, and super-connectivity.
What you consider as important factors that would enable implementation of these technological breakthroughs safely and for common good?
We need to preserve positive feedback cycles that enable open-minded, thoughtful exploration of technological possibilities. We should ensure that technology isn’t just captured to provide short-term benefits to a relatively small number of people, corporations, or governments.
We will also need a transformation in our prevailing thinking – our "zeitgeist" – that has a positive yet thoughtful approach to the possibility of radical improvement in our health, longevity, intelligence, experience, and social connections, as a result of technology. Rather than being dominated by thinking such as "natural is best" and "we humans should avoid playing at being god", we need to collectively recognise that humanity has always existed as hybrid of technology and nature, and that if we don’t take steps to use our technological powers for good, they will likely end up being used for ill. This philosophy, in short, is the philosophy of transhumanism. 
What are your fears for the future regarding the most likely possible dangers?
My fear for, say, 2025 is that human society will have fractured in a horrible way between then and now, and that major divisions will have occurred. The resulting inequalities and distress will provoke lots of backlashes and conflicts.
These conflicts could be triggered by a terrible new crash of the financial system, or by the realisation that extreme weather is becoming much worse because of global warming due to our addiction to oil, or by terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction, coupled with extreme reactions from governments. We’re sitting on a powder keg.
To be clear, there are two bad outcomes of this fracturing, conflict, and division of society. First, it will take most of us backwards, compared to what we’re now experiencing. A long way backwards. So it’s bad for the near-term future. But, second, it also risks destroying the societal mechanisms that enable technological progress – progress that is needed to achieve the positive vision for the future that I described earlier. So this divisiveness is very bad for the long-term future too. 
What is your take on past technological predictions and their accuracy, and on the difficulty of predicting the future?
Applications of technology often worked out in ways that few people had predicted in advance. Many predictions about technological impact turn out wrong, because they fail to take into account the full set of conditions that govern the timing and scale of the impact. These conditions include political and legislative factors, alliances of companies being able to work together positively, the solution of hard usability questions, and changes in the expectations and thinking of ordinary people.
Technology marketers have a useful phrase: they talk about technology products “crossing the chasm” from early-stage adoption to mainstream usage. There’s often a large chasm – a gaping void – between these two types of market. The solution to this chasm isn’t just technological prowess. It involves marketing expertise, and also execution expertise (meaning, being agile, lean, and skilled at continuous integration).
What are your next steps and plans -as a writer, and -as a chair of London Futurists?
To accelerate the discussion of many of the points I’ve mentioned above, I’m organising a two-day conference in London on 22-23 March, entitled "Anticipating 2025". The themes of this conference are:
Paths to 2025: visions, nightmares, roadblocks, and plans
Transformations in thinking and lifestyle: health, spirituality, organisations, politics, transhumanism, and transcendence.
This event is jointly hosted by London Futurists and Humanity+.
This conference brings together 18 expert speakers and an audience of over 200 budding futurists of all shapes and sizes. The goal is to elevate serious analysis of the potentially radical scenarios that may unfold between now and 2025. The speakers will be giving their views as to which future scenarios are technically feasible and desirable. They will also be debating the best steps to take to bring these desirable visions into reality, despite the many roadblocks that are likely to be encountered en route.
For more details of this conference, see
As a professional writer, I’m putting the finishing touches to my book "Smartphones and beyond", which provides in-depth analysis of some of the successes and failures of smartphone implementation projects, as seen from my vantage point as co-founder and long-time executive (1996-2009) of Symbian – the company that created the world’s first successful smartphone operating system. See