HOW FAR AWAY IS THE FUTURE?

(And why politicians shouldn’t be in charge of it.)

The Future. When I was a kid, it was the 21st Century (and Gerry Anderson’s visions). But now that’s here and the view seems to be quite different. And it changes depending on who you are, what you do and what you want, too.

If you’re a parent, then it’s your children. Teach them well and let them lead the way (so long as that way isn’t to follow in Whitney Houston’s footsteps). You want the years to come to be better, brighter, full of opportunity and most importantly happy and healthy. So you take steps to ensure that their future is the best it can be. You probably don’t think much beyond them getting a good education, a job, a family and a home of their own. So, say, between 20–30 years. That’s around 2040. It’s a long time for things to go wrong in. And a long time for things to improve in. What happens by then is anyone’s guess right now. There are views that it’ll be a data-powered world where everything is known — for better or worse. There are opinions that suggest we’ll all turn into wall-e type consumers living lives on couches in a virtual world. You pays your money and you takes your utopian or dystopian choice.

If you’re working, the future depends on what stage of work you’re at — it could be anything from retirement and a pension to your next promotion and the one after that. It’s probably reasonably short term, say 10–15 years. By that time you won’t have to travel to work. Work will come to you. The growth of the connected workplace will result in people being able to work wherever they like. There will be local co-working spaces catering to various styles of business and you’ll go there or not depending on whether you need some face-to-face time. It’ll probably mean fewer people involved in manufacturing, too, which will be done by robots, drones and automated delivery. The one certainty is that work WILL change. It could end up being more interesting, with portfolio careers and multiple simultaneous occupations. It will probably be less creative, with more and more people able to express opinions resulting in lowest common denominator results. Whatever, it will absolutely rely almost completely on technology.

If you’re a politician, the future is exactly five years. That’s the amount of time you have to make your mark, to create a legacy, to get re-elected.

And that’s a big problem.

The people with the shortest view of ‘The Future’ are the ones with the greatest influence over it. How is it possible to look to the long term — to the REAL future — when the solutions that politicians are pretty much forced to go for are essentially short term popularist quick fixes. Stuff that’s going to have an influence on the next generation isn’t sexy enough for politicians to get re-elected on.

So we need to rethink if this country is going to stay ahead of the game.

Tech London Advocates (of which I am proudly one) put together a mayoral tech manifesto with the aim of preparing for a futureproof London that’s in tune with technology and what it will bring in years to come. They launched it at the Mayoral Hustings in the Olympic Park (purported to be a legacy, but so far more of a lame duck). Unfortunately, the candidates put in a poor showing, demonstrating (with one notable exception from the Green Party) that they haven’t a clue. Not a clue about technology. Not a clue about the future. In that respect, they are in tune with most of the politicians in regional and national positions nationwide.

But technology is only a part of the The Future. There are lots of other problems with this country that need solving, but short term knee-jerk responses are rarely going to offer permanent resolution.

Sweden might have the right idea on this one. They’ve created a ministry of future issues, strategy and co-operation and appointed a minister, Kristina Persson. You can read an interview with her here. If you don’t want to click, then let me quickly explain that the basis of this new ministry is to look at the long-term needs of the people without being influenced by the short-term demands of politics. It concentrates mostly on three key areas — the future of work; the green transition; and global co-operation. Each of these will require more than one term of government to fix, and it’s the ministry’s job to address these long-term issues.

I think it’s a genius idea and we need to look closely at following this model.

Apart from that, there is a mood in the nation that says no-one trusts politicians anymore, that we need a whole new system. Maybe it’s time to take on the visionaries, and drop the politicians off at the old fogey’s home. And this may be the very best reason for dispensing with the political present and installing something new. Something for the 22nd Century. Something for The Future.

What that something is, is hard to imagine, but I’ll bet there’s someone working on it somewhere in the world right now. And I for one can’t wait to see what it is — hopefully in the very near future.

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