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Tell us about the new edition of your book The Future of Almost Everything - in it is a chapter on life in 2120, how did you go about trying to forecast that far ahead? Most people would think it impossible.

It was an interesting process. When you are that far out, you are almost in the realms of science fiction, but remember that the greatest SciFi writers have often had extraordinary vision and correctly anticipated many things we take for granted today. I have been forecasting trends for over 30 years now, and the reason I'm still here, having worked with over 400 of the world's top 2000 companies, is because I've found that major trends tend to change in relatively predictable ways, while human nature is basically unchanged. And even technologies that change very rapidly are usually doing so in ways that are fairly obvious when you think about it. The broad direction of major global trends is usually very clear to experts in each industry or region, while we may debate about exact timing and likely impact.

But surely there are many random factors, sudden unpredictable events which change history...

Yes of course, but they are often less shocking than you might think. Major events happen such as the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s, or a war but world-scale events are very rare. Daily life for most people in the world is shaped by other things which are far more constant.

But the digital revolution for example, and social media explosion, where was all that 30 years ago? Surely these things have been very disruptive.

Well, that is true. However, we need to go back a few decades. I began my first company over 40 years ago, using the world's first desk top computers, which were already more powerful than computers occupying entire floors of buildings that had been built only 12 years earlier. It was an exciting time to be a programmer. My first efforts were with a computer called Mickie, simulating text-based conversations with a physician, in clinics at Charing Cross Hospital in London. The computer asked questions, responded intelligently in the light of what patients answered, by probing further, and then gave the doctors an opinion about possible diagnosis.

In the following year I was trying out early speech recognition and email - using computers the size of a filing cabinet, but the tech and vision was all there. We knew then that digital power would go on increasing dramatically for 50 years, costs would plummet, and digital would transform both work and leisure - and we were right. 25 years ago I correctly predicted the gigantic power and presence of the web, which would change the whole of retail and banking. 22 years ago I owned a pocket-sized mobile which was also my digital office, running email, word, Excell, and a host of other functions, and my daughter was already running a number of video calls or text conversations at the same time with different people. So today's digital tech is hardly shocking. In many ways just a logical extension of the same.

You have said that history tells us the future. What do you mean by that?

I was in Rome recently, broadcasting a webinar to over 800,000 people on green tech and climate change, and just before we went live, I took a break to get some fresh air. Beneath my feet as I walked the streets was over 2000 years of human history. Think about it. Back then, people in the same streets of Rome grew up, started businesses, traded with each other, had families, went out for meals in the evening, debated issues, voted for politicians, went to watch huge sporting events or theatre, ran schools and universities, went to physicians, wrote notes to friends, used public transport, grumbled about taxes and took holidays.

So how will humans live in another 2000 years? It's an interesting question. We are genetically programmed as social creatures, to form long term relationships and stable communities, to create, collaborate, explore, investigate and contemplate.

In some respects, human society has changed less over the centuries than most people think. It's really important to understand this. As a Futurist it would be very easy for me to focus on technology and innovation, which of course change at lightning speed, but social factors can be very long lasting and are ultimately more important. We need a reality check. Its a reason why so many techno-forecasters turn out to be very wrong about the future.

The most important driver of human history is not technology or innovation or politics or science or demographics. It's emotion - which is why reactions to events are usually far more significant than events themselves. So if you want to understand our future world, you have to really think carefully about how public mood might change, how attitudes may evolve. And what kind of basic emotional drives will remain. How will they be expressed?

So what process did you use to write the chapter on life in 2120?

Well I often say that my job is to live in 2050 and to look back on tomorrow as history. It's a useful way to visualise the future. You can do this with your own company or personal life. Imagine yourself 5 years or 10 years from now, as CEO of the company. What would you be writing in this year's Annual Report? What would you be recording in your family diary at the end of that year?

So I just extended the same process to the year 2100. I reflected on all the megatrends I have described in The Future of Almost Everything, and how those might go on shaping the rest of the century. To add a twist to the story, I decided to create a fictional character living in 2100, looking back over 20 years and forward the next 20 years. And no surprise maybe that this character is a robot, powered by vast predictive analytics. The robot author is owned by the government and as you read the forecast, you begin to ask what the agenda of this robot really is, what the truth really is about what really happened recently, and what is likely to happen next.

Did you have to invent some things to make this scenario work?

Yes. In my scenario, key global events took place in 2068, 2074 and the following years which shaped a generation.... but it would be giving the game away to reveal what they were, and why they happened. The clues are all there in the main part of the book.

Finally, you've just been to the printers, watching books being physically printed as we see in the video - you clearly are passionate about physical books, but do they feature in the world of 2120?

One thing is certain: some people will enjoy collecting books, and the older or rarer they are, the more valuable they will be. A more important question is how many new physical titles will be printed each year in a nation like the UK, and what average print runs will be. This year, over 200,000 separate book titles were printed in the UK. I predict that this number may actually rise if you take into account runs of only 1-10 books, printed by individuals of - say - their family photos or poems or stories the children have written.  Digital printing is going to completely revolutionise creation of physical books, at high speed and shockingly low cost.  You can already print a single copy of almost any midsize ordinary book for less than $3.50.

There is a delightful physicality about real books as every parent of a young child knows. Yes iPads have their own  attraction, but there is  something about the actual feel of a paper page, the weight of the book, and there are many things that you can only do with a book - pop-up pages, pull out sections and so on. So yes, books will be around in 2120.  It's easy to be carried on a techno-wave. Look at music:  sales of vinyl albums are rocketing for the same reason, while music downloads are also booming.

The Future of Almost Everything - physical book or Kindle - order today:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/178816234X


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