Let’s start with a Happy New Year to you and yours. How was it for you and what did you think of 2017? Putting Trump, Brexit and #MeToo aside, it proved to be an intriguing year. Over the Christmas break, I picked up the vibe from friends and family and the general sentiment was that it wasn’t a vintage year (everyone seems pessimistic). But I suspect as you march through your 40s (as most of my friends bewilderingly find ourselves) you tend to look at events in the past with rose tinted glasses without acknowledging the reality of what was really going on (trust me, if you were 14 in 1984 and watched Threads you were VERY nervous). So despite the gloom, it feels to me like we’re starting to establish a new equilibrium in the West. New codes of behavior on how we live, work and relate to one another. So I am going to focus on the positives. And the ideas we’ve been exploring over 2017 do indeed, give me cause for hope and some of them are certainly bearing fruit.
Looking back, the Centre for the Future of Work produced some distinctive and innovative studies in 2017. We had investigations and ideas about Leadership in the machine age; how to raise the pace of innovation through companies while not breaking its corporate culture i.e. Fast but not furious; There was an intriguing study on the Future of Block chain which demands a European point of view (hint: it will happen in 2018). Augmenting the reality of everything appeared towards the end of the year, and the hunch is it’s going to be huge—“firms are going to begin weaving immersive technologies into a customer, employee, supplier or partner interaction – or else risk irrelevance in the years to come”. Spot on! I blogged about this because I have a hunch the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be the most augmented, immersive, truly virtual Olympics ever as the French economy begins to hit its mark. It really will be something to behold, and if you’re lucky enough to travel to the city of light in 2024 then hold tight.
Over Christmas, I read about a real-world application of Virtual Reality that bears out some of the ideas found in my colleague Rob Brown’s report. Virtual-reality is being used to prevent crime and accidents before they happen and, as the father of two teenagers, I fully embrace it. One of my kids is near driving age but it’s the younger one that’s really into cars and driving. It isn’t hard to imagine a car-crash, but these new tools could be used to help him really appreciate what is at stake. Check out how Police forces in England are using VR experiences as a driver education tool. The deal is you put a headset on, and you turn into the passenger next to the driver in a small car with other teenagers crowded in the back—your mates—speeding along a country lane. The driver is not drunk, but he is distracted by a meme on his damn smartphone which he shows you and the other passengers in the car. Then suddenly a tractor-trailer emerges from a blind exit, and the screen goes black. You then find yourself standing at a funeral party watching the coffin being lowered into the ground. The crash never happened but is uncannily real to large numbers of young people that have seen this harrowing virtual-reality film shot from the point of view of you, the front seat passenger. According to reports, loud and lairy teenagers tended to be a lot quieter after seeing it. I think this is a great way we can use these technologies to change behaviors and we can expect increasingly imaginative uses of virtual-reality in 2018 as a way of changing our real-world behaviors. You might worry that it all smacks of the minority report, i.e. pre-crime prevention, but showing people the possible consequences of their decisions feels the right thing to do.
In 2017 I think we started getting used to technology and we are beginning to settle ourselves around it. As a sign of that, 2017 saw Europe begin to flex its legislative muscles around data and data use. The topic of GDPR in the UK even made the agenda for our school governors meeting at our local school (it did feel like an episode of the Vicar of Dibley but it shows how every organization no matter where it is, is waking up to what data and its use or misuse could mean). And in an era of fake news, Europe has some rather bad form when it comes to press-freedom from the 1930s that it is eager not to repeat. As a testament to this, towards the end of 2017, a new law went into force in Germany, compelling Facebook and other social-media companies to conform to freedom of speech. The “Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz” or the “Network Enforcement Law,” or the “Facebook Law,” gives the government powers to fine those social-media platforms that have more than 2 million registered users in Germany (yes that’s you Twitter, YouTube, Instagram). The fines can reach an eye watering €50 million for those companies that are seen to be enabling “manifestly unlawful” posts up for more than 24 hours. Unlawful content is defined as anything that violates Germany’s Criminal Code, which bans incitement to hatred, incitement to crime, the spread of symbols belonging to unconstitutional groups, and more. But what makes content “manifestly” illegal is left up to human—or algorithmic—judgment. A transition period expired January 2018 and was meant to give companies time to figure out how to comply...I hope they’re ready. 2018 is going to be very interesting.