radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Not What I’d Had in Mind.

Aug 22, 2022

Dear Friend,

It is staggering to see how fast text-to-image tools such as DALL-E become mainstream and are already starting to change the way we think about artistic expression. A friend of ours is using DALL-E to create images for concert flyers, and just this week teen-darling TikTok launched a text-to-image tool as part of its app (see the tidbits section of our briefing). Keep an eye on this space, it is truly hitting its exponential phase…

And now, this…

Practical Futurism // Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

Over the last few weeks here, Pascal’s explored a little bit of what we’ve been wrong about in our forecasting and foresight work around emerging technologies and their future implications. As he’s detailed, we’ve definitely missed the mark on some things, although we’ve nailed quite a few as well — the proliferation of digital humans and synthetic media, the collapse of the crypto/NFT market, etc.

Today, I’d like to continue our journey from laying out the what further into an examination of the why — and to share a bit of a conversation that we’ve had running in parallel to this review of missed calls. There’s always a superficial, external why ready at hand: predicting the future is hard, particularly if you’re aiming for any degree of specificity. Human systems are complex. People are weird. It’s depressingly easy to wind up with Monkey’s Paw-type versions of futures realized in subversively grim ways (e.g, Social media will connect the world, but it will do so in such a reckless & perversely incentivized way as to undermine democracy and facilitate genocides; Decentralized financial technologies and tokenization will democratize investment opportunities in new ways, but they will do so in a fashion that may prove particularly ruinous to late-coming retail investors, etc.).

Where this kind of review becomes interesting and useful is when it becomes more reflective and more of a study of internal biases and patterns of misinterpretation. We can tease out a great and illustrative example here in considering year after year of bullish forecasts on the imminent arrival of fully autonomous trucks for long-haul shipping. Like many, I saw this as a clear and urgent use case (high need, brutal job, not enough folks who want to do it as currently structured/compensated, etc.) with the technology on the way – or nearly so. This was a failure of imagination on my part. I found it easier to imagine a fully realized autonomous revolution (behold, the robotruck!) than a transformation of the work of truck driving into something like an arcade game still played by human teleoperators — which actually makes much more sense economically and technologically.

I suspect that this failure to imagine revolutions that seem incomplete, stories that don’t quite resolve, futures that arrive only fitfully and not quite as hoped, is a pattern common to my envisioning and perhaps yours as well. And I suspect that we’ll see quite a few technologies this decade that don’t seem to ever quite deliver what we believe we were promised, and yet change industries and the world in more subtle or ambiguous but still profound ways.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite essays on past visions of the future we now inhabit. (via Jeffrey)

What We Are Reading

🧐 What Are Your Decision-Making Strengths and Blind Spots? Many of us approach decision-making from the same perspective over and over. We use the same tools and habits every time, even if the decisions are vastly different. But following the same strategy for every problem limits your abilities. To make better decisions, you need to break out of these patterns and see things differently, even if it is uncomfortable. JaneRead

💆 How to Embrace Doing Nothing Take a break and try to sit tight and do nothing. Easy, right? Not really! Being “idle” is harder and more rewarding than we credit it for. MafeRead

🕴️ Meet the Lobbyist Next Door The creator/influencer economy is (inevitably) coming to politics. This is not going to be a good thing. JeffreyRead

🛍️ Amazon Tests TikTok-Like Feed in App It’s by far no new competition to TikTok, but Amazon is curious whether it can make shoppers’ lives easier by getting in on the shorts format. JulianRead

🌟 Bringing back the golden days of Bell Labs There is much to be learned from earlier, large-scale innovation initiatives such as Bell Labs — here is how. PascalRead


🔗 Second-Order Thinking: What Smart People Use to Outperform.

🔋 It is possible! Researchers agree: The world can reach a 100% renewable energy system by or before 2050.

🖼️ First DALL-E, now TikTok. The App now offers a very basic text-to-image AI generator directly in TikTok.

🎶 How Nokia ringtones became the first viral earworms.

🎵 Listening to Janet Jackson crashes your hard drive.

😱 Silicon Valley seems to keep being Silicon Valley… Disgraced WeWork founder Adam Neumann gets a bunch of new money for — another real estate play!

😏 Talking to your customers: a disruptive Agile framework.

🏋️ A little bit more regularly is the key to better fitness.

Internet Finds

Last week we showed you how to travel like the Romans did — this week you can learn the fine art of Italian hand gestures. 🇮🇹👌

In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: On Leaders and Managers

🧨 Disrupt Disruption: We got to speak with Hemali Vyas from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. In our conversation, we explore (no pun!) the future of space exploration, and what companies and leaders can learn from NASA.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)