What kind of future do you imagine?

What kind of future do you imagine?

"What kind of future do you imagine?" Ask a professor this question and you might get a more thorough answer than you'd expect.

"Despite several months of work I have only scratched the surface to reveal the insights, trends and systemic change that university professors have to share with the rest of us..."

Over the past few months I have been listening to some of the smartest people on our planet – academic scientists, engineers and clinicians – tell me stories about the future, as they see it: from the interconnected intelligent cities of tomorrow, to the ability to produce any material on demand. And despite several months of work I have only scratched the surface to reveal the insights, trends and systemic change that university professors, at the forefront of their field, have to share with the rest of us about what lies downstream of breakthrough discoveries they see in labs around them today.

I share with many people a feeling that technology is carrying like a tide into the future. We rarely have to guestimate, rewind or wait in line anymore. Today we talk to machines a lot, be they self-service checkouts or parking meters. In the near future, the rising chatter of machines talking to each other will enable cars to drive themselves and see people trust unaided robots over a surgeon to perform medical procedures.

"The transformative power of technology is not lost on companies that depend on science-driven innovation to stay ahead."

Of course, the transformative power of technology is not lost on companies that depend on science-driven innovation to stay ahead. Corporate R&D budgets now in the 21st century account for a greater share of worldwide research funding than all other sources combined. But the relentless pressure to deliver short-term results and fixation on the next deadline hinders the ability of business to think beyond the five-year plan. Enter the University: among the oldest institutions in the world – they are in many ways much closer to the future than any other institution in society. Universities are places where cutting edge technology is developed, where serendipitous discoveries are made, and where the next generation of thinkers are schooled.

Three years ago I setup the Foresight Practice at Imperial College in order to address these issues. We work with world leading academics to create original and inspiring visions of the future. These visions seek to broaden and deepen relations between Imperial and its corporate partners in ways that stimulate discussion, evoke the imagination and offer a launchpad for collaboration.

"We work with world leading academics to create original and inspiring visions of the future."

Our forthcoming annual conference on 3rd July will once again bring visionary academic talent and business leaders together to look twenty years into the future, exploring how technologies coming at us from the future like asteroids have potential to radically transform industry sectors from commodities to aviation to consumer products. Last year's Tech Foresight conference explored: the merging of life and technology, cloud based power stations; and machine with statistical intuition.

My own vision of the future is one in which companies see universities as not only places to look ahead at what's coming at us from the future, but as joint venture partners sharing both risk and potential upside from research on a journey to inventing a preferred future. Let's share that!

Fore more information on the conference click here.

Alex Ayad is Manager of the Foresight Practice at Imperial College London. He joined the College in 2006 with start-up experience in Silicon Valley and  has a background in Physics.

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