Book Review of “The Future Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business”

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By Leopold P. Mureithi

One thing that strikes a reader of this book is the use of the prefix “re” in the words “reinvented” and “reimagining”. Ordinarily, this would imply doing again, like in repeat; afresh; anew. But, on second thought, the “re” is used to emphasize refinement and the intensity with which such clarification is done.[1] Short of giving definitions of these titular terms, RohitTalwar and his co-authors Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury and Maria Romero clarify that their ‘goal is to encourage readers to challenge both “the official view” and [one’s] own perspectives on which changes will have the most impact … to help [one]reimagine how life, society, key industries, and the conduct of business could be transformed in the decade ahead.”[2]

The force with which one has to reinvent and reimagine the future can be assessed by an appreciation of the combination of the heavy tendencies at play, be they in the sphere of scientific developments, technological change, social development, and economic transformation. These megatrends drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution towards “ augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data, biomimicry, blockchain, cloud computing, DNA computing, drones, genetics, human brain and body enhancements, hyperconnectivity, the Internet of things (IoT), nanotechnology, smart materials, organic and synthetic chemistry, quantum computing, renewable energy, robotics, sensors, synthetic biology, virtual reality (VR), and 3D/4D printing.”[3] Each of these drivers has its own trajectory and interacts with the others in combinatorial and permutative fashion. These are the vertigo realities impacting people’s lives and societies in which they do business and work.

The book utilizes several methodological approaches. The dominant one is the Socratic questioning method. There are forty three groups of questions throughout the book. Most of these are in a set of four, with one general question and three being more specific probing ones. The answers to such questions tease out probable policy responses.

The other methodology that the authors utilize is backcasting, by way of two letters from the future: a brighter one “where society, politics, environment, economics, and technology interact harmoniously;”[4] and one depicting “what would be the consequences of a future where technology fails to deliver and the environmental crisis peaks.”[5] These are two different possible futures. And other futures are possible.

Another methodology utilized was running an opinion poll on “the future of Britain 2022…. covering politics and security, social issues, economic priorities, the commercial world, science and technology policy, and environmental priorities”[6] post-Brexit. Through this tool, Fast Future (the publisher) was able to get a feel of the optimistic stance of the respondents, especially those aged under 35.

This judicious us of some futures research methodology is part and parcel of the book’s major aim, namely to “foresee” how the future pans out at the personal, organizational and societal planes. Most of the book contains exploratory scenarios using conditional “what if” questions.[7]

Aside from fore- and back-matters, the book is divide three major parts roughly corresponding to the sub-title: life and society (8 chapters); industries (9 chapters); and business (5 chapters). These are sandwiched by an introduction and a conclusion chapters – forming 167 pages of substantive materials. The adverb “roughly” is used because the term industry/industries does not appear on the title of the book at all; and this might cause some confusion in some readers’ minds when they see the words in the text. But, understandably, demarcation as to what constitutes industry and what constitutes business is largely blurred.

This is a book that could lay claim to covering “the future of almost everything,” to borrow from the title of the book by Patrick Dixon.[8] Yet, it is up close and personal. By going through the sections on “25 human transformations;”[9] “artificial intelligence in healthcare;”[10] “food production in a hyper-tech future: Robochefs, VR taste tests, and lab-grown meat;”[11] and bots (some humanoid, others roboticians, etcetera) all over the place, doing all manner of things, for better or for worse – one will see and be in a future world fundamentally different and almost surreal from today’s perspective. That is why there should a continuous quest on “how we can place people and ethics at the heart of the agenda”[12] in order to achieve a human and humane future, “a tomorrow fit for humans“[13]The book is categorical: It is “time for a code of ethics.”[14]

The book contains a list of references, which is good for those interested in detailed readings and further research. Though designed for quick in “the shortest possible time,” some of this time should be devoted to adding an index of names and key words for ease of consulting the contents by, say, topic.

Overall, the book is comprehensive in the coverage of some of futures research methodologies as well as the future of “everything,” including, society, lifestyle, and business. It is of utility to virtually everyone. A good read.

References

[1]The Editors. (1977).  Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. Funk &Wagnalls Publishing Co., Inc.: New York, p. 551.

[2]Rohit Talwar (Ed.).The Future Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. (2017). Fast Future PublishingLtd, p. 2.

[3] Ibid, p. 5.

[4] Ibid, p. 12

[5] Ibid, p. 38.

[6] Ibid, pp. 54 and 55.

[7] Ibid, p.6.

[8] Dixon, Patrick. (2015). The Future of (Almost) Everything: The Global Changes that will Affect Every Business and All our Lives. Profile Books: London.

[9] The Future Reinvented, pp. 55-63.

[10] Ibid, pp. 69-72.

[11] Ibid, p. 117-119.

[12] Ibid, p.11.

[13] Ibid, p. 133.

[14] Ibid, p. 120.

 

Leopold P. Mureithi is a Professor of Economics at the University of Nairobi. He can be contacted at Lpmureithi@hotmail.com

 

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