FutureSource


Austin, the capital of Texas, was the third stop on the Strategic Foresight Initiative’s (SFI) research ‘road’ trip examining the future of American technological leadership, as part of a collaborative project with Qualcomm. Throughout 2016, SFI visited cities around the United States that are at the forefront of technology-based innovation that together fuel the engine of America’s growth in tech innovation. The other cities were Madison, WisconsinBoulder, Colorado; and the Bay Area in California. Austin was chosen because it has become one of the nation’s most prominent tech hubs. Austin enjoys its reputation thanks to its unique local culture, epitomized by the famous slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’, the presence of one of the largest research universities in the country in the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin), and a history of technology startups going back to the founding of Dell in 1984.

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Two plus two equals four. Math has a finality to it, a precision that yields a comfortable black and white. But economics at the state level is not purely math. Macroeconomics is the science that perfectly foresees the future of human activity … after the future has taken place. That is, it is a science that flawlessly predicts history. The reason why it does not portend well is because this is a history that deals with human behavior, probability, irrationality, diplomacy, competition, and chance. The problem lies also in our models. Sometimes variables and trends follow a linear pattern, suckering us into a false sense of comfort and perceived control. When this happens, we blind ourselves to presentism or normalcy bias. But sometimes variables follow a non-linear pattern by plateauing, geometrically increasing or decreasing, oscillating, or ending up like Nassim Taleb’s proverbial “Thanksgiving turkey” (at first a nice and predictable growth, but then a complete surprise).

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The San Francisco Bay Area was the final stop of the Strategic Foresight Initiative’s (SFI) innovation road trip, part of its Future of American Technological Leadership project. Together with Qualcomm, SFI seeks to examine the bases of American strength in technological innovation. After visiting Madison, Wisconsin, Boulder, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, SFI’s visit to the Bay Area featured two roundtables with local government officials, business entrepreneurs, tech leaders, university faculty, laboratory scientists, and venture capitalists to learn more about the region. Over the course of two days, SFI staff further met with leaders from a variety of fields to discuss trends in federal funding, the unique role of culture, the importance of increasing diversity, and how to build a workforce for the twenty-first century.

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This is a critical moment for the Internet. Mass government and commercial data collection have weakened public trust. Uncertainty is rising as nations disagree over Internet governance and new technologies disrupt existing markets and mechanisms. The Internet of Things (IoT) is developing rapidly and creating new economic opportunities, but manufacturers are consistently failing to incorporate security and privacy by design, thereby exposing consumers to a host of vulnerabilities. Overall, policies and regulations have failed to keep pace with technological innovations.

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As medical enhancement technology develops at an ever-increasing rate, the American public is more concerned about the future ethical implications of these new discoveries. Which medical enhancements provoke the strongest reaction, and are bioethicists prepared to respond to emerging ethical questions?

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Many futurists have argued that we will see more technological change in the next twenty years than we saw during the rise of information technology and the Internet in the 1990s. But rarely have I seen so much change captured in one section of one newspaper.

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In mid-July, the Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) conducted a research trip to Colorado, visiting Boulder, Denver, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden. The trip was part of the Future of American Technological Leadership project with Qualcomm, which seeks to investigate American innovation in the technology sector. The project will culminate in a report this winter exploring why the United States leads the world in innovation, and the challenges the country faces in maintaining this position. This was the second leg of SFI’s ‘innovation roadtrip’ to technology and innovation hubs around the US, with upcoming visits planned for Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley later this year. The Colorado trip followed a trip in June to Madison, Wisconsin.

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As investment in social media levels off, some see artifical intelligence as Silicon Valley's next big focus.

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On June 22, 2016, the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative hosted a discussion on “Cities in an Age of Insecurity” ahead of the United Nation’s Habitat III Conference in October 2016 and at a time when cities face increasing transnational security challenges.

Dr. Nancy Stetson, special representative for Habitat III at the US Department of State, gave the opening remarks, where she highlighted the importance of cities in combating critical transnational security issues, ranging across areas as diverse as food security and violent extremism. Dr. Stetson, the lead negotiator for the US delegation to the conference, noted that, in an era of national gridlock, local officials often can take quicker and more effective action to address these challenges. Building more effective and inclusive transnational networks, focusing in particular on city-to-city relations and policy exchanges, will be an important topic at the Habitat III conference in Uruguay, she added. Dr. Stetson finished her remarks by inviting other stakeholders to join her and the US delegation at the conference to better shape urban development in both the United States and around the world, and help counter security threats including violent extremism, climate change, and economic inequality.

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In early June, Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) staff conducted a research trip to Madison, Wisconsin, as part of The Future of American Technological Leadership, a new project with Qualcomm to investigate American innovation in the technology sector. The Madison visit was the first leg of SFI’s ‘innovation roadtrip’ to technology and innovation hubs around the United States, which will also include Boulder, Colorado, Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley in California.

SFI staff and Qualcomm representatives visited Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, because the city is building a national reputation as a hub for technological innovation and entrepreneurship. They hosted two roundtables, each attended by individuals prominent in the local tech sector, and held several private meetings, all designed to understand Madison’s success as a tech hub and to identify the potential challenges which could undermine the city’s continued growth in the future.

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