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The speed of change is accelerating - A pace adjusted look at the future.

Energy industry, Events - April 26, 2016

At Downstream 2016, our Chief innovation Officer, John Ascroft, spoke about the pace of change and what we can expect in the future.


“The pace of change is accelerating!”

Let’s look back in history so that we can look forward. There are a couple reasons for this, firstly, people tend to overlook short term change and underestimate long term change. The other aspect is the pace of change is accelerating. We know things are changing faster and faster.

I’m planning to split time into 50 year chunks. This is long enough to see a decent amount of change and, God willing, most people will live through at least two of these 50 year chunks. Take me for example, I was born around 1960, with some care and a lot more exercise, I hope to see something like 2050.

So imagine a child born in the year 2000. They will be going to university in the next few years and studying engineering, or IT. What are we teaching them that will still be of use in 2050, which is when their career will be peaking? Can you imagine how much is going to change by then.

Now imagine a child born in 2016, maybe your child, or your grandchild. Based on average life expectancy they’ll be alive in 2100. Imagine the amazing things they are going to see between now and 2100!

Let’s think back 100 years from 2016 to a child born in the middle of the first World War. On the same scale they would live to the year 2000. Think about the amazing things they would have seen from 1916 to 2000. The pace of change is accelerating! Your children and grandchildren will see more, faster. It’s amazing what the next generation is going to see.

From 2000, let’s go back three chunks to 1850. I know, it seems like so long ago. We scoff at 1850 with our iPhones, space travel, and decaf double soy lattes, but it’s not that long ago. Someone who lived in 1850 could have easily lived until 1930. That person could have talked to someone who was ten years old, and that ten year old could have lived to 1980. A lot of people alive today have talked to someone in 1980. There are people alive today who have talked to someone who was in the US Civil War in 1865. It seems like ancient history, but 1850 was not that long ago.

“We scoff at 1850 - with our iPhones, space travel, and decaf double soy lattes, but it’s not that long ago.”

In 1850 the US President was Zachary Taylor, Queen Victoria was on the throne, and New Zealand had George Gray as Governor.

The US had states on the East and West coast with a population of about 23 million, but the middle was unchartered territory. People traveled by train, although there was a chance of being attacked by Indians, and all intercontinental travel was on boats. By 1879 Edison had invented the lightbulb, and the first power stations were coming up. Just in this chunk of history alone we’ve seen huge change.

“In the early 1900s we saw the beginning of cars and flight”

So let’s look ahead to the next chunk. What happened in 1900? Benjamin Harrison was President of the US, Queen Victoria was still on the throne, and New Zealand had Richard Seddon.

In the early 1900s we saw the beginning of cars and flight, but horses and carriages were still around. Even in the first World War most of the armies were horse drawn. The Wright Brothers arrived in 1903 and Bleriot flew the English Channel in ‘09. If you looked down at the turn of the century harbours Bleriot flew over you would see steam and sailing ships together in a transitional period. And if you were to look inside those boats you’d see the beginnings of morse code and radio. The Titanic was one of the first uses of ship borne radio in 1912.

In terms of electrification you start to see some centralised power and some early grids from 1900 on. The UK nationalised grid was established in 1938. In New Zealand Lake Coleridge opened in 1914.

That takes us to 1950, only one chunk back, and for some people well within living memory. The US President was Harry Truman, on the throne was King George VI, and New Zealand had Sidney Holland.

“Aviation had well and truly arrived by the 1950s.”

Aviation had well and truly arrived by the 1950s with military jets, but civil flight was all propellers. During the Korean war we saw F86 Sabre jets, but civilians only had Constellations and Stratocruisers, which were pretty cool. They were like an F380 with a two stories.

Radios based on valves were around and gradually moved to transistors and integrated circuits. It was the start of TV, which was black and white and basically filmed radio. In New Zealand we introduced the National Grid, NZED (New Zealand Electricity Department), the Cook Strait cable, ECNZ (Electricity corporation of New Zealand), and Transpower all come up in this 1950s chunk.

“I mean no iPhone, how did anyone do anything?”

And then we get to our current chunk, 2000. The President of the US was Bill Clinton, on the throne is Elizabeth II, and in New Zealand we had Helen Clark.

By now we’ve got jet travel, so everyone’s flying, and ships are a thing of the past. We’ve got the internet, which accounted for about 50 percent of global network traffic in 2000. Despite this a lot of the stuff we think of as core to the internet was only just beginning around 2000. Google was ‘98, Wikipedia in 2001, Facebook in 2004, and the iPhone wasn’t introduced until 2007. I mean no iPhone, how did anyone do anything?!

In electricity the ‘98 power crisis was in this chunk, and that was when New Zealand moved to the competitive market.

That’s how we got to where we are today. If you look at the change just between 1900 and 2000, a child born in 1916 saw everything from jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll, punk, through to disco. Look at what has changed in that time, now think forward to what we’re going to see. I can’t wait to see 2050 and I can’t wait for my children and grandchildren to see 2100.

I predict that we will have totally driverless cars. I think there’s a tipping point where there’s no gentle evolution. Similar to when cars replaced horses, we went, almost overnight, from horses everywhere to cars everywhere. I think we’ll see the same thing with driverless cars, we’ll look at cars in the same way that people in the early 1900s looked at horses. I think driverless cars are clearly the future, it just makes sense.

“So, let's have a think about what we might see in 2050”

Wearables will become increasingly important because we’ll be too busy and too demanding to fish things out of our pockets. Instead we’ll have information projected using heads up displays on our glasses. We’ll want to access stuff all the time wherever we are and not rely on remote devices, your phone will become like a fob watch.

I think 3D printing has got real legs. Sure, at the moment it looks toylike but I think there’s real opportunity with 3D printing and not just building plastic toys. It’s going to be about economically producing all sorts at a lower production cost. You can already print clothes that are impossible to sew by hand, and scientists are now starting to print food which is kind of interesting.

Print is going to be history. When we look back, the idea that someone would go into work at night, find interesting things on the internet, print them, roll them up, get in a car, and throw them onto front lawns. We’ll wonder what they were thinking. In ten years this will not happen. I think print is gone.

I think solar and distributed generation will be there along with battery technology, but one thing here is that we’ve got to be careful about distinguishing between the concept and the implementation. A dramatic revolution in battery technology would change everything. Batteries have a limited capability at the moment, but the concept that we could store energy like that is, again, one of those tipping points that could change overnight.

“I’ll take a punt and have space colonies in 2100”

Jumping quickly ahead to 2100 it becomes a little bit hazier. I think it’s likely we’ll have abundant energy, so anyone involved in energy will need to make sure that they’re absolutely agile, responsive, and have a culture of innovation.

In terms of problems, I think we’ll have issues with population. We’re going to be an aging population because of medical science. Far fewer people will be dying than being born. We’ll have embedded hardware that allows us to enter the AR and VR space, and I’ll take a punt and space colonies in 2100.

“If you don’t keep up you are going to be left behind.”

It’s going to be exciting, it’s something that our grandchildren, or children even, can really look forward to.

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