Summit reveals that the future isn’t as ridiculous as you may believe

Finance and HR executives were taken on a journey from the past to the future in the Fearless Future Summit.

On 24 February, finance and HR professionals gathered online for the Fearless Future Summit, hosted by CFO South Africa. During the summit, these professionals explored how accurate science writer Arthur C Clarke’s predictions in the 70s were, and made some of their own predictions for the future.

After a short welcome, CFO South Africa MD Joël Roerig introduced Professor Ian Glenn, research associate in communications sciences at the University of the Free State and emeritus professor of media studies at the University of Cape Town, who shared some of Clarke’s predictions.

The future, today
Clarke worked on a famous film in 1968 called “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which had lots of themes that still resonate with cinema today. One of the themes was extraterrestrial life on other planets, and whether those planets gave us some of our great technological advances. “Most interesting perhaps is that in this movie we are introduced to a computer called HAL, which starts taking over and attacking the humans on board the spaceship. So the notion of our uneasy relationship with artificial intelligence is also there,” Ian said.

In 1976 Clarke gave a talk in which he looked at what the future held and said, “the basic ingredients of the ideal communications device are therefore already in common use, even today. The standard computer console with keyboard and visual display, plus hifi sound and TV camera, will do very nicely. Through such an instrument one can have face-to-face interaction with anyone, anywhere on Earth, and send or receive any type of information.”

Ian said that, after rereading Clarke’s book “The view from Serendip” during lockdown, one of the predictions jumped out at him. Clarke had said “We are already approaching the point where it will be feasible, not necessarily desirable, for those engaged in white collar jobs to do perhaps 95 percent of their work without leaving home… Apart from the saving in travel time, there will be astronomical economies in power and raw materials.”

Arthur foresaw some of the psychological problems that came with these advances. Arthur said, “The trouble is, that [the easy and constant accessibility to information] is going to turn some of us into ‘infomaniacs’.”

He even foresaw something like Google and how knowledge would become universally available.

Arthur even predicted virtual safaris, something attendees of the evening had a chance to experience during the last hour of the event. “What could be done, even with current techniques, is to provide 3D or widescreen cinorama type pictures for a single person at a time. It could also give rise to a new industry; personalised television safaris. When you can have a high-quality cinema display in your home, it will certainly be a global audience for specialised programmes with instant feedback from viewer to cameraman. How nice to be able to make a trip to the Amazon with a few dozen unknown friends scattered all over the world, with perfect sound and vision, being able to ask your guide questions, suggest detours, request closeups of interesting plants and animals. In fact, sharing everything except the mosquitos and the heat,” he wrote.

The audience was then separated into breakout rooms, where they had a chance to make their own predictions of the future, like Arthur did.

The future is already possible
Once the audience had made their predictions, they returned to the main “room”, in which TomorrowToday Global founder and futurist Graeme Codrington outlined the possible futures and why it may not be so scary after all.

“Any useful idea of the future must appear ridiculous at first,” Graeme said. “The reason it has to appear ridiculous at first, is that if we just take what we are already doing and stretch it just a little bit, it doesn’t push our thinking forward and invite innovation.”

He referred to Elon Musk, who brought a group of engineers together and said that he wanted to design a hybrid vehicle that could go 500km per litre of petrol. The engineers said that it was impossible and that they could only do 30 or 40km per litre. But Elon wanted more and ended up building one of the world’s greatest, electrical battery driven sports cars that can go from 0 to 100km in 6 seconds. “You can only build that if you tell everyone to get rid of the rules in their head and the boundaries that they have,” Graeme said.

He then discussed some of the trends his company has been observing that lead the way to the future, like driverless cars and sustainable energy. “We are currently busy building a nuclear fusion plant in the South of France that, once it is operational, will turn seawater into energy for free,” he said.

He also referred to graphene, which was discovered over 10 years ago. It’s a compound that is based on carbon that is 200 times stronger than steel and 20 times more conductive than copper, but lighter than air. Graphene can be used to enhance the human body.

There are also technologies that exist, that can extend the life of cells and enable humans to live for more than 100 years.

Attendees were then taken on a live, private virtual safari through the Greater Kruger National Park, guided by bushveld expert Brent Leo-Smith from Painted Dog TV. They were treated to elephants bathing in mud, rhinos and hyenas on the tour against the backdrop of the setting sun.

At the end of the evening, everyone concluded that the world today is changing rapidly and even though things might seem impossible, they’re probably already real.