Philip Ross

On Philip Ross and navigating a hyper-fast future with a cyber paddle

On Tuesday night the BVN offices in Sydney was the cool place to be. UK futurist Philip Ross was on hand to paint a picture of the future that was either frightening or empowering, depending on what your views on Big Brother and hyper-connectivity might be.

His scenarios ranged from new huge curved screens fast making their way to our desk-tops so that all the apps and all the social media and all the programs could be displayed at once to how the super smart devices we will carry will signal an awful lot of information about us to any other device that tunes in.

Very big very curved screens to hold it all
Very big very curved screens to hold it all

That big screen idea has crept quickly into the digital world, Ross says, so that some companies will soon track not their org charts but the exact location of their staff to within two centimetres, complete with photograph and precisely who they are communicating with and what they said on Twitter at the time. So not the theoretical org charts but the true networks operating in their space.

No-one says this is necessarily a new thing. As we know the bosses have been slowly colonising our personal lives for a long time, all under cover of “flexibility”, “work-life balance”, “mobility” and the uber powerful word that should make our hair stand on end whenever we hear it, “freedom”. Like hell, you might think.

There was a frisson that went through the airwaves when Ross said it was no longer all about work-life balance but work-life integration.

“We knew IT!” you could almost hear the whoop of getting the answer right, followed in quick succession by the thud of knowing you were right. Hmm not such good news, huh?

So now they know our bank account, where we are, who we talk to, who we party with – online and in life –  they know who we go and visit (and on the quiet), and they know how many emails we sent last week. Oh dear.

Frederick Taylor (looks innocent, doesn't he?)
Frederick Taylor

Ross was talking about work but this new information modelling also means that  KLM can  now offer not just a choice of seat but who’s on the plane and who you want to sit next to. (Would a Tinder flight be next, Ross laughed.)

In the same way, at the office reception, the super computer device you will soon have in your pocket means you’ll get a personalised greeting from the human at the desk. And what the retailers won’t know about you as you approach their electronic aura won’t be worth knowing.

But certainly, surely, work will be better than the old days, with the boss leering lordly-like over his domain (always “his”) made up of Taylor-esque rows and rows of people, doing their best to imitate machines with words-per-minute, and measuring/managing clamps closing slowly around their headspace.

So did Taylor win?

Ross says after his presentation it’s probably better to embrace than to fight the rapid changes on our virtual doorsteps. He might have a point. Do we lose if we give ourselves over to the love of our lives? No-one has a problem with the artist working into the night in the frosty studio. What if it’s a job we love – job satisfaction, engagement, creativity, saving the planet?

Ross mentions an extraordinary figure. In North America 70 per cent of workers are disengaged. They’re crammed into spaces designed for the average.

So what’s on the horizon?

Right now Ross says, we have five generations all trying to fit into that moulded average. From the oldies to the jellybean generation, currently around 15 years old and peering into the world of work they’re about to enter. And maybe not liking it much at all.

Beware this generation is made up of “digital natives” with devices in their pockets, he says.

According to The Economist by 2020 80 per cent of adults will carry a super computer, not a phone, Ross says.

So it’s not just a way to communicate but it’s a sensor that will connect to so many things it would make our heads spin to think of it.

The old days
The old days

We’re seeing technology not just in personal devices but in “hundreds of millions of wearables”.

Buildings will need to change

The law of physics means that to connect at superfast speeds buildings will need to be designed very differently because you can’t retrofit this connectivity. (Clearly we need to get back to you on this one. But Ross will know; he’s about to visit 200 buildings around the world for his next book.)

Ross says all those sensors and connectors are what they meant with the phrase, “the Internet of Things”.

“Quite astonishing and amazing things happen when you connect the unconnected.” (Scary too.)

“Buildings will get so intelligent”. One place in Berlin (already) has 30,000 sensors,he says.

In Singapore one building can find every person in the building, know where they are within two centimetres, and display their image on the virtual map, with information about what they’re saying on Twitter and if anyone else is saying the same thing, put them in touch.

It’s really all about mapping and networking the real humans of course. (How boring if cyberspace were just made up of cyborgs.)

Ross says it’s all about the “adjacent possible”, the interaction potential, about spotting innovation…and missing the Kodak moment.

“Buildings have a core role to play,” Ross says. This real estate of the future is super critical to the way the future will unfold.

The analogy, says Ross, is the hockey player who says he doesn’t skate to where the puck is, “but where it is going to be.”

Exhausting, right?

James Grose, national director, BVN
James Grose, national director, BVN

A new book is launched

Not nearly so exhausting is looking at a beautiful creation. In fact it’s uplifting to see what came next on the evening, a short video run through of BVN’s latest masterpiece in Auckland, the ASB North Wharf, with a book, Navigating the Future, launched to celebrate.

James Grose national director did the honours but the video didn’t focus on the architects who designed the building but on the people for whom the building was designed, so we could see their joy and sense of satisfaction at working inside what they called their new “home”. Clever.

Good to know that the awesome future we all anticipate can also bring such pleasure and a sense of something grander than ourselves.

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