Q&A with Dutch Futurist Marcel Bullinga as His Latest Book Looks to 2025
If the global community of futurists were an ice cream shop, Marcel Bullinga would be the banana split: big, colorful, fun, and a little nutty. The Dutch author and public speaker has a presentation style that is overflowing with strong visual aides, well articulated predictions of the future, and enthusiasm (see the video below). His latest book, Welcome to the Future Cloud, brings that high energy style to the year 2025 as Bullinga gives a rousing description of the technologies and cultural norms that he believes will shape humanity fifteen years in the future. The crux of civilization seems to rest on the “Cloud”. More than just the current buzzword signifying computation as service rather than product, Bullinga's Cloud is an all-encompassing technology, a name for the collection of networked services that will permeate every part of life. To understand more Singularity Hub turns to the author who was kind enough to answer a few questions about his book, his vision, and himself:
Singularity Hub: To start us off, could you please tell us about yourself? What is your background, and how did you become interested in the future?
Marcel Bullinga: In the early days of mankind, I had a website. No big deal, one would say, but in those days, the listing of all websites in the country fitted on a single screen… I wrote a book about democracy and technology and I had this WOW-experience: this is the future! Wired Magazine even wrote an article about me with a beautiful photo. I was quite right about what would happen in the last 15 years. My new book is a preview of the next 15 years. The internet child turns into a beautiful, yet sometimes annoying adult, called the Cloud.
SH: In your new book, Welcome to the Future Cloud, you describe the world in 2025. What exactly is the Future Cloud?
MB: It is the toy of the Game Generation, to whom working and learning is a game. In the Future Cloud, houses, offices and factories have turned into gaming zones. A child in 2025 would laugh about the old fashioned library of books of 2012. In his eyes, a book is a broken iPad. The Game Generation grows up with 3D printers, social robots and lots and lots of screens.
Screens in your contact lenses and screens in your Armani suit. Even the walls of your living room is a group-hug family screen. With chips in the cupboard, chips in your car, chips in your body. Your mobile acts as the remote control of your life and is an instrument for checking claims.
The Cloud not only contains information, but also money, education and even energy. Every single moment you make your pick from the cloud, no matter where you are. Like you pick apples from a tree. You grab a video chat, you make a payment, you check the vegetables in the supermarket for sustainability, you check if your doctor is blacklisted, you harvest the energy you generate by walking or driving around. And your own body is the biometric key to the Cloud.
So, the Cloud powers and empowers you. You are in charge of your life; more than now. On the other hand, the Cloud will drive some people nuts, who cannot handle the amount of “incoming messages” and multitasking hundred stimuli at the same time.
We will see a rise in Game addicts who are no longer in touch with real life and real people. Another minority cuts itself off and chooses a 100% offline live. We will see the development of social screens, slow screens and silence buildings. They do not distract, they offer quietness and focus. Monotasking instead of multitasking.
SH: Welcome to the Future Cloud seems to be very supportive of intellectual property (IP) rights and digital rights managements (DRM). Are IP and DRM necessary to the development of a healthy future?
On the other hand, more and more, we do not need control over our creations and we do not need IP protection, because we let go -- voluntarily. We find other ways to earn money. Think of the startup musician who gives away his music for free in order to get his fans to visit a live concert.
The point is, in the future cloud, we need to have the choice. The choice to trade privacy for services, the choice to sell privacy for money, the choice to buy your privacy. The choice to control or to let go. For that , we need this personal dashboard. Without it, the Cloud is a new disaster.
Control over our virtual life wasn’t that important in the past. Until now, virtual life was more of a toy thing. In the next few years, virtual identity is becoming a life vest. Therefore, it is getting more and more important that we actually own our identities and our data. Right now, we do not own them. Google and Facebook do, plus all the company sites we are subscribed to. We must change this, or the future will turn into a privacy nightmare.
The dashboard turns the world upside down. It creates a bridge between any organization and you. You grant companies access to your dashboard and you control what they do with your data. Not the other way around, as is now. From the hundreds of “myvodafone” and “mygovernment” and so on into the single “mydashboard”.
SH: In your book you describe many of the possible innovations humanity may enjoy by 2025. Who do you see creating those innovations? (Current big name companies, academics, new startups, amateurs?)
MB: It is a mix. Multinationals like Akzo-Nobel have a major impact when they turn green and make their global production process sustainable. But the real innovation comes from the newcomers in any market, who are not bound by the investments and business models of the past. Newcomers can challenge the old order by using transparency as the key quality in their product and by giving the customer the power over their relationship with the service provider.
The newcomers are the usual bunch of garage box guys (that never changes) and, increasingly, academics who turn research into profit. Paying royalties to the university that allowed them to do it, of course.
The biggest barrier to innovation, by the way, is patents. It sounds noble, but in effect it advantages the big companies who can deal with the patent bureaucracy and it patents the wrong things. A patent for a one-click-and-buy-button is insane. A patent on DNA is insane and immoral.
SH: Which technology (or branch of science) do you feel will have the biggest impact in the next fifteen years? Who do you see as the leader in the development of that technology?
MB: My pick: a small startup at www.qiy.com. It is the closest thing to my vision of a personal dashboard that I have discovered so far. I met the owner, Marcel van Galen, and he convinced me that in his business model the individual owner will stay in control. This will sweep aside the Google and Facebook attitude of “company owning”. It is vital, by the way, that neither Google nor Facebook will ever buy Qiy. That is a major threat to innovation in general: big companies buying startups. It is the surest way to kill them. It makes the startup owner a millionaire and humanity a beggar.
SH: Your website, Future Check, has polled readers for their opinions on future predictions through several great quizzes. Which of your predictions have the greatest public support? Why do you think that is so?
MB: The Future Quiz is answered by 192 people -- without any advertising, which I find astonishing. Most likely is Prediction 2 (74%): “Everything is software, from police work to driving a car and teaching kids. Social robots, smart software and distant screen workers raise global labor productivity and reduce labor shortage in greying and shrinking countries”. The second most likely is Prediction 1 (72%). “The sun is the major and cheapest form of energy. It can be sprayed everywhere.”
SH: Which of your predictions seem to have the least public support? Do you still think you're right about those predictions?
MB: Most unlikely is Prediction 4 (70%): “Local money, like the ‘Totnes Pound’ or the ‘Healthcare Yen’, stimulates local economies worldwide and diminishes speculation”. People seem to hold their dollar and euro dear! Yet, they are creatures of the past. Current coins are not safe anymore, they are corrupted by greed. You cannot tell what part of a dollar or euro is real value for real services and goods, and what part is greed, speculation and debt. We need money that is speculation free. Yes, I still think I am right on this!
SH: What is your biggest concern about humanity's development in the next fifteen years? Where is that threat coming from, and how might humanity face it?
MB: The old concerns that never change. The economic power shift to the East, especially China, means we face a shift towards “undemocracy”, with state company monopolies and institutional corruption.
Second is greed. It looks as if greed in combination with “moral hazard” (you get the gains, government gets the losses) is the basis of too many business models. In the financial sector greed has caused a global crisis and tell me, how many bonus bankers went to jail? We need to develop new business models that have inherent ethics that prevent or restrain greed. Listen to your mum! She told you to be honest and to care about the neighbors.
SH: Looking even further into the future, where do you think humanity is headed in 30, 50, or even 100 years? Do you consider yourself a Singularitarian?
MB: No, I do not. Not in the sense that software will be more powerful than our brain. Sure, software will pass the Turing-test in the next few years and it will make our lives easier because machines will have intelligent chats with us, but it will never outsource what makes us human: our creativity, our leadership, or sex! Mind you, Alan Turing was not only a brilliant mathematician, he was also gay, and the post war British government prosecuted him for that in 1952. The Future Cloud is about diversity. The ability to choose our own lifestyle – that is what makes us happy.
Bullinga's answers above are a phenomenal preview of his book, and the tone between the two is almost indistinguishable. Welcome to the Future Cloud is awash in high level discussion, colorful examples, and even more colorful pictures. This is not Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. There isn't an obsession with data, nor graphs, nor philosophical conversations with experts in the field. Welcome to the Future Cloud is a 'big picture' type of book (literally as well, there are many large images flowing among the 180 pages).
That vision-first, data-second approach may be a bit disconcerting to those that entered into futurism through the likes of Kurzweil, Goertzel, or de Gray. Yet Bullinga makes it work for him, and more importantly he makes the concepts of the future something that may appeal more to the mainstream. Welcome to the Future Cloud is not intimidating, not in the slightest, and even the least tech-savvy of humanity will find predictions they can understand and argue for or against. In fact, one of the most appealing parts of this book is the associated quizzes discussed in the interview. Those online polls (which have similar questionnaires reprinted throughout the book) give the reader a chance to weigh in on Bullinga's vision. This may be the true power of Welcome to the Future Cloud. It's not an air tight roadmap to how humanity develops in the next fifteen years, it's a conversation starter. With Bullinga's dynamic style, his packed touring schedule, and his approachable take on the future, that conversation may be ready to spread to the mainstream.