11 November 2020

Ahead of the Audit and Risk Conference, speaker Richard Watson shares a table of disruptive technologies to think about.

Imagine, for a minute, that you fell asleep on New Year’s Eve 2020 and woke up twenty years later in 2040. What might be different? Nobody knows for sure, but this table might provide a few helpful hints when it comes to new technologies. It was created be the Tech Foresight Practice at Imperial College London to stimulate debate about what might be possible and possibly by when. One thing that pops out immediately is the influence of digital and especially AI. Of course, almost none of the technologies highlighted on the table will exist in a vacuum. Almost all will operate within a broad context of government policy, regulation, human psychology, pricing, environmental and ethical concerns and most importantly agreements about security, privacy and data ownership. Individual elements will combine too, giving rise to unexpected consequences and second order effects.

The table is organised using three time horizons and each element can either be considered as either a risk or an opportunity. Bear in mind, though, that this is not a table of future inventions. Most of these technologies already exist in one form or another (usually in R&D labs) but have yet to become ubiquitous elsewhere. The most provocative area on the table is the outer edge, or what’s been termed Ghost Technologies. These are technologies that are highly unlikely (ever), but not actually impossible. As an example, consider personal digital shields and telepathy. Both are the subject of a sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick called The Hood Maker.

Another point worth noting is that some things won’t change. The future is rarely binary in the sense that something new gets invented and something old immediately disappears. What generally happens if that new and old technologies co-exist within an eco-system with the balance shifting over time.

Click the image for a higher quality version of this table.

Richard Watson

Richard Watson is a futurist speaker, author and scenario thinker who helps organisations to think further ahead, especially about emerging opportunities and risks.

Richard Watson is a futurist speaker, author and scenario thinker who helps organisations to think further ahead, especially about emerging opportunities and risks. However, he is probably best known as a maker of highly provocative maps and other data visualisations intended to stimulate debate. The Financial Times called the maps “Brave”, while Business Insider said they might “Blow your mind”.

He has worked with the Technology Foresight Practice at Imperial College, London Business School and is currently Futurist-in-Residence at the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) at Imperial College London.

Richard is the author of five best-selling books, including Digital Vs. Human, and is the founder of nowandnext.com. He is currently working on two new books, one questioning our preoccupation with being ‘busy’, the other examining the impact of physical spaces on peoples’ thinking.

Table of disruptive technologies