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Agenda-Setting Foresight

January 2019

Long Read Overview

Article publicly available

Title: Financing Decarbonisation of the Global Energy System
Approx. Reading Time: 13 minutes
Author: Tom Burke

Long Read

Financing Decarbonisation of the Global Energy System

Tom Burke, Chairman of E3G, explores the challenges of financing the global energy transition in the context of the complex ‘system of systems’ relationships between energy, financial institutions and underlying political stability. There are no single solutions, but rather a portfolio of options that blend public and private finance and differ from place to place. National carbon prices will be more important for the revenues they generate than the signals they give to energy investors. In his view there is no prospect of a global carbon price.
There is a momentum swing amongst the world’s regulators, major investors, central bankers and international financial institutions that signal growing willingness to redirect financial flows to meet the climate challenge. The politics of the energy transition may prove more of an obstacle to safeguarding the climate than either the technologies or the financing. As he puts it “To get the politics of climate change right we must also think through the social adjustment that will accompany the technology and investment changes”.

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Briefing

Changing Ecosystems

Some argue that global biodiversity depletion represents a crisis equalling or surpassing climate change. Others, while acknowledging that worldwide biodiversity is decreasing, are not so sure there is a crisis. Jane Kingsley explores how with increased awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the value of natural systems, together with new techniques from biotechnology and the resilience and adaptability of nature, some of the diversity we have lost can be restored.

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Briefing

Ageing Populations: the great constant

Thierry Malleret explores how population growth around the world is no longer driven by birth rates but by the number of older people. The number of over 60s is projected by the UN to reach 2.1 billion by 2050. This is transforming everything from well-being and health, pensions and thinking about long-term debt, to intergenerational tensions.

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Briefing

The Missing Narrative: radical environmentalism

Amidst growing alarm, two unstable meta-narratives frame the challenges of climate change and the risks to the biosphere. The first: reduce emissions, slow warming. The second: stay within two degrees, avoid catastrophe. We may face both runaway climate change and exponential, radical innovation. Public values and action are critical to the outcome. Peter Kingsley explores the missing narrative: can financial, economic and political security be maintained? Does radical environmentalism hold the key?

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As Genetic Profiling Becomes Commonplace

Benefits and challenges are emerging with the exponential growth in human genetic profiling.

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Pollinator Crisis

The most obvious essential service from bees and other insects is pollination. How will we manage if bees disappear?

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No Choice

In the absence of strong governments, Western corporate power is rooted in oligopolies, across all industry sectors.

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Time to Avert Star Wars?

The space business goes from strength to strength. Colonisation is starting to look like a possibility—if only for robots.

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December 2018

Long Read Overview

Article publicly available

Title: Storms Gathering in 2019
Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes
Author: Mat Burrows

Long Read

Storms Gathering in 2019

Mat Burrows explores the global risk landscape in the year ahead, a landscape characterised by political, economic and security volatility and looming crises. We are slipping towards a bipolar world pitting Russia and China against the West, increasing the scope for violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. It will take leadership on all sides to stop the drift. With multilateral collaboration weakening, the risks of inaction on climate change are growing.

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Briefing

Europe After the European Union

Having mapped out the crisis facing the EU and the triggers that could lead to its collapse, Ian Kearns explores possible sequences of events and what Europe might look like if the collapse emerges. This is an extreme scenario that should be explored more often, if only to focus the minds of policy-makers on what needs to be done to avoid it.

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Briefing

Chronicles of Catastrophes Foretold

Nicolas Taleb was right to argue that extreme, rare events define history, but wrong that they could only be explained in hindsight. Black Swans are preceded by weak signals. Peter Kingsley explores how inadvertently Taleb gave political and business leaders around the world an excuse to procrastinate.

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Briefing

Gene-editing: a line crossed

In the wake of news that the first genetically tailored humans have been born, are we closer to being able to prevent inherited diseases? Jane Kingsley looks at the controversy surrounding the announcement.

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5G and IoT

Fifth generation public and private networks will transform the cities and factories of the future. With the hyperconnectivity comes dependency that makes us vulnerable to cyberattacks.

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Custom Grown Bones

Bone is the most frequently transplanted tissue after blood. Scientists are finding ways of using the body’s natural repairing ability to regenerate bone for small and larger injuries.

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Perovskite Revisited

Perovskite is a natural solar cell, taking in sunlight and producing electricity. Easily synthesised new applications based on perovskite ‘ink’ attached to metallic film, are emerging from the lab. Imagine painting walls with solar film.

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Making Tracks for Prediction

Tracking systems are becoming pervasive and matched to personal data. Facial recognition, geospatial networks and crime prevention systems already echo ‘Minority Report’. The endgame is prediction.

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November 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: Climate and Mass Migration
Approx. Reading Time: 7 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

Long Read

Climate and Mass Migration

Migration dominates headlines, amplified by political leaders and social media bots. With the tragedy of wave after wave of refugees, many escaping wars and famine, migration and immigration have become the most emotive and defining divisions in politics, from the US and the UK, to Italy, Hungary and Myanmar.

The climate-linked impacts of demographics, water and food shortages have been a primary factor in the crises in Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Evidence is emerging that the roots of the migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are also in climate-induced food shortages and poverty.

Peter Kingsley explores the argument that climate change has already altered the world, but this is just the beginning.

Mass migration, driven by climate change and on a scale unimagined even today has the potential to create large-scale disruption. It may become the defining security issue of the next two decades.

What remains to be seen is how expectations and fears may fundamentally change the political, economic and security landscape. Without a new generation of global statesmen capable of confronting climate change, both the battle and war may be lost.

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Briefing

Potential Political and Security Triggers of EU Collapse

A new recession or a new financial crisis could destroy the euro, the Single Market and the EU itself, but they are not the whole story. In the second of three essays, Ian Kearns writes that there are political and security scenarios that could lead to the same outcome, from a Eurosceptic breakthrough in the core of the eurozone; the collapse of the deal with Turkey on migrant flows; a flare up of the Catalan separatist crisis; and an act of Islamist super-terrorism.

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IPCC: the limitations of science

Last month, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a call for radical, urgent action from world leaders. It was a bleak narrative, with narrow ‘pathways’ pointing towards a post greenhouse gas world. Peter Kingsley argues that despite the sense of urgency and alarm, the more extreme possible scenarios were downplayed, as the IPCC focused on conclusions the scientists could agree had ‘high confidence’ and strong ‘consensus’, sparing political leaders and the public fears of existential risks.

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Geoengineering: genie out of the bottle?

The narrative about geoengineering has been, as we put it last month ‘it adds to and may amplify systemic risk, with unquantifiable, unpredictable and barely imaginable potential consequences.’ According to the IPCC, carbon dioxide removal might be used in an emergency. If that fails, solar radiation modification methods might be considered. Yet as Jane Kingsley writes, weather control experiments and the idea of ‘weather as a force multiplier’ form part of the picture.

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Nanomotor Control

Remote controlled and autonomous nanobots promise a less invasive way to diagnose and treat disease.

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Re-imagining the Way We Live

While signs of an impending Dark Ages are coming at us almost daily it is time to reimagine the way we live.

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Green Energy Storage

We may be close to finding cheap efficient energy storage, which will transform access to green energy.

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Graphene: look for quality control

Wonder material graphene has been slow to fulfil its potential. Researchers believe they might have found the explanation.

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October 2018

Long Read Overview

Article publicly available

Title: Digital Health: where AI meets EI
Approx. Reading Time: 14 minutes
Author: Lord Nigel Crisp

Long Read

Digital Health: where AI meets EI

Lord Nigel Crisp, formerly CEO of the National Health Service in England, explores how science, digital sensors and artificial intelligence hold the promise of transforming well-being, health and care for millions around the world. They are not, however, a panacea or silver bullet. Health promotion and disease prevention are coming to the fore. We are seeing an increasing need for care, empathy and societal action. Artificial intelligence will be very important, but human and emotional intelligence and trust will be needed more than ever.

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Briefing

The Perfect Storm 2020-2025

The idea of ‘perfect storms’, where multiple systems coincide in time to create apocalyptic situations has fallen out of favour since it emerged as a metaphor in 2004 and become commonplace during the 2008 financial crisis. So-called ‘inter-systemic’ failures and successes are again on the horizon. Peter Kingsley writes about ten narratives that are shaping the next decade and beyond, from climate change and the natural world, to artificial intelligence and the power of capital over labour.

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The EU Remains Vulnerable to Collapse

Eurosceptic sentiment has far from run its course. The European Union (EU) remains divided on a range of issues. Eurozone leaders have failed to agree reforms that would put stability of the currency beyond doubt. There are disagreements over migration, policy towards Russia and defence cooperation. In the first of a series of essays, Ian Kearns explores how economic crises could lead to the EU’s collapse.

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Natural Geoengineering: terraforming Earth

With evidence mounting that the climate system and sea-level rises have passed tipping points and that we face irreversible, large-scale disruption, you might expect investment in geoengineering to be booming. Yet the technology risks loom large in the public imagination. Peter Kingsley writes that reforestation, which rarely makes headlines, is the most easily implemented, lowest cost and lowest risk ‘geoengineering’ technology. As the IPCC meets in South Korea, might this change?

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Smarter, Cleaner Roads

Electric, autonomous cars have emerged from the shadows to dominate the headlines in just two years, changing how we think about the future of transport. Yet networked infrastructure technologies that manage traffic and urban systems are more important. Amongst the many hotspots of innovation: smart, clean roads with embedded sensors and embedded sources of power.

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Emerging Narratives

Three narratives have gained momentum over the last few months. Climate crises. Isolationism. The breakdown of the trust and rules that support global security and the world order. Growing fears of catastrophic climate change may focus the attention of global leaders and lead to urgent, large-scale action. This may not turn out to so much an emerging narrative, as a weak signal.

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Hothouse Earth: crossing the threshold?

There are a growing number of academic papers exploring the possibilities of extreme earth system futures. Some focus on sea-level rises or water shortages, others on the collapse of the biosphere, yet others on potential consequences, such as mass migration. The emerging narrative is ‘too little, too late’.

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Electric Planes Taking Off

Air travel is one of the major sources of emissions and pollution. Electric cars make headlines, but in the background, major companies are investing heavily in battery-powered aircraft that over the next decade or two will likely transform short-haul travel. There are over 100 projects in development, with Airbus, amongst others hoping to bring electric planes into mainstream service as soon as 2030.

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September 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: On Trust: crisis mismanagement
Approx. Reading Time: 10 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Long Read

On Trust: crisis mismanagement

Peter Kingsley writes that in the extreme, lack of trust in everyone from political and corporate leaders to trans-national institutions and the media is at the root of the growing crises in corporate governance and Western democracies. In a culture dominated by short-termism, manipulation and distraction, the autocrats’ weapon of choice is to undermine trust, arguing that they alone can look after the public interest. Whilst opposition politicians, bankers, corporations, economists, the wealthy and the media are the targets, societal trust is the victim and with that, the possibility of large-scale unrest and a new ‘Dark Age’ is emerging on the horizon.

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Briefing

Narrative Economics, Migration and Populism

Thierry Malleret writes about ‘Narrative Economics’, illustrating how we live by stories by exploring how they influence how we think about migration and populism. This is the latest in a series of essays on imagined futures, narrative and networks. We are highly attuned to narratives, factual or not. Economists have been loath to accept the importance of narrative, since the idea runs against the basic tenets of classical models. This is beginning to change. A new economic worldview may emerge.

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Briefing

The Era of Asian Diplomacy Has Arrived

Chandran Nair writes about the future of diplomacy. With little fanfare and barely reported in the Western media, a new era of diplomacy is emerging in Asia, rooted in long-term cultural values, mutual respect and dialogue, rather than confrontation. There are many examples of this form of quiet ‘soft power’ proving effective, even in the face of tough issues, from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cancellation of Belt and Road projects, to South Korea’s President Moon’s contribution to a new framework for North and South Korea and President Kim’s visits to Beijing.

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Briefing

Scarcity Versus Abundance

John Casti writes that in a world dominated by the politics of fear, it is easy to forget the depth and scale of human progress over the past century. Measured by everything from life expectancy, to food, transport and communication costs, the world is a better place. The economy, in many ways, has shifted from a world of scarcity to a world of abundance. There are, however, engrained inequalities and these, amongst other things, are at the root of potential extreme events. Abundance does not equate to stability.

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Superbugs Become Invincible

Superbugs are created by our overuse of antimicrobials. Unless we cut misuse and find another way of dealing with deadly bacteria, they could become invincible.

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Pollution: everywhere

Although much is being done to cut and clean up pollution, it is not enough to prevent millions of deaths for decades to come.

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Smart Clothing

Next generation wearable technology, expected in the next three or four years, could revolutionise fitness and healthcare.

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“The Red Alert is On. It’s a Race Against Time.”

A new study suggests the strong ‘Atlantic Conveyor’ may have modified the full impact of global warming in the 17 years before 2015. Now the Conveyor is weakening.

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August 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: Propaganda Futures: the narrative is the message
Approx. Reading Time: 9 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Long Read

Propaganda Futures: the narrative is the message

Marshall McLuhan famously said that ‘the medium is the message’. At the dawn of the information age, this had an element of truth. It has framed commentary on the role of media technology ever since. Most recently, Tim Berners-Lee talked about his fears that the technology he invented might yet be the ‘destroyer of worlds’ , a technology so powerful that in the wrong hands it may undermine democracy.

Yet in a new media era where propaganda plays a decisive role in political security and stability, content, not technology, is the message, the manipulator of minds and behaviour.

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Briefing

Competing Narratives: past vs future

Peter Kingsley explores how populist nationalism has changed the political landscape in just two years, sending shockwaves around the world. Right wing populists are setting agendas, evoking history to create a false sense of security. Their readings of the past may be selective, but they have a crucial advantage: they can call on an endless pool of evocative stories that recall former glories and mythical worlds.

Liberal leaders risk underestimating the long-term disruption to the world order if they fail to develop competing narratives.

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Briefing

Do Not Look for an Early End to Trumpism

Mat Burrows argues that as the United States becomes more multicultural long term, the Democrats will have a natural advantage. Yet despite the noise, the talk of impeachment, and Trump’s statements about NATO, trade and immigration, he continues to ‘rev up’ support. His poll ratings have not been dented. “Even if Trump is impeached in a Democratically-controlled House after the mid-terms, there’s little chance at all he would be removed.”

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Briefing

Climate and Sea Level: emerging narratives

The central question that you might expect to preoccupy political leaders is whether they can respond to the risk of runaway climate change, rising sea levels and systemic failure of the biosphere. In other words, the extreme scenario that threatens global stability.

If global resilience is described as the ability of human civilisation to adapt to disruptive change, whatever extreme scenario may develop, then the Paris Agreement and subsequent action, at worst, has fallen well short. Peter Kingsley explores the growing gap between the rhetoric and emerging reality.

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Personalised Nutrition

Personalised nutrition is coming. We are still at early stages, but the potential for human wellbeing is enormous.

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China’s AI Dream

A recent report discusses China’s strategy to lead the world in artificial intelligence.

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3D Printing: housing

3D printing promises quick-to-build, cheap homes that could help solve a growing problem.

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Future Meat?

For many reasons we need to cut down on our consumption of meat. Could lab grown meat be the answer?

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July 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: Inventive States, Inventive Investors
Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Long Read

Inventive States, Inventive Investors

Innovation is political. The ‘trade wars’ may be about the here and now, but the real tensions are about competition to create and dominate the future. Many national systems of innovation mis-allocate capital and drive inequality. There are higher level challenges: national governments and investors are realising that investment in innovation is not simply about long-term growth and jobs, economics and finance, but environmental resilience and social stability. Funding research and development, or improving the flow from ideas, patents and to commercial innovation is not enough. What is needed more than ever is imaginative thinking focused on how to create real value in the public interest and how to distribute the benefits decades ahead.

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Briefing

Total Surveillance Gets Emotional

There are growing fears that surveillance by governments, social media companies and intelligence specialists can integrate ‘all-source’ information, undermining both privacy and democracy. Facial recognition will get better for security services, or worse, depending on your perspective. There will be few places to hide. Peter Kingsley argues that this is just the start: sensors and machines are on the brink of delivering insight into our most private, unconscious emotions and moods. There will be many benefits. Yet it is one thing to track our behaviour and quite another to see into our inner worlds.

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Briefing

Reading Keynes through Modern Eyes: narratives, networks and Big Data

Looked at through modern eyes, ‘animal spirits’ were central to Keynes’ view of what drives the economy. Even interest rates could be swamped by shifts in mass psychology and investment confidence amongst corporate leaders and the business world. In essence, he captured the idea that the narratives formed about the future shaped the economy. Paul Ormerod looks at two recent developments – how concepts spread across networks and a new generation of algorithms that reveal emotion and topics and the context in which they work – mean that animal spirits can be made operational.

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Artificial Intelligence: the great co-inventor?

The idea that innovation is the primary driver of growth is a constant – an economic principle that is rarely questioned. It follows that the re-invention of innovation itself is important. There are signs that ‘augmented intelligence’, which combines human creativity with machine learning may emerge suddenly, creating shockwaves that will spread across all industries, economies and trade networks.
Peter Kingsley looks at how everything from idea generation, invention and patent search, to design, intellectual property law and in turn economic and business performance and investment strategy will face radical change.

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Future for Plastics

The impact of plastic waste on the oceans, the wider environment and human health has had wide publicity. As a number of countries introduce policies to minimise plastic use and the UK government announces a £20m fund to explore innovations around its manufacture and distribution, can we be hopeful of a solution? The recent discovery of an enzyme that breaks down a commonly used plastic in six weeks is a hopeful sign. Biodegradables and other alternatives are also emerging.

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Pet Dogs to be Rejuvenated

In September 2015, Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, tried out two of her company’s experimental gene therapies on herself. By March 2016, she had become biologically 20 years younger. There are sceptics, but another company, Rejuvenate Bio, led by George Church, one of the world’s most influential synthetic biologists, have used gene therapy on mice and set their sights initially on rejuvenating dogs.

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Water Shortages

More than 5 billion people are expected to suffer water shortage by 2050, according to a recent UN Report . At the same time, paradoxically, many will experience increased rainfall and flooding. Unless demand is reduced and resources managed, lack of fresh water could at the extreme be the cause of mass starvation, illness, migrations, social unrest and wars — on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

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Synthetic Human Genome

The goal of Genome Project-Write, an umbrella organisation of researchers is nothing less than the creation of the human genome. So far, scientists have focused on engineering animals by modifying existing genomes. Crispr technologies have made DNA editing routine, but the next step focuses on writing longer stretches of chromosomes and stitching them together with a natural genome.

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June 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: The Scenario Edition
Approx. Reading Time: 2 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

Long Read

The Scenario Edition

The Rome Scenarios, now updated, range from the chaos of ‘Dark Ages’ and the volatility of ‘Best of Times, Worst of Times’ to ‘Walled Gardens’ – a world of enlightened and inclusive nationalism. ‘Renaissance’ describes a multi-lateral vision of a world of mutual understanding that many people might like to create for future generations.

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Briefing

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times 2035

Not much has changed, looking back from 2035. Perpetual crisis for some – war, starvation, homelessness, mass migration and brutality. The gilded age for the few. The good life for more than ever before. In that sense, 2035 is not so different to 2018. Political volatility, crisis and national division has been a constant. Action on climate change is fragmented, too little, too late. The world veers on the edge of collapse as the US century has come to an end and Eurasia has emerged as the new centre of gravity.

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Briefing

Dark Ages 2035

The last decade in a short narrative: descent into chaos. The signs of fundamental political crises and systemic failures were there all along. The ultimate breakdown was driven by multiple causes, from deep inequality, declining innovation, trade wars, economic stagnation and overstressed financial markets, to cyberwar and diplomatic failures. Terrorism and violent extremism, coupled with the pitiless sight of mass migration, has now crossed boundaries, driven by failing states and major coastal cities ravaged by the deepening crises of global warming.

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Briefing

Walled Gardens 2035

For a time, the deal makers, merchants, financiers, autocrats and the military seemed to be winning. After the tumultuous events of 2016, the world became ever more complex, messy and violent. The rules-based international order collapsed. This has slowly led to the emergence of walled gardens and new socially inclusive models, bringing politics and technology back to domestic, community and village scale. Local social and economic needs are now positioned before the interests of global scale multi-national business, hyper-competition and global capital. Enlightened nationalism now shapes the world.

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Briefing

One World: renaissance 2035

The old adage is that it takes a crisis for visionary leaders to emerge and a crisis to create the conditions for radical invention. After a brief interlude of US political extremism and EU disarray, the world has changed again. Hope has returned. Something had to give. ‘One world’ thinking is now in the air, a new world order that transcends and yet aligns national interests. Global governance, long seen as a pipe dream, is a reality. Faced with socio-economic chaos and accelerating ecological disaster, the positive version of the Anthropocene narrative has crystallised.

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Containing Russia

A recent special report by the Council on Foreign Relations argues that ‘the United States is currently in a second Cold War with Russia.’

Robert Blackwill and Philip Gordon argue that whether Moscow influenced the 2016 election is not the point: they tried.

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Aquaculture

Aquaculture is growing fast, already providing about half of the fish we eat. It is set to grow faster still, producing sustainable and healthy food, reducing pressure on fish stocks and creating jobs, often in coastal areas hit by high unemployment.

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The Really Big One

The only uncertainty about the earthquake that will destroy a sizeable chunk of the US Pacific coastal Northwest is when. Not if.

Some wild card events may or may not happen. They are uncertain, in every sense. Not this one.

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Pandemics: an update

Until recently, the default approach to pandemics has been to wait and hope that vaccines can be developed in time. The world remains woefully unprepared to identify, track and respond. A new approach is to create a ‘virus hunting’ network that seeks out potential risks and stops transmission early.

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Neuromodulation

Using electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly on the nerves to modulate electrochemical activity in the brain is not new. What is new is that improved devices and techniques promise to treat an ever wider variety of conditions, creating a major growth area in an already rapidly changing medical landscape.

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How Drones Will Change Cities

Drones are already used extensively by the military and in agriculture. Fears of autonomous nano-scale ‘swarms’ are high on the agenda of regulators. The transformational impact drones of all sizes will have on cities has received less attention, but in simple terms, they will create a new, aerial dimension, a development “potentially as disruptive as the internet”.

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May 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: Belt and Road: back to the future
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Mathew Burrows

Long Read

Belt and Road: back to the future

Xi Jinping’s ambition, to create ‘a community of common destiny’ by integrating the Eurasian continent, is history in the making. Mat Burrows explores a vision that if realised will embrace two-thirds of the world’s landmass, involve sixty-five countries and shape the future of 4.4 billion people. Nothing has been attempted on this scale. The centre of gravity of the world, already shifting rapidly from West to East, will be rebalanced decisively, taking the shape it was in centuries ago. It will create new opportunities and a new focal point for global development, but raise fundamental geo-political challenges and strategic risks for the US, Europe and India. If successful, “China will show the way on development, one of the world’s age-old puzzles”.

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Briefing

To Higher Ground: sea level rise, long term thinking

We have ‘passed the point of no return’ according to some scientists researching the Antarctic and ocean currents: sea levels around the world are rising faster than ever. They are irreversible. The uncertainties are ‘by how much’ and ‘when’? Many of the world’s major cities and low-lying islands around the world are at risk. The emerging narrative is that sea defences will not be able to withstand the combination of rising seas, storms and vulnerable infrastructures. Peter Kingsley argues that this raises fundamental questions about human ability to think in terms of centuries and develop hedging strategies that will create resilience over the long-term. There are radical options.

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Briefing

Food: precision farming

Food shortages, rising populations, changing consumption patterns, urbanisation and climate change: the primary forces driving challenges to farming and agriculture over the next decades and beyond. Jane Kingsley looks at some of the answers promised by converging technologies. Sensor networks, prediction analytics, drones and ‘agribots’ are beginning to increase yields, reduce waste, minimise pollution and cut water consumption. Vertical farms in urban areas are doing without conventional land, building food towers that optimise growth using machine learning. Farms are coming to cities around the world, cutting transport costs and meeting growing demand for fresh, specialist food.

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Briefing

Technology and the Future of Work

One of the most profound uncertainties over the next decade and beyond is how mass automation and artificial intelligence will impact job prospects. In one camp, techno-optimists, in another pessimists who fear unemployment on a vast scale and all that this may mean to social stability. Thierry Malleret argues that there is no right or wrong answer. The winners: owners of capital and highly skilled workers. The losers: everyone else. Much depends on labour mobility and the creative and adaptive capacity of governments, investors, regulators and public policy. The stakes could not be higher.

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Briefing

Microgrids: the quiet revolution

Jane Kingsley argues that the traditional structure of energy generation and distribution is changing: microgrids are on the rise worldwide as the dominance of large coal, nuclear and gas-fired power stations gradually recedes. The long-held vision of localisation is the direction of travel, along with the growth of renewables, as solar, wind and increasingly economic small-scale battery power makes self-sufficiency from large-scale networks more viable everywhere – from major cities to remote hamlets.

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China and the Autonomous Vehicle Race

China’s multi-pronged and integrated approach to autonomous vehicles and smart cities may lead global development and define the future of transportation.

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AI Weeds Could Choke the Internet

What if rogue low-level algorithms, Artificial Intelligence (AI) ‘weeds’, proliferate and bring a slow, steady death of the internet?

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Anti-Social Networks: time to reinvent

The backlash against social media and advertising-centric business model at the heart of the World Wide Web continues. After more soul searching, the architects are turning to reinvention and restoring some of the idealism.

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Reforestation: scaling problem

Regeneration of the natural world is an emerging, vital narrative, the results of which hold one of the keys to stabilising the biosphere. Natural solutions, are often lost amongst the waves of techno-optimism. One of them is reforestation.

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Postponing Ageing: Telomerase

Scientists have been able to produce detailed images of the telomerase enzyme. This could be an important step towards slowing ageing by preventing senescence.

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April 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: Unravelling India: the biggest untapped market
Approx. Reading Time: 14 minutes
Author: Ravi Chaudhry

Long Read

Unravelling India: the biggest untapped market

Ravi Chaudhry, former chairman of four of TataGroup companies and an independent consultant, explores the future of India and the strategic options facing corporations, policymakers and investors.
As he puts it: “Many of the great questions facing humanity will be answered largely in India, China and Africa – not in the West. India’s future is bound to have an impact on world’s future and engagement with India is therefore vital for investors and corporations, as well as for governments. This means understanding the four “ground realities” and generating your own relevant narrative about India. The big question is whether the next 25 years will lead to a US $ 20 trillion economy”.

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Long Read Overview

Title: Economic Optimism, Dark Politics
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Philippe Legrain

Long Read

Economic Optimism, Dark Politics

Philippe Legrain suggests that the global economy is ‘finally firing on all cylinders’, with the exception of Brexiting Britain. The US and eurozone economies in particular may be shifting to a higher growth path as they escape the ‘long shadow of the financial crisis’. They have the potential to continue growing without ‘sparking inflation’ and to ‘reap much greater productivity gains’, even if their timing remains uncertain.
There are, however, dark clouds on the horizon. Populist politics looks here to stay. While populist policies may be positive for the economy initially, they threaten to ‘wreck the domestic institutions than underpin economic growth’. Worse, President Trump may undermine confidence in the dollar and the international monetary system and cause catastrophic trade wars. Might we snatch political defeat from the jaws of economic victory?

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Briefing

Imagined Futures, Narrative and Cultural Realities

Peter Kingsley explores how imagined futures and the narratives that describe them are cultural realities, influencing present day decision-making, investment priorities and judgment about future value. They are fundamental to identifying the early signs of emerging systemic shocks and to understanding how markets may navigate out of them.

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Briefing

Health Creation

Peter Kingsley writes about ‘Health Creation’, describing how the revolution emerging at the intersection of medical sensors, big data, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics will transform medical practice and lead to the development of an era of personalised well-being. Yet this is not simply a technology-centric view: a broader, deeper vision of personalised health management and a structural, cultural shift towards ‘health creation’ – distinct from health care – is on the horizon.

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Briefing

Bush Telegraph, Fish Spies and Things

Jane Kingsley looks at the emergence of sensors embedded in the natural world. With nanobionics and genetic modification high on the agenda of defence researchers, we can expect in coming decades to find living plants and animals passing on information about the environment – and us.

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Short

‘Data as Labor’ and Other Ideas

The chorus of insiders disaffected with Facebook and the culture of ‘free’ in Silicon Valley grows louder day by day. More important, some of the critics are inventors and the wave of ideas to deal with the problem is building.

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New Life Forms to Create New Therapeutics?

A new form of life, a semi-synthetic organism, has been created that can make new proteins not seen in nature. The hope is these may provide the basis for new therapeutics.

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US Climate Science Continues

A public peer review of the latest draft of The US National Climate Assessment, which closely monitors the effect of climate change on the US, has been released by the Trump administration despite a gloomy outlook.

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Water Futures 2035

The integration of water, energy and agriculture systems, and seeing urban and natural environments holistically, holds the key to long-term infrastructure security and lower costs. Peter Kingsley’s short book of essays, written for Stantec, puts forward an agenda.

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Biosphere in Crisis

The headlines from recently approved UN reports on the decline in biodiversity could not be more stark: ‘this alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere’.

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Culture Wars and the Corruption of Politics

Andrew Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower reveals that Steve Bannon believes in the Breitbart doctrine “that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture.”

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Nuclear Fusion: time to hedge

Scientists from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems say that unlimited clear energy is 15 years away and expect a ’solid answer’ to the critical uncertainties in three. Nothing is certain, but is it time to invent hedging strategies?

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Rising Seas, Continuing Denial

The devastation of Houston revealed that city leaders ignored warnings. The pattern continues in Boston: a Washington Post report says that the authorities are doing ‘little to prepare’ for ‘giant storms’. Urban development continues.

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March 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: The Next Decade: higher inflation and falling stock markets?
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Paul Ormerod

Long Read

The Next Decade: higher inflation and falling stock markets?

Paul Ormerod writes that over the past 30 years or so, we have seen low inflation and stock markets rising in value, despite temporary setbacks such as the financial crisis of the late 2000s. This has been underpinned by the fact that profits have risen faster than wages.

The dominant economic narrative has been one of “neo-liberalism”, which has encouraged the application of a survival-of-the-fittest world view. Increases in inequality have been seen as the just rewards for the enterprising and go-getters.

We now seem to be at a tipping point.

Despite fears of AI displacing jobs, the narrative is shifting to one of concern for ordinary workers, in which large inequalities are becoming frowned upon.

The absorption of China and India into the global economy from the 1990s onwards added over a billion workers to world labour supply. This process is now complete, with the result that the downward pressure on wage rates which this created has also come to an end.

In short, stock markets may have peaked, and inflation may be more persistent over the coming decade.

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Briefing

The Perfect Storm Revisited: 2017-2025

In October 1991, three hurricane force storms converged off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. This ‘Perfect Storm’, the most powerful in recorded history, created an apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean, where boats encountered waves of 100 feet – the equivalent of a ten-story building.

Peter Kingsley writes that this simple historical narrative was transformed into a pervasive metaphor more than a decade ago. It went viral throughout the 2007-8 financial crisis, capturing the sense of bewilderment and uncertainty.

Since then, the key underlying principle has faded from memory. It is, however, critical to developing insight into how large-scale, systemic events may emerge.

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Briefing

A Visible Hand That Sets Off Ripples

Helen Jackson writes that China aspires to be an ‘ecological civilization’ and is moving beyond a growth-at-all-costs development model.

As an autocracy with a high degree of strategic control of key sectors, it is able to make more abrupt, far-reaching decisions to achieve its social and environmental goals than liberal democracies, illustrated by this winter’s drastic air pollution control measures.

Given its growing influence on the world stage, such moves by China’s visible hand have the potential to create unintended consequences for other nations’ governments and companies which we should attempt to anticipate.

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Briefing

On Education: freeing the creatives

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”

Kuan Chung (7th Century BC)

Peter Kingsley explores the many futures of education. Of all the social systems that should explore the long-term future and then act on what they find, education is unique. It is also universal: no other sector demands an inter-generational perspective and plays a role in everyone’s lives.

The fundamental challenge is to equip future generations to live well, whatever future scenario may emerge. Or better: free them to realise their creative potential and invent their own futures.

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Briefing

Global Pandemics: unprepared?

John Casti explores the risks of pandemics. Every thirty years or so, a global pandemic ravages the world.

The combination of rising populations, densely concentrated urban conurbations, international travel and anti-microbial resistance (AMR) increase the systemic risks to millions and to global stability.

Recent research suggests that viruses can spread globally through release into the upper atmosphere.

Some scenarios suggests not only millions are at risk, but that the world is not prepared for ‘the big one’.

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Short

Is Universal Basic Income the Future?

As work patterns change with automation, more people working in the gig economy and people changing jobs more frequently, Universal Basic Income may be part of the answer.

Recently there has a resurgence in interest and several large trials have started.

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Bioprinting Organs: replacement parts

3D printing has been around for a while but scientists are now developing 3D bioinks that contain human cells.

With recent breakthroughs they have been able to build functioning human tissue paving the way for many therapeutic applications.

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Mining Asteroids, Industry in Space

Mining for rare materials in space and bringing them back to earth once seemed extreme. It is now commonplace.

Next: mining asteroids to build a space platform to deliver services both to earth and to explorers. The emerging model is industry in space.

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Arctic Tundra: runaway carbon release?

Over the last two decades, the Arctic sea ice has been canary in the mine. Arctic temperatures are rising, creating shifts in global weather patterns, but it is not just sea ice on the agenda.

As George Church puts it ‘There is more carbon in the Arctic tundra than in the entire atmosphere plus all the rainforests put together.’

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Microrobots will Bring Precision

Two links about progress in microrobots. Scientists have worked on these for decades, largely because of their potential for precision medicine. Microrobots promise not only non-invasive microsurgery and very-small implantable medical devices, but accurate diagnosis, real-time monitoring of diseases and precise delivery of therapies. Recently real progress has been made: first clinical applications are predicted for 5-10 years time.

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Artificial Synapses

New synthetic synapses firing millions of times faster than those in human brains and using a tiny fraction of the energy could be used to build high-speed, low-powered AI chips in the future.

Mimicking the human brain may offer a way forward for more powerful artificial intelligence.

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February 2018

Long Read Overview

Title: The World Needs Asian Publishers
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Chandran Nair

Related Articles

Long Read

The World Needs Asian Publishers

Chandran Nair makes the case for independent pan-Asian publishers to reflect the fundamental and accelerating shift in the centre of gravity from West to East. We live in a world ‘where the wealth of knowledge from the non-Western world largely goes unrecognised and worse, unpublished. This is both a tragedy and a significant problem for Asia and the world…’ The world is dominated by Western narratives, that shape how people think.
This is not simply about publishing, but the importance of Asian voices in Asia on global issues, culture and in setting the future agenda. As he puts it ‘… as Western insecurities about a post-Western world take root it is critical that a larger Western audience is exposed to ideas and opinions from the rest of the world’.

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Briefing

The Great Regeneration

In the first of a series of essays, we explore policy and investment themes that will deliver resilience, in any future scenario. Regeneration of the natural environment is one of several emerging meta-narratives that will give investors increasing confidence to commit capital to long-term ecosystem and innovation agendas.

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Briefing

The Risk of Stranded Assets is on the Rise

Thierry Malleret argues that the risk of stranded assets is on the rise, as evidence grows that the impact of climate change will be felt earlier and will be harsher than predicted. Insured losses from climate-related natural catastrophes amounted to US $135 billion and uninsured losses to a further US $195 billion and costs are forecast to grow.

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Briefing

On Foresight: part five

On the horizon: AI-driven foresight tools, a vision of a future world where man and machine work together and everything is about simulation, predictive systems and human imagination.

Scenarios will remain the most flexible set of tools and techniques, but AI and ever-improving data promise a future where machines and human creativity are combined, in increasingly sophisticated forms.

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Briefing

Nuclear Destabilisation

John Casti illustrates that assessments of social mood and complexity influence both the emergence and outcome of major events, focusing on the risks associated with nuclear destabilisation.

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Briefing

Nanobionics: a green future?

Scientists are putting non-biological nanostructures with biological ones to bring the prospect of, among other things, super-functioning plants with hundreds of potential applications from environmental sensors to street lighting and wifi aerials.

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Short

Longevity

The Longevity Fund advances technologies that will increase human healthspan and invests in early-stage biotechnology companies. Here is an easy-to-understand but comprehensive guide to active areas of research in this area.

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Microbiomes

Though microbiomes have essential impacts on our health and the health of the planet, they are little understood. ‘Unravelling them offers huge potential for innovation’. The EU, a global leader in the study of microbiomes, are funding 13 projects that are spearheading research in this area.

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Nanochips for Skin Repair

Researchers believe a novel device that ‘reprogrammes’ skin cells could be an exciting breakthrough in repairing injured or ageing tissue.

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Sputnik Moment: continued

The realisation in the US that China has made a ‘breathtaking transformation’ and is now a ‘scientific and technological superpower’, has been confirmed by the National Science Foundation report on ‘Science and Engineering Indicators’.

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China’s New Manifesto

As ‘further evidence of of the seriousness of China’s broad global vision’, the Communist Party publishes a ‘manifesto’ on China’s role in the world.

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Artificial Intelligence and Language Comprehension

Reports of software that can match or top humans at reading may be premature. AI still has a long way to go.

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Exascale Computing

Amidst the excitement around the potential of quantum computing, high speed ‘exascale’ machines, running at 1,000 petaflops have received less attention. They have the potential to transform security and modelling complex systems, such as the global climate.

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