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Agenda-Setting Foresight

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Title: Radical Innovation
Approx. Reading Time: 17 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Radical Innovation

What if machines can mimic human creativity and how ideas are formed in the biological networks of the brain, generating novel, patentable inventions? Ideas and inventions traded in open global marketplaces. Production localised to social and environmental benefits, with minimal costs. Peter Kingsley explores how state-of-the-art machine-aided innovation will transform everything from asset ownership, to globalisation and patent law.

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Title: Youth Activism: the older generation ignores it at its peril
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: Thierry Malleret

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Youth Activism: the older generation ignores it at its peril

Ignore the younger generation’s cultural values and attitudes towards the environment and societal inequality at your peril, argues Thierry Malleret . Disillusioned and anxious, ‘generation activist’, powered by social media, will shape prospects for all political parties, industry sectors and companies. Understanding how their aspirations and imagined futures differ radically from those of the ruling Boomers and Generation Xers may itself trigger abrupt cultural change.

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Briefing

Asymmetric Threats and Opportunities

Strategic risk managers have long grappled with complexity and radical uncertainty, with the growing realisation that speed compounds them both. The new threat is asymmetry, in everything from breakthrough technology, to military security and global warming. Foresight is a primary source of strategic advantage.

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Briefing

The End of Dollar Dominance?

The Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath has highlighted the centrality of the dollar to the global financial system, reinforcing Chinese and European resentment at this dominance and their determination to challenge it. Change will eventually come, but it could be the US itself that calls time on the dollar age.

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Pervasive Drones: mass destruction?

As drones are increasingly pervasive in fields from photography to transport and agriculture, darker uses are also emerging. The integration of multiple weapons systems using autonomous drone networks may be a greater threat than conventional nuclear attacks.

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Breakthrough Inventions

Conventional wisdom is that foundational inventions are not only rare, but do not often change the world. Peter Kingsley argues this is wrong on both counts. Breakthroughs are emerging in ever greater numbers and achieving scale fast.

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Title: Bitcoin’s a Bit Player, But Digital Currencies Are Coming
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: Simon Tilford

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Bitcoin’s a Bit Player, But Digital Currencies Are Coming

Bitcoin is not about to challenge established currencies and is a poor store of value to boot. However, central banks are right to worry about tech giants such as Amazon or Facebook issuing their own private digital currencies. They are all but certain to preempt this by introducing central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and obstructing the spread of private ones.

Simon Tilford argues that while CBDCs will have various advantages, they will also concentrate unprecedented power in the hands of central banks (and by extension states). While democracies should be able to ensure accountability and privacy, the introduction of a Chinese CBDC will further hinder attempts to limit the power of the Chinese authorities.

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Title: To Burst or Not To Burst
Approx. Reading Time: 10 minutes
Author: Simon Tilford

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To Burst or Not To Burst

Financial markets are in a bubble. Valuations are out of kilter with economic reality and risk. However, past examples provide few clues as to when the market will crash, because this bubble is different – it is happening at a time of economic gloom rather than rapid growth.

Simon Tilford argues that bringing valuations back into line with fundamentals without a major bust will not be easy. Governments will have to address the underlying reasons for weak growth and excessively low inflation. Failure to do so and central banks will have no option but to pump yet more liquidity into the system, postponing but increasing the severity of the eventual day of reckoning.

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Title: Climate Action: glass half empty or half full?
Approx. Reading Time: 9 minutes
Author: Simon Tilford

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Climate Action: glass half empty or half full?

Victory for Jo Biden and China’s announcement of a net zero target by 2060 are seen by many as game-changers. Simon Tilford argues that this is misplaced.

The ‘climate agreement’ between the US, China and Europe that the world needs will remain out of reach. Without it, market forces can only achieve so much. As carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, governments will start to panic. At this point, achieving strongly negative emissions will require both technological breakthroughs and fundamental shifts in how we live. Countries will also need to work together to drive rapid diffusion of these technologies and practices.

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Title: The New Biden Presidency: Facing Big Challenges in a Divided America
Approx. Reading Time: 15 minutes
Author: Mathew Burrows

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The New Biden Presidency: Facing Big Challenges in a Divided America

Many people at home and abroad are breathing a sigh of relief with the election of Joe Biden. Mat Burrows argues that the new administration faces multiple challenges in an America deeply divided along urban/rural lines and by levels of education. While the new president has had the reputation of hammering out compromises with Republicans, he has inherited a poisoned chalice, not least combatting COVID-19 and vaccine distribution. He will come under pressure from within his own party for even more ambition on climate change and the test of the mid-term elections.

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Briefing

The Big Squeeze

The ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors—from aviation to steel—face a decade of reckoning. Peter Kingsley argues they are squeezed between pressure to cut emissions and the consequences of their historic failure to invest in innovation to meet future needs. Expect competition for scarce future-ready assets and intense competition to ‘fill the invention gap’.

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Briefing

The Coming Global Decoupling

The much-heralded decoupling of China and the West is yet to happen, but it will come. Geopolitics will play a part, but so will Western firms’ embrace of ESG, the bifurcation of the internet, and China’s own drive for greater autonomy. Simon Tilford argues that this will make it harder to cut global emissions of greenhouse gases.

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Briefing

Walled Gardens Scenario: growing momentum

One of the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis is that, faced with international crises, national leaders turn inward to protect domestic security. The ideals of multilateralism may give way to ‘Walled Gardens’, a scenario in which only the existential risks of biosphere collapse bring the world together.

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Briefing

Cyberwar: catastrophe ahead?

Cyberwar is endemic. Attacks on the US in late 2020 illustrate that basic infrastructure, nuclear installations and weapons systems are fragile. The risks of miscalculation and misjudgement are pervasive and poorly understood.

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Biodiversity: underestimating the crisis

Why, when we face catatrophic destruction of species and ecosystems, are we still failing to grasp the urgency and magnitude of the problem? There are signs that COVID-19 is inspiring renewed efforts, but will they be enough?

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Briefing

Re-Inventing Decision-Making

The finance, pensions and insurance sectors have long relied on data and mathematical models to justify decisions. Risk is traded, based on projected returns. In this essay Peter Kingsley explores how in ‘edge of chaos’ environments, these culturally defined value models break down.

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Briefing

The Battle for Water

Competition for water is intensifying thanks to rapid population growth, climate change, ever more water-intensive food production, unchecked industrial use and failure to nurture natural water ecosystems. Conflict is inevitable, including between China and India. Simon Tilford argues that the only solution is to transform how we think about and use water.

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Briefing

From the Archive: Model Risks

Models are not reality. They are sometimes used as anchors, sometimes ignored by decision makers. Judgement in uncertainty is more about cultural context, the imagined futures of protagonists and the stories they tell. This short essay, by Peter Kingsley, from December 2017, is more relevant than ever, as political leaders struggle in an ‘age of chaos’.

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Briefing

Hope and Optimism, Vision and Reality

Action to reduce emissions has momentum amongst world leaders, but there is little evidence of planning for the worst-case scenario—the defining feature of resilience. ‘Net Zero’ is not enough. Peter Kingsley argues that even with exponential rates of adoption of existing technologies, much depends on new inventions.

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Briefing

Autocrats: down, not out

Disinformation is a threat to national security, public health and urgent action on global warming. Unfortunately, policymakers have to meet the dual challenge of countering public fears and deception as well as dealing with the real world.

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Briefing

The Great Acceleration:
panic sets in?

A single, rarely explicit narrative has underpinned scientific and political dialogues about the global climate over the last thirty years: that by reducing carbon emissions, temperatures come under control. It may be flawed.

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Briefing

China’s Economy Grinds to a Halt?

Simon Tilford argues that although China has so far confounded Western sceptics of its development model, there is plenty to be concerned about.

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