Visions of the future

What will the future be like in terms of consumer lifestyles in 2025? And how will these be affected by sustainability issues? The FutureScapes project aims to find out. Chris Clifton reports

One thing is clear: the world of 2025 will be very different from the one we live in today. It’s difficult to imagine what the future will hold and just as difficult to imagine what technologies we might need. Sony believes that technology can make a positive contribution to some of the social and environmental issues that might lie ahead in 2025.

As experts in technology, imagination and innovation we have plenty to offer with regard to exploring what business and consumer lifestyles might be like in 2025 and how we might live more sustainable lifestyles. Clearly, many others have expertise, knowledge, opinions and insight too, so at Sony, we wanted to invite everyone to get involved in this important conversation.

In order to better meet the demands of the future, the entire way in which we lead our lives needs to be reviewed; changes to the way we work, socialise, share ideas and access education can all make a difference – and technology needs to be part of the solution. This is the challenge that Sony along with Forum for the Future, a leading non-profit organisation that works globally with business and government to create a sustainable future, are looking to explore with the FutureScapes project. At Sony, we’ve already been involved in ‘open innovation’ for sustainability – with the Forest Guard and Open Planet Ideas initiatives – and we’re keen to carry on the conversation to help everyone better explore and understand the challenges we face and better innovate for a future which remains uncertain.

What is FutureScapes?
FutureScapes is an exciting collaboration project which aims to explore the potential of technology and entertainment to create a better, more sustainable world in 2025. It’s not about predicting the future so much as imagining the possibilities. FutureScapes harnesses the creativity of ‘futures’ experts and an eclectic mix of thinkers, writers, designers and the public to gather a wide range of perspectives about the opportunities and challenges of life in 2025 and the role technology will play. Through highly engaging thought pieces; vlogs, stories, and events, the project will immerse its audiences in very different versions of the future, encouraging them to think more deeply about life in 2025 and how technology and entertainment might make a positive contribution.

From the infinite number of futures ahead of us, our project partner, Forum for the Future, experts in futures scenario work in the context of sustainability, have developed four 2025 scenarios which are being used as ‘thought starters’. These scenarios explore how some global trends might change our world and how new business models and sustainable products and services could enter the mainstream.

The scenarios, which were shared in the first phase of the project, are used as tools to challenge perceptions about what the future holds. Used as stimulus to kick off the thought process, they enable us to envisage a very different tomorrow, and this in turn can help us to establish more robust ideas, thoughts, trends and possibilities for future innovations. Each scenario provides food for thought and allows people to imagine solutions to the challenges and opportunities that these radically different futures present.

In the second phase of the project, audiences will create ideas for new technology areas and themes that will help people enjoy better, more sustainable lives. This will be achieved through innovation workshops with world-leading experts, a crowdsourcing ideas generation initiative and a social media engagement campaign.

The best concepts to emerge from this stage will be curated and shared through a White Paper summarising key learning’s about how to make progress through imagination on sustainability issues.

What are the ultimate objectives and intentions?
The intention of FutureScapes is to spark conversation around what the future in 2025 might be like in terms of consumer lifestyles and how these will be affected by sustainability issues (such as climate change, energy shortages, etc) and how technology may need to respond to these challenges.

At the end of the process, Sony will have gathered opinions from people all over the globe; from the public, not-for-profit organisations, technologists, designers, corporates and a host of other influencers. As a result of this on-going collaboration, FutureScapes has the potential to deliver an aspiring vision of the future that we can all work together to create.

We hope this will demonstrate how we are taking a thought leadership position on sustainable consumer lifestyles, whilst further strengthening the association between our brand and creativity, imagination and innovation. And let us not forget that the project also has the potential to unlock and make use of the talent and imagination of the people who work at Sony. And for this reason we’ve ensured there are many opportunities for Sony staff to be involved, such as inviting their participation at the innovation workshops. Even amongst my team I can already see this project making a difference. It has given us a chance to look up from our immediate R&D challenges, and by engaging with multiple people from multiple backgrounds, we’re exposed to new perspectives, different expertise and different ways of thinking. It’s a great way for us to get really creative.

But it’s not just about Sony. FutureScapes has the potential to help other organisations think differently when planning for what we might need and want in 2025 and beyond. The FutureScapes journey, details of the final concept outcomes and the whitepaper will all be publically available.

This is a new process for us and we hope that this collaborative approach and bringing together of varied perspectives and expertise, will enable us all to benefit from a different way of thinking. We also hope consumers will be encouraged to follow the journey and get involved, being encouraged to think about how more sustainable and improved behaviours can help us achieve better lifestyles in the future. This is what we’re hoping for, but of course with a collaborative project like this the end result is as yet unknown. But what we do know is that the more people that join us, the better we can be.

What ideas have come out of FutureScapes?
Sony hopes to have the first themes and concepts ready to be shared in March this year, so at this stage, it’s still very open ended. That’s the beauty of open innovation and its what this project is all about; gathering and seeking to understand many different viewpoints and perspectives. Of course ‘weak signals’ may perhaps be identified, helping to indicate what might develop over the next 13 years, but in terms of actual concepts, these might be thematic areas or more specific technologies depending on the outcome of the process.

What has FutureScapes taught us about the current state of thinking and the role of sustainability in tomorrow’s innovation?
We know that the way we live today; endlessly consuming raw materials, creating unnecessary waste, and churning out carbon emissions is simply not sustainable. Sustainability planning is crucial to the positive development of our future, as we search for new energy options and create new consumption habits. It therefore goes without saying that the innovations we develop must have sustainability at their heart, or we risk forfeiting our world as we know it today.

Clearly technology will have a huge part to play in our inevitable shift towards a more sustainable world and will help to drive different types of behaviour patterns, particularly consumption. FutureScapes has also highlighted that we need to look towards a much more collaborative future – an environment where everyone has to come together – where one person’s waste becomes one person’s resource.

There is an understanding that the future will entail smarter, cleaner technologies and innovations – enabling a more efficient and sustainable interaction between people and the environment. With endless possibilities around sustainable products and services, imagination is our only limitation.

Chris Clifton is the chief technology officer for Sony Semiconductor and Electronic Solutions (SES), Sony Europe.

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