We make sense of the world through categorizations, classifications and definitions, and they are always in flux. Frontiers with their shifting borders are an instrument of power, too – with the power of words, physical as well as metaphorical ground can be gained or lost in an instant.
We are quickly blurring definitions and redefining context – and therefore questioning who has the power, or who is leading the change. Is it public or private, fake or real, or perhaps green over concrete? We will have to redistribute responsibility, create new models for ownership and funding and champion transparency.
We will experience conditions of multiple rulesets, which can cause anxiety and unrest in people. In an environment of ambiguity, we will need to consider new encounters much more closely than ever before – be it a robot, a virtual colleague or just other cultures or customs.
For companies, frontiers often bring up questions of ethics. Covering new ground calls for responsible and sustainable actions, and neglecting responsibility leads to problems down the line. Frontiers also hold great potential: redefining, reframing and rethinking are the areas where the most massive innovations happen – often new service models, platforms and categories of products come to life through new perspectives, rather than new discoveries.
12 Green vs. concrete
The concept of cities is in flux, as the drive for sustainability is giving rise to massive urban farming projects. Wildlife will gain ground in cities, creating the need for animal-inclusive urban planning. This blending will be bi-directional, as plans for incorporating forests in our cities are being drafted.
Architect Stefano Boeri has worked on a Smart Forest City concept near Cancún, Mexico. The plan is to blur the boundary of forest and city, and the 557 hectare site will contain 7.5 million plants. The Smart Forest City would absorb 116,000 tons of carbon yearly. Plans include homes for 130,000 inhabitants, as well as advanced research centers, as the goal is to create a site for bringing together research, academic institutions and businesses.
Paris is opening the world’s largest urban rooftop farm. The 14,000m² space will grow some 30 types of plants. The farm to be opened is part of a growing phenomenon – for instance, Agripolis, the company that built the farm, is already running other urban farms in Paris.
European cities are looking for ways to fight back against wild hogs, as cities have seen a growing number of the invading animals. Methods like contraception, poison, selective culling, death squads have been trialled in efforts to combat the beasts – but the wild boars seem to have come to stay, according to University of Barcelona expert Jorge Ramón López Olvera, who says the city boar has become a species of its own, habituated to city life. Boars might be unwanted, but some wildlife is also being intentionally introduced to our streets, like the bees that inhabit McDonald’s billboard backs.
1,000 Trees is the name of a Shanghai development, a mix of offices, restaurants, event venues, galleries and retail spaces that features hundreds of plants growing on top of it. The plants are from Chongming Island in Shanghai, and many of them are evergreen to maximise the greenness of 1,000 Trees.
13 Public vs. private
Nations, companies and individuals are in conflict over what is public or private. All kinds of data, like biometrics and data created by sensors or apps, is being fought over, and will be subject to misuse unless boundaries are set. This tug-of-war extends to physical services, as well: private entities are bypassing governmental regulations as they’re introducing new modes of transportation, and community projects started by private citizens are growing in scale.
The city of LA with its congested streets is looking to improve its traffic situation – and they’re looking to do it with data from private companies. A new data standard called Mobility Data Specification requires private operators to share usage data with them – and companies like Uber are fighting back. Uber calls the initiative a massive overcollection of data, and to control the outflux of potentially business-sensitive data, companies are turning to lobbying.
A 400-meter pedestrian bridge, called the first crowdfunded bridge in the world, has been opened in Rotterdam. It connects three separate areas of the city, while also providing access to places like a new park and a rooftop vegetable garden. Over 8,000 people chipped in to support the bridge, and city council later helped fund the project to completion. Hailed as a new means of creating city infrastructure, bridge builders ZUS are treating the project as the blueprint of a new methodology of developing cities.
Woven City is the name of Toyota’s upcoming prototype city – a futuristic home to 2,000 people that will also serve as a testing site for new mobility solutions, connected AI tech and new urban planning. The city will have pedestrian-only streets, while smaller streets will host various new modes of personal transport. The main streets will be used by autonomous vehicles, like Toyota’s own e-Palette.
14 Fake vs. real
In an explored world, a saturated market and environment of competing interests, redefinition can be a tool of immense impact. By shifting previously known boundaries, we can create new product and service categories.Our roles as citizens can change and our perceptions of categories like work or free time can be shifted – to name just a few examples.
More than anywhere else, fake and real clash with virtual phenomena. Can a virtual entity handle customer service tasks? Act as a confidant? Be a partner? The definitions and boundaries are constantly evolving and call into question our most personal beliefs and values.
A buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, built 400 years ago, now serves as a place of robot-driven worship. The robot priest Mindar is part of an effort to rekindle interest in religious practice in a country where it is declining. While Mindar is currently simply reciting a prayer over and over, the temple staff are looking into AI-driven worship that would cater to each individual visitor and their needs.
Similar developments might be on the horizon for Western religion too: “We have these fixed philosophical ideas and AI challenges those ideas – it challenges Catholicism to move toward a post-human priesthood”, said Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister with a chair in theology at Villanova University.
Facebook issued a statement that they will ban deepfakes, as they distort reality and represent a significant challenge to the tech industry. This is not the first time Facebook deals with deepfakes, as the company previously received criticism for refusing to remove a deepfake featuring U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, made to look like she’s slurring her speech.
Deepfakes are widely seen as a growing threat to media credibility and media literacy, and the phenomenon is being combated by companies like Microsoft and Google, with Facebook now following suit.
15 No rulebook yet
Where there are no bounds yet, they need to be defined: with our globe already fully explored, new colonialism occurs in space and the rules for astral conquest are hastily being drafted. On the other hand, disruption creates new areas of definition in our daily lives, creating the need for constant negotiation of the categories, rules and names of phenomena around us.
Luxembourg, a tiny country of some 600,000 inhabitants, plans to mine asteroids for minerals. The plan, first announced in 2016, outlines that the first space flights would take place in 2020. Luxembourg accompanies NASA and the Japanese space agency, JAXA, in looking to the skies for resources.
The upcoming space gold rush raises questions about ownership and rights to mine the celestial bodies and can also serve to heighten existing economic inequalities, as only a few companies are financially able to tap into potentially inexhaustible resources in our near space.
As scientists, designers and entrepreneurs draft plans for feasible conquest of Mars, the shipping of materials to the red planet remains a key issue. Malaysian designers Warith Zaki and Amir Amzar have created a colony concept built by farming bamboo on Mars, making for a renewable and locally-grown construction material. With the concept, designers hope to raise discussion around radical solutions for colonising Mars.
Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk both want to read your mind: Facebook is funding research for brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to extract thoughts directly from neurons – and scientists say they can already decode words from brain activity, on the fly. Musk’s Neuralink is looking into threads that can be implanted in the brain, which would allow people to control devices like smartphones by just thinking of various actions.
As there is no legislation to govern the use of this kind of neurodata, scientists and neurology experts around the world are calling for rules to govern the use of our neurodata to protect us from grave privacy concerns.
- →Who has the power and who has the responsibility in your business context?
- →Are there still some areas in your business without a clear ruleset? How might you navigate there and achieve ownership of that space?
- →What will be the next technological innovation that will significantly redefine your business area? Can you plan for this or benefit from it?
- →How could you redefine your business and its context in order to shake up your business area?