Approaching Androids

An android is a robot that resembles a human, and their potential applications include customer service, communication technologies, education, and health care. Japan has produced a number of androids, but they still only look like humans. They still feel, smell, sound, and presumably taste synthetic. My latest trend alert shows where researchers are advancing in the work to make robots resemble humans: But, is it all for nothing? Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have shown how and why people are often creeped out by robots that too closely resemble human beings. Essentially the androids do not match what people expect of them, So, robots used in public places will not only require extra safety precautions but also satisfy the public’s expectations either through the design of the robot or through extensive marketing to adjust public attitudes.


Engaging Employee Emotions–Author Commentary

Shaping Tomorrow has published my latest trend alert, Engaging Employee Emotions. This blog post is not a reprint of that trend alert. Please read it first, and if you have time, I hope you can read the blog post too.

Casual Friday is an everyday experience for many successful companies and a dead fad for others, but the key takeaway from its successes is the importance of employees’ personal lives on the productivity of a company. Employees do not need to wear t-shirts to work, but they do need to come to work with their personal lives in check. However, companies need to understand that people come to work with the rest of their lives on their shoulders whether it’s a death, illness, child with drug addiction or another of the endless problems found in a big organization. How effectively can anyone check even a personal failure, a public embarrassment, or a divorce at the office door without help?

It may cost companies big bucks trying to daily handle employees’ personal issues, but it will cost them potentially much more in lost productivity and other factors to ignore issues or try replacing every employee with a personal problem.The casual Friday fad is a prime example of corporations dancing around the issue and encouraging employees to maintain a separation between their personal and professional lives. Other companies like GE have attempted to help employees reconcile their personal and professional lives, but this can cause more problems if an employee’s emotional trauma is ignored because the employee then brings that emotional trauma to work in the same way they handle it at home–abusing colleagues, etc. A person’s emotions are very important, and issues need to be addressed quickly and effectively to maintain productivity.

This is not to say that all employees need to be happy. Those emotions seen as negative–e.g. greed, anger, jealousy–can increase a persons analytic skills and concentration. The question is not whether an employee is happy and appeased. The question is whether they are self-controlled and stable. Can they do their work without diverting their attention to their personal problems? If yes, then leave them to it. If no, they first need someone to notice. Then they need someone or something to help them regain mental focus.

Environmental & Horizon Scanning

Horizon scanning and environmental scanning are two terms which are seemingly interchangeable. Even futurist organizations are often unsure how to use them. As a scanner, I feel there is a difference. Scanning the environment means looking only for what is happening now and immediate consequences, but scanning the horizon is looking more broadly at the plausible implications of what is happening now and weak signals for how things may change in the future. If I were to choose a preference for describing what I do, I would say I am a horizon scanner because environmental scanner is too narrow. In truth, any good scanner does both, and so it is largely unnecessary for anyone outside of the foresight field to bother with the difference which is largely semantic.

I make this distinction here because I recently came across a great flyer by Maree Conway about what makes a good environmental scanner. Ms. Conway’s description is appropriate for scanning in general whether horizon or environmental. There is one thing I would add to the list. Scanners must be resilient to hype and capable of maintaining objectivity. These are similar to the scanner understanding their own world view and challenging assumptions about the future, but they are more specific. Without a proper hype meter, the scanner is likely to bring in too much dross and apply too much emphasis to something without merit. Whether the scanner is looking at the daily news, blogs or academic journals, hype and poor research methods abound. A good scanner has a critical eye and the ability to apply the right emphasis to potential trends and changes by being aware of the influence of others on themselves and the world around them.

Should the WHO apologize for the swine flu pandemic?

As a horizon scanner, I saw how the swine flu epidemic built up in the press. I saw the story that Canada was concerned about some people who had recently returned from Mexico with a strange flu. I also saw the story the very next day about a few boys in southern California who had contracted a strange form of flu. The whole thing just snowballed from there into a frenzy of news stories about an impending plague that would travel the world and kill a great percentage of people.

In reality though, the deaths were slow in coming. The Canadians were okay eh. The boys in California pulled through. And some proclaimed swine flu deaths were disputed. At least one of the earliest victims’ families claimed there was no swine flu in the person’s system.

Flu pandemics tend to follow a 40 year cycle. So, when bird flu started killing people, the WHO was naturally concerned. However, the virus has never been shown capable of transmitting from person to person. People contract the flu by eating or handling infected birds. However, the percentage of deaths from those infected was very high.

When bird flu failed to go pandemic, the world waited for the flu cycle to reach its 40th year. So, when swine flu reared its head, the world was ready, but the world was also primed to worry. The world though, certainly Europe and India and many in the States, feels disillusioned. Where are the dead? These people want blood, and they are seeking Margaret Chan of the WHO to be their sacrificial lamb.

I will freely admit that during the past (northern hemisphere) summer, I saw Chan’s picture a few too many times. Sometimes, her picture appeared inappropriately in reports of the flu’s spread. I began wondering what her motivation was in declaring the pandemic. She did seem to declare the pandemic rather soon. I began to wonder if she thought this was her time to shine and make her mark in history as the saviour of humanity.

Swine flu is by definition a pandemic though. When 2009 H1N1 swine flu was declared phase 6 pandemic, the virus had crossed enough borders with a significant number of people contracting the virus within the respective communities. The concern was of course that the declaration would cause an unnecessary panic–unnecessary because the virus had already shown itself to be quite mild. However, flu viruses are notorious for mutating as they pass around the world. There was still a need for extreme surveillance even though there was no need to panic.

Many bloggers throughout this situation have claimed any number of things from the nonexistence of the virus to the conspiracy of world leaders to include mind controlling serums in the vaccines. I submit that these bloggers actually only contributed to the panic. With people able to publish their opinions so broadly and freely, fear is spread faster and more intensely. These fear mongers fed off each other while feeding out to the legitimate press. Please don’t read this as some admonition of bloggers, but rather a caution to not believe certain blogs any more than one would believe certain face-to-face conversations.

I have a tendency to rabbit trail to other topics but back to Margaret. She did her job. Perhaps she could have handled things better, but she warned the world of a potential danger. Just because that danger did not lead to death does not mean that the danger did not exist. The flu could have mutated to something more deadly, and the flu was certainly widespread.