Last year our predictions series started with a slightly introspective tone – beginning with a forecast on prediction itself. “Predictive tools will move from being of marginal interest to become part of mainstream culture and everyday life,” we suggested. 2013 certainly did push the science (or should that be art?) of prediction into the mainstream media. Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise became a bestseller, introducing the science to a mass audience. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) forecasts were published and eagerly debated. Khan Academy’s analytic tools were much talked about and the open data movement reached a new milestone when some 70 governments joined the Open Government Partnership.
Arguably though, less success can be claimed with our prediction on adaptive learning tech. We’d hoped that 2013 would be the year MOOCs got personal, finding better ways to emulate the one-to-one learning approach between teacher and student that offers the most effective results. For now, online learning remains a nascent field. Nobody’s quite cracked it fully yet, and although the potential still resonates within the sector, traditional forms of assessment still dominate.
Another slightly disappointing sector, one that didn’t quite live up to its promise in terms of scale, is civic apps. Twelve months ago, we wanted to see more mobile digital tools scaled and integrated as vital elements of our public services provision. There was certainly movement in the right direction, but we’d like to see greater integration, linking public services much more directly with the app economy. Consider how local authorities might use a service like fixmystreet to integrate with their own non-emergency repairs in a city. Closer integration of apps with the work of public service providers could help to see more scale, and notably, significant cost savings for cities and their citizens. Local government is traditionally a slow adopter and therefore moving from small experiments to genuine scale is always a challenge.
We’ve continued the robot theme in our 2014 list. This year we’ll start to become much more aware of the artificial intelligence surrounding us on a daily basis. But in 2013 it was all about, ‘invisible’, or rather ‘embedded’ intelligence, and we’re claiming a partial win on this one. Broadening the definition of robot to cover ‘an intelligent helper who will take on our menial tasks’, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest 2013 was the year invisible robots went mainstream. The latest iPhone software included a number of robot-like suggestions, such as prompts on how long your journey home will take based on current traffic conditions. Apps such as Citymapper also gained in popularity, offering more informed options for journeys based on live data on delays and disruptions.
We haven’t yet started to question the ability of these ‘invisible robots’ to decide our lives, but the testbed for self-driving cars, announced by the government in December, will be an opportunity to ask those questions, and play out not just the technical but the social impacts they might have.
The sharing economy
Last year we touted 2013 as the year big business would take a bite out of the collaborative consumption market, and we’ve definitely seen a healthy appetite develop this year. A diverse range of industries finally recognised the value of the sharing economy. In the automotive industry we saw Avis acquire ZipCar, General Electric invest in RelayRides and BMW take a stake in ParkatMyHouse.com. In the hotel industry, Marriot Hotels have pushed themselves ahead of the curve by partnering with on-demand space provider Liquid Space to open up previously under or un-used spaces in their hotels.
There was a big collaborative consumption push in the retail sector too. M&S is now asking customers to bring unwanted clothes back to stores through its Lumley-led Schwopping initiative while H&M has piloted the giving of vouchers in exchange for unwanted clothes and bags being donated in store. Similarly, IKEA has dipped its toes in the sharing economy by piloting a campaign to enable customers to re-sell their unwanted furniture in a virtual flea-market, rather than turn it over to landfill.
Here are more thoughts on the potential future of the Collaborative Economy.
The social science park
We predicted with confidence last year that universities would soon start to build new pipelines of public innovation in the form of the public services research park. A year on, there has been significant progress.
Cardiff University has begun development of a social science research park (SSPARK) which will be a central element of its new innovation campus. SSPARK, according to the university, will “be a major capital investment in bringing together researchers from across the disciplines along with policy makers and practitioners in order to promote the design, conduct and evaluation of high quality cross-disciplinary research with impact.”
Separately, the University of Lincoln’s Vice-Chancellor Mary Stuart also announced the creation of a social science park back in the summer as a new interface between the city and the university “bringing in users of research, graduate employers and potentially co-researchers from the social science employment sectors together with our academics.”
Health knowledge commons
A year ago we predicted knowledge and data would become the health system's vital currency. Twelve months later and it’s certainly true that the emphasis on data has been strengthened, but the resulting knowledge still has some way to travel. Data in healthcare is moving from an exciting minority interest to a core concern and opportunity for the system as a whole. The present health secretary Jeremy Hunt sees technology as central to solving the problems of the ageing population, and has committed to a paperless NHS, including genuinely portable electronic health records.
There has been a quiet radicalism at work within the NHS on data. The merging of the big health datasets, and the opening up of data held on GP systems via an open API are both very significant developments, paving the way for much more open and innovative use of data.
However, while there is now a clear recognition that patient generated data is important, little concrete action has emerged as a result. There’s certainly been an improved level of debate and a consciousness that non-traditional knowledge, particularly patient knowledge, is vital but very little has been done in terms of the systematic collection of it.
Social, Location and Mobile (SLoMo)
Were we a tad too visionary with our prediction that a battle would begin in 2013 between a variety of apps, services, protocols and devices designed to capitalise on location-aware connection to the internet? The headline act, Google Glass, is still only available to a limited group of developers and it may be too early to quantify the impact of location-based online interaction. One area that really did gain traction in 2013 was near field communication (NFC). Step into any fast food outlet, or the majority of London cabs, and you have the option of contactless payment. We originally predicted the explosion of this tech for 2012 – we were just a year off the mark!
Last year we predicted that the Baby Boomers - the generation that made teenage-hood mainstream - would shake up our preconceptions about ageing now that they’re in their 50s and 60s. Well, they’ve certainly continued to defy images of quietly retiring and slowing down. Whether it’s drug taking, hip hop, fashion modelling or tattoos, in 2013 there were plenty of stories of ‘older’ people behaving…well, not very differently than they did earlier in their lives.
And in terms of using this moment in our lives to revaluate what’s important to us and to create a new sense of purpose, there have been strong signs of that as well. The Encore movement from the States is being brought over here and there has been recognition of the continuing role older people play in the economy. Indeed, we now have one million over 65s in the labour market for the first time. We have also seen inspiring projects that involve older people in solutions whether it’s Silver Line enabling older people to support others via the phone; The Amazings enabling older people to share their mastery from cooking to music; or Good Gym where older people are not just visited by a younger person on their jogging route, but often become an informal coach supporting them to get even fitter.
So it seems that, yes, the Baby Boomers are redefining ageing, prolonging youth and contributing to the economy and beyond.
Make sure you check out our latest set of predictions! Here are our 14 predictions for 2014