The dizzying pace of change in technology means it can be a challenge to keep up with new developments.

To ensure Nesta’s work is based on the latest intelligence and it stays responsive to emerging social needs, the Discovery Hub was created.

We carry out in-depth research into new trends, analyse their potential applications, consider their impact on society and identify the most promising areas that could help us bring about change in our mission areas.

We’ve pulled together a list of some of the resources that inform our research - including newsletters, reports and websites – so you can stay up-to-date with the latest innovations.

The big picture: Exponential View

Exponential View is a paid-for subscription newsletter that delves into the disconnect between the ever-increasing rate of technological progress and the far slower-moving social institutions and norms. For example, with more frequent extremes of temperature causing spikes in energy demand for heating and cooling, why is it taking so long for governments and electricity grids to expand capacity?

It covers a wide range of areas of society, from the climate crisis and global geopolitics to supersonic flight and a weekly look at the most interesting graphs and charts in tech. Many newsletter issues have a broad theme and pull together different views on a topic such as ‘the spirit of scientific collaboration’, with some analysis of the potential reasons for those views. The sometimes-irreverent tone makes a welcome change from other more formal reports too.

The societal lens: The Future of Us

In response to continued marginalisation across society, Black thinkers have created Afrofuturism, a way of imagining possible futures through a Black cultural lens. Afrofuturism is a philosophy, a genre of art, and a way of thinking about technology that applies the experience of African diasporas to discussions of the future.

Afrofuturist themes such as alienation, belonging, power and equity have universal value for interrogating predictions about technology. These ideas can help expose the power dynamics between any set of groups, not just groups based around ethnicity.

This 2016 anthology from Afrofutures_UK contains stories, poetry, essays, and art that bring several essential issues into sharp focus without presenting ideas as objective, unbiased, or definitive. Read how cloning technology could recreate the conditions for second-class citizens and slavery; explore a critique of utopian predictions; and consider whether, for some groups, dystopian predictions about subjugation or societal collapse are already being experienced now. Each work provides a perspective that we can apply to other predictions about technology.

The responsible innovator: Doteveryone

In its five years of existence between 2015 and 2020, Doteveryone radically changed the narrative around technology. It helped businesses, government and civil society consider what responsible technology looked like and pushed for regulators to protect citizens from the downsides of emerging tech. It also explored the social impact of the internet, the gig economy and the automation of the care sector.

Doteveryone’s valuable work remains online and there is plenty to learn from its library of research and analysis. We’ve found its Consequence Scanning workshop format particularly useful.

The political perspective: Societal Transformation 2018-2037

This 2018 report calls itself ‘perhaps the most important ever written about radical technologies’, and we don’t think they’re too far off. The Finnish Parliament’s Committee for the Future explores technologies and other issues years before they would otherwise fall on the desks of politicians. This is a great example of anticipatory regulation, which colleagues at Nesta have explored in detail.

In this report, you’ll find a list of 100 emerging technologies and social trends, from manufacturing and logistics to healthcare and redressing inequality, each with a description of developments and a list of references. It’s worth noting that it was published in 2018, but that doesn’t stop much of it being eerily prescient.

The report provides only a quick summary of each technology, so there isn’t much discussion of the potential social effects, let alone how different groups might be affected. We recommend it as a reference guide and for inspiration when looking for novel tech.

The human rights angle: Gender and Technology Backgrounder

According to this research briefing from Oxfam, women in low- and middle-income countries are 30 to 50 per cent less likely than men to use the internet for economic and political purposes. But that’s just one aspect of the challenges faced by women and other marginalised groups when they interact with or are affected by technology.

This 2021 report provides an in-depth analysis of some of the tech trends that disproportionately harm women, such as digital surveillance, the facilitation of unpaid care labour and the politicisation of women’s bodies. For example, although digital tools allow greater communication and lead to new forms of activism, women are more likely to experience abuse online, such as being publicly identified (doxxing), nonconsensual pornography distribution and stalking.

The strategic view: Tech Trends Report

The Future Today Institute, a network and consultancy of foresight practitioners, publishes this annual round-up with a definite business focus.

This easily digestible report contains engaging visuals that guide you through analysis across a wide range of technologies, from artificial intelligence and new realities to synthetic biology and space tech. The case studies and scenarios make for a compelling read: for example, imagine the privacy implications of CCTV cameras that recognise you littering and automatically extract a fine from your bank account based on facial recognition.

Technologies are grouped into logical categories and each sub-report gives helpful insight into how employment and investment are changing in these areas. There’s also a detailed exploration of each technology’s social impacts.

The weekly pulse: Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator

A relative newcomer to the scene, this weekly roundup of the latest tech news and trends analysis has already found its way into our own horizon-scanning activities. It’s packed with links to pieces on cutting-edge developments, grouped together into themes of focus for ease of reading.

This is another source that gives a quick overview of many different technology areas without going into lots of detail. It covers everything from ethical AI and diversity in science to deep-sea exploration and quantum.

The investor’s guide: Andreessen Horowitz

It’s always interesting to see how investors perceive and predict the development of technology, and this website can be relied on for this kind of content. US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (also known as 'a16z') publishes a near-constant stream of articles, podcasts and videos.

Some pieces are more accessible than others, depending on how niche the technology area is, but you’ll find everything from biotech to non-fungible tokens discussed in earnest.

It’s vital to keep a critical eye on where predictions are coming from, so bear in mind that this website is heavily focused on the interests of investors. Most of the discussion is around the technologies themselves and the science behind them, rather than the social impact. That said, there’s some great discussion of how the rise of remote working is disrupting the ingrained ways that businesses operate.

The business take: Tech Trends

As you might imagine, Deloitte focuses on business in its 2021 Tech Trends report. This report is less useful for understanding the broader social impact of technology, but it includes a few ideas that touch on social issues. Alongside lots of discussion about strategy and supply chains, there’s some excellent exploration of technologies that support equality, diversity and inclusion. For example, can we encourage more objective performance reviews using machine learning, or use artificial intelligence to nudge recruiters towards fairer assessments?

The report offers a historical perspective on predictions, such as the fact that businesses have been trying to ‘reboot the digital workplace’ for a decade or so now.

There are a host of other resources out there and we’d love to know the ones you rely on to get your fix on emerging tech. Get in touch to tell us your top picks, especially those that feature voices that don’t usually get to shape the narrative about new technologies.

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