Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” (Søren Kierkegaard).
At Landscape, we’re interested in the future, though we haven’t figured out how to predict it yet.
What we do know is that the present in which we live offers us plenty of future signals, opportunities for us to explore, learn, and grow. Signals that, if we care to see them, can inform and inspire why we do what we do, how we show up in the world, and where we spend our energy.
In our work, we tend to spend a lot of time looking for signals, and some we can’t help but notice: political uncertainty, influence campaigns, mass migrations, and continued loss of ecosystems to climate change. Bad news makes great news.
But as we enter 2020, we wanted to look more closely and share a few signals that stood out to us: exciting moments, movements, and breakthroughs that indicate shifting narratives toward new possibilities.
There’s a lot to be optimistic about for 2020 and beyond. We hope you’ll agree — and that these signals inspire you to create your own.
- Protecting Data Privacy & Sovereignty
- Mobilizing Cities, Citizens & Civic Data
- Organizing for Climate Activism
- Consuming Alternative Proteins
- Augmenting with Robotic Intelligence
- (Re)-Launching Space Exploration
Protecting Data Privacy & Sovereignty
Reports of consumer data breaches and exploitations continued to populate the news and our minds throughout the year. We wondered and worried about the data we knowingly and, more often, unknowingly disclose and whether our “smart assistants” were eavesdropping on us. On a larger scale, China continued to roll out its’ controversial social credit scheme while many other countries woke up to the reality of digital election interference, embodied by influence campaigns leveraging personal data.
As positive countercurrent, we saw promising vectors trending towards greater protection and sovereignty of personal data:
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation started to impact Big Tech companies, with significant fines looming in multiple countries – and served as a model for new regulations in other countries such as Brazil and India.
- A new Federal Data Privacy Bill was introduced by Democratic senators led by Sen. Maria Cantwell, which would provide similar protection as the E.U.’s GDPR.
- The California Consumer Privacy Act, coming into effect in January, will give people the right to know what data is being collected about them and control over whether or not it is being sold.
- San Francisco became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition, and California banned the use of the same technology for police officers’ body cameras.
- New York created the role of a chief algorithm officer to push for automated decision-making to be more equitable, fair, and transparent.
- The Digital Rights group Fight for the Future conducted their own facial recognition surveillance in Washington, DC, showing lawmakers that facial recognition is an invasive form of technology.
- Former Facebook investor Roger McNamee’s outspoken critique of Big Tech’s data monopoly generated wide-spread attention and healthy debate.
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his vision for exploring a new decentralized standard for social media to promote better content governance and control over personal data. Something, that emerging platforms like Mastodon and Scuttlebutt have been working on for years.
- New services like Brave Browser or Datawallet are starting to give people fair-trade-like control over how their data can be used and monetized.
Calculated questions, requiring further collective analysis:
- How can we make sure that the story of personal data value, protection, and sovereignty can be understood and acted on by more people?
- How much should our personal data be worth, and who gets to decide?
- How will people start gaming centralized data systems, such as China’s social credit scheme?
- What new peer-to-peer services might become possible, letting us build on, trade, barter, sell, or gift our personal data clouds?
Mobilizing Cities, Citizens & Civic Data
Around the world, people kept flocking to cities for better opportunities, growing the network effect of increased talent diversity and density to support the rise of cities as centers of disproportionate influence. And while this migration often overtaxes outdated infrastructure, natural resources, and unprepared policymakers, we saw positive signals for the growing mobilization of cities – and their civic data used for the greater good:
- Despite the current U.S. administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, The Climate Mayors, a coalition of more than 400 mayors from both sides of the political spectrum, continued to uphold their cities’ commitment to the goals of the agreement.
- A global coalition of cities, the Urban 20 (U20), a diplomatic initiative intended to mirror the G20 demonstrated how city-led coalitions could wield influence on the international stage.
- New initiatives, such as EUROCITIES, a collaboration between Barcelona, Bordeaux, Florence, Helsinki, and other cities, focused on pragmatic protection and applications for civic data.
- The Toronto-based non-profit Open City Network, advocates for publicly-owned, open-standard civic data, in a pushback against Sidewalk Labs’ massive smart city development currently underway.
- The Open Mobility Forum, initiated by Los Angeles in partnership with 15 other cities, is a new open-source software foundation that aims to support scalable mobility solutions for cities.
- CitiMapper, a multi-nodal transport app launched its London Pass Card, letting customers travel across London on any transport medium.
- London’s Datastore published more civic data than ever, building the case that open data can fuel innovation and growth.
Looking ahead together…
- How will the growing power of new city coalitions manifest itself on the global stage?
- What role might civic data play in strengthening that growing power – and while doing so, promote greater mobility, equality, and creativity among citizens?
- How will more real-time data enable cities to better manage their experiences and brands as unique hubs and destinations?
- Who will own the civic data algorithms, and how can they be used to the greater benefit of all?
Organizing for Climate Activism
In the face of an accelerating climate emergency, a new wave of global climate activist movements emerged, defined by a new sense of urgency, honesty, creativity, and often female leadership. By disrupting complacency and building public support for their efforts, they started pressuring policymakers into action.
Demonstrating a shift in leadership, attitudes, and tactics…
- A climate strike started by 16-year old Greta Thunberg grew into a global movement, inspired children worldwide to turn up the heat on parents and policymakers – and made Greta Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
- Greta’s avoidance of air-travel during her global travels coined the movement of “Flight Shaming” which dialled up consumer-pressure on the aviation industry.
- The Extinction Rebellion movement staged creative and highly disruptive direct action protests in the U.K. and U.S., drawing on strong female leadership, and managed to get government bodies to declare a “climate emergency”.
- The Sunrise Movement worked with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce the Green New Deal both as a creative future vision and political resolution, embedding it as a policy goal for several Democratic presidential candidates.
- Across the Atlantic, a similar Green Deal framework was adopted by the E.U., and a newly elected coalition government in Finland will be led by five women, four of them under 35, focused on fighting climate change as a top priority.
- How might global climate action movements form alliances for greater influence?
- How can the narrative of urgent climate action become more inclusive to other issues around poverty, race, or gender — and not sideline them?
- What new types of viscerally-engaging, creative and disruptive storytelling, and direct action movements will start seeing?
Consuming Alternative Proteins
New, plant-based alternatives to meat products started entering the diet mainstream, in addition to new proteins, cultured from animal cells. And while avoiding meat can play a significant role in reducing environmental impact, the reasons for trying alt-proteins still vary, from pure curiosity, to health, taste, and strict ethics.
A taste-making shift in perspectives and definitions…
- The move toward plant-based alternatives is being driven by millennials who are more likely to consider animal welfare issues and environmental impacts when making decisions on what to eat.
- The association between meat and masculinity is changing with support from athletes and celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet as seen in James Cameron’s documentary “The Game Changers”.
- Meat alternatives like Impossible Burger became available in California restaurants and grocery stores, competing with other plant-based offerings from Beyond Meat.
- In the fast-food industry, Burger King, McDonalds and Tim Hortons all jumped on the bandwagon, offering new plant-based products on their menus. Even Tyson, one of the world’s largest meat producers, started selling nuggets made from pea protein.
- The target customers for these products are not hardcore vegans or vegetarians but Flexitarians — mainstream consumers who are less rigid about the rules of meat consumption and open to trying alternatives.
- While the first wave of alternative protein companies is focused on the plant-based replication of meat, a new wave of agricultural startups is working on growing meat in labs from animal cells. Companies like Aleph Farms are getting closer to growing full steaks, while Finless Foods, Wild Type, and BlueNalu are working on culturing fish cells into seafood.
Questions worth chewing on…
- How will our conceptual boundaries evolve around what is considered “real” food – and what isn’t?
- How will labels like “vegetarian” evolve when alternative protein options become infinite?
- What types of alt-protein foods, diets, or dining experiences might become new status symbols?
- What type of food will become a universal staple for everyone? (vat-grown grubs, anyone?)
- What shift in perception will it take to overcome the “yuck factor” of lab-grown animal proteins, and what will enable such a shift?
Augmenting with Robotic Intelligence
They are getting to know us better and continue to expand their influence on our everyday decisions. Algorithms + Robots are uncovering new opportunities, helping us vote, flipping burgers, and learning to drive. And while neither Terminator’s Skynet nor Blade Runner’s replicants have become a reality (yet), algorithms and robots in their combination, got more comfortable in the real world.
Next year, our algos will pick our signals, but for now…
- We saw a push for greater general-purpose robot functionality with Google’s Everyday Robot project, supported by increased dexterity, from Rubik’s cube hands to a Parkour performance.
- Amazon showed off its’ drone delivery prototype, and Postmates debuted a delivery robot that might soon share the sidewalk with pedestrians — and robot dogs, patrolling nearby construction sites.
- A robotic Zen priest in a temple in Kyoto and a robot-staffed cafe in Tokyo demonstrated a future that is (still) not evenly distributed, and that some societies will more quickly adopt robots than others.
- The Swiss DFAB House demonstrated a new level of digital fabrication via robotic assembly and 3D printing, which, together with generative design solutions for buildings or entire urban cityscapes, could change the design and build process at scale.
- OpenAI released GPT-2, an AI text-generating system that can be used to generate “synthetic propaganda”, credible spam, or funny stories. (Play with it here)
- We were given the ability to generate faces of people who do not exist, morph their ages and genders, and deepfake them into movies – something that, on second look, raised significant privacy and security concerns.
- Increasingly perfect examples of deepfakes, like Nixon’s (fake) eulogy for Apollo 11 astronauts, started triggering questions about the implications for our collective understanding of history.
- The AI Artists Foundation showcased new, AI-enabled artforms while Paris-based AI art collective Obvious launched a portrait collection of fictitious nobility.
- After losing to DeepMind’s Alphago back in 2016, the world champion in Go retired this year, declaring AI invincible.
Because we can’t automate perfect answers quite yet…
- What would it mean for the productivity and creativity of small businesses to have access to affordable, general-purpose robots?
- What new forms of experiences might be shaped at the intersection of AI-powered storytelling, generative visual creation, and robotic performance?
- How will we maintain a shared sense of reality when any type of content, e.g. news, can be hyper-realistically simulated, micro-targeted, and mass-distributed?
- How will our sense of purpose evolve if not only dull but also creative tasks can be fully automated?
(Re-)Launching Space Exploration
After decades of relative obscurity, on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, interest in space flight is undergoing a revival. Ambitious achievements by private companies are leading to new public-private partnerships and grabbing the imagination of the broader public. It appears we are entering a new space race during which intense competition and collaboration will coexist and perhaps instill us with a renewed sense of excitement, awe, and pride.
Here’s what got us excited about boldly going where no human has gone before…
- Titans of Industry Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos showcased their ambitious plans for space exploration. Blue Origin is looking to create infrastructure for heavy industry in Earth’s orbit, while Space X is aiming to make human life multi-planetary, starting with Mars.
- Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic, which went public this year, completed its’ second suborbital space flight aiming to become the first intergalactic spaceline.
- SpaceX built a Starship prototype, docked their Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS, and also launched StarLink, a network of thousands of mini-satellites to provide broadband internet, monetizing on the growing demand for big data in space.
- And while NASA’s Curiosity’s rover took its’ first selfie on Mars, China and Europe were hard at work preparing for their own missions to Mars in 2020.
- Many new, interesting design collaborations emerged, ranging from the real to the speculative: NASA launched a challenge for 3D-printing Mars habitats,
- Axiom is planning to build a commercial space station, part Phillipe Stark-designed boutique hotel, part NASA research facility, and IKEA helped design the interior of a Mars-habitat simulator.
- Under Armour partnered with Virgin Galactic to design spacesuits while fashion brand Vollebak launched a high-end jacket for a fictitious Kuiper Belt Mining Corporation.
- And finally, Star Citizen, a crowd-funded massively multiplayer space simulation game passed a new record investment at $250M, showing how imagination can be monetized.
- Will the narrative of the “Space Race” coexist or collide with that of the race to “Save our Planet”?
- How can we ensure that the benefits of new collaborations outweigh those of selfish corporate / national-interest competition?
- What role might simulations and games play in preparing a new generation of space explorers?
- What might new space-made, or space-inspired products, and materials look like?
- What would we pack for a one-way trip to Mars, what would we leave behind?
The future is, by nature, uncertain. But therein lies the opportunity.
To say it with the words of writer and activist Rebecca Solnit: “When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.”
It’s good to remember that our collective thoughts, words, purchases, and votes, generate shifts in our world’s narratives. Optimistic shifts that open up possibilities for the futures we will inhabit together.
Frank H Vial is a Director of Strategy at Landscape
A global creative strategist with over 19 years of experience, Frank has worked with many of the world’s largest brands. He has helped to shape and position startups, challenger brands, and consultancies in Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the U.S.
Frank joined Landscape full-time after spending several years consulting with San Francisco’s most innovative design firms, innovation networks, and startups, shaping strategy for clients pursuing innovations in wearables, gaming, analytics, clean energy, robotics, nutrition and hyperspeed mobility.
Previously, Frank was Strategy Director at Landor, a leading global brand consultancy.
An endurance runner and proud dad, Frank is interested in good conversations and articulating creative strategies that help shape a better world.