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Welcome to the day after tomorrow!

Innovations are flooding us in ever more rapid succession. So fast that entrepreneurs and managers can lose their grip on the situation. Which changes are happening? On this website, our #future blog, we briefly inform you about the latest developments and additionally try to sporadically arrange in order the impacts of these developments.

 


Same procedure as every year: 2018 - What 'Future Experts' really are good for

Every year there are so-called experts who tell us what the future will look like - and every year they are all wrong again.

Philip E. In his 2006 book "Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?", Tetlock already proved that so-called experts are hardly better at predicting the future than "a monkey that throws arrows at a dart disc". In order to be able to do this, he had observed and evaluated forecasts of renowned (i. e. well-paid) opinion formers over a period of almost thirty years.

The result was - as already described - frightening.

It is strange, however, that we receive a large number of forecasts on the economic, political and social development of the new year in many specialist media, television stations and websites every year at the beginning of the year, but none of the media in question takes the trouble to look at such forecasts critically in retrospect.

We, too, would like to be as cautious as possible, because apart from a little bit of cheerfulness about missing The end of the world, such retrospectives are at best tiring. For most experts fail because of the simple fact that they are travelling monothematically and see the development of the world only from one perspective: Their field of speciality.

A fine example of this is Michio Kaku - actually a serious US physicist - who as a TV expert usually tries to present technology and physics in a generally understandable way. For his book "The Physics of the Future - Our Life in 100 Years", published for the first time in 2011 (!), Kaku asked 300 physicists and technicians about their vision and created a small almanac of the technically possible. But already on page 48 of the German edition, he hopelessly starts to get lost:

"The transition to intelligent cars will not happen overnight. First of all, the military will use these vehicles and in the course of this, all the quirks will be eradicated. Then, robotic cars will be launched on the market, and used first on long and boring long-distance routes..."

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that only six years after this prophecy, the first autonomously driving buses on German roads are already in trial operation - in the city centres and by no means pre-tested by the military!

A real highlight of monothematic perspectives on the future was a scientist who, in addition to his professorship at a university in Hamburg, founded a company called "Economic Trends Research": In a guest article in the Hamburger Abendblatt (you will find the whole article here), Professor Michael Bräuninger appeals to politicians not to be seduced by technology. This refers to the focus on e-mobility and battery-powered power storage in particular. It lists every conceivable thought that speaks against e-mobility. Apparently logical and scientifically sound. But only apparently:

The scientifically unclean argumentation begins with the introduction in which Professor Bräuninger wants to use the slow start of e-mobility as proof of the inability of the technology. As a scientist, he should have heard in the course of his studies that almost every growth process in nature and the economy is exponential - and such developments have the (natural) characteristic of barely growing at the beginning. A look beyond national borders, e. g. to Norway, would have quickly shown that after the quiet initial phase, the steep climb follows: In Norway, 50% of newly registered vehicles will be e-mobile or hybrid by 2017.

Then, Mr. Bräuninger continues to argue, the charging capacity for batteries is so low that trucks can hardly be moved over long distances.  Again only half right: e-mobility is currently being discussed primarily for passenger transport. No one is talking about battery-operated trucks at the moment, nor about battery-operated trains or large aircrafts.

And then comes the killer argument of the holiday trip - with which the author conjures up the horror scenario of endless queues of cars at the giant gas stations, because everyone wanted to go to Italy and to the charging station on the motorway at the same time with their e-vehicle. Sounds logical - as long as one regards the future as a linear continuation of the present like Professor Bräuninger.

But: That's not how the future works!

Just as the changes from typewriter to PC or from mobile phone to smartphone have radically changed people's behaviour, so too will the successor of the oil-based engine drive future means of transport.  In addition, a technical change rarely comes by itself and therefore future scenarios should always be considered holistically. In the case of e-mobility, autonomous driving (to name just one of several aspects to be taken into account) is also on the rise and will change the way we drive together - presumably even dramatically. If  Axel Heinrich, VW's Head of Corporate Research, is right, autonomous cars with maximum safety equipment will be able to reduce fatal accidents by 90%. This and the significantly smaller space requirement in road traffic (and thus the potential to reduce traffic routes) could be a great incentive for politicians to give this technology priority on German roads.

In the coming year, the first 100 autonomous minibuses will be tested in Hamburg, which are to receive passengers individually. This technology has the power to blur the boundaries between public buses, taxis and car sharing and, depending on technological progress, it has already become the preferred means of transport in cities within a decade.

Such mobile systems would then presumably be rented rather than owned and disappear for charging just as taxis do today: they load when there is no passenger on board. If there are traffic jams at charging stations, the user can be completely indifferent - he would not be aware of this loading process.

How about vacation?

Well, if you really want to believe that we will continue to start our holiday in Italy with a 1,200 km drive by car in the future... Then perhaps an intelligent CarSharing will come into play. Renault and the Chinese car manufacturer Neo expect batteries with a range of 1,000 km from 2020. And if that's not enough, a second car sharing vehicle is waiting somewhere halfway along the route and you change trains once.

Error in energy balance calculation

Incidentally, the energy balance in Professor Bräuninger's article is not correct either: At the time of my studies, we had similar comments from some of our physics professors, who rated it as certain that we would never be able to generate a significant proportion of renewable energies. Fortunately, that was not true. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, 31.7% of our energy is already produced from sustainable sources - and the trend continues to increase. Our neighbour Denmark already generates almost 50% of its electricity requirements from renewable energy sources - and plans to turn it into 100% by 2030.

And the process promised by Professor Bräuninger to "convert CO2 into hydrogen, gas or liquid fuels"? Well, first of all, carbon dioxide, which is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, cannot be used to produce hydrogen at best will - unless you are a medieval alchemist.

Remains the other technically feasible processes, he mentioned. The costs for these are not only, as he described,"too high at the moment", but will always remain so: In order to turn CO2 into a fuel, you need about four times as much energy as is available in the fuel produced. This is (unfortunately) a physico-chemical constant and inevitably leads to the logical question why 75% of the available energy should be wasted in order to put the remainder into the survival of theoil-based engines, even if it could be used 100% for moving e-mobile vehicles.

Those who want to plan for the future must never think linearly nor only look at the development of a technology. And whoever wants as an expert to risk making a prognosis should keep the German philosopher Artur Schopenhauer in mind, who said:
Every human being considers the limits of his or her own field of vision to be the limits of the world.

 

Image: Theo Crazzolara - Feuerwerk, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49572804