[Event Summary] Future Technology–Christmas Lecture


Dr Chris Yapp delivered our 2010 Christmas Lecture. Chris is a technology and policy futurologist who has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He has worked extensively across the public sector, in Local Government, Education, Health and Creative Industries. Chris’s interests lie in scenario planning, futurology and the strategic and management implications of ICTs. He has edited and contributed to a number of books, most recently on the "Personalization of Learning in the 21st century". He is an Associate of the Think Tank DEMOS. He is a Fellow of both the RSA and the BCS and author of the BCS Future Tech Blog. He is a Patron of NACE and a Trustee of World e‐citizens. He is a member of the Information Society Panel of UNESCO UK and the BERR Industry forum for the Communications and Content Industries. Chris holds a MA (Oxon) and an honorary D.Tech from Glasgow Caledonian.


Chris started his talk with a recent quote from a CIO: “We’ve been talking about technology change for 40 years now. So, why is it when anything new comes along it takes my suppliers by surprise?” A typical approach to futures thinking would involve contingency planning, developing scenarios, systems thinking and complexity theory. However, technology changes quickly, quick change creates legacy, contracts may not support change and people have different reactions to change.

He looked at the historical experience of forecasting and gave several examples, including by Louis Lumiere who in 1896 said “Cinema is an invention of no economic consequence”. He gave numerous examples of how it is particularly difficult to forecast in IT including “The PC will not take off in the office (1986)”, “The Internet is 20 years away (1995)” and “WAP is the killer App (2000)”.

Chris explained that in forecasting, there was a trade-off between complexity and uncertainty and different approaches were required in different circumstances. Experts and academics brought knowledge which was were good where there was low complexity and low uncertainty, consultants could bring experience elsewhere to bear but the most complex problems required new ideas which might come out of political thinking, think tanks and public opinion. Chris discussed horizon scanning, sources of innovation and various other approaches to futurology. He illustrated all of this with practical examples.


In concluding his talk, Chris said that the things that currently concerned him most were:

  • Interaction between Public Cloud Computing and energy security
  • Limitations of wireless infrastructure (e.g. the limited number of simultaneous connections)
  • Crisis in the professions
  • When will the Web 2.0 bubble burst?