Statement to the Finnish Parliament Committee for the Future about the Biggest Challenges

Topic: 20/2015 vp Parliament Committee for the Future projects 2015-2019

Theme: Expert hearing on the most important challenges of the future and means to improve foresight processes.

Statement by Demos Helsinki:

There are three things that everyone needs to understand. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, not next decade. Today.

  1. We have realized only a fraction of the benefits of digitalization. Connections between people and things are increasing in exponential manner. The planet is becoming hyperconnected.
  2. This social, political, economic, environmental and technological development changes our relationship to other people, our communities, our societies, our market systems and our socio-technical practices.
  3. We now have a possibility to make decisions in Finland that are the building blocks of improved global capabilities while we decrease the burden on the planet.

There are five tensions that we need to solve in the near future. The solutions to these tensions will formulate our futures.

Tension 1. The correlation between human development and ecological footprint.

The average Finn uses three and half times more resources than what is sustainable in the long run. It’s possible to solve this tension via smart grids, big data, cheap solar, device level energy harvesting, efficient platform economies, upcycling, data driven behavior change, and research and innovation actions that tackle wicked problems. Moreover, solving this tension by decoupling the aforementioned correlation is a huge business opportunity – the biggest the world has ever seen.

Tension 2. Does technology increase or decrease inequalities?

Unequal access and capabilities to use technologies limit people’s ability to participate equally to the society. Equal access to education, healthcare and society has been the “winning business model” of the Finnish society. If not everyone has access to new tools such as AI based decision-making, big data analytics or even micromanufacturing, Finland loses this “competitive advantage”.

Tension 3. Are markets converging or fragmenting?

Platform economies form new natural monopolies in digital and physical space. Friendship links (Facebook), transportation (Uber) and hospitality business (AirBnB) are already monopolizing. At the same time ownership itself is changing due to collaborative consumption and sharing economies. Both developments reduce tax collection by the state. Building a sustainable society is possible by active and proactive reregulation.

Tension 4. What happens to work, subsistence and meaningful lives?

Does automation mean the end of work or the liberation from work? How the Finnish society can guarantee subsistence if all the time smaller proportion of the able are actually working? And jobs are more than just money for living: they are currently the way we are attached to the society. If a vast number of jobs disappear, how do people feel useful and participate to the society? The solution lies in the observation that jobs are not the same as work. Solving the wicked problems described above requires a huge amount of work. How does this work translate to jobs?

Tension 5. Liberties and security are in conflict.

Radical technologies such as augmented reality, gene therapy, 3D-printing and cheap autonomous sensors produce immense opportunities. It’s unclear how much Finland has to limit the use of these technologies for security reasons. There needs to be a wide public discussion on these topics.

Future studies to reveal visions of otherness

If we are to make a decision now, we seldom have a choice. We either make a decision we have to make, or make a decision without understanding the alternatives. But when we look further to the future, alternatives begin to emerge. This is why we should seek to understand the visions of otherness and base our current decisions to the understanding we have about the futures.

A decent method for sharing futures understanding in large groups is a backcasting scenario workshop, where different interest groups work together to realize desired futures (Neuvonen et al. 2014). The interest groups can be political decision makers, but also business leaders, startup companies and NGOs, to name a few.

Next year Finland will be 100 years old. A series of this kind of workshops could be organized to find out what kind of society we want to be building during the next 25, 50 and 100 years.
Neuvonen A, Kaskinen T, Leppänen J, Lähteenoja S, Mokka R, Ritola M (2014). Low-carbon futures and sustainable lifestyles: A backcasting scenario approach. Futures 58 (2014), 66-76.