Thursday, August 21, 2008

Futuring Methodology - Needs based Analysis

Socio-Technical Futuring
Technology Prognostication

Issue: Provide a Socio-Technical Futuring forecast for the state-of- the-technical-art in the range of ten to fifteen years from now.

Background: Forecasting future technology is at best a very imprecise science. While our text has tried to establish some rules, it has also provides examples of how the current framework fails to meet the requirements for forecasting.
One of the best sources for forecasting of technical capability development has been science fiction authors. Reviewing the source of these relatively accurate predictions, there appears to be a direct connection to “need”. The characters and plots of these writings are required to meet new challenges and at the same time the mechanics of the writing require unique technical solutions to support the plot.
Science fiction tends to place characters, with all of the flaws and foibles of today’s humanity, in future situations with the task of overcoming and succeeding in the face of future challenges. This tends to distil the needs of the characters into identifiable patterns. Writer’s then have the choice of solving the needs of the characters in terms of technology or “character”. Since this genre tends to embrace technology, many of the needs are resolved by technology that is “the brain child” of the author. For example, in “ALIEN”, since the heroine is relatively weak compared to the creature, a robotic suit is envisaged to equal out the difference in hand to hand combat. This needs analysis approach forecasts a technology – robotic suits – that meets the needs of the character and is also practical for future technology development.
A second approach to needs definition in science fiction writing is the need for technology to support the plot and characters. For example, in the “Star Trek” series, the time required to move characters or respond to emergencies using mechanical movement would be too long to support the plot. The technology solution was near instantaneous movement of the characters over large distance using a “teleporter”. Another plot support example from Star Trek is the need for the Enterprise to be surprised by an adversary. The technology responding to this need was the “cloaking” device that allowed the authors to surprise Capt Kirk without making him look like an idiot.
It is proposed that perhaps looking at a need matrix can help generate more precise future technology requirements. Further, it would also tend to identify practical technology that has an already defined purpose.

Discussion: Needs analysis must be carefully constrained to allow for prediction of future technology requirements and concepts for this assignment. Table 1 provides an overview of the need analysis.

Table 1. Need Statement Overview
Need Area
Time Frame
Resolved need
Possible Technologies
Technology Prediction
+20 yrs
Quietly move to adversaries location
1 person transport, non-space travel, multi-terrain, quiet
Electric propulsion (H), anti-gravity (L),
Teleport (L),
New Technology Aircraft (H),

Density Difference (M)

Placing my character in the year 2028, he is faced with the need to fight an adversary across the world. He must quietly move across terrain similar to earth, including water, ice, ground, etc. On arrival he must face a physically more capable adversary.
Table 1. depicts the resolved needs derived from the situation. In this short exercise, the full development of resolved need process is not provided but a relatively repeatable process can be developed. From the resolved needs a set of technology is provided that could answer the resolved need. Each technology is assessed on the practicality of the technology being available in twenty years (noted as low, medium, or high probability of being developed in twenty years). The final column provides the technology prediction.
The need to be quiet eliminates the use of any current technology such as propellers, jets, engines and even wheeled type vehicles. A new technology is required that doesn’t rely on any current propulsion technology.

Conclusion/Prediction: Two predictions are made. First, anti-gravity may satisfy the need.
Anti-gravity will probably require a lightweight energy source. The cascading need should be developed in a similar pattern. For this example, it is assumed that development of carbon nano-structures will provide a high energy, efficient, lightweight energy storage capability.
The antigravity capability will need to support my character. The mechanism could be through a support structure like a skateboard or a suit. In this case since not all people are coordinated enough to use a skateboard a suit would be better. The idea of a full suit provides required support to the whole body. For example, an anti-gravity belt would require the character to hold his body straight while being picked up at his waist. Further, moving through gravity anomalies on earth will cause some “turbulence” which can be best countered using a suit.
The probability of this technology being developed is relatively low in the next twenty years since it requires a major breakthrough in physics for antigravity. The lightweight energy source using carbon nano-tubes is very likely.
I am predicting that breakthrough research will identify a way to create a bubble of lower density around a body. This will create buoyancy similar to a body in salt water. The buoyancy bubble will be used to lift a human in the air. Buoyancy will be manipulated to allow for keeping a specific height. Buoyancy will eliminate the need for a vehicle just the system that creates the buoyancy. Movement will be created by manipulating parts of the buoyancy bubble or by heating areas of bubble surface. This technology will require significant energy but that need will be met by the carbon nano-tube technology described earlier. The technology required to create the bouyance bubble has a medium level of difficulty in the next twenty years.

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