7 November 2017

Keeping tabs on the future

Technology development is proceeding briskly within many fields that are interesting for the Swedish Armed Forces.

Testtube details

In the future, advances in synthetic biology, where one can construct new organisms, create completely new possibilities. Photo: FOI.

FOI has long experience of keeping track of leading-edge research in a number of technology fields. A group of researchers, on assignment from the Armed Forces, has now been studying improvements in the methods that are used to investigate how efforts to monitor and interpret technology development can be advanced. Not least because rapid advances are being made in numerous fields, such as biotechnology, energy technology, materials technology, and information technology, explains Göran Kindvall, senior analyst in FOI’s Defence Analysis Division.

This in part involves developing methods to more securely analyse technology trends and identify what researchers call disruptiveness, or technology development that fundamentally changes the ground rules in a field. Several technologies are approaching that stage. When the day comes that we can create quantum computers, we’ll be able to break many of today’s cryptosystems. Advances in synthetic biology, where one can construct new organisms, also create completely new possibilities, says Göran Kindvall.

The report presents a number of methods that can be used to explore future technology development. Everything from brainstorming to games that can help us identify and evaluate emerging or disruptive technology.

For FOI, this is not an especially new or pioneering way of working, but more of a refinement of earlier work. “Where we also work more systematically to discover and interpret weak signals, things that are far in the future.”

One of the project’s discoveries is that many European countries are currently working to strengthen their foresight activities. EU is also planning to start a strategic foresight project. With excellent methods for futures reconnaissance, FOI can play a central role in EU’s efforts as well as exchange knowledge with other countries. “We’re not best, yet. But we’re becoming more established methodologically in several niches, for example in analysing massive amounts of data,” says Göran Kindvall.