Anne Lise Kjaer was born in Esbjerg in Denmark, but grew up near Ringkøbing, apparently the happiest place in the world. The title on her business card – ‘Futurist & Visionary Thinker’ – fills me with fear, but she quickly reassures me by saying with a smile: “And no, I do not use a crystal ball”.

In fact, Anne Lise Kjaer works with some of the largest multinational technology companies in the world (from Sony and Toyota through to IKEA), analysing the past and present to predict the future. Gizmodo en Español wants to know how this is done.

Anne Lise Kjaer recently visited Spain to speak about the book she co-authored There’s a Future: Visions For a Better World, published through BBVA bank’s OpenMind initiative. We chatted with her for our interview series “7 Questions for…”, where we talk to people who are doing interesting and innovative things in the world of technology, design, architecture, media and industry. And that’s the starting point for our conversation…

  • Name: Anne Lise Kjaer / @kjaerglobal
  • Occupation: futurist
  • Location: London
  • Age: 51
  • Current Computer: “MacBook Pro – in my first job in 1983 we had Macintosh, it’s all I’ve ever used“
  • Mobile: iPhone 5.
Q: Is it really possible to predict the future?

We can certainly try. My specialism is to look at the science, technology and ideas that can point the way to the future. I have a background in design and innovation and, for me, the only way to make the future happen is to have a credible road map with pointers that enable you to make informed decisions in the here and now about the future.

Q: How do you go about that on a day-to-day basis?

It is all about looking at a mixture of trends, including politics, economics, technology, science, society, culture, in order to get an overview of how the future may unfold. I do not have a crystal ball and I do not invent anything – my role is that of a ‘future narrator’ – I tell inspiring stories about the future, and then the companies I work with use them to make that future vision a reality.

Q: There are many futurists, but no one saw the brutal economic crisis coming that many countries still suffer from? 

Well, a few people saw it coming. One was a woman, Christine Lagarde, who today works for the IMF. Lagarde who, as it happens was once on the French national synchronised swimming team, pointed out at a conference just before the crisis struck: “‘We are debating what kind of swimming costume we will wear and the tsunami is coming”. No one listened to her.

Q: Why?

We did not have the foresight to imagine that something like this could happen. There were no regulations. There was a system that was based only on consumption, more consumption and even more consumption. I think we all confused the idea of the good life with a life full of goods – and these are not the same things at all. It wasn’t about missing the fact that a crisis was coming – more that we didn’t want to see it coming.

Q: What do you think will be the main technology trends in the coming decades?

I think the biggest trend we will see is that of the Internet of Things, the building of a global brain. Devices, buildings, environment, people – in fact everything – will become interconnected through technology. And all this leads us on to The Cloud, a powerful innovation hub for individuals and businesses. Education, for example, will greatly benefit from this trend. Millions of people are beginning to study through virtual and free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). In health, we will see self-diagnostics and mobile health as another big driver; this is happening already and will continue to grow in importance.

Q: What should we do to prepare for these changes?

The problem with technology today is that most of us just consume it – we are not optimising and building. I think every kid in the world should learn to program. Because when you understand technology, then you can benefit from it. If you only consume, you do not learn to create anything or control technology, and will therefore continue in the consumption loop. Also, it is not a good sign that so few companies effectively control the entire technology industry and the Internet. It should become more democratic.

Q: Stephen Hawking recently said that humanity would disappear in 1000 years if we fail to colonise space  because, given the speed of development, the earth will not last 1000 years more. How do you see it?

I think he is right. Humanity thinks it knows everything, but we know very little. It is one of our biggest mistakes. And Stephen Hawking is one of those people that, the more he knows, the more he claims to know nothing, simply because of the enormity of our universe. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and futurist, has explored subjects similar to Hawking. While it is clear to me that none of us knows what will actually happen in 1000 years, one way to consider the future is to look back at what has happened in the last 1000 years, and then we see that life has not changed that much – we have just got new tools for solving things. I do not think we’re going to live on another planet after this end date. But I do believe that our current consumption patterns are unsustainable, so my question would be: can our planet withstand 1000 more years of this conspicuous consumption – and I have no good answer to that.

Interview: Adapted from Gizmodo en Español, Madrid, 2013

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