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Friday, March 11, 2016

Naba Barkakati - interview at 2013 EPTA Conference in Finland

You can watch the interview on this Youtube video

Q: What are the effects of the Northern Sea Route on global economy?

(NB) The Northern Sea Route refers to the sea route from the Far East to Bering Sea over the North Sea and the Arctic. It’s a shorter route between the Far East countries and Europe than going through the Suez Canal. Recently the Chinese container ship “Yong Sheng”  made a trip from Dalian to Rotterdam over the Northern Sea Route and it took 15 days less than what it’d have taken to go through the Suez Canal. That can have a big impact on maritime trade because it takes so much less time to take the Northern Sea Route than to use the usual sea route through the Suez Canal. This can have a positive impact on trade between far eastern countries such as China, Japan, and Korea, and the European countries. For example, exporting goods such as liquefied natural gas (LNG)  from Russia to China or Japan would become easier. At the same time, there could be adverse impact on middle eastern countries if there is a significant drop in shipping traffic through the Suez Canal.

Another impact of the Northern Sea Route would be the need for more ports, repair facilities, rescue services, etc in countries such as Finland that are along the Northern Sea Route. There are national security considerations as well for the countries such as Russia that want to control the sea route as evidenced by Russian naval patrols in the Northern Sea Route.

Q: What could be the next black swan, a surprise that changes everything?

(NB) This is an interesting question because Black Swan, of course, refers to things that are low probability but could have a big impact -- positive or negative.  So climate change is considered to be such an event, but when something is low probability, it’s difficult to see it coming. You might ignore it even if it’s there. So it’s hard to predict the next Black Swan, but what you can do, from a technology perspective, is to look at disruptive technologies that are changing the way business is done. For instance, consider 3D printing technology that enables us to create objects from digital representation -- a technology that could change manufacturing. As far as Black Swans go, I do think that the use of Big Data Analytics -- processing large volumes of information with all the computing power we now have -- could provide a way for smart people to identify Black Swans events somewhat earlier than we could have done otherwise.

Q: What a good futures policies like?

(NB) First of all, I think it's great that a country such as Finland, for instance, has a Committee for the Future (as do many other countries in Europe) that is looking to the future. I think the Futures Committees of this sort should definitely be pragmatic, meaning that they should be grounded in reality. When they're looking at scenarios for the future, each scenario should be something that's plausible and people can relate to it -- something that's happening already. That’s an important aspect of futures studies.

The other part is to ensure that the futures policies are not trying to promote one technology over another or promote one approach over another. What they should do is look at “nudging” -- to move the progress towards the direction that’s helpful to the citizens.

Q: How do you see the future of technology?

(NB) Of course looking at the future of technology is similar to the Black Swans -- it’s very hard to predict because you can only predict based on what you see today.  I am primarily a technology person, so I feel that the trend towards what I’d call “digital convergence” -- all the things are becoming digital and coming together, for example, voice, data, image all coming together in a smartphone -- is going to dominate the future. Digital convergence is continuing to the point where even physical objects are in digital representation from which we can create them using 3D printing and with the sequencing of the Human Genome even biological things are in the digital world and synthetic biology enables us to create living organisms from digital representations. So, without trying to answer where technology is going directly, I think the technology trends can be derived from our desire to put everything into digital format, processing them in computers. In the ICT (information and communication technology) world, cloud computing, for instance, and Big Data are coming together because we have the convergence of computing and networking power so that now if you store all the information in one central place, you can make it available to people over these devices over the network and suddenly you got competing as if it’s a utility, like electricity, gas, or water. All I can say is that you should think of using the digital convergence as the primary means of change and try to see the future of technology through that lens of everything becoming digital.

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