Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, award-winning keynote speaker, author, and the CEO of Fast Future. His prime expertise lies in helping clients understand and shape the emerging future. He has a particular interest in how we can create a very human future by putting people at the centre of the agenda.
He has been interested in looking into the future ever since a man was put on the moon. He found himself getting interested in the new, the different, what happens after what happens next.
In this episode we discuss his next book, the 7th he’s published, this one is called: Aftershocks and Opportunities 2, Navigating the Next Horizon. 37 thinkers from around the world talking about what the world will look like as we come out of the pandemic. Whether it’s the future of regions like Africa, the future of food, how industries like insurance and travel might change, and how technologies like blockchain could disrupt our world and create wholly new possibilities.
The pace of technology innovation often outstrips our capacity to understand it or our willingness to make changes in our business to take advantage of it.
However what’s different now is innovators are finding new ways to pioneer their applications and reach new markets in very different ways. For example 8,000 businesses have emerged within crypto to a community of more than 300m people globally who discuss their innovations on social media and enable them to thrive.
We can’t hold back the technology tide so we need to raise our digital literacy, and raise our capacity to take advantage of it, to create the new jobs and opportunities that will be needed to help those who are displaced by the changes coming.
Dom Burch, Rohit Talwar
Dom Burch 00:05
Welcome back to the ubloquity podcast with me Dom Burch. This is the podcast where we get to speak to thought leaders from across the world about blockchain and how technology is going to disrupt the world that we live in. I am absolutely delighted this week to welcome to the podcast, Rohit Talwar. Now, Rohit is a global futurist. He’s an award-winning keynote speaker. He’s an author, and we’ll come to that in a moment. And he’s also the CEO of Fast Future. Rohit, welcome to the ubloquity podcast.
Rohit Talwar 00:32
Thank you very much for having me.
Dom Burch 00:33
Now, I remember you at a conference a few years ago, and you absolutely blew my mind to the point where I was linking in with you after about the first minute, it must be great being in that world where you’re able to just watch an audience’s eyes expand as you start to explore and delve into what’s coming around the corner?
Rohit Talwar 00:51
Ah, it is a huge amount of fun sharing these ideas and these possibilities and seeing the range of reactions in the room from people who like you, were connecting with me on LinkedIn and already starting to think about what could this mean for me, my kids, the future, through to the people who at the other end of the spectrum are determined not to enjoy what you’re telling them, or to find reasons why none of this could possibly materialise, or develop in the possible ways that I’m talking about.
Dom Burch 01:21
Now I remember you saying once that you’ve been looking into the future, since we put a man on the moon, right and exploring what comes next.
Rohit Talwar 01:29
I just found myself getting interested in the new the different. “What happens after what happens next”, as one of the older futurists in this world now, Watts Wacker calls it. And then I went into artificial intelligence after university. And I’ve always just been in that space of trying to understand what might be coming that could shape our world. Then I went into consultancy, and gradually just spent more and more time focusing on the future piece, set this business up to really guide clients around that, started to do a lot of original research, then set up a business to publish our own books. We have six titles out there now. And a seventh coming at the end of this month, called: ‘Aftershocks and Opportunities 2: Navigating the Next Horizon’. That’s 37 future thinkers from around the world talking about what our world could look like, as we come out of the pandemic, whether it’s the futures of regions like Africa, the future of food, how industries like insurance and travel might be reinvented, how our lives might change, and how technology such as blockchain could disrupt our world and create wholly new possibilities.
Dom Burch 02:47
Sometimes when I hear people talking about the future of technology, or how things are developing, I always have this sense that things move a lot faster than can feel comfortable for some. So you see the technology is moving at such a pace that people are a little bit scared of what’s happening, and they need to try and make sense of it. And then as you look back, you realise that some elements of technology actually take a decade or 15 years to really embed to really make those fundamental shifts. And, I’m thinking back, so 5, 10 years ago, when everyone said, augmented reality is going to change, everything, retail is going to change, how you shop, everything, everything is going to change. It is all going to be augmented. And yet sometimes those things actually apply themselves in very different ways don’t they, they sort of manifest in very different ways.
Rohit Talwar 03:31
I always worry about people who just sit and prognosticate and say, “this technology will be the future”, whether it’s augmented reality, AI, blockchain, or whatever. It’s never one technology, it’s how they come together. And what’s often the case is that the pace of technology innovation far outstrips our capacity to understand it, or our willingness to make changes in our business to take advantage of it. I think one of the things that’s slightly different right now is that the innovators who are creating these technologies, or pioneering their applications, are finding ways to get to market where they can get very high visibility without relying on the bigger businesses to adopt their solution.
So you’re seeing 8000 ventures plus now in the crypto economy where they’ve been able to come to market, they’re discussed on social media. There is a global community of 300 million people involved in that space. And so they’re able to get their ideas to market really quickly. And they’re able to disrupt with these technologies in a way that we hadn’t done in the past. And I think that’s really exciting. And you’re also seeing the coming together of a lot of these technologies, particularly things like AI and blockchain, that make it really exciting if you’re a techie nerd like me – in terms of how we can do things and how we can do things differently. It also creates some immense challenges in terms of how do you deal with the societal impacts, and the human impact of all this.
But I think we can’t just hold back the tide of technology innovation now, what we have to do is really raise our own digital literacy, raise our understanding of how this could impact our world. And then raise our capacity to actually take advantage of it and create the new jobs and opportunities that we need to absorb the people who might get displaced by technology innovation, because there are many new industries coming through, but they’ll need different skill sets. So we can definitely tackle the problem. We just need to have the imagination and the desire to go after it.
Dom Burch 05:44
I sometimes think that when technology starts to impact, the weekly shop, right? The people going in and out of the Tescos and Morrisons, then it sort of breaks into this area of the world where you go, Okay, I can see it now. So I’m imagining food provenance and consumers increasingly going, I don’t trust you, it’s not enough now for you to make a claim that this product is green, or this product is carbon neutral, or this product, frankly, even has 100% of the ingredients in it that you tell me it does. I want to be able to push against that. That technology is coming into place now where it might not really be consumers at the end who want to do that. But every part of the supply chain wants to make sure they’re buying what they said they were going to buy. And they need to prove it onward to the next customer.
Rohit Talwar 06:32
Absolutely. And I think one of the things that blockchain gives us with this idea of a distributed architecture, and immutable transaction recording, i.e. no one can go in and rub out the data and change it. That’s the real power here, because I don’t know if you remember, there’s been a lot of storms in the last few years about companies misreporting the environmental performance and the CO2 emissions of their vehicles. And they’d effectively edited them internally. With a blockchain, if you are capturing that information – you’re capturing the performance data of those vehicles – no one will be able to change that. And I think that’s the bit that really starts to build consumer confidence – if I really want to know where the food comes from, what the ingredients are, where those ingredients were sourced from. And get deeper and deeper – like the energy footprint, the carbon footprint, the amount of water used by each player across the value chain.
Over time, I’ll be able to dig in and dig deeper and deeper and deeper with this totally transparent blockchain solution. And I think that’s really empowering the consumer to make good choices. And it’s putting a spotlight on business to say, look, there is a way of both being ethical and open and consistent in your behaviour. And also demonstrating that in a transparent trustless manner. No one needs to trust you, they can see the data. And I think that’s a mindset shift that we’ll see more and more in the coming years as we get more and more blockchain applications spreading into our world and touching individuals in their lives.
Dom Burch 08:12
Blockchain has been given a bit of a bad rap, hasn’t it, by people who don’t really understand cryptocurrency yet. And, I was talking to a guy, a friend of mine, who’s worked in the city for 25 years, and, and I said, What’s your view of crypto, right? And he’s like, “well, everyone thought it was just these nerds. And it’s a bit of a dream project. It’s, it’s for terrorists, and it’s for funnelling dark money on the dark web. But increasingly, you’ve seen a flood of corporations adopting cryptocurrency, big corporations, and more importantly, USA’s government going shit, how do we tax it?” On the one hand, again, we need to turn it off. Right. But I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime last night. Even the idea that people think you can turn it off, just demonstrates the lack of understanding that’s out there in relation to this new way of transacting, what is money if it wasn’t ever a solid way to transact? And here you have crypto, something that, is finite, is a finite resource.
Rohit Talwar 09:15
Yeah, it’s interesting, the whole idea of turning it off. There are ways you could do it, whether it’s hugely punitive fines to the people involved, arresting the people involved, shutting down the servers, countries banning them from use. There’s a lot of ways you can do that. But why would you want to? And what’s great now is that the visibility of data on the blockchain means that we can see exactly where the money is going. We don’t know who the counterparties are, but we can see their wallets, we can see effectively what they’re buying. So, that bit on the dark web that people talk about funding terrorism, funding drugs, or contract killings, and all that stuff. Frankly, right now it’s tiny, and we can see that because we can see where the money is in people’s wallets.
We know that the total size of the crypto economy is about US$2 trillion, a bit less in the last couple of days. But we can see that most of it is inside people’s wallets or in hard wallets effectively off the internet. But the other side of it is that without the dark web, without the drug dealers, and the money launderers, and such things the crypto economy would possibly have died. There was a period where they kept it running, in the same way as there was a period where the porn industry pioneered the use of eCommerce, and really moved the internet from being a fun toy to something really meaningful for business. So, we we can be critical of these things, but we also have to recognise the benefits that they bring and the innovations that some of these things can bring to market. And right now, I think a it’s a fascinating space, we’re seeing, obviously, a whole range of possibilities emerging.
Yesterday, El Salvador actually started using Bitcoin as legal tender, which I think is a really interesting tipping point. Because that gives countries the ability to decouple themselves from another currency, in this case, the US dollar. It also decouple themselves from the influence of those countries, whether its political or monetary influence. So this is a liberating moment as well, the blockchain and cryptocurrency are really liberating moments. And I just think when you look across the piece now, forgetting crypto for a moment, just what we can do with blockchain really does start to provide a way of using this trustless technology to create infinite trust in society, and to change the cost and speed at which we do things.
Look at something like money transfers, you go to a conventional money transfer service, and it can cost you up to 12% of the funds transferred. The banks have hugely complex processes for doing this, by using blockchain, they reckon banks alone are going to save US$8-12 billion a year in the administration costs of doing money transfers across borders, and probably 10s of times that in individual transfers around the world. In health, what I love now is that people like burst.io and Wholecare are setting up platforms where doctors, other health care providers, and patients can move the data around, move their care plans, their medication protocols – these can be shared in a completely secure manner. There is no risk of them being hacked, or failure of a central system, losing your data. So we can empower patients, they can move from doctor to doctor more easily. When they pitch up to a hospital, the doctor’s notes are readily available, they haven’t got the wrong patient, and just increase people’s faith in the system and increase the value of the system overall.
So, in every space we look, I just see, amazing innovations. And I’m driving people crazy at the moment just talking to them about the art of the possible, not because I want to sell the technology, but I just want them to move beyond fact-free conversations or the fear, uncertainty, and doubt holding them back, to saying, look, just understand what this is understand why this is different. Understand why you can’t do this with a centralised system, because that’s been one of the things people have been saying to me since 2008/09, when Bitcoin first came out and we first started to understand blockchain. Everyone was saying, Well, everything you can do with a blockchain you can do with a central system and, just even them saying that, you realise they didn’t understand it. But now we’re starting to see so many examples, when no one can show me how you could do that with a centralised system.
I’ll give you one more example, and then I’ll shut up for a bit! So, we’re all talking about the Internet of Things (IoT), we’re getting really excited – hundreds of millions, billions, maybe even trillions of devices, from our phones and our computers to the intelligent lights on my desk at the moment that know when to switch on and off wirelessly, through to sensors that will be embedded in our clothing, all being connected in this giant internet of humanity, sharing data with each other. It being analysed in the cloud, with better and better services then being created on the back of it. That’s wonderful. But the problem is security that, effectively, the sensor in my shoes becomes the weak point of the internet, because that’s probably the least secure element of everything. And so these points at the edge of the network are where we need the most security. That’s been a real issue within the Internet of Things and a lot of people spend a lot of time pulling their hair out, about how do we ensure that.
Now you’re seeing some great solutions coming through that are blockchain based. So, there’s one called HYPR. And what they’ve done is created this decentralised mechanism for capturing the credentials of the devices and their users in a way that they can’t be hacked. You’ve got to validate against those credentials, and those sit on multiple different servers. And they reckon that they’ve effectively created an unhackable model for securing the Internet of Things. Now, that in itself is worth 10s of billions to hundreds of billions (of dollars), because of the number of companies that are slightly holding back on going down the IoT path, because they’re worried about the security issue.
So, the technology’s going to enable us to unlock all sorts of potential in society, enable the acceleration of new businesses and new ideas. In education – I said, I was going to shut up, but I’m going to give you one more! In education, one of the things that people worry about now is fraudulent credentials, that someone pitches up and says, Yeah, I’ve got an MBA from Harvard, my PhD from Stanford, and I’ve got six undergraduate degrees from other Ivy League universities. Turns out they haven’t, they’ve just printed them off the web. But now when we can start to record your credentials using blockchain, lock them, or if you like, “mint them” in what’s called a non-fungible token, i.e. something that isn’t tangible, that’s secure, that can’t be overwritten, that can’t be edited, and that can travel with you everywhere. So, you can guarantee that the credentials you’re being presented with by a candidate are real and valid. And then you can start to extend that.
So, you’re seeing people (adopting the technology) in government now – Illinois’s got this blockchain initiative, where they’re capturing people’s social security numbers, their birth certificates, and death certificates, their voter registration certificates – all being captured. So again, you can’t have fraudulent claims to be able to vote – because you’re dead, or fraudulent claims of benefits – because the child doesn’t exist. You can’t turn up and vote, pretending to be someone else, because you haven’t got the credentials. So, we’re seeing really interesting applications in literally every walk of society now. And I think that’s key that’s opening up the mindsets to the art of the possible and encouraging people to say, actually, we need to spend more time understanding this. And rather than finding reasons not to do it, start to look at where some of the biggest challenges in our business are, and where might blockchain and the combination of other technologies help us to really overcome them.
Dom Burch 17:38
Remind us of your book? When you were pulling that together, and I guess that’s a strange thing to do in this day and age, isn’t it to actually have to go through the process of researching, gathering the information speaking to lots of people, getting it down on paper, and getting the thing printed, you know the time delay there. It must worry, does it not worry you sometimes, by the time it’s written and out there that it’s already, you can already see past it.
Rohit Talwar 17:58
Our approach when we did our very first book in 2015, we did the whole thing in 17 weeks, it was 62 chapters – 500 plus pages. And we just worked very fast with the authors. So we had very tight cycles for them to write their chapters, two rounds of editing. For this one, we did the first version, the first iteration, in June of last year. So, I think it was in March 2020, when the pandemic really started to take hold of people’s imaginations, and they realised it wasn’t going away. We went out to our network and said, “Hey, why don’t you write a chapter and we’ll get the book out in June 2020.” And so we did it even faster. Within three months, it was written, published. But we had so many responses, way more than we could handle, so we split them and we said to a second group look we’re going to hang on to these, and we’re going to wait a year or so, and then we’ll do a second iteration. And you can update them, but let’s see where this is evolved to, let’s see how society’s adapted or is struggling. And then let’s bring a second one out around now. So, the end of this month is the target for that. And what that’s meant is a lot of them wrote the chapter at the time, and they’ve made some minor tweaks. But most of what they were suggesting is still incredibly valid in terms of what that future could hold for us.
Dom Burch 19:18
I’m gonna ask you the unfair question. What’s coming around the corner that you think most people are yet to really grasp? And maybe it’s too simple a question, but is it just this sense that this is going to impact almost every part of our being in every part of life, how we transact, how we shop, how we control our own data. If you go back a little while Tim Berners-Lee was pretty upset with a web wasn’t he? He’s going: “What I’ve created. It was never designed to be used this way, all of the power has ended up in corporations and actually, the real power ought to be in the hands of our own personal identity pods.” You know, we should be in charge, and it sounds like blockchain is going to be an enabler, actually arresting back that sense of power to, it’s my data, it’s me, versus, I’ve inadvertently given it away and it sits somewhere on a server.
Rohit Talwar 20:12
Well, that’s very exciting, isn’t it, the idea of using the blockchain to create Internet 3.0. And you’re seeing lots of examples. Now, people saying, actually, one of the things we can do with that is we can give you control. So whether it’s your data, where you decide who’s allowed to access your data, what rules – create the rules that govern who can have access to it, and what data they can have access to using smart contracts, there’s a tool called Civic that does that. And then people who aren’t authorised don’t get access to it. And people who do have access to it can be banished if they try and access data they’re not allowed to – so (we’re seeing) all those kinds of things so we can do that. But for me, the biggest shock to society is going to be when all these technologies come together. And literally, everything becomes money.
So, the loyalty points I might have from Sainsbury’s, or from an airline or a hotel, suddenly become completely interchangeable in this environment with money or with points from someone else. The time I’ve given to paint someone’s house, they can reward me in in crypto or whatever. But even my home, I can tokenize. So instead of paying 200,000 pounds for a house, you could turn that into twenty million 1p tokens, I could own some of them, I could pay for some of them with a mortgage, and then the rest could be sold in the open market. So, millions of people, hundreds of thousands of people, could own a bit of my house. And the value of those tokens could go up over time, and they can sell them without me having to sell the house. And you start to open up all sorts of possibilities. And everything effectively becomes a medium of exchange. So if I want to buy a car, I could use a bit of my house to go and buy that, just use some of the tokens in my house to go and buy that car. If I had a driveway I could allow people to park on it. And some sort of exchange would happen there, which would effectively have a monetary value.
So, I think when all these things come together, and you can do it all with technology – you don’t really need humans to do all those transactions – you open up immense possibilities. You create ways in which people can break their current financial situation and advance themselves. Alongside that, we also need to create the new jobs and we can enable the new industries, we can create the new jobs that go with those. But, the idea is everything becoming money, everything becoming a tradable asset. Your money in your savings account being empowered to constantly be looking to say I’m Dominic’s pound here, let me look around and see where the best place is for me to go this hour to get the highest possible interest rate. And let me move myself, let me do that. When Dominic’s pound goes into buy – a five pound note goes into buy a coffee – and the coffee is £2.75, and the five pound note effectively deciding that it wants to round up to three pounds. And for that 25 pence to either go into savings, or to buy a fraction of an Amazon share, or to buy tokens in three houses that are up (for sale) at that moment. And we’re just moving to a really mind blowing space where everything effectively becomes tradable. We can transform our prospects, and we start to change the relationship between people, their money, and everything they own.
Dom Burch 24:00
Wow! I feel like we’re gonna have to leave it there. I think you just blow my head clean off. I’m looking forward to the point where I’m buying a coffee and I’m also buying a share in my next door neighbor’s house. It’s just brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on to the ubloquity podcast. I feel like, if you’re kind enough, and generous enough with your time, I’m going to have you back on in a few more months, because this world is just beginning to change in front of our very eyes. And whilst the likes of you might have been able to see this coming for some time, for us mere mortals, it’s just an absolute, it’s like being in the middle of a science fiction play that’s just playing out right in front of us, is absolutely fascinating.
Rohit Talwar 24:35
It is, and the boundaries between what we thought were science fiction and reality are just being obliterated.
Dom Burch 24:42
Well listen, Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future and, of course, a global futurist award winning keynote speaker and author. Thank you so much for coming on to the ubloquity podcast.
Rohit Talwar 24:52