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Have you ever wondered why there has been so much talk about the future, disruptive technology and concerns about the world that lies ahead? There has, in fact, been more talk about these issues in recent years than there ever was before.

The collapse of mainstream media and the rise of digital media in their place. The demise of retail giants from online competition. These are clear examples of the disruptive impact of technology, and they are taking place as things that once existed only in science fiction are becoming reality.

Today in the United States, driverless cars make up 10 percent of road traffic, while in Hong Kong artificial intelligence has joined companies’ boards of directors.

We are entering a new era of global change from which there is no return. All over the world, the nature of every job is changing and many jobs are disappearing, to be replaced by new ones. The ways that people live, think, work and manage in today’s world are at a crucial turning point.

We are living in a most exciting time, an era of grassroots technological changes, of speed and new frontiers in scientific and technological advances.

Looking into a Future Driven by the Technology Revolution and Global Warming

The question before us is this: How do we ensure that these shifts benefit humans, and how do we prepare ourselves for change? Understanding the coming technology revolution is particularly important--the most vital step in preparing for change, in fact—and so is understanding how disruptive technology will impact the way we live in the future, and transform cities we once knew.

“The world 30 years from now isn’t at all faraway. When I was your age 30 years ago, a lot of change took place in a short span of time. It was back then that we had personal computers for the first time, whereas laptop computers came into a few years after and smartphones became a common tool like all these years. All this prompts us to look back at how these things have changed our lives,” Asada Harinsuit, Chairman of The Shell Company of Thailand Limited, told the student finalists at the “Shell Imagine the Future Thailand 2019” national competition, which was held recently at Shell House Bangkok

Shell Imagine the Future is a global scenario project organised by the Shell Company to encourage youth to look ahead and participate in designing the future, including the growth of cities and energy transformation. Shell believes that like humans, cities need food, water and energy in order to grow, but the amounts needed vary not only with the size of the city but also with technology, population size and urban management. The more accurately and thoroughly we can foresee the cities of the future, the better positioned we will be to deal with energy transformation and other changes.

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Shell Scenarios: Looking at the Future World Through a Different Lens

Since the early 1970s, Shell has pioneered the use of Shell Scenarios in vision forecasting and possibility prediction in order to prepare for future change. By asking: “What if…?” Shell Scenarios enable us to look far ahead and understand the opportunities and uncertainties of the future.

In essence, the Imagine the Future competition aims to provide youth with the tools to see the full landscape of the future and to use Shell Scenarios to look at future possibilities--of the economic, environmental, legal, political and social kinds as well as those driven by technology.

In imagining how the future will unfold based upon all possible scenarios, we learn how to proceed in order to achieve the future we want to see, and how to prepare for the many factors lying ahead.

A member of the finalist team Time Imachine, Phailin “Jane” Santichaivekinof the Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy (International Program), Thammasat University said: “Learning the Shell Scenarios gave us a different perspective. Normally, we’d choose between the best-case and worst-case scenarios, but in [Shell] Scenarios, we give equal attention to the best-case and the worst-case that could potentially happen. It taught us a new way of thinking that goes against normal logic and against what humans are accustomed to. This has opened up new perspectives and taught us to look at all possibilities in other aspects of our lives as well.”

Cities and Energy Use 30 Years from Now

Imagine the Future Thailand 2019 challenged students to create scenarios for urban development in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in 2050, where clean energy will become more prevalent. Students were asked to harness their powers of imagination, research and thinking in order to envision the full picture of how people of the future will live, work and relax.

A team member of the national winner BBA21, who will represent Thailand at the Shell Imagine the Future Asia 2019 regional competition, Carunpol “Fluke” Songkiatsri of the Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, Chulalongkorn University said: “In tackling the contest problem, we looked at the future in a different way than other teams. When talking about the future, most people tend to think that technology will make further gains. Our team also has that idea, but we take a different perspective. We think that technology will definitely advance, but the more important point is how it will be used. The future direction of global change will be controlled by humans.”

In creating 2050 scenarios for cities in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, BBA21 made people the center of development and modelled scenarios along two axes: Centralisation of Knowledge and Decentralization of Knowledge. Predicated upon the belief that knowledge will enable people of the future to develop their potential, find employment and secure a good income, these scenarios show that the more knowledge someone has, the better chance they have for improving their quality of life, while those without access to knowledge will be deprived of opportunities

In the first scenario, called Homo Deus (‘human god’), a limited number of people have access to education, cities are in the hands of only a few groups of people, artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly replaces human labour, and as a result, humans face the threat of unemployment. To solve problems of inequality, governments turn to tax measures, imposing taxes on machines and using the collected funds to subsidise the unemployed. In the second scenario, called Homo Sapien, everyone has equal access to education thanks to online sources while schools change their role to that of accreditors, bringing down the cost of education and increasing access to knowledge for all. The team believes that in both of these scenarios, clean energy production will increase and be widely distributed, with more and more households becoming clean energy producers. The difference between the two scenarios lies in the role of governments; in Homo Deux scenario, governments will continue to centralise power as they do today.

Energy As an Important Change Agent

The energy issue featured in how several other finalist teams tackled the problem. “Dream” team member Thanakorn “Phee” Prayoonkittikulof the Information and Communication Engineering Program, International School of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University said that research and scenario modelling on the future of energy in Thailand pointed to the rise of the “prosumer” and “alternative energy,” with “smart grid” systems being the solution. Energy consumers will also become energy producers, and there is equal chance that governments will centralize energy management or decentralize it using technologies such as blockchain in power production, etc.

The issue of clean energy’s growth in 2050, which was one of the key questions that contestants had to address, is also one of the issues prioritised by Shell, said Asada. Clean energy is vital, as it releases lower amounts of greenhouse gases, a major cause of global warming. However, comprehensive assessment is needed in order to decide which type of alternative energy is best for a city.

To illustrate the point of “The Future of Energy,” Asada gave the example of battery-powered electric train. Will it be a good transportation choice for Thailand in the future? The answer is, it could be, but if battery-powered train relies on power from fossil-fueled or coal-fired power plants, it will still indirectly cause pollutions.

In the future, electric train could run on pure ethanol. Currently, Shell is working with automakers to develop technology that will help create new sources of alternative energy. The goal is to find a solution for future energy security and greenhouse-gas reductions. With the future of humanity at stake, it is crucial that we look at the net carbon footprint of each alternative.

In Designing the Future, There Are Always More Than One Option

In the final round of judging, which took place on 15th March 2019 at Shell House Bangkok, BBA21 was named the winner, while the second place went to the New Era team. In July 2019, BBA21 will represent Thailand at the Asia-Pacific regional competition in Singapore.

Commenting on the competition, New Era team member Sasina “Fah” Tangphitthayawet of the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University said: “Growing up in our generation, we never felt like there was any sort of change. This is the kind of change that we want to see, and we all can be part of it.”

Looking ahead into the future, three important factors stand out as key to successfully accommodating the growth of cities and clean energy: 1. Energy – The challenge lies in the transformation to hydrocarbon and low-carbon energy; 2. Digital – The connection and disruption of digital technology; 3. Society – Pressures among ideological groups in societies with large equality gaps.

Commenting on Shell Thailand’s intentions, Asada said: “Today, we are sharing the present with the younger generations, but the future belong to them. So we need to provide them with opportunity to design it. The knowledge and abilities that youth have in terms of social media and digital platforms and the fact that they have their own perspectives on issues will equip them to take part in building the future. Their ideas will be made public not only at the national level, but at the global level as well.”