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Futurist Keynote, Helsinki: The Future of Transportation, Nordic Digital Business Summit



Over the next twenty years the transportation industry will see more change than it has in the previous 200 and the impacts of these changes will be felt within every industry, and every corner of society.


Firstly, thanks to Noel and his team for inviting me to be the keynote speaker and present on the “Future of Transportation” at this year’s Nordic Digital Business Summit, Northern Europe’s premier business event for IT professionals, in none other than Santa Claus’ own back yard, Helsinki, Finland, where just under a thousand attendees came to debate and discuss digital trade, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, and, in a hark back to my keynote at Station F in Paris last week, sustainable cities.


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When we’re young, and as we sit there playing with toy rockets and looping toy cars through the air, I don’t think any of us think in terms of “transport” or “transportation,” and these magical vehicles hold a special place in our hearts and our imagination. But, as we grow up, today especially, we realise that the rockets our parents promised we’d ride in when we grew up are reserved for astronauts, and that cars stay planted firmly on the ground, gridlocked, in smog filled cities while we sleep, slumped, and tired in the passenger seat.


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This isn’t what transport was supposed to be like, and so it was my pleasure to pull the covers off the future of transportation, which, I have to admit, as I said to the audience, is a fairly easy topic to cover – swap out the driver, and in the case of planes and ships, pilots, for an autonomous AI, swap combustion engines for batteries and then wrap everything up as an intelligent on demand service and you’re pretty much there.

Okay, there’s a little bit more to it than that.


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I also made sure I put some of the magic back and threw some light on the next generation of hypersonic Chinese trains, the world’s largest autonomous, electric vehicle, Komatsu’s house sized 250 ton dumper truck, a flying pug, you had to be there, autonomous cargo ships and trains, and last but not least, Elon Musks’ Mach 22 inter-continental passenger rockets, which might make their first appearance around 2023.


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Getting back to more serious matters though, matters of adulthood, while all the above changes are fairly “narrow” in their nature their disruptive impact on the transportation industry and its associated upstream and downstream industries, as well as its supply chains, is total and irreversible. I even posited that by 2040 cars wouldn’t exist, after all, once they all become self-driving and the regulators let us all finally eliminate the pedals and steering wheels aren’t they basically just fancy AI fuelled pods with 11k 3D screens and lounge seating?


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I see a “Name that pod” competition coming up…

Today there are over 1 billion diesel and petrol cars clogging up today’s roads and only 0.1 percent of them are electric. However, now that China, India, France, Germany and the UK, who jointly represent over 3.2 Billion people, nearly half the world’s consumers, have announced they’re pulling the plug on the sale of combustion engine vehicles from 2030 and 2040 respectively the development and adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles is only to accelerate, and once that 0.1 percent becomes 1 percent, which is due to happen in 2023, then apparently, according to the majority of analysts, it’s unlikely oil prices will ever recover to their pre 2008 levels, tipping the scales firmly in favour of renewables once and for all, and reducing the value of tens of trillions of dollar’s worth of fossil fuel investments and assets.


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The impacts on alternative industries don’t stop there though, and there are more disruptions waiting in the wings, albeit more subtle ones. The rise of electric vehicles and the parallel rise of affordable, renewable energy and blockchain technologies will fuel the emergence and development of more decentralised and distributed Smart Grids, grid scale storage systems, and so called “Tied-Grid” battery storage schemes – those batteries, like Tesla’s Powerwall batteries, on your wall at home, that supply your house with energy from your renewable energy sources and then feed excess back into the main grid, which, when combined will accelerate the transformation of our power grids.

So, with the day now behind me all that’s left to do is get back on the plane to Heathrow, and say let your imagination run riot again, enjoy your rocket ship ride, and don’t forget to send me a hologram selfie, say “Reindeer!” It’s a Finnish joke… apparently.

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