For my latest podcast episode of Metaverse, I spoke with Elina Hiltunen, a leading futurist from Finland, who is a Doctor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Chemical Engineering. Forbes recently listed her as one of the world’s 50 leading female futurists—her inclusion no doubt fueled by her groundbreaking creation of a tool which develops the futures of organisations through crowdsourcing.
I couldn’t ask for a better guest with whom to explore the question of “what’s next” than Elina, the CEO of What’s Next Consulting who has worked as a futurist for global brands such as Nokia as well as the Finnish government. Her experience has helped her forge a successful career as a keynote speaker and prolific author—her 13th and 14th books are due out in the next few months. During our chat, I was able to pick Elina’s brain about a number of fascinating topics, from what advances in technology mean for humanity at large to her current work on everything from the future of travel to advances in cancer treatment to how she uses science fiction writing to explore possible outcomes of technology’s impact, including ethical concerns.
Elina described how she came to futures studies, which as a fact-based field requiring visionary use of imagination allowed her to draw equally from her scientific background as a chemical engineer and her artistic, creative side. Elina described how futurism isn’t about the ability to correctly predict the future—which, naturally, is impossible—but about anticipating, innovating and communicating about the future. This means drawing on facts and history and then keeping an open mind to creatively envision possible outcomes and encouraging innovation, and being able to speak about it in a way that allows others to imagine the same possibilities.
We discussed Elina’s self-identification as a “free spirit,” happy to try virtually anything. For about a year-and-a-half, she lived with an NFC chip implanted in her hand that unlocked her front door, after volunteering to test the technology for a CEO whose company produced electric locks. Whilst many had averse knee-jerk reaction to her implant, for Elina it was as inconsequential as getting her ears pierced. Notably to her, these reactions revealed the level of ignorance most people possess about technology—and how that ties into the proliferation of Covid vaccine misinformation and paranoia. Speaking as someone who lived with an implanted chip, she noted: if Bill Gates were implanting us with microchips from vaccines, assuredly, we would know!
In terms of how organisations should approach futures thinking, Elina emphasised how the future is constantly unfolding all around us, so if you want to be effective, you need to constantly keep it in mind, not just once a year during big strategy meetings. She also noted the efficacy of crowdsourcing to combine trends and use in scenario thinking—we all naturally pick up on trends—we are all essentially “sensors” for the future: crowdsourcing offers a great way to access this big picture information.
We discussed the “next big trends” of quantum computing and synthetic biology, which has manifold possibilities from CRISPR “designer babies” to lab-grown meat. and quantum computing. And of course, to conclude, I couldn’t resist asking what Elina’s own future might hold: presently, she’s anticipating a second doctoral thesis on how to use science fiction to anticipate the future for the military.
To enjoy our marvelously nerdy conversation and vicariously “geek out” with Elina and myself, listen to the episode here.