By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Conference Blogger and Editor)
Editor’s Note: This article will also be published in an upcoming issue of Against the Grain as part of the “Don’s Conference Notes” column.
The Trendspotting Initiative, by Lisa Hinchliffe, Professor at the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign, started up about 5 years ago and has been a feature at meetings of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) and the Charleston Conference since then. According to the program for the 2022 SSP meeting,
“The Trendspotting Initiative is a community-engaged process for cooperatively and collaboratively exploring social, policy, economic, technology, and educational trends and forecasting the impacts of these trends on scholarly communication, publishing, and academic libraries.”
The goal is to identify political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental (PESTLE) trends and discuss possible outcomes and effects on the information industry, including best and worst case scenarios for outcomes of these trends on various timelines, and consider how they will impact the scholarly communications industry. Questions to consider:
- What are the trends, issues, and external pressures that we should be focused on in the near future?
- How can we collaboratively evaluate possible solutions and strategies for these issues?
- What steps can we take to meet these challenges together?
Assisted by Leah Hinds, Executive Director of The Charleston Conference, Lisa Hinchliffe led the Trendspotting session at the 2022 SSP meeting which attracted about 100 attendees.
She began by noting that we hear “future” a lot, so the session will explore what it might be in an action-oriented reflective process. It is important to note that futures thinking is not gazing into a crystal ball; its goal is to foster dialog in organizations and identify, assess, and perhaps shape the way that systems and relationships develop over time. We have ideas of what it should be but we must work with what it actually is:
Slides from the session can be found here: https://hdl.handle.net/2142/114353
Trends are change factors that arise from broadly generalizable change and innovation. They are cumulative and large-scale. Normally, most players, organizations, or even nations cannot do much to change them. Signals are small local disruptions or innovations that we observe or notice in the world which add up to a trend, which is a tendency or direction of change over time. Trends can be
- Increasing or decreasing,
- Strong or weak, or
- Accelerating or slowing.
They influence but do not determine the future.
In the SSP meeting, the focus was on technology trends and trying to identify how likely they are to impact scholarly communication. In his book, Tech Trends in Practice (Wiley, 2020), Bernard Marr identifies the following 25 trends and gives a summary for each one.
- AI and machine learning. We are using AI every day.
- The Internet of Things (IoT). We now have more interconnected and smart devices.
- Wearable technology makes our lives safer, more efficient, and healthier.
- Big data. We now have a world full of data—bigger than ever, which gives us unprecedented insights from data-intelligent spaces.
- Intelligent spaces. Homes, offices, and buildings are becoming smarter and more intelligent.
- Blockchains are super secure ways to validate and store our transactions and will transform the way we live and work.
- Cloud and edge computing. We can store and process data via the internet on other people’s data centers, and we can process more of it on our devices such as smart phones
- Extended reality. Real worlds are being extended into the digital world through augmented reality.
- Digital twins—virtual copies of processes without having to do them on the real process.
- Natural language processing will give machines the ability to understand our language, read and understand text, and even write entire books.
- Voice interfaces and chatbots. Alexa, Siri, etc. will understand our emotions and we will be able to communicate with them much better than we can today.
- Computer vision and facial recognition. The ability to understand who is on a photograph and what is on it. Machines are getting extremely good at this.
- Robots and cobots. Increasingly autonomous robots are able to understand their surroundings and become intelligent co-workers with which we can work together.
- Autonomous vehicles. We are starting to see self-driving cars and self-driving delivery robots and will see many more in the future.
- 5G. The 5th generation of mobile communications will give us speeds and latencies of internet communication on our phones that is as good as fiber optics.
- Genomics and gene editing is the ability to understand what we are made of and edit ourselves to cancel things like cancer and create new beings.
- Machine co-creativity and augmented design means that we can use AI to enable creative design of new products like creative music, which will transform the creative processes in our organizations.
- Digital platforms. Platform businesses like Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber have been extremely successful, are transforming how we interact with the world, and are bringing us into the gig economy.
- Drones. These autonomous flying objects will not only transform our passages but will be also transport passengers. Autonomous cars will be replaced by self-flying drones.
- Cyber security. We are facing digital threats not just by people but also from the latest technologies being used to automate attacks.
- Quantum computing is completely redefining what a computer is and could give us computers that are a million or trillion times more powerful than even today’s supercomputers.
- Robotic process automation will use tools to help automate processes, watch over them, and improve what we do.
- Mass personalization. Companies are learning more about us and are able to serve us with products and services at the exact moment when we need them.
- 3D printing is transforming the way we manufacture things by using innovative materials layer by layer.
- Nano technology and materials science is transforming our understanding of materials at the micro level and will give us new products
Session attendees worked in small groups to identify the 3 trends they thought were most likely to impact scholarly communications. After a chance to reflect and discussion, a large group report-out gave a chance to hear some reflections.
One of the noticeable things the groups observed was the need to identify both issues and trends; AI, machine learning, and cybersecurity are becoming increasingly important. Equity and access are also very important. Natural language processing, voice interfaces, and chatbots can help with equity in terms of language barriers and other types of accessibility issues that we might not connect to the publishing industry.
In the final exercise of the session, attendees were asked to imagine news headlines in 2035. Each group was given an envelope describing 4 trends in the world around them. They are the editors of one of the primary trade news outlets for the information industry and were asked what stories will it publish. The assignment was to create at least one article for the June 2, 2035 edition, mock up the front page of their news outlet, and list the headlines of the articles. Here are some of the headlines the groups came up with:
- We’re tired of working with augmented reality and want a physical lab!
- The FDA approved the use of Tesla’s autonomous surgeon.
- Technology can have unintended consequences.
- NIH funds the delivery of programmable batteries to all US teaching hospitals.
- Long live the journal. The journal is dead; let us eat cake!
- Elsevier acquires virtual mentor Study Buddy and research generator to be licensed into institutional organizations.
- Most research published out of the Amazon by local researchers.
- University of Toronto Press G39 approves new drone global map.
Your next opportunity to participate in the Trendspotting Initiative will be during the 2022 Charleston Library Conference. See you then!
I thank Lisa Hinchliffe for reviewing and editing this article and Leah Hinds for providing the photos.
About the Author: Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website. He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.