Blue-sky thinking in an overcast world

Are you optimistic about the future? And what does that future look like? 

Looking forward with optimism to New Zealand in 2070, 10 speakers from diverse backgrounds laid out their visions in answer to these questions at Optimistic Futures—a day-long event co-sponsored by Victoria University of Wellington and InternetNZ which explored where we want to go and the role public institutions should play in this future.

The speakers ranged from economists to paralympians, farmers to academics, and addressed a full house at Victoria University of Wellington’s Pipitea campus, outlining how New Zealanders could live as individuals, organisations and a community 50 years on.     

In the spirit of a positive democratic process, the afternoon was devoted to collaborative sessions on how these positive futures could be brought about.  

Jory Akuhata, who walked the length of Aotearoa on the Te Araroa trail, began the blue-sky thinking with a vision of an Aotearoa New Zealand that builds on already-achieved conservation efforts to preserve some of our whenua’s beauty and wonder.

Moving to an academic perspective, Head of Victoria’s School of Government Professor Girol Karacaoglu spoke of his desire to make New Zealand “a place where talent wants to live”, and outlined the five pillars that need to work together to produce intergenerational wellbeing: sustainability, social cohesion, equity, resilience and potential economic growth. 

These pillars represent “the largest playpen within which individuals and communities can flourish” and are the method by which appropriate public policy can be implemented.

“The role of public policy is to enhance people’s opportunities and capabilities to pursue the lives they value. This welcomes, embraces and celebrates all sorts of diversity,” Karacaoglu said.

“In the complex and fundamentally uncertain world we live in, the best way to create resilience – in both the sense of protecting our way of life from major catastrophes, as well as nourishing creativity as a platform for adaptation – [is] we need to give far more voice and support to our very diverse communities across the country.”

Acknowledging, celebrating and promoting diversity was an important theme for many of those gazing toward a rosier future for us all. 

Nuffield Scholar and farmer Sam Lang used the example of a mycelial network (the extensive root system all fungus grows from) to represent the “diverse, connected and resilient future” he imagines can be created by an agriculturally literate society that understands an ecological approach to food and farming.  

“My optimistic future is where ecology sits alongside civics as a foundational component of our education system,” Lang said.

Paralympic swimming gold medallist Mary Fisher proposed a society that puts care, community and creativity at its core, and asked how we could change perceptions to see diversity as a strength in a fully inclusive and accessible society.

Of course no future-gazing would be complete without mention of technology and its impact. 

Kat Lintott, co-founder of Wrestler creative video and virtual reality (VR) agency, and Māori researcher Malcolm Mulholland’s future was one of potential for Māori through technological advances – a 2070 where they could connect to their marae and whānau using VR and augmented reality, and where Aotearoa New Zealand has a written constitution with Te Tiriti o Waitangi as its founding document.

“Technology will allow people an equal opportunity to develop their own identity within the community. Each person from birth could be given a personal artificial intelligence which would be able to communicate, help manage and access the opportunities available to every person in the country and the world,” Lintott and Mulholland said.

For Jon Herries and Darian Eckersley, from the Ministry of Health and Australia's Digital Health Agency respectively, Star Trek inspired their vision of healthcare in the future. 

Personalised medicine as a “key opportunity coming soon through the field of genomics” was elaborated on, along with the ability to transport patients at the touch of a button and the continued importance of humans, even in a sick bay filled with machines. 

“This shows that despite advances in healthcare there is a continued need for the human touch and empathy. In the future we see machines increasingly being able to offer an end-to-end healthcare service … The health professional’s role in this context is much more of a healthcare navigator working for the patient to ensure the machines provide the services that the patient needs.”

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